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The ’70s, Deleted

Nick Drake
Nick Drake
Photo: Keith Morris
It’s a great time for books and magazine features celebrating the musical spin-offs from the early UK folk boom into what was then called ‘contemporary folk’ or folk/rock and nowadays gets labelled with all sorts of bonkers designations like ‘psych folk’, ‘strange folk’, ‘acid folk’ and other sub-genres that never existed at the time the music was created. Wherever you look in magazines like Shindig, Mojo, Record Collector or The Wire there are constant references, and the bookshelves are rapidly filling – Rob Young’s excellent Electric Eden is just out and Jeanette Leech’s intriguing-looking Seasons They Change is due in November. Alongside this, reissues abound and vinyl that has rarity comparable to that of chicken molars sells for eye-watering prices on eBay, regardless of the reasons that caused the scarcity. A new history and set of legends have been created, particularly over the past five years or so.

The ‘f word’ has been devalued as a term of reference for a long time, way past the point where there can be any meaningful or entertaining discussion about what it means. For 40 or more years now, the American-led music business has used it as shorthand for ‘acoustic’ or ‘sings own songs with acoustic guitar’ or, these days, sometimes with the prefix nu-, ‘has banjo or accordeon in line-up’. Fine, call it what you like, nobody dies, and there are plenty of other useful if slightly unwieldy terms like ‘traditionally-rooted music’ to describe what the little abbreviated ‘f’ in our title covers.

Approaching the new literature can’t, therefore, be done in a spirit of genre denial. “That’s not what I call folk” simply isn’t a valid remark, because everybody and their pawnbroker has their own different idea of what the term means – let alone the sub-genres – and having -folk as a feral -ism running wild across the musical landscape does produce some startlingly interesting bedfellows and discoveries.

Moreover, just as young men in greatcoats in the 1960s found their way from the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and even Jethro bloody Tull down tortuous paths to the likes of Charley Patton, because at some point the former had been on a bandwagon marked ‘blues’, how are we to know that a current purchaser of anything from Vashti Bunyan to Mumford & Sons might not end up five years later worshipping at the altar of Eliza Carthy or Harry Cox.

fRom fRoots 328, October 2010


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