Friday, 29 April 2011

Let's kiss and make up

Eliza Carthy -

Looks like Eliza Carthy could do with rubbing on some Jackie Oates! Check out the scaly skin on those shoulders...

Jackie Oates
No, we don't suggest that Ms Carthy indulge in some girl-on-girl action with lovely fellow fiddling folkie female Jackie (but then again...). 

Rather, we're on about this skin lotion/moisturiser/cosmetic goo, that - yes! - really is named after the afore-mentioned fiddling folkie female!
Jackie Oates - goo
 You couldn't make it up … but Lush can (Lush is posh chain of massage parlours, er, spa establishments...). 

We bet they could do a great line in "Eliza Carthy" hair styling mousse (also kills crabs)...

Actually, Eliza is not really suffering from a horrible skin disease, or turning into Frankenstein's mermaid, but is in costume to promote her latest album, Neptune. Silly us!

(Thanks to Emma Hartley at The Glamour Cave for the news on how to get your Oates. And apologies to Jackie and Eliza for using them to make bad jokes...)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Phil and Steve and Albert again

Beer & Knightley
Show Of Hands, recently the subject of an exclusive FolkCast podcast interview, have announced that they are to celebrate 20 years together as a duo with a return to the "Kensington Village Hall" - a.k.a. the 5,000-seat Royal Albert Hall in the centre of London.

The duo - Steve Knightley and Phil Beer - say they have taken "a gamble" by hiring the huge venue, but three previous visits were all sell-out successes, and the Devon-based folk musicians are now even more well-known than for those previous shows.

The next show at the Albert will be on Easter Saturday … next year! However, tickets go on sale on Wednesday April 20th 2011 and prices have now been revealed - ranging from £25 to £40.

Show Of Hands first played and sold out the Albert Hall in 1996, to the surprise of the sceptics. In 2001 their legions of fans from the UK and across the Channel descended on Kensington again, when the show was filmed by Carlton TV and, unusually, the Albert Hall witnessed a raffle! Five years later, they were back for a hat trick success in SW7.

So far there are no details of what the show will include, but fans can surely expect something special in the shape of guest musicians. They will certainly be accompanied by their long term special guest - double bass player and vocalist Miranda Sykes.

Steve says: “Hiring somewhere as high profile as the Albert Hall is obviously not something you undertake lightly but it’s a challenge we relish. We are lucky enough to have an incredible fan base, not only in the UK but in France, Holland, Germany and beyond and hopefully a lot of them will want to help us celebrate 20 years as Show of Hands.”

Phil added:  “We have had three hugely memorable nights at the Albert Hall and it will be great to see so many of our fans under one roof again in what will amazingly be our 20th year on the road!”

Show of Hands have a characteristically busy year in 2011 and will soon set out on a standing gig tour of the UK (May 4 -21) while their festival season takes in Glastonbury (June 26), Shrewsbury, Sidmouth and the revived Bristol Folk Festival (April 30), as well as their own signature festival at Dorset’s Abbotsbury Sub Tropical Gardens on July 2.

Show Of Hands at the Royal Albert Hall - 8pm, Saturday April 7th 2012.
Tickets: Grand Tier £40; Loggia £40; Second Tier £37.50; Stalls £37.50; Arena £35, Circle £30 (restricted view £25). Box office: 0207 589 8212 or 0845 401 5045.

UPDATE: On the first day of sale, tickets are selling very fast! See the Albert Hall website for live info on seat availability.

Friday, 8 April 2011


"All music is folk music. I ain't never heard no horse sing a song!"
- Louis Armstong.

Ah, the most famous quote in the history of folk music. How witty, how original, how funny! How absolutely infuriating...
Louis Armstrong thinking up
his next snappy one-liner...
I've mentioned the subject of Satchmo's nag previously on this blog but want to create a separate blog entry for the subject so I can snottily direct people to it whenever they "trot it out" (now that's wit!).

