... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

475: Folk (English)

When Stewart Lee talks, about anything really, I listen. Occasionally he will put out a radio documentary about something or other, interesting to himself, and I will think ooh that's interesting and follow along with piqued interest. His 2005 episode of the radio show Chain Reaction where he interviewed graphic novel author Alan Moore was almost solely responsible for creating my interest in Moore's output, and in modern graphic novels as a whole. Before that my interest in comics had dwindled as I grew up and left Asterix, Tank Girl, and Beano/Dandy behind me. Thank you Mr. Lee.

Watching his Mastermind appearance with the specialist subject of improvisational guitarist Derek Bailey, helped push along my re-interest in Captain Beefheart and its companion interest in avant garde and general weirdness. Stewart Lee's radio documentary White Face, Dark Heart, on the obscure phenomena of the Hopi Native American Clown Ceremony during which the nominated clowns break all normal conventions of behaviour, got me interested in the intellectualisation of the base nature of comedy (or whatever): stuff is funny... why... Anyway, point I'm trying to make is that Stewart Lee is interesting, interested in disparate subjects, and able to make strange and unexpected subjects exciting.

Stewart Lee's latest radio documentary is It's Got Bells On, part of Radio 2's Dance Season, is on the subject of Morris, rapper sword, clog, and other forms of traditional English folk dancing. Now, I must at this point state that I am a Morris dancer; it's true. OK, it's not true, but it once was. At primary school we did a Morris dance and performed it at Lancaster town hall, probably circa 1989. We had little white costumes, like cricketers but you know cool. Bells on our knees, and wooden sticks we clashed together like sparring martial artists. That fact allows me to say I was doing it before it was cool; so fuck you hipsters. Etc.

Strange how English folk is uncool (except amongst mustachioed hipsters who are all to aware of its cool/uncool paradox, and people interested in steam trains who are oblivious to coolness), yet American folk and Irish folk is very cool, and other traditional forms of World music are always popular. English folk, especially Morris music seems highly accordion based. To me this is very reminiscent of shanties, chanties, sea music. England was a seafaring nation; Ireland wasn't. Maybe the distaste for English folk is a kind of post-colonial guilt. Perhaps it is part of the same phenomena that makes a traditional fish n chips hard to find whereas Chinese food, curry, pizza, burger and fries, and even sushi are incredibly easy to find. The fact that so many "full English" breakfasts are missing the black pudding.

As with anything now, in order to make old things relevant again, the go-to cliched way is to mix everything with hip hop elements. As with English folk, clog dance has been mixed with hip hip dance. The documentary has led me to Time Gentleman Please, a recent collaborative effort 'tween cloggers and hip-hoppers, and watching the following video it works so amazingly unexpectedly well. It shows how hip-hop and folk are both raw, improvised, un(high)cultured, competitive.

So at this moment, while its firmly in my mind I am totally pro-Morris, pro-English folk. I want a big tankard of ale and some bells for my knees. Let's, in all seriousness, have 5000 Morris dancers for the opening ceremony of London 2012.

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