Folk Music notes from a left field

Posted in General Village Interest

When Meg asked me what folk music was all about, I thought I might write a few notes to provide a personal view. But first, a definition from American folklorist Alan Lomax, 'folk song calls the native back to his roots'.

Folk music sessions occur widely and vary according to local custom and preference. A common style is 'round the room' where people take it in order to provide a tune or song. Particular sessions may favour singarounds or may be instrumental based. In Norfolk you can find a variety of offerings which usually occur on set days of the month. The website, 'A Little Bird Told Me' gives a diary listing with an indication of the type of session.

Organised folk sessions are a comparatively modern thing following on the back of the 'folk revival' in the 1950's/1960's. Prior to that folk music would have occurred more informally, with local musicians/singers performing as and when they fancied it. Locally we had people like Walter Deacon who was a railway ganger from Broom Green. He would go down to the King Billy for a drink and return home for his dulcimer if asked for a few tunes. No doubt he would have been plied with beer and legend has it that his wife who always wore flowers in her hat, would dance on the tables.

Favourite instruments would be fiddles, dulcimers and squeezeboxes which all had the benefit of being able to be transported by bike, which was all most people had. There were many Norfolk people who became known more widely like dulcimer player, Billy Bennington who was called 'The Barford Angel'. At one time he would travel with a couple of other musicians and their instruments on a motorbike and sidecar. Singers Walter Pardon, Harry Cox and Sam Larner became celebrated for their extensive repertoire of songs, many of which had local connections.

Folk music is still popular with many clubs and festivals and new generations discovering and reinterpreting the vast resources of songs and tunes that are increasingly being made available through bodies like the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

It is fascinating how traditional music has travelled the World and carried with it the stories of ordinary folks' lives. These songs can change and be reinvented in new forms, e.g. 'The St James Infirmary Blues' which was performed by Louis Armstrong amongst others, was said to be derived from an 18th century traditional English song 'The Unfortunate Rake'. Folk music provides a rich source of historical information and social comment and the oral tradition was a major means of communication prior to the arrival of radio and TV.

Locally the tradition is being kept alive with bands like Rig-a-Jig-Jig performing mainly Norfolk tunes and songs and step dancing. Jig dolls, like step dancing, a local tradition, can also be seen in action at our King's Head Folk Night. Folk Night is on the first Sunday evening each month at 8.00pm.