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Tim Chipping
 

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

Oh here he is. What’s he gonna have a go at this time? He probably hates penguins now. Or crisps. Or those people who grow moustaches for charity. I don’t know why fRoots even has this bit. No one likes it.

Wait. I think I’ve found a subject we can all agree on: songwriters. There are too many songwriters in folk, aren’t there? Writing their songs about things they’ve thought of, and then singing them. What’s that abo… No? Oh it’s not easy this. Every month trying to think of a subject we might form a consensus about, so I can avoid being tagged in a Facebook post full of strangers who think I’m an arsehole for making a joke about Nizlopi. It’s not easy.

But I have been thinking about the proliferation of young singer-songwriters on the scene for some time. I just don’t know how to tackle the subject without treading on a few sensitive guitar leads. What if I made it clear that I don’t mean you and your songs? If you're reading this and you write songs then I think your songs are great. I especially loved that one you wrote about the horse.

I just think I’d like to hear more traditional songs being sung by new voices. Is that OK to say? The songwriting bar is set so giddily high these days that most new writers simply flop onto the crash mat in a heap. But the Child Ballads (named after song collector Francis J Children) are an inexhaustible source of tried and tested bangers. Why not put your face in a volume of Bronson and drink deeply? You can't go wrong. Well you can. Horribly wrong. Fusing it with jazz is rarely pleasant. But the brilliant thing about traditional songs is they can survive any misguided reimagining and come up shiny and new in the next person’s tinkering hands.

That’s not my idea, of course. Martin Carthy put it far better when he said, “There's nothing you can do to harm a song except not sing it.” I just never thought there’d come a time when people chose not to sing the old songs in favour of their own.

In truth I don’t know that there are too many singer-songwriters on the folk scene, it just feels that way to me. And that’s no basis for any kind of action. Acting on unsubstantiated gut feelings about personal prejudices just isn’t the British way. So I guess all I really want to say to any musicians under the age of regret and back pain is thank you for coming, please try the trad. We’ve an awful lot of it and it would be a shame to let it go to waste.

And writing songs is hard. Not as hard as writing magazine columns but still a real bugger. Why put yourself through all that artistic strife when there are people long since dead and anonymised, who’ve done most of the work for you? All you have to do is take out the “thees”, “thous” and “diddle all days” and you’ll have a festival set in no time. Also don’t do the voice. You don’t need to do the folk voice, your own voice is fine. Unless it isn’t. Then you should probably just play the melodeon.

Tim Chipping


 

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