Back to the Future Sounds: Folk


Published at http://www.lacanvas.com/

Here is the playlist (you need to have Spotify).

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Folk is a genre that’s pretty close to my heart. My late father was a folk music promoter in the Highlands in the eighties and early nineties. He arranged concerts and festivals around the area. I was surrounded by this at all times. His dream appeared to be to rear me into a ‘Folky’. These ‘folky’ people with beards thicker than thatch, and rubbed with scrumpy cider and beans are scattered all over my childhood memories. They would all be introduced to me as my ‘Uncle’ and had that unmistakable reek of rolled cigarettes on damp denim jackets. I would come downstairs to watch cartoons on a Saturday morning only to find a band of crusty old folkies curled up next to each other on the floor, like hibernating woodland creatures from a Roald Dahl story. I had a really colorful childhood.

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Folk music knows no borders or boundaries. Every country has its folk music, some of which is often referred to as ‘World Music’, yet this is only an applicable term if you’re looking at the world from the West to the East. But even your Peruvian panpipe music that you bought from the guy in the poncho in the bus station is Folk, despite the fact that it doesn’t sound anything like “Bringing It All Back Home.”

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to narrow my definition of Folk and focus on the revival period in the UK and US in the 1960s. And the artist that I’m going to feature is the unsung hero of the British folk scene: Davy Graham.



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To box Davy Graham into the category of ‘Folk’ music would be doing his vast repertoire and sprawling influence a huge disservice. He’s the artist that is largely credited with ‘starting’ the genre we know today as World Music. Blending traditional English and Irish folk music with Indian, Iraqi and Afghani traditional music, he added new dimensions to how folk could be interpreted, and in turn, changed the way that people viewed the acoustic guitar.

As a pioneer of DADGAD tuning, Davy was creating music that guitarists of the day, such as Bert Jansch, Martin McCarthy and John Renbourn, strived to emulate. His strung-wound fingerpicking style in alternate tunings bent and skewed people’s interpretations of the genre. The internet is awash with tales from old bruised folkies explaining how they would badger Davy Graham afterhours in the London clubs, begging him to teach them his songs. These tuition sessions given out to keen young guitarists would be the boxcar on which his legacy would travel. For, as fate would sadly have it, he never quite managed to keep his on the rails.



Davy’s career was marred by his unpredictable, and increasingly destructive nature. In the late sixties he was scheduled to do a tour of Australia, but when his plane landed in Bombay to refuel he got off and disappeared, wandering the subcontinent for six months. He arrived back in England with an entirely new sound, a new instrument in the shape of an Oud, and a fully-fledged heroin addiction that would nudge him all the way to bankruptcy years later.

After his boom in the mid-sixties he led a quiet yet troubled life in his flat in Camden Town, London. His drug and alcohol habits were funded by guitar lessons and impromptu performances for anyone that would ask him. But he was never quite able, or perhaps willing, to regain the initial fame that gave him a devoted audience all the way to his death in 2008.



But thankfully, the folk revival that has been ebbing and flowing over the last few years, spilling over the edges into mainstream culture, has brought back some interest in the man that is widely credited as being one of the pioneers of the original revival.

In all honestly, you could probably compile a playlist made entirely from Davy Graham’s music and no one would never guess that the songs were written by the same artist. So I have opted to put together a big list of folk (occasionally dancing into blues) with some of Davy Graham’s ‘folkier’ numbers peppered throughout. About halfway through the list though there will be some music from the new kids on the squeaky old porch swing, such as LA CANVAS favorite Devendra Banhart, French genre-bender Sebastien Tellier, the sadly deceased Jack Rose and bunch of other torchbearers for the generation nouveau of crusty folky folk.

Hope you enjoy it!

Ross Gardiner

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5 thoughts on “Back to the Future Sounds: Folk

  1. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

  2. Barolojoe says:

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    I confess: I didn’t know Davy Graham so far. A serious gap, I guess.

    Though, I have all Pentangle LPs released between 1968 and 1972 in my collection (plus several solo albums of John Renbourn & Bert Jansch).

    In my eyes, the late sixties to the mid-seventies were the golden era of English, Irish & Scottish Folk Rock , with many memorable groups.

    In the past fifteeen years, I’ve grabbed & collected what I could find of that period in good condition on vinyl in Germany at flea markets & second-hand shops – from Planxty, Steeeleye Span, Incredible String Band, Five Hand Reel & Dick Gaughan, Fairport Convention, Roy Harper…

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  3. VG says:

    Devendra Banhart!! 😀

  4. rynnasaryonnah says:

    I LOOOVEE BANHARTT! I remember you posting Carmensita here once some time back around the same time I discovered him on youtube.

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