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The ’70s, Deleted

Vashti Bunyan now
Vashti Bunyan now
Photo: Jak Kilby
So terminology is not a problem and I’m as happy to participate in the ‘invent a sub-genre a day to keep boredom away’ game as anybody. Who and what’s included in the story of something-folk isn’t a problem either, the more the merrier. But what has begun to disturb me lately is what isn’t included. For history is being increasingly remoulded and its dusty files culled, along with a certain amount of over-mythologising and self-mythologising along the way.

Thinking of those 1960s blues days again, things gained stature almost by luck. Unlike now, when just about every pre-war blues record of any worth has been reissued, we only heard what was given to us. Sometimes, artists who’d only cut a couple of obscure sides 35 years earlier achieved surprising fame in the historic scheme of things simply because they found their way onto a reissue alongside contemporary giants. Because of their inclusion in compilations by the ultra-hip Origin label, William Harris with his Bullfrog Blues or Garfield Akers with Cottonfield Blues were, in our eyes, just as important figures as hugely greater-selling and more influential artists of their era like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Blind Boy Fuller. To this day, ‘schools’ of artists like those around Dockery’s Plantation are much more revered in the scheme of things than their contemporary status probably justified (which has nothing to do with how great their music genuinely was).

So, back to the folk history thing. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading Rob Young’s thought-provoking Electric Eden, for everything that was included. But as I progressed through it, I started to have misgivings that it wasn’t the whole story. This is nothing I blame Rob for: he was only being born when much of the core music in the book was being created, and by the time he became interested in it, the tectonic plates of history had already migrated. It’s impossible for anybody coming later to hear the music in context, especially in the context of records that weren’t made and records whose place in history has been concealed by the mists swirling around others’ legends.

The current received wisdom about the tail end of the 1960s into the first years of the ‘70s implies that most artists of importance recorded for majors like Island, CBS, EMI, Decca or Pye, imprints of independent rock labels or the folk ‘major’ of the day, Transatlantic. Many were produced by Joe Boyd for Witchseason or to a lesser extent by Sandy Roberton’s September Productions, or had a close connection with musicians who moved in those circles. A London base definitely helped, but you got bonus points for ‘getting it together in the country’ in accommodation funded by a record label advance.

fRom fRoots 328, October 2010


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