I spent last night listening to the BBC radio 2 Folk awards. On the whole radio2 tends towards the shiny end of folk, and I tend towards the raw and dirty end, but they had Billy Bragg on and Treacherous Orchestra, so that was fine. Folk is where I come from, it’s home, ancestry, community, more so than Druidry because folk has been there my whole life. I’ve seen a fight, in my lifetime to keep the folk traditions alive. Back in the 80s, the prospect wasn’t good, with aging and dwindling clubs, but, there’s a tremendous resurgence going on and a lot of brilliant young people coming through.
At the Druid Network convention back in November, Paul Mitchell pointed out that our folk traditions are as much a part of our heritage as Stonehenge. More so, because folk has the potential to belong to everyone, and apparently Stonehenge doesn’t, and we can’t all get there and it would be bloody crowded if we did. Folk is where you are, there’s plenty around. It’s your traditions, your heritage, be that farming or industry, or protest or something else.
I have some sense of who my people were, what they did and the land they come from. Not everyone has that. One of the things the folk tradition does is gives you a huge pool of possible ancestry to pick from. Of course you had your share of poachers, soldiers, peasants, and poets – we all do. Not everyone engages with folk, too much beard, woolly jumper and finger in ear… except most of it isn’t like that, and never was. Folk can be sexy, angry, militant, ironic, dangerous… and also loud, or more like classical, or all kinds of things. Still, I’m not going to lure everyone in.
I was listening to Billy Bragg talking about how much now is like life under Margaret Thatcher, and about how it keeps coming round and we keep having to fight the same fights. The protest songs serve in part to connect you to all the people who had to do it before, to make it less lonely, help see the point, keep your courage up. We all have these fights, and in sharing them, they become easier. Workers protest songs from a hundred years ago and more are very relevant. We’ve rioted before over impossible rents, and lack of food, and shitty systems and we’ll do so again.
It helps to know this. How many people don’t know? How many people live in the small awareness of a few generations, overwhelmed by what the system is doing to them and unable to imagine that you could fight back, much less that it would work. How many people don’t know about Ned Ludd and the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Peterloo massacre, the peasants revolt, chartism, levellers, diggers, and all the other brave attempts to put things right. Each round of fighting takes us a little bit further forward. Without that knowledge, without the history of dissent, revolt, non-cooperation, and uprising, it’s easy to believe that you can’t do anything.
What does that give you? A whole new kind of feudalism, in which the peasants are held in place not by laws, but by our own lack of knowledge and disbelief. That’s the developed world for you, all too often. Bread, circuses and being dictated to by our lords and masters.
Show of Hands, in their song ‘Roots’ have this line – “Without our stories and our songs, how will we know where we came from?” We don’t. We have no idea, and that makes it very hard to figure out where we might be going or how to even own that process a bit.