British folk-punk Lily Gaskell on music and politics


This music video from England is called Lily Gaskell entertaining guests at Hannah & Rob Blake’s Wedding Party. Brooklands Museum, Saturday 1st August, 2015.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

In tune with the times

Tuesday 10th October 2017

Folk-punk artist LILY GASKELL talks to Felicity Collier about how the changing political landscape impacts on her work

FROM early on in her career, when she played Rock against Racism nights, folk-punk artist Lily Gaskell’s work has been infused with a socialist attitude to music-making.

Along with like-minded people who shared her views to this and other local issues, she developed “a sense of responsibility to stand up for people and share their message,” she tells me.

Lily hails from Thatcher‘s hometown of Stamford and, if further proof were needed that the latter was responsible for millions of children’s misery, the singer tells me that aged 13 she had to clean cobwebs off the iron lady‘s clothes during her work experience at the town’s museum.

“There’s no cleaning that amount of mess off though,” she quips.

When she’s not rollerskating, the professionally trained musician tours around co-operatively run venues such as Bradford’s 1 in 12 club and Sumac in Nottingham.

She performs covers in pubs as a means of income but says that she has had to turn venues down in the past “if their political values are way off mine.”

Music is in Lily’s blood. She grew up in a musical house and both her parents — who still play — were in a band together.

“My dad got me my first electric guitar when I was 11,” she recalls.

“I couldn’t play a single chord until I started going to an after-school group and it quickly became all-consuming.

“I was gigging regularly from the age of 12, playing bass in a few bands. But I didn’t start writing or singing until I was around 14 and became more confident in myself.”

Hugely inspired by songwriter Jeff Buckley, she tried to mimic his intricacy and style. Pearl Jam, Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins have all been influences, along with The Clash, Rancid, Black Flag, Bad Religion and Misfits.

Currently, she draws inspiration from promoters like Loud Women, who encourage all-female line-ups at their gigs.

“It’s very necessary and totally awesome,” she says. “In our patriarchal society women need to reclaim space and feel safe doing so.

“While it’s great to have all-female line-ups, it’s just as much about the people who attend the gigs. The atmosphere and safe space these events create makes it more accessible and in turn will get more women involved in music. Girls to the front!”

And she’s inspired by the changing political landscape. The Tories —“every one of their sentences crawls with lies” — are on their way out, “no doubt,” and she found the June election empowering but emotionally draining.

“It woke up the youth and showed they can make a difference. We showed everyone that the Labour Party is a viable alternative and it was the start of something really significant.

This Lily Gaskell music video says about itself:

18 September 2015

A song for Jeremy Corbyn; adapted from a poem by Ian Everett.

The article continues:

“I helped my parents’ campaign in Skegness, where my dad ran as the Labour Party candidate.

“We drove around in his bright red ‘Corbyn Camper,’ with my Mum doing hilarious Thatcher impressions through a megaphone down Skeggy high street.”

No doubt Lily will make a similarly storming appearance at the London fundraiser for the Morning Star on Saturday. Don’t miss!

Lily Gaskell and rap/spoken-word artist Potent Whisper are appearing at the Constitution pub, 42 St Pancras Way, London NW1 on Saturday October 14. The event starts at 7.30pm and tickets are available from maryado2000@yahoo.co.uk, eventbrite.co.uk or on the door.

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African American folk singer Rhiannon Giddens, new album


This music video from the USA says about itself:

Americana Music Festival 2015 | Rhiannon Giddens “Waterboy”

Rhiannon Giddens performs at the 2015 Americana Music Festival in Nashville.

By Hiram Lee in the USA:

On the Freedom Highway with Rhiannon Giddens

15 April 2017

There are few singers today as powerful as Rhiannon Giddens, and fewer still with so commanding a stage presence. Born February 21, 1977 in Greensboro, North Carolina, Giddens first made a name for herself as a member of the folk revival group Carolina Chocolate Drops. In addition to her singing, Giddens is an accomplished violinist and banjoist.

Giddens’ 2015 solo album Tomorrow is My Turn was among the best of that year and featured a striking version of the traditional folk song “Waterboy,” often associated with the late folksinger Odetta (1930-2008). Her latest album, Freedom Highway, will almost certainly be counted among the best of this year.

