Wednesday, August 06, 2003
Last night in HMV, I indulged my addiction to what DJ Andy Kershaw prettifies by calling "English roots" music, and I know just as traditional folk. I don't talk about it much, mainly because I'd be perceived as being as uncool as the genre itself, and being uncool would never do. It surprises people too, as I'm hardly your average "folkie". I don't sport a bushy beard or dirty fingernails for starters, and I usually remember to wash behind my ears. My clothes are Diesel rather than Oxfam, and never in my life have I pranced naked around a maypole, or worried a sheep. And I hate Real Ale.
But I love these old songs, best sung a cappella in a woman's voice, or to a haunting solo fiddle. Tales of demon-lovers and raggle-taggle gypsies, maidens ruined and lovers deceived, saucy sailors and buxom factory-maids. They've lasted a great deal longer than Gareth Gates' over-produced and manipulated warblings ever will because the stories and emotions, their delivery honed razor-sharp over centuries, touch us with the simple constants of the real world: love and hope, death and betrayal. Sex, as well. Loads of it.
The English tradition is currently experiencing a bit of a mini-revival, with yet another "roots" album being a contender for this year's Mercury Music Prize.
Next time round, in 2004, I'd put my tenner on last night's CD purchase. The just-released Sweet England by Jim Moray (Folkdom's latest Wunderkind, so they tell me) is a reworking of some old chestnuts which has Cross-Over written all over it. Besides being cute, he's got a voice as fresh as earth after spring rain, and his contemporary arrangements (piano, horns, strings, programming, kitchen sink) give a refreshing new take on the familiar songs, while still remaining faithful to the original story-telling spirit, and never once falling into that circle of Hell known only as folk-rock. And anyone who can transform that execrable schoolroom ditty, "Early One Morning", into the kind of pre-pubescent suicide note Nick Cave would kill for, is OK by me.
Admittedly , it's hardly the purchase of your typical Old Compton Street queen, but, as far as I'm concerned, music is music is music and shouldn't be categorised. So Sweet England will take its proud place alongside my show-tunes and power-pop, my techno and tangos, my Mahlers and Madonnas, my goth and my froth. And if you thought my head was messed-up and weird, my dears, then you should stop by and rummage though my CD collection sometime.