House Music – in the folk tradition
The folk world has quickly established a new tradition. The deal is this. A houseful of songwriters are packed off to some remote location and told to be creative in each other’s company for the next week, and come back in time for a set concert debut. If this sounds to you like a folkie Big Brother, know that plenty of musicians have already made that observation. We never get to hear how Kathryn Roberts likes her toast, or whether Martin Simpson pulls his weight in the kitchen, but what we do know is that the musical output is often remarkable. It is typically festivals or various arts bodies that commission these and to prompt the creativity, there is usually a kernel of an idea – a concept if you like – to guide the subject matter of the songs. I have sufficient numbers of them to have a dedicated section in my CD racking and they get played more than most.
Last summer, ten women set sail for Eigg in the Inner Hebrides, in the wake of the Scottish referendum, to contemplate ‘separation’ in whatever manifestation they chose. The resulting Songs of Separation, the latest addition to the genre, is a belter. Sure, it helps having the likes of Karine Polwart and Eliza Carthy on board, but this is no vehicle for the established. The joy of these collaborations is the introduction it gives you to the rising stars. Despite ten strong musical characters, the album is diverse without being disparate. Superb musicianship is a given, and I’m a sucker for the inclusion of ambient sound and birdsong, but it’s the songwriting that makes me sit up. And what I really want to emphasise is that it is all done and dusted within a week or so. To come up with such quality in so short a time span leaves me in awe.
Which then leads me to think about the laggards in the songwriting department, those famed for a career hiatus. What excuse can they now have? Most of these ‘songhouse’ productions involve people who barely knew each other beforehand, let alone their skills, their strengths. Yet they produce compelling music. Maybe what the dawdlers need is the discipline of a deadline and a shot in the arm from these youngsters showing them how it’s done.
Therefore, in order to boost their productivity, I propose we pack the following off to an isolated country pile with running water but no broadband : Kate Bush, Paddy McAloon, Tears for Fears (how frigging long did it take to record The Seeds of Love!!!), The Blue Nile, Vashti Bunyan, at least two members of The Stone Roses, and that bloke out of The La’s. There are now no excuses. Get off your backsides and write.
Any suggestions welcome for others who need similar encouragement.