‘Folk is a nasty word‘, says Battlefield‘s Brian MacNeill. ‘not inside the bubble of the traditional music world. where it’s understood to have no exact meaning, but to Joe Public, where it’s two guys with matching sweaters and guitars. And that‘s still the way TV companies want to portray it. 0n the eve ofthe Edinburgh Folk Festival, Norman Chalmers looks at the current state of play. and asks what the hell is folk music anyway?

Brian MacNeill’s description is true in general. but things are changing; we must. for example, give a nod in the direction of recent screenings from Scotland, including Aly Bain‘s series. and Scottish Television‘s subtitled programmes on Irish and Scots music, song and poetry. No longer cosy sentimental entertainment. traditional music is being presented as culture!

But what is ‘folk‘ music, and what relationship has it to the historically evolved music of our country? There are no easy answers. Most of the population of Scotland can’t tell a reel from a jig and have never heard ofone of Europe’s greatest musical discoveries, the Aberdeenshire ballad singer, Jeannie Robertson.

That failing has to be attributed to an educational system which has ignored the National Arts, and an English-controlled Arts Council that doesn’t mind subsidising seats at the opera by huge amounts, but gives a pittance to traditional musical forms, only coming through in the last few weeks with their first promise of cash sponsorship for Edinburgh’s long established Folk Festival and that won’t take effect till next year. The fact is that the Arts Council are conspicuously ignorant of Scottish Traditional Music and Dance.

But even among the players and performers there are great differences. The Battlefield Band take their music, based on a Scottish folk4band background, to major concert halls across the world. While Brian feels that ‘a lot of people would like folk to be nationalistic‘, it‘s not something he goes along with himself. ‘I'm not speaking for the band, just Brian MacNeill, but I find that I‘ve got more in common with someone my own age or class in. say, Austria, than with someone like George Younger. It must be a mistake that he comes from the same country.”

Yet within that same country, and uneasily co-existing with the Alexander Brothers, Fiddler’s Rallies and The Corries, the younger

wave of writer/performers like Tonight At Noon, and even The Proclaimers. defiantly express their Scottish identity. rooted in the old fashioned modes. but using any musical style and combination of instruments that comes to hand. Add electrics to ethnics and you‘ve got ‘Roots‘ music. the music-biz buzz word for traditional music with commercial potential, which like the TV series of the same name, has found its way back to Africa. At least for as long as the sounds remain exotic and the rhythms infectious.

But it is now big business. Folk Roots, the British folk world‘s only glossy, publishes a monthly Top 30 chart, where albums by Baaba Maal or Toumani Diabate jostle for postion with Enya, Paul Simon, ‘Le Mystere’ Bulgarian choir, Muddy Waters. Run Rig or Tracy Chapman. Eclectic, as you see. I wonder if a thrash metal band from Reykjavik, singing in Old Norse. would be admitted to that hit parade.

Brian admires some of the current crop of African visitors, and knows that a few will still be around years from now, but sees it as 'just a fashion. And I’m not sure there is much meaningful relationship between South American, African or Russian music anyway.’

‘World Music’ already has a special meaning among the musicians of the first International Music. which is modern jazz. Virtuoso performers such as the American trumpeter Don Cherry, and Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, became involved from the early 70’s in producing a

new music which would unite the underlying forms of primitive and . sophisticated folk musics in a new j synthesis. The experiments resulted in some wonderful albums of musical cross fertilisations. but have not yet created a stream of New Music.

At a time when Scottish music has finally shaken offthe Irish influence of Planxty. the Chieftains and the Bothy Band, and gotten involved in re-inventing itself after its own image. it seems a pity that it is sometimes deemed necessary to wire up our traditional music to synthesisers. saxophones or sackbutts. then reggae. rock or raga it. either to impress. earn a crust. or ‘break down musical barriers‘.

All the world’s folk music could end up sounding the same. with a


Much loved and greatly respected. John 'I'unnell. leader of the SCO since its foundation in 1974. died suddenly last year. Asa tribute. the SCO stage a Memorial Concert at Edinburgh‘s Usher Ilall on Sunday 12 March. A glance at the list of participating artists gives an indication of his standing in the

international music world

pianist Mitsuko llcliida.

I conductors Wilfried Boettcher. Roderick Brydon. Philip Ledge.r and James Conlon. violinist Jaime Laredo and singers Isobel Buchanan. Neil Mackie and Benjamin Luxon. His family. Charles. Susan and Jonathan Tunnell. all

musiciansintheir own

= right. also take part. as do

' the Scottish Philharmonic

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quena. cimbalon or digeridoo supplying the melody line depending , on what continent you are in. It's not 3 the similarities that are interesting. but the differences between cultures. ; their uniqueness. What is the point of making music palatable by ; dowsing it in another style or f flavour. Would you let someone ; appreciate malt whisky by adding coke or ginger ale‘.’