Here's a little history about the man and the quote, and we'll start with a mini biog for anyone who has got this far and is still asking "Louis Armstrong - was he that guy who landed on the moon?". Louis Armstrong (1901 - 1971) was a  trumpeter, a singer, a movie star and - in his time - one of the most famous people on the planet (which he never left). He's regarded as one of the most important jazz musicians ever, he spoke with popes and paupers, he helped break down the US colo(u)r bar and was a great good time guy. I like him a lot, not least for some of the fabulous music he left behind:

Now, to that famous quote. At some point in his life - I've not been able to discover exactly when - he was asked a question about music (possibly specifically about 'folk music'), he reportedly replied "All music is folk music. I ain't never heard no horse sing a song!", and ever since then people have raised this quote whenever a discussion of the elusive definition of folk music is on-going.

And why not? It's a good point, isn't it? Horses don't make music, only people (folk) make music, therefore all music is folk music! Oh, my aching sides...

There are several things to bear in mind.
1) Armstrong was a huge celebrity, was interviewed a lot, and probably got asked the same sorts of question a lot. Like many people in that situation he would have got bored with the same old same old and, being a smart guy, would have come up with some pat answers. The "Horse" quote is, I feel, almost certainly one of those. Louis had quite a few:
    •    “There is two kinds of music: the good and bad. I play the good kind.”
    •    “What we play is life.”
    •    “If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know.”
    •    “Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them.”

2) Armstrong was an American. The American meaning of "folk music" is significantly different to the British meaning of "folk music". British folk music is about traditional tunes and songs passed down and evolved through the folk tradition, and about newer music inspired and influenced by those older songs. American folk music is anything played on an acoustic guitar.

3) Armstrong was a prodigious writer and liked to play with words. He knew very well that "folk" and "folk music" are two different things, and used that dichotomy to humorous effect. In other words, he was joking! Incidentally, and perhaps unintentionally, Louis also built a fine triple negative into his phrase: ain't never heard no. He riffed on language like he riffed on tunes.

4) Armstrong was a jazz musician, which is arguably the antithesis of traditional folk music. Jazz may have had its origins in a collision of various traditional musical idioms, but even by Armstong's time had evolved a very long way from those roots.

5) Armstrong never got to hear Red Rum's cover version of What A Wonderful World...

“You blows who you is!” - Louis Armstong

So, here was a jazz musician making a jokey remark about a subject (American folk music) he wasn't directly involved in and which - from a British point of view - isn't folk music at all! Wow!

Louis' quote was witty, original and funny - but it's also an utterly useless addition to any serious discussion of folk music. And by the time you've heard it for the umpteenth time it's not very witty, original or funny any longer. Indeed, one vintage online folk music discussion group banned it from even being hinted at, and anyone who even seems to be on the verge of mentioning a certain jazz horn blower will be greeted with pre-emptive cries of "Horse!" from one and all!

That's not surprising. Saying "All music is folk music" is as much use in the real world as a timber merchant declaring that "all wood is trees" and refusing to arrange his warehouse by species or size. Yes, it's literally true (in a way) but it's also absolutely stupid. Do you really think that rap, krunk, soul, bubblegum pop, opera, death metal and grindcore should all be filed in one big category marked "Folk Music"? Do you? DO YOU! You must be mad, deaf or both...

If you genuinely believe that "all music is folk music" then, to misquote Mr A, you'll never know what folk music is.

And anyway...

Monday, 4 April 2011

FolkCast Interview Special 006 - Show Of Hands


Phil, Steve and Miranda - Show Of Hands
A special interview edition of FolkCast is now available for download.

On the last day of March, I made a cross-border raid from my home in Lancashire up to the pretty Yorkshire market town of Settle, where Show Of Hands were playing a sold-out concert in a lovely venue, the Victoria Theatre.

Before the show I had a chat with Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, and also Miranda Sykes, their bass player, all about what's going on with one of England's greatest folk outfits, including touring, festivals, solo projects, playing the huge anti-cuts rally in London's Hyde Park and Steve's involvement in the songwriting project based around the life of folk song collector Cecil Sharp.

Any comments about the interview? Post them here!