Giddens wrote nine of Freedom Highway’s 12 songs. In these, she reveals a deep feeling for her fellow human beings, as well as a seriousness about history. Moreover, there is nothing, not one note, on this album that feels self-involved or trivial. That, alone, is something remarkable given the current state of both popular and “indie” or “alternative” music.

Accompanying Giddens’ originals are strong versions of “The Angels Laid Him Away,” by blues singer Mississippi John Hurt, and two songs associated with the Civil Rights movement: “Freedom Highway” by the Staples Singers, and “Birmingham Sunday” by Richard Fariña. The latter concerns the 1963 bombing by the Ku Klux Klan of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which left four little girls dead.

Perhaps the most haunting of the many haunting songs on Freedom Highway is “At the Purchaser’s Option.”

This music video is called At The Purchaser’s Option – Rhiannon Giddens at Augusta Vocal Week 2016.

It was inspired by Giddens’ discovery of an advertisement from the 1830s announcing the sale of a young female slave. The ad mentions, in passing, that the woman has a nine-month-old child who is also available “at the purchaser’s option.” Giddens’ puts herself in the woman’s shoes and sings movingly of her suffering: “Day by day I work the line/Every minute overtime/Fingers nimble, fingers quick/My fingers bleed to make you rich”.

Returning to modern day, “Better Get It Right The First Time,” sees Giddens turn her attention to police killings of innocent youth. She sings: “Young man was a good man/Did you stand your ground/Young man was a good man/Is that why they took you down/Young man was a good man/Or did you run that day/Young man was a good man/Baby, they shot you anyway”.

The instrumentation and arrangements employed by Giddens throughout seamlessly blend a wide variety of influences. On many songs, the grooves of R&B meld with the growling, muted trumpets of 1920s jazz, while old-time Appalachian banjos thump out their always-mournful melodies.

Giddens’ banjo playing has none of the biting twang commonly associated with the instrument today. It has a thick, full sound. She uses slides to great effect in her phrasing. It’s perfect for the flirtatious “Hey Bébé” which resides somewhere between jazz, folk and blues music.

This 2017 music video is called Rhiannon Giddens – Hey Bébé. It says about itself:

“This song was inspired by listening to a whole lot of early Creole music star Amédé Ardoin. I only had one verse when I went to record Freedom Highway with Dirk Powell down in Louisiana — he helped me finish the lyrics and here we are! The bass, drums, and stand-up bass were recorded all in one room … and Alphonso Horne added his genius trumpet to it all, as well as Desireé Champagne on rubboard. Dedicated to the Zydeco dance at O’Darby’s pub in Carencro, LA, and Leroy Thomas and his band.” — Rhiannon

The Hiram Lee article continues:

Freedom Highway and Tomorrow is My Turn before it are a step forward for Giddens. They are superior to her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, however interesting that effort was at times.

Folk music is easy to do wrong. A dull, pedagogical tone creeps into the work of many revivalists. The importance of certain songs is explained and then they are performed in such a way that one never feels this importance in the music itself. They become museum pieces. This is often combined with a silly sentimentality for the “simple lives” of “pure” folk. Period dress and exaggerated “folk” accents are adopted and exploited. It feels like acting, and bad acting at that.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops were by no means the worst offenders in this regard, but neither were they entirely immune to it. Giddens appears to have broken free of many of these limitations. She retains her folk roots while singing and performing in a way that feels very much alive and relevant, both traditional and modern.

Unlike many folk revivalists (and occasionally her bandmates) Giddens does not pretend to be less sophisticated than she is. And why should she?

Canadian singer Leonard Cohen, RIP


This music video says about itself:

I am REFUGEE—SOLIDARITY Forever… to LIFE!

29 August 2015

Leonard Cohen sings Pete Seeger’s hymn, actually for victims of the Vietnam war but I think it fits for the refugee drama of our days as well! AGAINST INTOLERANCE, STUPIDITY and HATRED against refugees from all parts of the world!

By Chris D’Angelo of the Huffington Post in the USA:

Legendary Musician Leonard Cohen Dead At 82

The Canadian singer-songwriter’s death comes just weeks after the release of his new album, “You Want It Darker.”

