Folk, the people’s music, means many things to many people. Folk music often seems squeezed from above and below. Pop music, and the folk-fusions that follow in its wake, are seen by some purists as diluting the folk tradition. At the same time it seems that this ‘people’s culture’ is scorned by the cultural establishment. In the last few years, however, a revival of English folk music has seen a plethora of new folk styles sprout up, from nu-folk to twisted folk, from Bat for Lashes to Tunng and even twindie, a new generation seems to be giving folk new meaning and an unexpected lease of life. Has folk finally left behind its parochial, twee image?
Politics seems to be an essential part of the revival. From the Levellers’ Battle of the Beanfield to Clan Dyken’s ‘eco-folk’, have ‘new age’ subcultures and green politics helped to recover folk’s radical roots? Some hope a revived folk tradition might help create a more ‘radical’ English identity and heritage, an alternative to the flag-waving jingoism of Rule Britannia. Liberal peer Lord Redesdale wants to have 14,000 morris dancers at the 2012 Olympics. But is folk in danger of being co-opted and sanitised just as it seems to be reinvigorated? At the start of the 20th century progressive enthusiasts propagated the idea that folk music could reconnect ‘the people’ with their past, and with each other, and inspire a collective outlook. In the very different political context of the 21st century, is folk music fulfilling its potential, or is it just another brand?
Venue: Vibe Live, 91-95 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL (map).
Tickets: visit the Institute of Ideas website or call 020 7269 9220.
singer, writer and performer; CDs include, The Man in the Long Black Coat and From Stockport to Memphis
music critic, Daily Telegraph; composer; broadcaster; author, Music: healing the rift
folk artist, composer and lyricist; albums include Trespasser (2008) and The Lark Descending (2005), which included the BBC Folk Award winnning song One in a Million.
music editor, Time Out London
writer; head of sociology, JFS Sixth Form Centre; contributor, spiked
music student, University of Oxford; holder of Bayreuth Scholarship and Leask Music Scholarship
curator, Vibe Live; fellow, Royal Society of Arts
associate editor, Q-News; folk enthusiast
|Dr Shirley Dent
head of communications, PhonepayPlus; co-author, Radical Blake
Folk music has always had its detractors, but this singer believes it is England's richest cultural resource.Chris Wood, The Times, 28 July 2008
Folk has always narrated and recorded the sad stories of those dispossessed and down-trodden in an unequal society. What I take issue with is the idea that we should take our political cue today from such tales of victimhood.Shirley Dent, The Independent, 20 July 2008
Can the worlds of classical and folk music meet and mingle?Ivan Hewett, Telegraph, 24 April 2008
"I was amazed by the high quality of the Battle of Ideas 2007 and the intellectual excitement that it provoked."
Prof Malcolm Grant CBE, president and provost, University College London