I have been following Folk Music for all my adult life - which is a frighteningly long time now - not with obsessive attention, but it has always been in the background, and especially the traditional music of England. I am Welsh, but of the deculturated English speakers of South Wales. The great Phil Tanner of the Gower is the exemplar in the Folk tradition; that snapper-up of other people's trifles, which he then made his own (as indeed did the Copper family down in Sussex). Folk Music has always been open to alien influence, taking things foreign and remaking them till they form an indistinguishable part of its own stream. That is one of its strengths.
But I live in England now, have been here more or less forty years. I like to think myself Devonian - at least, they stopped stoning me in the street a while ago. But I heard you can't call yourself a Devon man till you've a granfer in the churchyard. So like 40% of the population here, I am in it and not of it, and must reconcile to that. So I feel when in North Pembrokeshire also, for all that my ancestors started out from there in the 1850's to become workers amongst the melting pot of industrial South Wales.
Folk music is often called Roots music. That I guess recognises its earthy and primordial qualities. But when as a teenager with an enthusiasm for history I first heard Ewan McColl's recordings of Border Ballads, the past was suddenly alive in that primitive lonely voice. The people of the songs were speaking to us across four hundred years. The songs were about death and loss and love, and their protagonists lived again in them. So that while the music continued, you moved in their world, and connected with them.
This Blog is going to be mostly about our reconnection with the past, what we have inherited. Roots then, I suppose.
To The Transports in Exeter on Tuesday, the new production with Nancy Kerr, the Young 'Uns, Paul Sartin etc. Wonderful songs of course, the product of Peter Bellamy's long immersion in the old Broadsides, very well sung and now knitted together with an excellent new narrative. It's an apt place to begin this blog.
Some of us remember the original production c.1982, with PB, Nic Jones, Shirley Collins and the splendid Vic Legge. I was sitting outside Wadebridge Town Hall wearing a Transports T-shirt, when PB himself came by. He pointed at me and said That's the Man For Me! Ha!
Poor Peter. I miss him still, that atavistic voice with those songs that took you through a portal into the past, so the hairs stood up on your neck. Somehow I was not surprised by his sad death, often feeling he may have recognised that he was clinging to a tradition that then seemed fading, and which did not give him the credit he deserved. Shame he could not have seen the standing ovation granted the production two nights ago.
When writing my story about Yarmouth, famously his home town, I could not refrain from memorialising him in the name of Jack's ship, The Great Peter (tho that also was intended to reflect the Baltic trade).