A few weeks ago, after an evening of theatre and with it being far too early to catch the train home, a friend and I found ourselves wandering the streets of South Camden. In this kind of situation, when you see a bar full of lively Londoners with a sign outside saying “Live Music and Late Bar”, you go in.
Having become used to seeing, enjoying, but then inevitably forgetting the kinds of bands you see in this way, we were happily surprised to be presented with Bristol based folk-punk band Jake and the Jellyfish: their lyrics full of cultural anger mixed seamlessly with uplifting violin and banjo melodies. The blend of spat frustration and traditional musical charm showed me live that the huge commercial draw and success of folk still has room for integrity and the Punk spirit.
…probably the biggest name in Folk-Punk…
Folk is a label that, as of late, seems to be slapped onto any band that plays with an acoustic guitar; Punk, for the majority, is still enough to put fear into the hearts of the elderly as images of mohawks and studded leather jackets cross their minds, but both genres have been making more of a resurgence. In recent times, with war, riots and more reasons for misery, what we need is the fighting Punk spirit and the comforting temperament of Folk.
The growth of Folk-Punk began with the experimental art-rock of American bands like The Velvet Underground and The Pixies, blending jaunty indie music with the attitude and sensibilities of Punk. This sparked off the more definite Folk-Punk crossover bands including the grandfathers of Folk-Punk: The Violent Femmes. The scene was then opened up for English bands like The Pogues and, probably the biggest name in Folk-Punk, Billy Bragg.
…is the modern definition of the genre…
To the majority, contemporary folk will seem decades away from punk, in both style and time, and the two seem like they would sooner divide fans than unite them. Noah and the Whale, for example, have made a name for themselves as a summery, feel-good, ukulele-toting band with twee hits such as 5 Years Time and L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N, but, sat deep in their back catalogue, and their live shows to the lucky few, are raw, unproduced Jon Cale and Daniel Johnston covers and self-labelled punk side-projects, filled with all the unrefined energy that they keep back on their bijou folk albums. Influential underground political folk-punker Christ T-T, like a new Billy Bragg, is the modern definition of the genre, as he flicks seamlessly between angry, anti-conservative songs and musical versions of A.A. Milne poems.
These artists, far from being the commercially created pop stars that make their million and then leave, use their talents and their passions, and the accessibility and openness of Folk, to show their politics and to voice their discomfort at our modern society. As with every peaceful protest, it may not be the most effective way of showing political distrust, but it is out there and it certainly makes for good music.