Posted in Folk and Blues, Music

Surfin’ the 60s

I’ve become somewhat addicted to Amazon Prime Music. I know, I know, corporate monolith and all that, but I’ve been having fun with it.

I came of age in the 1960s and grew up listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Kinks and all those guys. I had black light posters and at one point owned a fringed jacket with a matching head bank. Hey, I was a teeny-bopper. My sister and I had pictures of our favorite rock stars in our bedroom, much like the teens of today. No iPhone, though. No email and no blogs, either. But the Rolling Stones? Yeah, man.

picture of band Steeleye Span
Folk-rockin Steeleye Span. Groovy, man. Good thing Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy are in there.

Then the 1970s rolled around and I discovered British and Irish traditional folk music. I’ve been on that train ever since, although I don’t listen as much as I used to. These days I’m groovin’ to African blues and up-to-date, ever-so-slightly rocked up folk. I have a limited tolerance for loud electric guitars, but some of those guys were something else. Not so much a problem with the British folk, unless you count Steeleye Span and their ilk. I’m willing to put up with the electric guitars and drums just as long as I can hear Maddy Prior above it all.

So, I’ve spent the afternoon and evening revisiting old music and feeling my heart go pitter-patter. The rock music is probably preserved, but a lot of the great folk artists have a lot of vinyl that never got transferred to anything else. Take Nic Jones for example. Nic who? He was a brilliant guitarist and fiddle player who got slammed by a truck in the early 1980s. He survived, but his bones and brain had the worst of it. He’s still around, just not performing. I was crushed when I heard that.

Nic has some other stuff that has stood the test of time and is still available (and yeah, it’s gory and bloody, but that’s the genre for you). But, you have to be a real folkie like me. Otherwise, you’ll probably just be bored (sigh).

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Provocateur – What Do You Think?

I've been listening to a song I downloaded not too long ago, from a British folk singer by the name of Nic Jones. Nic hasn't played since the early 1980s, following a horrendous road accident that had him hospitalized for months. I don't know what damage it did to his body – but for whatever reason he never went back to playing. Perhaps he no longer could.

Nic Jones sang and played traditional music, accompanying himself on guitar most of the time. If you're familiar with the likes of Martin Carthy, then you'll recognize his musical style: very modal and very intense.

I've been fascinated with one song he performed in the late 1970s, a traditional balled called Rufford Park Poachers. Years ago I played fiddle in a traditional Celtic and British band and our lead singer performed it. I was fascinated by the song then, and and still am. It's got a captivating melody and a great deal of rebellious sentiment, something relatively rare for traditional ballads. In most cases the songs revolve around having to bear social and economic burdens rather than rise up against them.

Rufford Park Poachers documents the struggle of a band of 40 poachers who invade a nobleman's estate grounds, Rufford Park. They attack and kill the head games-keeper and a few of them are transported to Australia for their crime. I find it very provocative and end up wondering whether or not the poachers were justified in attacking the grounds-keeper. It does sound as though they intended to kill him:

A buck or doe, believe it so
A pheasant or a hare
Sent on earth for everyone
Quite equally to share

Poacher bold, As I unfold
Keep up your gallant heart
And think about those poachers bold
That night in Rufford Park

They say that 40 gallant poachers
Now they were in a mess
They often were attacked
When the number it was less

Now poacher bold…

Among the gorse
To settle scores
The 40 gathered stones
Making a fight for a poor man's right
To break the keeper's bones

Now poacher bold…

Then the keepers went with their flails
Against the poachers and their cause
That no man again would dare
Defy the rich man's laws

Now poacher bold…

And the keepers they began the fray
With their stones and with their flails
When the poachers started, oh
They quickly turned their tails

Now poacher bold…

Then upon the ground with mortal wounds
The head keeper Roberts lay
He never will rise up until
The final judgement day

Now poacher bold…

Of all the band who made a stand
To set a net or snare
Four men brought before the court
And tried for murder there

Now poacher bold…

And the judge he said, for Roberts' death
Transported you must be
To serve a term of 14 years
In convict slavery

Poacher bold, my tale is told
Keep up your gallant heart
Think about those poachers bold
That night in Rufford Park

This mass attack and sentencing actually happened:

"…in 1850 there was a showdown between local people and gamekeepers in the shape of a vicious and bitter fight, after which ringleaders were selected, tried and transported for up to 14 years." The original version of this song was recorded in 1908 on wax cylinders. The above-mentioned Martin Carthy performed it starting in the 1960s.

Do you think the poachers/townspeople were justified in this mass action? Convict transportation to Australia was brutal. Do you think the judges were justified? I find this a very unusual song. Usually songs would go along the lines of "I broke the law, I lost, now I'm going to be hung/imprisoned/transported." The British ballad tradition is full of laments for people kidnapped by the government to be forced to serve (often for life) in the military. Their wives lamented, they lamented. There were songs of people thrown out of work during the industrial revolution. Lots of lamentation and sorrow. But, almost no rebellion. No one fought back, at least none that were documented.

I'd love your opinion. By the way, here's Nic Jones's version of the song. I think it's fabulous:

So, what do you think??

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Ancient Songs

I've been browsing the online music world of late, to find something to listen to as I work. It's been a while since I've indulged my musical habits, having once been a musician and founding member of two bands. Things change, though, and so did I. Still, finding music I once listened to (and played!) has been a joy these last few weeks.

As I listened and dredged ancient information from my brain, a musician suddenly popped into my brain whose name I for the life of me couldn't remember. He was a British traditional folk musician, someone who reminded me a lot of Martin Carthy – one of my favorite traditional English balladeers. Jones? I couldn't for the life of me remember. I have one of his albums, packed away in a box somewhere from the time we decided to renovate the living room. The living room's not done yet (sigh) so those precious albums are still locked away.

Jones? Jones? Then, I remembered: Nic Jones!!

Nic Jones was an extremely popular folk singer in the 1970s and early 1980s. Then, to our collective horror, he was badly injured in an automobile accident. Evidently, his injuries were bad enough to end an extremely promising career. I was crushed when I heard that. But, like all things, life went on and my Nic Jones album faded away in my mind and memory.

Until, that is, I discovered streaming radio and started collecting songs again. I'm a folk music enthusiast and dove into the 1970s British folk music renaissance with a passion. Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, The John Renbourne Group – they filled my shelves. Then I forgot about them.

I began with a tailor-made "folk" station for my listening pleasure, then realized I could download some of those songs directly to my computer for relatively little money. Well, I added a few songs from Nic Jones to my collection. Here's one of them, if you have any interest in my musical tastes:

I'm particularly fond of the modal, minor presence of this music (the album dates from 1980. Nic's in his 60s now), along with the power and the understated but painful emotion. A man's lover betrays him. It's a common theme for ancient ballads such as this one.

This is a bit of a painful courtship ritual for me, actually. I love this guy's music and it pains me to realize he hasn't been able to play for over 20 years. I will thank him for the wonderful music he made before the accident, though. I cherish, to this day.


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