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Folk Music - A Broad Church

Mike Harding | 16:03 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

One of the things I like most about the folk scene / folk world, call it what you will – is that it is a very broad church.

At one end of the musical spectrum you have unaccompanied traditional singers such as Lar Cann and Peta Webb, beautiful singers who carry the living fuse at the core of the music, and at the other end you have singer/songwriters like Lizzie Nunnery, whose Company of Ghosts is one of my favourite albums of the last 12 months and Robinson whose England’s Bleeding does what the best songs always do and gets right into the heart of the matter.

In between there is an equally glorious cornucopia of musical riches from Barbara Dickson and Ewan McLennan to Kate Rusby and bands like Steamchicken and Steeleye Span; everything from stomping dance music to the elemental stories of the ballad.

There can’t be another form of music that can do so many things, from telling stories to making you laugh, dance, think and cry.  There may be somebody already working on a Phd on “The Political and Social Significance of Lady Gaga’s Lyrics” but I doubt it.

The other thing I like about the folk world is that it also embraces all ages, from primary school kids learning their first tunes on the penny whistle to octogenarians tripping the light fantastic at a ceilidh.

Two CDs arrived recently that make that point exactly: The Other Crossing from Emma Sweeney the young Manchester-Irish fiddler who was a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award finalist a few years back and Back To You from Martyn Wyndham-Read who, like the writer of this blog, is a few moons beyond the bus pass.

Both albums are beautiful and true and have pleased me greatly. Emma is one of our finest young fiddlers and her self-released five track EP of tunes is a real gem. The playing seems effortless and un-forced and I get the same buzz listening to it that I get when I listen to the great master fiddlers like Dezi Donnelly and Aly Bain. As well as being a world-class musician Emma is no mean shakes when it comes to composition and several of the tunes on the EP, including the title track, The Other Crossing, are her own.

Martyn, in Back to You, has produced another album of great songs sung with deep conviction and in a voice that, while it is rich and powerful is still never anything more than a vehicle for the stories Martyn brings us. Years working in Australia drew Martyn deep into the bush-ballad and bush-band tradition which shows in great songs like The Billy of Tea and The Broken Down Squatter while his love of English traditional song burns through As I Roved Out and The Banks of the Sweet Primroses.

Two albums from the Spring and Port Wine of the folk scene, both brilliant and both extremely cheering and uplifting.

Get them and listen to them. They are wonderful.






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