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Always look after your health, that’s a given.  Without it everything has a habit of simply falling apart.  After a few months of writing new songs, organising shows, rehearsing, and pulling together the requisite components for my own band’s imminent album release – as well as fulfilling my beloved radio commitments each Thursday – I was feeling a little burned out.  Alright, I accept I’m very lucky and that my job is easier than most (I’m not exactly at the coal face, let’s be honest) but even we layabout musicians deserve a break every now and again.  And so I saw the chance this past weekend and took my leave to enjoy four days of poor mobile reception and glorious sunshine at a little bolthole in the Scottish countryside with my family.  The weather may well have contributed to my current contented state, but there is no doubt my batteries feel well and truly recharged from the rest.  I have returned from the promised land a much happier and healthier man.

Sometimes in music it’s the same: genres, scenes, and movements that feel urgent and full of life one moment can feel tired and limp the next.  They all need a breather from time to time, whether self-imposed or not.  Elton John was right; it’s the circle of life (the leap of faith, the wheel of fortune, and so on).  But I’m glad to say that at this particular moment in time the music scene in general feels pretty healthy, despite what record sales may tell us.  And that’s perhaps because what really matters – artistry – isn’t as compromised as it once was.  Musicians now have the ways (i.e. accessible and affordable recording systems) and the means (i.e. the Internet) to express themselves in the manner they choose, with little interference or outside influence unless they so desire.  There is of course a quality control argument in all this, but the overall effect is one of a contagious creativity that quickens the pulse in the most helpful of ways.  

This perhaps explains why there’s one scene that is noticeably flourishing at present: folk music.  So often maligned by the mainstream as the preserve of the crusty aged, it’s no secret that it’s been enjoying a whole new lease of life recently, irrepressible in its all-conquering ubiquity.  Yes, bands like banjo-wielding maniacal floor stompers Mumford and Sons have arguably been responsible for opening the floodgates, but scratch beneath the surface and there are a whole heap of artists who are quietly making their mark with quite wondrous work that sits easily beside that of the greats who have gone before them.  On the longlist for the SAY Awards (discussed most enjoyably during last week’s show), for example, sit a number of Scottish artists such as Karine Polwart, Admiral Fallow and LAU who may have slipped under the radar in previous years.  And in English music, the great folk torch is being carried by the likes of Laura Marling.

Laura’s new album “Once I Was An Eagle” is our Record of Note and is, as the title suggests, a work of soaring beauty.  And yet it’s defiantly un-mainstream; indeed there is rarely a chorus in earshot.  Wordy and wistful, the tale of an apparently difficult break up (her Blood On The Tracks?), it’s music for the heart and for the head.  If it sits easily under the “folk” banner then it’s only because it’s simple and directly affecting music that could exist in almost any decade.  That it’s her 4th album and she’s still attracting well deserved praise and attention is reason enough to be cheerful that there’s hope for our industry – indeed, the fact she won Best Female Artist at the Brit Awards in 2011 over the likes of Cheryl Cole tells us that the four horsemen of the apocalypse aren’t saddling up quite yet.   

Also on the show this week we celebrate the work of a true folk stalwart Richard Thompson as our Undercover Writer, and go live on arrival with Janis Joplin.  That’s alongside music from a diverse bunch of artists like Vampire Weekend, The New Mendicants, Deer Hunter and many more.  The place to be is BBC Radio Scotland this Thursday at 10.05pm, folk.

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