11/10/2016 08:56 pm ET

Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, whose voice was as golden as his lyrics were moving, has died, Sony Music confirmed on his Facebook page Thursday. He was 82.

See also here.

Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen died in Los Angeles November 7 at the age of 82. His manager Robert Kory subsequently revealed that Cohen, who had cancer, died in his sleep after falling during the night: here.

Painter Hieronymus Bosch inspired #1 hit song


This music video is called Boudewijn de Groot – The Land At Rainbow’s End.

Dutch folk singer Boudewijn de Groot recorded this song in 1966, 450 years after famous painter Hieronymus (or: Jeroen) Bosch died. The song refers to Hieronymus Bosch, and his imagery of strange beings: ‘All creatures from the circus of the late Hieronymus Bosch‘. The lyrics are here.

In January 1967, the record came out.

For the release of the song in Britain, Boudewijn de Groot called himself Baldwin. The record did not become a hit in English-speaking countries.

The Land At Rainbow’s End is the translation of the Dutch original Het Land van Maas en Waal. Which did become a #1 hit in the Netherlands.

This video is an animation of Boudewijn de Groot’s Het Land van Maas en Waal, with Hieronymus Bosch-like imagery.

The Land van Maas en Waal in the title is the region north-east of Den Bosch city (where the painter Bosch lived and worked), between the Meuse and Waal rivers.

This music video was recorded on 12 February 2016, the day of the official opening of the big Hieronymus Bosch exhibition in Den Bosch, commemorating that the painter died 500 years ago. As a parade with Jeroen Bosch-inspired costumes, and the king of the Netherlands and other authorities pass, rappers Ali B and Brace rap their own version of Het Land van Maas en Waal.

Boudewijn de Groot, now grey haired, congratulated them at the end of the song.

United States singer Pete Seeger spied upon by FBI for anti-concentration camp letter


This folk music video from the USA is called I Don’t Want Your Millions, Mister (Almanac Singers). The lyrics are here.

From Associated Press today:

FBI files: Military questioned Pete Seeger‘s wartime loyalty

By MICHAEL HILL and GEORGE M. WALSH

Dec. 19, 2015 2:06 AM EST

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — As Army Pvt. Pete Seeger eagerly waited for a chance to fight for his country during World War II, military investigators quietly built a case that the young folk singer was “potentially subversive.”

In a security investigation triggered by a wartime letter he wrote denouncing a proposal to deport all Japanese Americans, the Army intercepted Seeger’s mail to his fiancée, scoured his school records, talked to his father, interviewed an ex-landlord and questioned his pal Woody Guthrie, according to FBI files obtained by The Associated Press.

Investigators concluded that Seeger‘s association with known communists and his Japanese-American fiancée pointed to a risk of divided loyalty. …

The investigation, forwarded to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, is detailed in more than 1,700 pages from Seeger’s FBI file, released by the National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act.

The musician and left-wing activist known for such songs as “If I Had a Hammer,” ”Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Turn, Turn, Turn” died in January 2014 at age 94. …

But the newly released files show the lengths to which the government went to keep tabs on the singer’s travels, performances and rally appearances at least into the 1970s. The archives plan to release additional Seeger files in the future. …

Based on these records, Seeger underwent what appears to be his first major investigation after writing a letter to the California American Legion in 1942 criticizing the organization’s resolution “advocating deportation of all Japanese, citizens or not, and barring all Japanese descendants from citizenship.” This was during a time Japanese Americans, many of them from California, were being forced to live in government internment camps.

“We’re fighting precisely to free the world of such Hitlerism, such narrow jingoism,” Seeger wrote.

What followed was a wide-ranging probe by the military into Seeger’s background. Investigators found that Seeger — referred to as the “Subject” — was “intensely loyal at this time” and eager to be transferred overseas from Mississippi to fight fascism.

But they didn’t like the company he kept.

Investigators found Seeger was a “close friend and associate” of Lead Belly, or Huddie William Ledbetter, the folk legend they described as a “negro murderer.” The Almanac singers were described in the files as “spreading Communist and anti-Fascist propaganda through songs and recordings.”