Skip to main content

Electric Eden

Inspired by my post on the book The Rest is Noise, my niece kindly bought me a copy of Electric Eden by Rob Young for Christmas, which I have just finished (something of a mammoth feat, as the book is over 600 pages long before you hit the notes.

It's sort of on the 20th century British folk music revival and the development of folk rock, though it goes beyond this in many ways. This isn't a musical form that I've had a lot to do with, and it was really interesting to find out more about it.

There were three aspects that really stood out for me. One was the early 20th century stuff, where the likes of Vaughan Williams and Holst were rediscovering folk music live from old country performers and bringing it into serious music. Then there was the group, the Strawbs. I knew the name, but I didn't know either that they did a form of electric folk or that, bizarrely, their keyboard player was briefly that wonder of the synthesiser, and now grumpy old man, Rick Wakeman. (I just love his schlocky Journey the Centre of the Earth). I really must buy a Strawbs album. (In fact since writing those words, I have been over to Amazon and ordered a couple.) Then there was Pentangle, the only folk/rock group whose output is reflected on my shelves.

For the rest, I must admit, I tended to know the names (Fairport Convention, for instance) or their one or two pop hits (Steeleye Span), but nothing much of their output or lives. One absolutely fascinating factoid comes through. When someone heckled Dylan as a traitor for using an electric guitar, he was being accused of being a traitor to a 'tradition' that had only been around for a couple of decades. The guitar didn't feature in folk music until after the Second World War, so that whole acoustic guitar sound is actually a modern construct.

What I found a little frustrating is that several performers I do like - Al Stewart particularly, and one period of Jethro Tull, for instance - are on the edge of folk crossover, and get passing mentions, but there is no detail about them at all, which was very frustrating. I also found that some of the book was pretentious and unfocussed - I can't see the point, for instance, of an opening chapter wholly dedicated to an obscure folk singer called Vashti Bunyan, who seems to have sold about 500 copies of two albums and spent years wandering around in a gypsy caravan, unless it was supposed to be a metaphor for folk music's commercial ambivalence, or something.

Despite occasional frustrations, though, this was a fascinating read about a strangely unworldly twig of the tree that is the music business and well worth investigating. See at Amazon.co.uk - See at Amazon.com

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou