Thursday, February 16, 2006

My consolation prize for not being in the UK when the Folk Britannia series is airing--a show on Ovation, spotted by the eagle-eyed missus (who's always looking out for me televisually), Ken Russell: In Search of the English Folksong. Actually made in 1997, making Ken bizarrely ahead of the pack--just him and the dude in Current 93 at that point, eh? No ancient footage from mid-Sixties folk cellars like Les Cousins and Bunjie's, or Communist Party singalongs from the Fifties... instead it's the performers as they are now (well, '97, but you catch my drift)... June Tabor doing a wonderfully haunting unaccompanied story-song "The King of Rome" in the grounds of a stately home, the Albion Band marred a bit by some nasty modern keyboards, Carthy/Waterson harmonising in a graveyard, Donovan singing "Nirvana", Fairport Convention doing a sort of video I guess and cavorting around a thatched cottage, the Cropedy Festival (including Osibisa!).... and then lots of stuff that doesn't fit at all (this being a wonderfully eccentric take on what constitutes folk song, goofily presented by the ruddy-faced Russell)
... a really strange calypso-folk/circus-carnival type outfit called Edward II at Glastonbury, a man obsessed with Native American folkways, a sexy middle-aged Greenham common veteran singing a suggestive ditty full of horseriding/fornication double-entendres, scenes at Greenham (the military base now derelict and Ballardian) with former protestors singing the tunes that kept their spirits up around the camp fires, a minstrel called Bob Appleyard singing with bizarre and oddly affecting intensity a song about "The Fawley Flame" (a plume of fire that lights up the night sky from the Southampton Water refinery), and various other performers who basically seem to be friends of Ken's or people who live in his village...

And right at the start, something that gave me a real tingle--Russell whipping through a stack of 78 rpm records and stopping at one by Joseph Taylor, "Died Of Love" b/w "Brig Fair", originally recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger, on a cylinder. "Bought this at Cecil Sharp House," says Ken, adding that Taylor was "around eighty when they recorded him". A ghostly flutter of voice comes through the shellac's hiss and crackle. Equally ghostly was the tiny bit of pre-First World War film they had of folklorists Cecil Sharp and George Butterworth dancing in a circle with "two ravers" (as Ken put it, in his archly sexist way) in an English country garden. The name "Joseph Taylor" gave me a rush because that's the voice sampled on the amazing "Caermaen" by Belbury Poly, aka Jim Jupp--the one where he changed the speed and pitch, restructured the melody, made "a dead man sing a brand new song". Don't know whether the tune Russell played ("Died of Love" I think) was the one that Jim used, but it did give me a right queer feeling--which in turn reminded me that I meant to write something else on the topic of hauntology....

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