Folk music, to the masses, conjures up certain images: beards, vegetarianism and field-dwelling, peace-loving hippy types. Though this may be slightly exaggerated, it is a common thought, and the kind of stereotype that draws a thick line between the folk label and a young, modern audience. But this is changing. Women have always held a strong stake in the world of folk music, whether it’s fiddle legend Alison Krauss, song writing genius Joni Mitchell, the prolific and pained Mary Chapin Carpenter, or the unofficial founder of British folk-rock Sandy Denny, these traditional musicians have certainly done their bit for the mainstream success female folkers are experiencing today. Female folk is not only becoming more successful, but becoming more accessible to young women. It’s also, dare I say it, becoming cooler.
Now male folk music has its fair share of influential artists, but even in today’s youth culture you would be hard pushed to find someone who was unaware of men like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and even their modern equivalents, Mumford & Sons and Noah & the Whale, are household names. Female folk stars, though just as numerous, haven’t been as well integrated into modern commercial music. But the list of names making their way through is growing every year.
…there are certain pop-stars that certainly spring to mind…
Perhaps the most notable example, let alone in any particular gender, is the modern pioneer of folk, Laura Marling. Beginning as a backing singer for Noah and the Whale back in 2006, she slowly built her way up to a Brit Award winning, double Mercury nominee, appearing at as many major festivals as she has had celebrity boyfriends. The impressive thing about her is not the awards or the love-life, but her steady commitment and respect for traditional folk. Everything she has got, she has got through pure musical ability, a valid role model in the mass-produced musical pop-culture.
Saying this, I’m not denying that strong female artists aren’t prevalent across all genres. When you think of iconic female musicians today there are certain pop-stars that certainly spring to mind; Jessie J, Adele, Lana Del Rey to name a few, but though these women may be good role models in themselves, they just seem a bit far from being relatable or even realistic to a regular teenage girl, due to the million pound production team and innumerable stylists and publicists behind them.
…folk music isn’t what it used to be…
However, a woman with a guitar, singing pure acoustic, self-written songs is something every young girl can healthily aspire towards. Another group who are proving themselves great champions of this movement are aptly named girl pop-folk band The Folk. The three-piece, made up of Lauren, Lucy and Rose, all of whom are still in sixth form, have stumped me for a comparison, because with their energetic arrangements, vibrant violin melodies, catchy and intelligent lyrics and harmonies more natural than Bob Dylan’s perm, they are unique, and stand among the forefront of a versatile, new relatable female folk movement. They are young, cool and they play violins, ukuleles and accordions, they’re just what the chart needs!
There are many more rising stars of female folk that are just waiting to come forward. Louise Hamilton of Cambridge band Flaming June, like a love-child between Patti Smith and P J Harvey, is currently making waves with her heartfelt folk; the ever-growing popularity of Lucy Rose, the electric Laura Marling, is showing that you don’t have to make a choice between mellow folk and underground rock; and anti-folk, girl-fronted band Peggy Sue have built a large fanbase with their evocative, passionate and lyrically powerful back catalogue. The truth is, folk music isn’t what it used to be, and whether this is a good or a bad thing, it doesn’t matter; the point is that it’s enjoyable and it’s allowing fresh new talent to come forward. Whether it’s by a band of future folk-pop stars or the established first-lady of British folk, it’s obvious that the unshaven men and their guitars are being replaced by a slightly more appealing stereotype.