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‘Celtic’ is a generic term to describe Scottish, Irish and Welsh folk music, some of which paralleled pure English folk and most of which influenced the evolution of American folk. The term is understood as that by artists, producers and the paying public.
The Chieftains are a Celtic band, but with other genre influences and interpretations, the term folk may not be universally agreed. The Dubliners were possibly the first Irish folk-rock group, with a string of old rural Irish narrative numbers. They influenced The Pogues and Gaelic Storm among others.
Clannad, according to their official website, combined traditional strains ‘with a bold approach to writing and performing’. Their legacy ‘touches on folk, rock ambient, jazz and world music’.
Not to be left behind, there are several hundreds of Scottish folk groups and singers circuiting today. Almost all draw deep from the traditions of folk, but many now fuse elements of so many other genres, that contemporary folk’s boundaries must be redrawn somewhat.
Just one strand of US folk music, creole is at least two hundred years old originating from the Deep South. Black creole is folk melody, sometimes dance related, often sung in French patois. Linked through roots with slave songs, it shows how ‘folk’ truly means ‘people’ and how musically, one generation leaves memories absorbed and re-invented by the next, as time/technology move forward.
From the late 1940s onwards, a handful of clubs, or regular gatherings of devotees of traditional music, established themselves in London and Birmingham. It’s thought that skiffle (late 1950s craze) filled a vacuum of the need to play versions of US jazz, blues and folk on acoustic and/or improvised instruments.
As American rock ‘n’ roll took off, a reaction set in and many clubs became bastions of traditional, often unaccompanied, music with solo voices. The regular attenders were frequently middle class/urban people, lauding a rural or industrialised working class.
By the mid ‘60s, many major population centres housed their own folk clubs (often little more than a back room in a pub), offering regular spots for home-grown talent and a circuit for rising performers, most famously Bunjies, Les Cousins and The Troubadour in London, and Troubadour in Bristol.
The UK’s biggest folk event. Stemming from a 1964 request from Cambridge City Council to local firefighter and socialist political activist Ken Woollard to organise, it included the young and still relatively unknown Paul Simon as a late addition to the line-up. Folk was the voice of a nation or ethnic/geographic/economic/blood group.
Today, that it’s sponsored by the Co-op and Unison among others speaks to its folk, working-class traditional origins; the music of the people’s struggle against oppression, racism, poverty, class; the story of tragedies in mines, factories, ships, railroads: Morris dancing, guitars, gentle post-‘60s hippies with a radical edge.