Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bad Folk

I have a fairly high tolerance for discomfort; my patience can stretch a very long way when circumstances require it to – I can sit around in an awkward situation for hours with barely a grimace, or I can endure a great deal of pain if there’s nothing I can do about it. If physical and social discomfort are mixed, however, my patience snaps like a glass twig. It manifests like a phobic reaction, I just freak out. I get a pervading, nightmarish feeling of being trapped, and have to immediately leave. In the past this has caused me to leave my friends behind at a party (arseholes + migrane) or flee an art gallery (crippling boredom + broken toe).

Tonight I fled from the local folk night due to a similar double whammy of unpleasantness. On the walk over there my knee made an unsettling clicking noise coupled with yelp-inducing pain, I suspect that this was caused by standing on tube trains today being jiggled around everywhichway – although I expect my running 2-3 miles everyday for a month is also a factor. After that I got stuck right at the front watching a band, (guest act, which meant I didn’t get to play) who were an amazing distillation of everything I can’t stand about folk music.

When I say “everything I can’t stand about folk music” I don’t mean that I don’t like folk music, no more than I dislike any musical scene. It’s just that there are clichés, tics and traits of every musical style which I find really grating. Little pet hates, you know, but whether it’s pinch harmonics in rock, misogyny in rap, or self-indulgence in jazz – in small numbers I can generally ignore them and still enjoy the music*. Every now and then, though, you get a band with enough of them to just push me over the edge. I can overlook one or two but a whole set, no. Acts like Metallica, 50 Cent, or ----** set my teeth on edge.

…Anyway, as I was saying these people were amazing in that regard:

Firstly there was their musical delivery: The group consisted of three singers; a woman (alto), a man (tenor) and another man (bass) with no accompaniment. They sang in close following harmony, all singing identical parts, just at different pitches - which, given the idiosyncratic ‘folk’ style of singing they all had (which isn’t a bad thing in itself), made for a very unpleasant sound. Worst of all was the voice of the bass, which I can only describe as like what would happen if you hooked up a talk box to a farting drainpipe.

Secondly there was their choice of songs, they chose teeth gratingly ‘jolly’ songs of the sort beloved by your hardened folkie. These songs are generally dirty, in a vaudevillian, sleazy sort of way and contain ‘rousing’ choruses or refrains, which the audience are expected to join in on, in a fit of tankard-waving enthusiasm. The refrains are often complete gibberish, seemingly inserted to illicit that compulsion some folk audiences have to sing along with anything that gets repeated frequently in a song.

Lastly there was the general haranguing of the audience, which is something that I find completely unforgivable in a band – if the crowd are bored by your set, telling them to be more enthusiastic is just going to make them pissed off at you. If you want an audience to really get into your music, then write better music.


*Well, except for pinch harmonics, Don’t even get me started on pinch harmonics… ugh.

**Insert the name of any free-jazz musician you’d care to mention