As a sucker for cartography I could not resist buying a new compilation of live folk music with an accompanying map. Titled From Here: English Folk Field Recordings, the record is a modern take on Alan Lomax’s field recordings in the 1930s and ’40s and seeks to look at contemporary English folk music and its reference to place. A project by the band Stick In The Wheel, they say they wanted to make “a snapshot of English folk music right now.”
Despite claiming to be new to the folk scene, Stick In The Wheel have managed to capture a truly authentic and honest picture of modern folk music. Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey from the band travelled the length of the country recording artists where ever they could: kitchens, bedrooms, and even in a garden. As a result, the outcomes sound immediate and fresh.
The map, abstract as it is, is a nice touch to the project and relates well to how folk musicians, still to this day, travel the country from club to pub, literally carrying their instruments with them. More than that though, it also references the transient nature of many of the songs themselves. While the stories sung about and the tunes played may derive from specific locations, they have also travelled these isles, changing as they go and being passed on from one musician to another.
Stick In The Wheel’s website says: “From a stone cottage in Edale, a London bank vault, a Bristol back room, to a Robin’s Hood Bay garden at dusk, a Bedford kitchen – each artist was asked to think about what From Here meant to them – by way of place or geography, as a way of looking back to musical origins, or simply where they are at this very moment in time: ‘here’s what I am, this is where I’m from’. Then we just recorded them live, in situ, two stereo mics, no overdubs. Exactly as if you were right there.”
I like the fact that the artwork, created by Kearey, avoids the visual cliches often found in folk. It helps to neutralise the heavy burdens that can sometimes dog the scene, in that it can come across a little too earnest and overly purest for its own good at times. This project and its visualisation helps to demonstrate a scene that is a living, breathing, evolving contemporary concern. Many of the songs may sound/be old, but they are just as relevant today. The faith and devotion of the travelling musicians, and projects such as this, stop folk music descending into ‘heritage’ re-enactment territory, and these recordings help to loosen the stranglehold ancestry may have on it. You need to go no further to prove this than to listen to Sam Lee’s compelling rendition of The Wild Rover, which as Neil Spencer in The Guardian said, reveals “…the sadness beneath what is usually a pub yell-along”.
The album can be listened to, and bought from, Stick In The Wheel’s band camp page here.