Unfashionable Folk 2

July 30, 2009

Crofty makes some good points in his blog about my post on Unfashionable Folk

One thing that got me thinking was when he traced back his own musical heritage.  At first, I thought, as Crofty did, that I am not like the Copper Family- a member of some folk music family going back through the generations.  But then it occurred to me, neither were the Copper Family.  Rather, they were members of a farming family who also liked to sing and play down the pub (albeit to a very high standard).

And that’s what most of us are.  People with day jobs who like to sing and play.

So what’s my musical heritage?  Well, my father is a talented Jazz Pianist, so I grew up listening to Jazz and Swing music, but that’s hardly in danger of dying out (nor is it really a North Eastern thing). But that’s not all I heard as a child…

My father also used to play clubs as part of a dance band.   I used to go with my grandparents to the last of the Tea Dances (in fact I can still do the Saunter Together and the Katherine Waltz (or Waltz Katrine as it is known up North))  So there is a bunch of songs that is fading from my memory, and I suppose they are part of my heritage.

So, the next time I sit down to play with Crofty, we could continue to work on our arrangement of the Princess Royal for Accordion and Guitar, or we could have a go at the Valeta and all those other old songs that neither of us really like, but will be forgotten unless people like us do something about them.  Or perhaps they’re not worth saving after all…


Unfashionable Folk

July 28, 2009

When was the last time you danced the Valeta?

My Parents danced it in the Social Clubs around the North East, my Grandparents danced it at Friday and Saturday Night Dances without fail, always before the interval came when they had the chance to practice more modern dances like the Twist and the Jive.

I heard the tune this weekend at an accordion club (another example of Unfashionable Folk) and it sounded familiar, so I’m assuming its lodged somewhere in my childhood.  Even so, it’s a dance that is fast heading to oblivion.

The trouble is, it’s too working class. This is why folk music is forgotten. Working class culture is ignored at best, sneered at at worst, and thus it gradually falls out of fashion.  In a hundred years or so the middle classes rediscover some of what has been lost and they resurrect it, but only for the few. Folk Music is, after all, working class music refined for the middle classes.

If you disagree with this, then put your money where your mouth is. This summer, rather than heading to Cropredy or whatever, head to your local Working Man’s Club or Pensioners’ Tea Dance and listen to a dying folk tradition.  Record the tunes, learn the dance steps and do your bit to preserve a piece of history.   Of course, the dances will look hopelessly old fashioned, and the music will sound funny compared to the stuff Show of Hands and the rest will be performing, but that, of course, is the point I’m trying to make.

Still not convinced?  Well, as soon as you’ve finished reading this, try doing a Google Search for the Valeta.  You won’t find much, and  yet ask anyone over a certain age and they will be convinced everyone knows it.

This is how traditions die.


July 21, 2009

This being the Summer of Robots, I went to see the new Transformers movie last night.

I haven’t seen the first movie, however this didn’t spoil my appreciation of the story because, so far as I could see, there wasn’t one.

But this isn’t necessarily a criticism.

Let me explain… There were many things I liked about the film. The special effects were superb, the pace was tremendous (there didn’t seem to be a spare scene or word of dialog that didn’t advance the action onto the next scene). Okay, the fight scenes went on too long, the pseudo sex scenes were tedious and the comedy grated, but there was something about the finished package that that hints at the future of the high concept science fiction movie genre. It was obvious that a lot of talented people had done their bit on this movie. It wasn’t their fault that their hard work was mangled by committee led film production.   If only the same amount of thought that went into the computer animation had been applied to making sure that the actual story made sense when the film hit the screen.

It didn’t even have to make that much sense. I’ve got nothing against watching a film where robots turn into cars and motorbikes as they fight evil robots. It doesn’t make any sense that robots should do this, but I don’t care. I’m happy to accept an Energon source from the distant past as a reason, far happier than having to listen to some pseudo scientific rationale. (Actually, I was more interested in why the bad robots were called Decepticons. Surely the good robots were also deceiving people? Is this just a case of your enemies being terrorists and your allies being freedom fighters?  But I digress.)

I’ve said it before: computer FX are incredible nowadays, and set to get even better. Some of the scenes in the film were breathtaking. This is almost a new artform, or at least it will be when they sort out how to apply it properly to the script, or vice versa.  I get the sense we’re at the same place that, say, comics were at fifty years ago.  Something new is happening in the medium, but it is being hampered by slavish attempts to copy what’s already there, not to take advantage of the new opportunities presented.

Entering the Mainstream?

July 8, 2009

Two SF writers have been in the news recently.

The first, Alastair Reynolds, for securing a million pound publishing deal for his next 10 books…


The second, Chris Beckett, for winning the Edge Hill prize for short fiction…


At times like this, its tempting to say that SF is finally coming of age, that it is finally being accepted by the mainstream.

Of course we’ve all been here before.   Every so often the media takes note of SF, it picks up on a new writer or trend, but the fuss soon dies down and SF is left back where it belongs, if not in the gutter, then beneath mainstream notice.

Should we care?

Well, yes and no.  It’s nice to see two writers get the recognition they deserve.  Actually, nice is not strong enough a word.  I think most of us in the community are very proud of what they have done.  But let’s face it, we don’t need the media to tell us that House of Suns or the Turing Test is worth reading, we knew that already.

It would be nice if there were a few more million pound contracts out there, it would be nice if there were more literary prizes being won within the genre, but the truth is Reynolds and Beckett were good writers without these things, I’m sure they will continue to be so afterwards.

The rest of us will continue to enjoy their work, and that of other writers within the field who have so far escaped mainstream attention.

And if the mainstream doesn’t know about those other writers, then that’s the mainstream’s loss, not ours.


July 1, 2009

An odd topic for a blog on Robots and Accordions, but I had to do an assembly on the topic this week and it got me thinking about being a writer.

Writers sometimes have an image of being pale types who spend their time locked up with a word processor as they can’t face the real world.  Personal experience suggests that all sorts of people become writers, from sporty extroverts to introverted geeks.  A good thing, as they all bring different perspectives to their work.

But what about humility? Are they a humble bunch?  Well, I have met writers who show off constantly, and other writers who are modest and self effacing.  Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation, positive or negative, between the level of success enjoyed by the writer and the need to show off.

The trouble is writers are constantly encouraged to raise their profile by attending conventions, doing readings and signings, visiting social networking sites or keeping blogs, just like this one.  Most of these things are admittedly enjoyable, but it can get awkward treading the line between talking about something that you think is interesting and simply showing off.

Is there a problem with showing off in this field?  It irritates me when I see writers bragging about their latest sales figures or new contracts signed, but as some of those writers are far more successful than I, perhaps they have the right idea.  Has anyone been put off buying a book because they know the author to be arrogant?

As I said at the beginning, this entry was brought about by an assembly I was putting together for this week.  Here are a couple of quotes I liked…

You shouldn’t gloat about anything you’ve done:  you ought to keep going and find something better to do

David Packard CEO of HP

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.