After all - what's in a name?

(August 04, 2008)

According to many news channels there are those in a certain minority group that want the term ‘chav’ to be outlawed as it is derogatory, offensive and takes the piss out of a certain section of society.

Is this fear of offence yet another example of political correctness gone mad? Well maybe. Then again who really cares and what’s in a name? Any term may be acceptable to some and to others it may not, surely it all depends on who says it and how.

Wait a minute – does that mean that it’s not so much the word but how you hear it or who says it? If ‘chavs’ are objectionable – my mistake – I should say objecting, then maybe folkies should begin to object. Should lovers of folk music rise up in one voice to have the word ‘folkie’ declared non PC. After all, most lovers of folk music live with the varying connotations of the word ‘folkie’ without complaining. Although, some folkies actually like the term, hasn’t folkie been used as a derogatory term to take the piss by some people?

Are we ‘folkies’ or just people that happen to like folk music? I can’t recall hearing the term ‘poppies’, ‘rockies’ or ‘rappies’ or even ‘middle of the roadies’ or anything similar applied to people that like other types of music. As I said, there are many of us who don’t mind the term or even enjoy the term, ‘folkies’ is after all, a broadly accepted popular term for folk music enthusiasts. The term could be considered neutral. Indeed, it’s used by some folk music enthusiasts in an informal and friendly manner. Is ‘chav’ ever used in an informal and friendly manner? Folkie however, is also used by the media to convey an image of an old hippie or a straw-chewing yokel, drinking real ale and rambling on about naïve ‘country matters’. Is that the point where taking the piss comes in?

Taking the piss out of folk music and folk dance is easy – apparently. I’m told that’s because folk music and dance are styles of popular culture that rely on tradition. They hark back to something outside the modern world. They reflect on things beyond style and don’t conform to fashion. As such, the argument goes, folk music and dance remain old fashioned, lack sophistication, and smack of rural naïveté. They have no place in the modern world. They are an anachronism and worthy of serious piss-taking.

Perhaps it’s because lovers of folk music are in the minority.

And as with any minority – it’s a ready victim to satire and parody. Perhaps it’s because folk music isn’t mainstream music and remains relegated to the dark corners of the local CD store. Or is it that the vast majority don’t like it because they don’t understand it? Whatever the reason, folk satire persists but that may not be a ‘bad thing’ – after all satire often remains when many other commentaries vanish.

The problem with satire is although it can be hilarious it can also create a false image of its subject. And that image can also quickly become fact. Perhaps that’s what’s annoying the so-called ‘chavs’. The media states there’s a connotation attached to the word ‘chav’ based on a style of dress – it’s also come to equate to intelligence, social standing and culture. And guess what? It’s become accepted fact – so much an accepted fact that, I’m told, the management of well-known brand of clothing would give its collective eye teeth to get away from the ‘chav’ association.

Comedians and media accused of taking the piss out of folk music and folkies probably parody rather than take the piss. Taking the piss is what they do to chavs. Leaving group sensitivities out of the debate for a moment, do people parody folk music?

Folk music parody ranges from the gut-wrenchingly appalling to the slyly humorous. Perhaps few people these days remember ‘Round the Horne’ (circa mid-sixties or perhaps earlier). This was the radio programme that launched among other talents, Kenneth Williams attempting to be hilarious with his character Rambling Syd Rumpo – a pastiche English folk singer. That particular radio programme has gone - but the irritating songs endure and still crop up occasionally on radio and television. Williams’ dreadful attempts at humour pushed the (then) boundaries of suggestive lyrics using nonsense (or little-known) words like ‘wangles’, ‘grundles’ and ‘nadgers’. Hysterically funny – I think not – if you mean ‘bollocks’ just come on and say it.

Then came ISIRTA (I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again) with the The Tillingbourne Folk and Madrigal Society - a recurring parody of English a cappella folk music. These guys were actually funny. Rather than patronising they gloried in the folk tradition. Was that the difference? The group performed everything from hymns and secular songs to current (then) pop and football chants all in the folk idiom; right up (or down depending on your view point) to their famous never-ending folk song: "There was a Ship that put to Sea all in the Month of May". What price Sir Patrick Spens anybody? As part of their songs they included continually repeated folk chorus fill-ins such as ‘too-ra-lai-ay’, ‘whack-fol-the-diddle-o’, ‘shooly-shooly-rolly-day’ and so forth. And the difference? There was a level of gentle respect along with the parody.

Following in these footsteps were such cultural milestones as The Wurzels with folk songs about cider making, farming and combine harvesters - often with a comic slant. Although theirs is an example of a folk parody that took itself into the charts with a song many of their fans came to hate – not because of the parody of folk music rather because it was a dreadful song. Then there’s The Mrs Ackroyd Band who take traditional tunes and add their own humorous words. Based in Manchester, the band has a core of members but has included folk giants, June Tabor, Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Norma Waterson, Martin Allcock – so that’s not that bad then? Isn’t that folkies taking the piss out of folkies so that makes it acceptable?

It’s important to recognise that by their insidious nature satire and parody can become so accepted that they transcend the subject and become part of the parody. An example from the folk world is The Kipper Family with Chris Sugden as Sid Kipper and Dick Nudds as his father Henry. Originally high satire there is a serious and dedicated following for the vocal meanderings of Sid Kipper and the Family. Such gems as ‘Since Time Immoral’, ‘The Crab Wars’ and ‘In the Family Way’ made them widely respected and recognised folk artists. Despite their propensity for mangling of traditional folk lyrics to include alchoholism, transvestites, under-age sex, sodomy and family murder they were widely accepted. At the outset did anyone think they really were serious folk artists? Of course they did.

Even the most respected of our folk musicians are not averse to poking fun at folk. Such worthies as Martin Carthy (again) have entered into the game. Martin developed his own well-known version of "The Hard Cheese of Old England" to the tune of "The Hard Times of Old England". Yet again somehow there’s a broader acceptability when one of your own takes the piss. Is that because it’s done with less malice and to raise a laugh, and not just for mockery?

So where does all this get us?

It gets us to the point where like most minority groups, we’re more than happy to take the piss out of ourselves but become slightly aggravated when an ‘outsider’ joins in the joke. It takes us to the point where satire is just another example of a bloody sense of humour not an international incident. It takes us to the where political correctness continues to be a sodding great pain in the arse. It takes us to where getting frantic about words, would if taken too far result in many folk songs being banned for upsetting cabin boys, homosexual sailors, eager maidens and rutting ploughboys.

It seems to me that there’s a case for shutting down the sensitivity chip and just getting on with it. And if someone somewhere thinks they don’t like it so what?

Then again how many folkies actually give a toss what anyone thinks?

Not too many.






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