Folk music as a contemporary art form

Cera Impala performing in the Longhouse at Knockengorroch World Ceilidh, by Stuart Barrett

Cera Impala performing in the Longhouse at Knockengorroch World Ceilidh, photo by Stuart Barrett

As with many genres, all ‘folk’ music is largely unclassifiable, yet broadly speaking, it does, of course, have some things in common. The history of folk music recognises two main resurgences, or creations, if you prefer. The first, at the turn of the 20th century, when song collectors recorded and notated folk or traditional songs collected in the field. The second, post second world war, when the concept of folk music became known for its more working class ethos of solidarity, participation and protest. More recently there was the creation of ‘world’ music, which often overlaps with folk music.


The current resurgence of folk music incorporates all these elements, with current folk artists practising and re-inventing songs that date back more than 100 years and others using traditional folk instruments to play their own brand new compositions. We now see folk artists such as You Are Wolf and Cosmo Sheldrake using a loop pedal on traditional folk songs, and fusions of musics never played together such as beatboxing and Bulgarian polyphonic singing. Contemporary folk artists borrow and morph with world, pop, classical, electronic, rock and even hip-hop. At its heart however folk never loses sight of its connection with our past nor its connection with the audience.


The Nest Collective presents the most exciting folk music artists of today – those that continually change and adapt and challenge the folk concept, recognising that they are living folk, that they create the tradition. Our tagline is ‘Old folk, New folk, No folk’, recognising that the music is as much about the audience and their participation as it is about the music.


All musicians face challenges in carving a career for themselves and folk artists are no different. The genre’s resurgence has helped things somewhat and folk is perhaps unique, or most like jazz, in that artists are as likely to be seen performing in an arts centre and in the charts.


Yet the same challenges of promoting themselves, finding management and an agent, keeping a band together, living the ‘folk and roll’ lifestyle, and managing to be creative and cutting edge, all whilst simply earning enough to live, affects ‘folkies’ as much as anyone else.


It is to address these issues that the Nest Collective is organising its seminar and showcase series. With the support of Help Musicians (formerly the Musicians Benevolent Fund) each event features a panel expert and two selected ‘folk’ artists in a discussion event followed by a performance. The events are free for all musicians to attend and offer a rare opportunity to investigate some of these issues with the support of an expert. Experts featured so far include Paul Burger of Soho Artists, Mike Bartlett of April Seven Music and Mercury nominated folk singer Sam Lee. The next event takes place with Peter Conway of Peter Conway Management on 12 May, with the support of Club Inegales, British Underground and the Institute of Composing. To find our more and register go here.

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