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39 f Shock Of The Nu


Hey, hey, it’s the Mumfolks. So what are they all doing in fRoots? Colin Irwin mounts the case for the defence.


F


olk music is huge at the moment. That’s right, isn’t it? It must be because every time you open a Sunday supplement it’s Laura this or Mumfords that being dec- orated with expansive superlatives together with little potted histories detailing their rise as poster boys and girls of the nu-folk boom, usually accom- panied by throwaway references to what- ever ludicrous sub-genre the journalist has decided to invent this week.


The seasoned old chompers among us with a nodding acquaintance of a previous folk boom chortle knowingly and await the bubble to burst, declaring it has no rel- evance to what most readers of this maga- zine see as the real folk scene. The general consensus is that the ‘folk’ tag applied to Marling is merely indicative of the laziness and ignorance of a media which will blind- ly attach that discredited label to any songwriter with an acoustic guitar; while the whiff of banjo and fiddle subjects both Mumford & Sons and Noah & The Whale to the same fate. Their collective successes, both in commercial and mainstream media terms have – we blithely assume – no rele- vance or discernible impact on the grass roots scene. Many even believe that each mention of them in the same breath as folk music is damaging, further clouding an already deeply confused landscape and blinding the populace to what is consid- ered a far superior real deal.


Yet as the F-word attached itself ever more ferociously to the Mumfolks during their remorseless rise, our Editor posed the big question – should we be covering them in this magazine? An epic and well articu- lated debate followed on the fRoots Forum and the answer that came back was mostly a big fat ‘no’: these artists were getting oceans of publicity already; their presence would deprive more deserving cases of house room; their music has no roots or relevance to the remit of the mag; we mustn’t be seduced by commercial con- siderations; editorial policy shouldn’t be dictated by false marketing definitions; and these Mumfolks are so removed from ‘our world’ that no-one suckered in could possibly be drawn into an investigation of genuine roots music.


I’m not so sure, and clearly nor was


the Ed. –who stated early on in the debate that “There’s no problem with the lazy mainstream media calling anything with a banjo, acoustic guitar or accordeon ‘folk’, if it’s good, because if only 5% of their fanbase then decided to investigate other stuff called ‘folk’, they might well


stumble across stuff that is core fRoots ter- ritory, which can’t do anybody – including us – any harm.” I mean, how did we all get into the music in the first place? For me it was Bob Dylan, which was a short hop to Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Alan Lomax, Shirley Collins and voilà, the Copper Fami- ly. For others it was Lonnie Donegan and skiffle, or the British blues boom, or Steel- eye Span in comedy hats on Top Of The Pops, or soothing Kate Rusby on Radio 2, or Seth Lakeman’s blazing fiddle on Breakfast TV. Populism will always make its mark for good or ill.


And, contrary to popular perception, the Mumfolks are far from being manufac- tured beneficiaries of marketing cam- paigns that have latched on to a folk bandwagon sud- denly deemed groovy and cool. Au con- traire, apart from creating music of impressive fresh- ness (with what- ever sticker you


decide to put on it), all three acts have plenty in common with the intrinsic, organic values we like to think are cher- ished in the folk movement.


My first encounter with Laura Marling was at the Mercury Music Prize shortlist launch in 2008. She was 18 then and car- ried the look of someone who’d walked into her front room to find a bunch of Martians sprawled out on the sofa. Shiftily avoiding eye contact with anyone, she crept apologetically on stage, studied the floor intently and played – mag- nificently – Ghosts, the elegant, eloquent opening track of her nominated debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim.


Laura Marling


Photo: Philip Ryalls


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