‘Now We Are Six’ – with apologies to A.A Milne

(September 10, 2013)

As of 10th September 2013 FolkWords is six years old. Not long in the cosmic scheme of life but for us it’s a celebration. After all, nobody expected a 'good idea' to last this long, gain so much attention or attract so many followers. The original intention behind FolkWords was to give an old journalist something to do in retirement. After years of writing for all sorts of folk on a wide variety of topics, he decided to write for himself and on just the one topic – folk music, for a book and a website.

At first, it seemed like a fairly simple exercise but as the months passed the size and complexity of the task began to dawn. Folk is not a single topic it’s hundreds. Folk does not have one but a multitude of opinions. There are more arguments flying around folk than around the Americans landing on the moon. Once you understand that, you realise that trying to define or categorise folk is like a cross between herding cats and folding gravy – and equally pointless.

Another realisation, on a far more mechanical level, is the size of the task. Learning just how involved it is to write a book. Developing content is no problem, deciding what to keep in and what to leave out is a little more complex. The time required to research and record being somewhat underestimated, involving something slightly more than delivering copy by a certain deadline. There is also the steady comprehension that a website grows much faster than expected. How quickly word spreads as artists and agencies send material for review. And then came the realisation that you need some help to get through the ever increasing pile of albums waiting for review.

So after six years where are we?

We know there’s something rather splendid about folk music. It evolves and morphs into a myriad of forms yet in so many ways its roots remain unsullied and continue to put forth new shoots. For every alt-folk, indie, nu-folk submission there remains an equal number of reincarnations of tradition and heritage. That is why it is so rewarding - listening to and absorbing all that is fresh and emergent in a musical tradition that has its origins in time long gone. Enjoying the past while working in the present, experimentation alongside heritage. And no, I’m not verging on the whimsical. The revivals and reinventions, renewals and resurgences that have in many ways helped preservation and in almost as many ways misrepresented or perverted the tradition, are filled with faults and recognised as such. Then again, show me an art form that’s devoid of fault.

The wealth of heritage discovered and preserved or sometimes parodied in this way, has led to much that remains good. Yes, it verges on the parochial at times. Yes, there are those that want to strangle or ignore innovation. With all that in mind, the continued evolution of what we choose to call folk (however catholic our tastes) is fit and well. And why do we make this assertion? Because you will continue to hear new artists and bands playing startlingly good folk music and bringing out wonderful albums both inside and without that which is called ‘tradition’. Equally, the arrival and continuance of new or nu folk (and all its other variations) however much some may decry it, proves that the plant is healthy and young shoots continue to thrive.

For all its vagaries, perceived and actual, folk is one genre where emerging bands can still easily rub shoulders with their more established and illustrious neighbours. It is also a genre that to greater or lesser extents accepts (or tolerates) innovation in a rather less reactionary way than many. There may be factions and tribes, disagreement and derision but there is thankfully no indication of outright war.

And where to now?

This experience has only reinforced our already open-minded, wide-ranging, and scrupulously eclectic view of folk and all its elements. It allows us to wander freely across music from continents, countries, regions and groups. The results are evident in our review schedule and (hopefully) our meandering writings on the subject of folk.

Along the way we’ve gained a regular audience, considerably larger then first imagined. We’ve gained a host of friends we didn’t know before. We’ve listened to a vast amount of music – average, good and outstanding. We’ve been fortunate to join artists from their early days and then follow them as they flourish. We’ve been privileged to talk to some of folk’s luminaries. And we’ve also gained our fair share of negatives that range from such gems as ‘… all you’re doing is using the web to broadcast your own opinions’ to ‘… there’s nothing you could say that I could ever agree with’. Well there you go. As they say, if you don’t like it don’t look.

Hopefully, FolkWords will continue to share more of the same as well as adding something new here and there as we continue the journey. For the support and friendship - ‘thank you’.

Here’s to the journey going on for a few more years.

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