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July 2008

Rachel Unthank and the Winterset: this year's Mercurial folk

Time of year for a spot of excitement as the list of 10 finalists in the Mercury Music Prize awards is released.

Token folkies? There on merit, irrespective of genre? Snowball in hell's chance of winning?

Never mind the answers (Probably, Yes and No in Salut! Live's honest judgement). Just offer congratulations to Rachel Unthank and the Winterset for making it on to the 2008 shortlist if, like me, you feel The Bairns was an excellent album.

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Three cheers for Eliza: great music, guts and words

Eliza Carthy Dreams of Breathing Underwater (Topic)
Seth Lakeman
Poor Man's Heaven (Relentless)

For the past two weeks, I have been listening a lot to the two controversial albums listed above (both pictures courtesy of Roger Liptrot's Folk Images collection) .

Controversial? Yes, in the sense that a good proportion of folkies give a convincing impression of being by nature the most reactionary creatures on earth.

When someone claimed as "one of ours" strays from the straight and narrow path of purity (and, some would cry, poverty), the backlash is biting. No matter what dues the individuals have paid to folk; their duty, for some, is to avoid at all cost the temptation to become popular, or even different.

The guitar riff that introduces Eliza's new CD might have escaped from a Stones record. I can easily imagine a number of fellow folkies foaming at the mouth at such betrayal. By the time they reach the second track, with the opening line "Marianne Faithfull sings a song about a boy....", they will presumably be reaching for sedatives.

And I think it's delicious. I have paid my own dues to a form of purism, expressing the view that Eliza Carthy at her best is, or was, Eliza Carthy singing North Country Maid unaccompanied. But I have found it entirely possible to admire and enjoy the various meandering routes she has taken in music, routes that keep her interested, make it more likely that she can earn a living and add greatly to the sum and substance of modern English music.

Ratcatchers08But rather than rattle on for a few more paragraphs about the merits of the album, let me allow Eliza herself room to articulate - extremely well, despite the late burst of self-deprecation - her own thoughts on the questions that arise. She is talking about Seth Lakeman:

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Tom Paxton rambles

Every so often, the indispensable Mudcat folk chat forum produces a discussion that stirs the memory and warms the soul. And sometimes it does it twice.

Eight years ago, someone called Wesley S started a threat about Tom Paxton, the prolific American singer/songwriter whose songs seem to capture all human emotions and whose performances leave everyone feeling he was singing just for them.

Some Mudcat threads disappear from immediate view very quickly, others linger for weeks, pushed occasionally to the top by some new contribution.

After a week or so, In Praise of Tom Paxton descended gently into the Mudcat archives as the conversation petered out.

Then, a few weeks ago, Wesley S revisited the site and used the release of a new Paxton CD* as an excuse to re-start the thread, inspiring a fresh stream of messages recounting meetings with, concerts by and memories of this giant of the folk movement.

If you have not already been there, go now before the exchanges dry up once more. The thread is for you if you have ever been moved to laughter or tears, or both, by a Paxton show, sung his songs to children, partners or paying audiences of your own (I have done all of those things, albeit badly) or just want to know why a fuss is being made about a man approaching his 71st birthday.

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