"Are folk songs manufactured or do they just happen?"

(July 05, 2007)

Good question. People write songs for many complicated muddy messy reasons. Many folk songs are profound, meaningful, narrative songs, analytical, reflective and filled with social commentary. I'm told that there's a sense in which the writer has to do it. I'm also told: "Sometimes with song writing it's like having a shit – it's there and you have to deal with it."

Occasionally, subjects present themselves and songwriters feel so strongly that they have to write about them. Sometimes the topics are issues around them and sometimes things done to them. They feel that they have to address the topics, they want to speak out about the subject matter even though the lyrics are hard to come by.

Simon Hopper, lyricist, composer and musician with The Simon Hopper Band, states: "Either the lyrics are there nagging and if you don't go and write them down you'll forget them, and if you forget them you're going to regret it. The other side is where a subject presents itself and demands you write about it. You need to address it, write something down about it because somebody should and you might as well because you're thinking about it. There's a need to express that collection of ideas that are in your head about a specific subject. But it's going to be hard work finding the angle, the lyric and the form."

Simon continues: "Why does it happen? Is there a need to express social commentary or does that comes when people are politicised? The Iraq war for example, made many people political. They became intrigued and gripped, and tried to see the truth behind the spin. Songwriters write as a result and what they write is often at odds with the established order (and it has always been so)."

So are folk songs manufactured? Absolutely they are, they don't just happen like rain and wind but maybe their influences do. However, the fact they are manufactured detracts not one bit from the song. The spark that caused the manufacturing process to begin was far more fundamental than 'a good idea' one morning over breakfast.

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