The Trouble With Folk Clubs

Folk musician and songwriter John Richards (he penned such great songs as The Deserter, Honour And Praise, and Shine On) has, following my suggestion, posted a fascinating blog entry about the current state of the British folk club scene, and also about the stagnation of folk festival bills (read it here at The Demon Barbers' website).

Here's my take on some of the questions and points he makes:
A rare youthful folk club flier

There has been a lot of talk about a renewed interest in folk music among young people, and that the success of Mumford & Sons shows that folk music is gaining a grip on the mainstream tastes. This, I'm sorry to say, is (mostly) rubbish.

I've written at length about why Mumford & Sons have little to do with British folk music. And there's more: during the folk renaissance of the 1950s/60s, performers and audiences shared an interest in getting down into the deepest roots, nooks and crannies of the music. There's little suggestion that many of the "new generation" wants to do that, although there are certainly some exceptions.

I see little evidence of Mumford fans wanting to know about the music that influenced their heroes. What the Mumford audience mostly wants is more of the same – "Mumford-alikes", earnest young men with banjos and cool haircuts. They aren't going to look for them at trad folk clubs because that would clash with the (un)popular image of "a folk club": middle-aged men with bad haircuts singing 97-verse versions of ballads about shipwrecks, murderers and May mornings.

By the way, I'm not saying that that is all that happens at folk clubs — although it certainly does happen, and I for one enjoy it! — but that's the popular image, along with the old favourites of beards, knitwear and tankards of foaming ale. I enjoy all of them, too...

However, there is a new generation of "folk-ish club-ish" events and they have been very successful. They are sort of like folk clubs, but they don't call themselves folk clubs. The "F-word" isn't usually mentioned, with "acoustic" being the preferred alternative. The music played is mostly American folk (singer-songwriter, mainly) influenced, not British traditional songs.


Folk is about tradition, and tradition is about time. However, most entertainment is about the opposite of tradition and time: it's about novelty, the new, the now. Folk clubs were once at the cutting edge of "now", but that moment of cutting edge cool is long gone. Folk clubs were, once, fashionable ... but the only thing that is guaranteed to happen to anything that's fashionable is that it will go out of fashion. Folk music has survived in the shadows, making itself heard at festivals and one-off gigs, but the folk club scene has fared less well because the thing that made it strong - time - is now working against it.

While regulars at a folk club that's been around for 30, 40, 50 years probably think that legacy is a good thing, it can instead lead to it becoming set in its way, hidebound and introspective. Organisers concentrate on their regulars - both musicians and audience members - and perhaps hesitate to reach out beyond that sphere. They know what has worked in the past, are fearful of making an expensive mistake with something new, so stick to the tried and tested. Unfortunately, as year follows year more old men disappear (to quote a great song) and soon no-one will march to the folk club at all. 


As for the money side of things, that's always been tough. It undoubtedly improves the quality of the music played if artists are full-time musicians, but it also greatly limits the number of venues they can play if they charge full-time musician rates. I'm all for paying professionals a proper rate for the job, whatever that job may be, but maybe too many musicians are trying to charge top money before they've got the reputation to back it up?

There are certain names that promoters know will put bums on seats and cash in the tin, so those names get booked time and again at clubs, concerts and festivals. They are (mostly) the artists who get played on national radio and who win the annual awards. 

People criticise this, claiming that the "same old faces" get all the exposure, and there's some truth in that. However, those "elite" artists are also bloody good at what they do, which is another reason people will pay to hear them again and again, and why they sell records. And if you sell (comparatively) lots of records you will get your share of awards, because sales are important to the music business and the media, and its people from the music business and media that give out the gongs. 


Where does that leave the others? Having to work much harder to get a gig, that's where. Simply putting together a band, playing a set of songs and putting out a press release is not enough. What's the angle? What's the gimmick? Where's the buzz? The "elite" names have an angle, whether that is a hit single from 1974, a clutch of awards or a visually stunning and creative, modern take on Morris and clog dancing.

