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Contemporary Folk 3. Folk Rocks

After Dylan, folk singers and their music opened up to pop/rock production techniques and instrumentation, and the songs about the personal instead of the social.

“Dylan opened up a lot of doors; obviously The Beatles were very influenced by Dylan and that helped take [folk] more mainstream. You can hear it in songs on ‘Help’‘Hide Your Love Away’ is a really Dylan inspired song – the real vibe of it.” Griff Jameson; Writer and Performer – Fred’s House “Personally I feel that Bob Dylan (as an influence of mine) is a singer that inspires political and social writing, with stripped back melodies and instrumentation, rather than personal writing with enhanced music production.” Young Female Folk Artist

Many of those with only a cursory interest in folk music will be aware of the famous ‘Judas’ incident – when Dylan was accused (with admirably simple directness) of betrayal in light of his move from acoustic to electric backing for his songs. The incident, at a concert at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 17 May 1966 has (ironically) become part of folklore and can perhaps pinpoint the birth of rock music in the UK. Dylan had recorded 5 ‘electrified’ singles and an album prior to this, and had played the first live ‘plugged-in’ set of his professional career at the Newport Folk Festival on 25th July the previous year. Folk singer John Cordwell, who has since been identified as the man who made the shout, has claimed that his objection was not based on the electrified sound, but the poor sound and what he perceived as an end of the traditional relationship between audience and artist. [Saul, 2005]

With the wide exposure to folk music through television, radio and more freely available recordings, the framework and lines distinguishing folk music were becoming blurred. Dylan’s visibility and success in amongst mainstream ‘pop’ permitted a more personal context to writing to be presented as folk [Young, 2012, p. 223] – which is reflected today; that Wikipedia list including successful pop singer songwriters such as Ed Sheeran alongside more obviously niche artists.



On 17th May 1968 the band Pentangle released their first album ‘The Pentangle’ which featured the first instance of a rock drum kit as backing for traditional English folk songs.  In Spring the following year, ‘Unhalfbricking’ by Fairport Convention would feature a full drum kit played in a rock style.  Although falling foul of the hardcore traditionalists with their approach to the songs, the band felt that they retained respect for the material and were building on what had gone before – “we just leapt in and did his in a rock ‘n’ roll kind of way” (Young, 2012, p. 264)

Steeleye Span – All Around My Hat

It’s fascinating to revisit ‘All Around My Hat’ by Steeleye Span after many years. I remember this as one of those ubiquitous big hits from my childhood (actually a hit in December 1975) but in my memory it had remained stuck in the acoustic folky instruments and layered vocal harmonies of the introduction section and the first verse. So it was quite a surprise to hear the chugging backbeat and drum line more reminiscent of a 70’s glam rock / pub rock band. The original version of the song itself dates back to the early 19th Century – a tale of a cockney costermonger who’s lover is about to be sent on a prison ship to Australia but the Steeleye Span version grafted another song on to the first to create a folk feminist hit single whose success became a yardstick by which much of British folk music would become measured (Young, 2012, p. 542).

In my interviews, I asked what influences the writing, recording and production of folk music today.

“With folk music, you can step back more; the musicians are so good at what they do, your job is to capture what they have already have. You don’t do many takes; quite different from when I’ve produced in pop genres; with folk if your voice breaks that is part of the performance and the emotion that you are trying to convey. I’ll get what they have, and if I hear something that enhances it, like an accordion or bass, or a second guitar part then I’ll intervene, but my mindset is to let them have it how they want it.” Lauren Deakin-Davies – Writer / Performer (Delora) and Producer “I don’t generally consider genre or style when I’m writing, but as folk is my main influence it seems to seep out in my writing regardless. The sound that I like to produce and the sound I enjoy singing/playing seems to just have a folk feel to it, but generally I try and cater to the song and my own personal preference of it’s sounding, rather than try to stick within a boundary and limit the creative process. There are some songs I write, however, that I feel able to explore on a more detailed level (in terms of the length and structure of the song), and certain subject matter that I feel able to discuss because a folk audience would be more accepting/appreciative of it… …The production / recording process is extremely important to me – I am fully aware that the production can completely change and enhance a song, and bring it to life. The recording process for me is enjoyable; it is a challenge and I personally put a lot of pressure on myself to get the perfect take. I want my recordings to sound the absolute best I can deliver, so the recording process is a very important part of the journey. I find the producer’s role absolutely fascinating, and love being in the studio as much as possible. For my album and EP, I co-produced; I was present for the whole mixing stage to go over every last detail and get the best recording possible.” Young Female Folk Artist

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