And then there’s folk-punk ...

(March 06, 2009)

There are doubtless a few people wandering around the planet that still adhere to the precepts of the original punk movement. Not many possibly, although I’m not sure, but I’ll bet that they’re out there.

Many ex-punks moved on from the original punk genre to wide and varied existences. Some clearly graduated into heavy and thrash metal others to punk rockabilly, and some (I’m told) fell into the folk world and created folk punk.

The more reactionary among the ‘folk’ world tell me that the binding force of folk punk appears to be twofold. First, play as fast as you can so that whatever structure the tune had is lost in the speed. Second, make the lyrics incomprehensible either because they are delivered in a snarling shout or because they are faster than the human ear can identify, or both. That’s the sort of comment my father would have made. There must be more to it than that.

Major bands that folk punk artists I’ve spoken to recently cite as important influences include The Pogues, The Levellers, The Dubliners, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Clash.

The English folk punk attitude remains close to the original punk roots of anti-establishment, anarchy and generally aiming at pissing off the establishment. There are however artists that genuinely use folk-punk to broadcast their political views in an attempt to change the world around them and to make people listen.

The most popular (right now) folk punk music seems to be anything that includes Celtic overtones. These lyrics typically cover Ireland and its history – with a strong bias towards re-kindling songs of rebellion and recalling oppression. Often, with no link between the artists and the subjects they write about. The other prevalent influences in Celtic punk are drinking, politics, love (for love read ‘lust’), drunkenness and usually derogatory references to the Roman Catholic Church and its priests – well everyone can relate to those themes. There also seems to be a large amount of young American bands taking the folk punk route to sing about their allegiance (albeit from thousands of miles away) to Ireland, Scotland and all things Celtic. And after all who cares where you happen to live when you identify with your roots?

Strangely, there is far less folk punk emphasis on Scotland and its history – despite the rich and endearing folk influences of famine, clearances, and battles lost and won. I’m sure that any Scottish folk punk bands will get in touch and put me right – if you’re that up for it , then send me a CD. And Welsh folk punk (if it exists) is so far below the radar as to be invisible. Of course if you are a rabid fan of Welsh folk punk or a Welsh folk punk artist then get in touch.

Some folk punk musicians play a style that is less folk-influenced and more rock derived, but use instruments not normally used in punk rock, such as the violin, melodeon, banjo, mandolin or ukulele. Some folk punk bands combine elements of punk rock with styles from dance music, chants and raps. Others spread the net wide to include Indian and eastern European gypsy music. Then again, some play pure aggressive rock but using folk tunes and melodies.

So where does all this get us? Well it gets us to yet one more branch of the folk tree. Now you may be someone that would rather not relax beneath that particular bough. Perhaps you would recoil in horror at the thought that its folk-punk fruit may fall anywhere near you but that doesn’t mean we prune the branch – you may as well chop down the tree.

There’s more on folk punk to follow and the research looks like being fun.

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