But you can get me a dram. a pure drop. ifyou like. over the 10 days of the imminent Edinburgh Folk Festival. when ‘folk' will be redefined at every concert. and music. from the sublime to the banal. will occupy all the waking hours. The Edinburgh Folk l't’S‘Ili'tl/ runs from 17—20 March. See l'r'stt'i'al listings.

Vivaldi's I‘ourseasons. Parts 1 and 3 of llie

( ‘reatiun. Britten‘s Folk 2 Song Suite A lime 'I'here liar and

BCL‘llltH L‘il'slx‘tnturtt Ni) 3. Btit the concert lSi‘til simply a one-off tribute to John 'l’uniiell. ()ne othis greatest concerns w as the enci'iuragenient and fostering of young talent. and proceeds from the concert will go towards ; the specially set up John I 'I'unnell Trust for the , benefit ofyoung : musicians starting off on professional careers.

ROCK g leninsuncii USHER “'“m' Mm”) j HALL (031 2281155) ~ . I GLASGOW , Anti-Poll Tax Benefit, 1 ' " unnowuuo (041 226 l April; Fairground TOWARDS 4579) Attraction.10April. Hoachlonl, 30 March; Duran I EDINBURGH QUEEN'S Duran. 18 April; Bangles. 8 HALL(0316682019) The brilliant is year old i "ayiB-E-M-rz‘ "37- The Pixies, 3O April;10.000 pianist David Horne will a Maniacs. 28 May. premiere a new _ composition. towards d'tiarma . . ..inthe ; - GLASGOW THEATRE lidinburgh Contemporary ; \ : ROYAL(M13311234) Arts 'l'rust concert at the j I , London Festival Ballet‘s 09°?" {mu 0“ H i . swan Lake. N Am". March. I lie concert. . I GLASGOW TMMWAY which also features I (on 227 5511) Firebird,anewmusic I Petoramok.s came" ensemble from the North i leuscow sscc (041 226 MW“ lini'ii'il'i‘iniéfifiiillhii- ‘579l . . GLASGOW c." “ALL the Ensemble Iixposé. ' "9' 07““ 25 M'mhv Tom (041227 5511) who have been forced to l Jon”, 29 ‘9'"; 9"“ SNO/Gmumnam 0' cancel‘due to ' s ~ri:ius ' Wand", gmy; curry Gerontius. 22 April. “mm “(m f: é monr 12 "'V- . Emuauncfl USHER com ‘isition Lwhich ' : sow our: Deacon Blue; HALL (031 2281155) Wij {m wi‘nd M: s. 1 Diana Ross. emuio Concert ' . . . ‘j‘. .‘ ‘. i I nuscow PAVILION (Beethoven's 91h). 9 April: .h‘” 1 (041225 “579) sm/G'm‘mmm °' ECAT and win furthgr i J." “um” 19‘3""; Gamma" 21 ‘pm' underline his potential 'is a composer to augment - the already luminous -' I UV'UGSION "mu" I EDINBURGH QUEEN'S reputation be has earned 3 (m "9191) “NJ-(0315582019) asa performer in his TM commwonfl 5 AW". Danny THOMPNOW infrequent appearances I EDINBURGH PUYHOUSE Whatever. 24 "ONO; ' on the concert stage. lIe is o FUSIIVEI, now to take up a I Europe. 27 MIN“; Shlkln 24—26 March, "Ml t scholarship at the (‘urtis i 3'3"”. I AW“? “00' And I IOOKBOU OOH.“ "0m 031 - Institute in Philadelphia. 1:13“. 3 Stir"; Vl1a68tl£ i 220 0464. ' which should prove ; lll'lfl Ilfln. ; something of a contrast to April; Womact a Womack. JAZZ & BLUES his native Tillicoultry . . . Ymv I (Kenny Mathieson) 25%;: o HALL(0316682019) CLASSIC r“- 25 “fl 7' I Tommy Flanagan Trio, 31 . SOLD OUT: Johnny Mathis, l mm; “mm, 3'9"" : NEWMAN IN Deacon Blue, Stevie animals” "1-2:";rzhflfll‘a ' LONDON Wonder, Elton John. ”'° °" ' '

Coming in the wake of recent criticismoft‘ " l invasion of the Scottish _j

28 The List 10— 23 March 1989