- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 13, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195158784
- ISBN-13: 978-0195158786
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,256,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music 1st Edition
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The Amazon Book Review
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"Sweers has compiled a fascinating examination of electric folk- or folk rock- in the UK since the 1960s." --CHOICE
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Britta Sweers is Junior Professor in Ethnomusicology at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Rostock (Germany).
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But Sweers puts front and center four bands: Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, and the Oyster Band, with plenty of discussion of acoustic performers allied to electric folk (e.g. Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins) and some excursions into "Celtic lounge music" (Clannad, Enya) and American bands doing English electric folk. Nor is this a casual anecdotal history. Despite some occasionally sloppy writing and copyediting (what has happened to the OUP, anyway?), Sweers has delved deeply into primary sources and interviewed almost everybody, and written a good analysis of how the "scene" developed, what it meant to the people performing and listening to it (even discussing social class issues), and into what the music is actually like and how it got that way. I especially appreciated the meaty technical sections, like the chart showing some of the unusual chord progressions that characterize these songs (Fairport's "Tam Lin", for instance, is i-VII-III-i).
One might also learn a lot. Every history and interview of these performers says that many of them came out of "the folk clubs," obviously venues where folk music was performed, but Sweers is the first to actually describe these things. It turns out that "'venue' can actually be misleading, for the clubs were more like events - weekly meetings that were located in one of the small back rooms of a pub, easily missed by outsiders" (p. 112). Folk clubs tended to be run by people who took Ewan MacColl's every suggestion as iron-clad gospel, and thus were bastions for what Tom Lehrer once called "the peculiar hard core who equate authenticity with charm." Now one begins to understand why people like Tim Hart and Maddy Prior found them stultifying and sought a way out.
Sweers's interviewing and research were done around 1996-97 and the book is largely written from the perspective of that time period, although there's an epilogue dated 2003 when the text was finalized. It's still a long enough perspective to tell the primary history of a movement whose golden age was 1969-75 but still carries on.
This is a pioneering secondary study of considerable value, to ethnomusicologists seeking uncharted fields to read about, and especially to anyone who actually likes the music.
It reads more like a Ph.D candidate trying to impress the academic supervisor with academic register and form rather than just getting on with it and telling the story. A tough, really tough read.
Added to this, as the first reviewer explains, are interviews with many of the key players. This is valuable, as informants like Ashley Hutchings, Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson, and especially Maddy Prior share their memories-- or such as survive as they readily admit. Added to this is Sweers' best touch, for me. She trawls Melody Maker & Sounds (less so NME as she explains) for mentions of folk-rock as Fairport began to be marketed beyond the limited folk scene, and the counterculture took up the freak folk flag more readily by the time of "Liege & Lief." The analysis Sweers constructs shows how with less heralded (compared to Sandy Denny & Richard Thompson in hindsight!) Dave Mattacks on drums crafted the signature sound that enabled a genre to flourish, traditional material played by those who had grown up with rock and pop. Out of the folk club ghetto Prior captures in her comments so well, her Steeleye Span and its comrades pursued success into American stadiums and amplified concerts and grand productions on record. This phase, the earlier 70s, Sweers re-creates effectively from the point of view of the band.
I wish the constraint she places around her definition (somewhat flexible necessarily as she carefully accounts for) would have widened to include the rockers who donned folk trappings but were never placed among the folksters. The drift into prog rock and what's been called "elf opera" or 'sci-fi medievalism' is followed, but if Sweers had gone further, the wider relevance of her study upon the larger rock and pop worlds of the 70s might have been better established.
Still, a welcome book. Musicians, fans, scholars all should take from this thoughtful account a lesson in how to approach this wonderfully diversified fusion genre in a suitably eclectic, yet disciplined and carefully researched manner. As did the best of its musicians, so its critics: the preparation shows who merely puts on the garish costume vs. those adepts who come to wear its bold hues well as if a second skin.