Folk and new tradition

I grew up with folk music, and was learning songs from an early age. That said, it wasn’t until I found a folk club in the Midlands, in my early twenties, that I had any idea I could sing. It came as a bit of a surprise being complimented on my voice after so many years of being told I sang like a cat…

I’m interested in tradition, and more importantly, in living tradition. I do know a fair few traditional songs, but early on I took the decision to seek out and learn the work of contemporary singer songwriters working in folk. It’s an odd thing, this, because in some ways, the measure of your success as a writer of new folk is to have your name drop off the song, and to disappear. In terms of ever getting a royalty cheque, this is not a great outcome, and I do know folk composers whose work has gone feral in this way. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

The point of folk is the sharing of material, and the writing of songs that can speak to people, and be sung unaccompanied in fields. Early on I did dabble in song writing, but frankly I’m not very good at it, and there are so many good songs out there in need of an audience. So I lend my voice to other people’s work, keeping songs alive, and audible as best I can. It’s a small contribution to the tradition, but that’s where the tradition comes from – innumerable unnamed people down the centuries singing the songs they thought should be sung.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Folk and new tradition

  • niffsoup

    Yup – songs and tradition, peffa-important stuff… And have always been confused by phrase ‘sing like a cat’ – especially after watching The Mousehole Cat’ where the wee moggie sings to the storm… Must try and watch it again with a ‘star-gazey’ pie, soon!

  • Leeby Geeby

    As a songwriter I found this piece inspirational. It’s my dream to be able to one day be play Celtic folk on guitar. I’m a three chord wonder, but I can sing and have had moments of grace where I felt I was connecting with some ancestral energy and time seemed to disappear.

    • Gwion

      Don’t knock the three chords! I’ve made up a few songs in my time and the ones that get people joining in best are all ones with “simple” tunes based around two or three chords (they’re all I know anyway) and that people can pick up quickly. It’s quite an experience when you sing a song for the first time and by the second chorus you have people singing along.

      Here’s a three chorder that has managed to get others singing along and that sums up my view of why it’s important to sing songs that keep traditions alive. https://soundcloud.com/gwionssongs/old-songs

      So keep writing, keep singing and don’t let the lack of fancy chords put you off.

  • Paul Southcott

    I’ve always been a singer, but lately I found I need new songs, and I cant find them.. not ones that I want to sing.. and I’m not good at writing my own.. I wonder if a group, meeting with the ideaof making new songs, is a workable thing?

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