This book looks in detail at the growth in popularity and profile of the English folk arts in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Based on original research within English folk culture, it is the only ethnographic study of its kind. The book first examines the salient characteristics of the twenty-first-century English folk resurgence. Then, it looks at the development of a 'folk industry', beginning with a broad analysis of the historical context of the first two folk revivals. Taking the emergence of folk industry conferences as a case study, it traces the folk industry's web of intersecting institutions and discourses. Its second case study of the new folk club the Magpie's Nest examines further the coming together of commercialisation and professionalisation with the folk ethos. The book also discusses the actual music and dance being performed within the English folk arts, and considers the ways in which these texts are engaging with both popular and high-art cultural products and processes. It gives a brief contextualisation of the wider cultural interest in Englishness within which the folk resurgence is situated. Following on from the exploration of England, the book analyses the versions of Englishness that can be found within the work of contemporary English folk artists. The book codifies a range of English identities under construction in the resurgence, and examines their politics. It concludes with a consideration of some broader theoretical issues raised by the author's findings.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book argues that the early twenty-first century can be seen as a period of resurgence in the English folk arts. A conceptual opposition to commercially manufactured and distributed pop music remains fairly central to contemporary conceptions of the folk arts by those within and outside of English folk culture. The book demonstrates the ambiguity and permeability of the boundaries between the two idioms, and this ambiguity has now become the subject of explicit celebration by contemporary English folk musicians and dancers. Presentational dance contexts within English folk culture are numerous and quite varied, but the most common and widely recognised is morris dancing. The book analyses the versions of Englishness that can be found within the work of contemporary English folk artists.
This chapter traces the various strands of the contemporary folk industry. It examines the coexistence of folk ethos with folk industry. The chapter considers two main case studies: firstly the folk industry conferences and secondly the new folk club the Magpie's Nest. It discusses of English folk as both resistant to and complicit in economic activity during the two revival periods of the last two centuries, in order to more clearly evaluate and understand the development of a folk industry. The 2007 conference, for example, offered a number of thematic strands that illuminate the many dimensions of the burgeoning folk industry. These included 'Fundraising for Folk', 'Folk in Education' and 'Publicity, Marketing, Media and Promotion'. The Magpie's Nest demonstrates a convergence of folk ethos with new attitudes towards professionalisation and commercialisation.
This chapter focuses more closely on the creative outputs of the contemporary English folk resurgence. It looks at folk artists' growing engagements with the cultural mainstream and examines the extraordinarily wide variety of ways in which English folk music and dance is thus being represented, redeveloped and reinvented. The chapter analyses of four case studies which exhibit different kinds of engagements of English folk with popular music or dance. The case studies are the acoustic pop of Seth Lakeman; the electric folk of Jim Moray; the English ceilidh dance music scene; and the Demon Barber Roadshow's fusion of traditional dance with contemporary street dance. The chapter offers a short examination of the referencing of historical popular cultures by acts such as Bellowhead and Jim Moray. It considers artorientated folk music and dance in the output of four related acts: Chris Wood, the English Acoustic Collective, Methera and Morris Offspring.
This chapter examines the diversity of approaches and cultural engagements that characterise the recent resurgence of English folk. It provides an examination of possible commonalities across this diverse genre. The chapter highlights some of the key elements of English folk music practice that have been foregrounded, or have developed in profile and significance, within the resurgence. The act of varying each rendition of a tune has, come to be seen as a constituent element of a good English instrumental folk performance. The phrase 'funky chords' is often used by musicians as a catch-all term for any harmonic element of a premeditated arrangement that successfully undermines the conventional diatonic harmonies prescribed by the inherent features of English traditional music. The chapter argues that the Englishness is inherent in the contradistinction of the performance technique with perceived common practice in Celtic musical traditions.
English voters, the findings of the survey suggest, appear to favour 'distinct government arrangements for England as a whole'. The survey's findings also suggest that changing attitudes about how England should be governed are tied up with changes in attitudes to national identity, with a sense of Englishness becoming more important for many. A commonly aired explanation for the flowering of interest in Englishness is the ongoing process of UK devolution. That is the devolution of political power from a centralised British government in Westminster, London, to the Scottish Parliament, and the Northern Irish and Welsh National Assemblies, respectively. The asymmetry of the devolution process is most clearly illustrated by an issue now commonly referred to as the 'West Lothian Question'. Devolution represents arguably the greatest symbol of the undoing of English, rather than British, imperialist oppression.
One of the most powerful constructs of England associated with the folk arts is that of England as rural idyll. In 2008 the BBC broadcast the first series of Lark Rise to Candleford, a Sunday-night period drama adaptation of Flora Thompson's three novels set in the rural Oxfordshire of the late nineteenth century. Images of rural England are also a significant theme in album and website artwork associated with contemporary English folk music. Within the English folk arts there is often a particular insistence on the regionally and locally distinctive character of England's folk music and dance. The period since the 1980s has seen the publication of a number of largely eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English musicians' tunebooks. The construction of a 'strange England' has been prominent, in the work of a number of visual artists who have drawn on or been inspired by rural folk traditions.
Many participants in the English folk arts speak of their English identities with explicit reference to the context of a Britain that is multicultural. One such version of Englishness offers it as a discrete, distinct and bounded identity within Britishness, which is understood in turn as a mosaic of diverse cultural identities. A dominant construction of England within folk culture is as a patchwork of distinctive localities. A number of reasons are proposed for the sense of English identity as lost or beleaguered. Dave Delarre, for example, speaks of the English 'resorting back' to their English identity as a consequence of multiculturalism. The period between, roughly, 2006 and 2012, saw a development in which English folk participants were drawn to engage quite explicitly with challenges concerning the politics of Englishness. In 2012, the team of volunteer organisers of the Folk Against Fascism (FAF) website scaled back their activities.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book discusses the various artistic and contextual elements of the English folk resurgence that has generated the greatest public discussion and debate has been the appropriation and mobilisation of folk music by the British National Party (BNP). It explains the reasons for choosing to label the cultural moment a 'resurgence' rather than a 'revival'. The book focuses on those strands within the folk resurgence that overtly celebrate more progressive, hybrid or multi-ethnic visions of Englishness. Within Western cultural academic discourse, the quality of being indigenous is generally reserved for and assigned to those who are in positions of minority within colonised 'settler societies' (Ibid.). Despite the various similarities between the characterisation of indigeneity about Englishness, it is important to acknowledge that the term 'indigenous' is rarely used in relation to those debates.