Look at the current Cecil Sharp Project: it's not the fact that it's a show about a folk music collector that's the big selling point (that's been done before, for a start) it's the way it's been put together, with the musicians involved secreted away together and given just a few days to come up with the musical goods. That has created what, for the folk world, has been a media storm, with coverage in the national press and on the BBC! You can't buy that kind of publicity, and you certainly won't get it without an angle, a gimmick, a buzz. It helps to be playing bloody good music, too - but that's not absolutely necessary in every case.

Finally, John states that hosting live music events has advantages to a pub landlord, and he's right. But we know about the licensing problems it can create, and we know that many pubs now don't have a separate room suitable for live music. Also, pub landlords are too often mere middle managers with no real say in what happens in their pub, relying instead on the latest promotion from the pub-chain operators (not even a brewery these days). They probably have no interest in live music, no say on whether it can take place, no budget for it, no facilities for it, and they may well think that their regulars wouldn't welcome it, so they stick with the tried and the tested. Sound familiar?

Pubs have changed as audiences have changed. Folk clubs must change too if they are to flourish again … but if they change they will no longer be folk clubs as we know them. 


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Plug In - other podcasts of note and interest!

Plug In
When FolkCast started podcasting, in January 2006, the whole idea of recording yourself and "broadcasting" via the internet was novel and new. 

There was a community feel about the whole thing, with podcasters helping one another to reach bigger audiences by plugging one another's shows. Sadly, that has largely disappeared as the commercial concerns and mainstream broadcasters have, inevitably, moved in and come to dominate.

However, cross-fertilisation and co-operation is very much part of the folk world, and in that spirit I though I'd share a few interesting feeds at which you can point your podcatcher.

Mr Mitch Benn
First of all there's news that FolkCast in general and Ken Nicol in particular are part of edition six of Mitch "The Now Show" Benn's Comedy Podcast. We sent Mitch an MP3 of Ken's comedy number, "That Could've Been Me" and Mitch was bowled over by it, remarking:

"If you're going to play ukulele that well, I could listen to it all day. Seriously blistering uke action!"

Thanks, Mitch!

Brand new for April is a grand folkie adventure which will unfold over the coming weeks as a group of musicians and music fans walk 1,200 miles from Land's End to John O'Groats (they aren't going the most direct route, so it's longer than many 'end-to-end' walks), visiting all kinds of music events along the way. You can read all about The Folk Trail at their website, follow them via Twitter and also listen in to their short podcasts here, or via iTunes.

Damh The Bard
Our friend Damh The Bard has produced Druidcast since the middle of 2007 and as well as discussing Druidry and other Pagan religions - including Phallic Religion in the latest show! - there's lots of good folk, roots and acoustic music too. Prick up your ears...

Words Fail Me is a strange concept that's ideal for podcasting. Its presenters - the enigmatic Dave and Neil - talk about words and their meanings, with their recordings made live and (as far as I can tell) unedited from a suitably cultural location. If that sounds a bit weird, it is - but it's also fun and light-hearted.

Their March podcast saw them at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Why might that interest folkies? Well, each month they have a guest and - for no obvious reason - March's was Dave Pegg from Fairport Convention. Peggy discusses all kinds of things from working with Nick Drake and Robert Plant to the recording of Fairport's new album, Festival Bell. He then randomly selects a page from the dictionary, and the presenters gamely set about discussing the words they find there ... only to be rather embarrassed to discover themselves up to their ears in 'menstruation'.

And finally, check out Pick Of The Pods, a new show from Tom Robinson which seeks to find interesting podcasts of all kinds. He reviews other shows, so here's our review of his: it's a great idea, well-produced and presented, and full of interesting leads to new things to hear. However, it's a little too focused on mainstream podcasts from "Big Media", and when it does look at independent British pods it's so far been very London-centric. 

So, why not contact Tom and ask him to feature, oh I don't know, an independent podcast based in Lancashire which covers folk, folk-rock, singer-songwriter and roots-based music... 

Meanwhile, keep focused on FolkCast, the independent podcast from Lancashire covering folk, folk-rock, singer-songwriter and roots-based music.