Review – Singing From The Floor – J.P. Bean


singingfromthefloorOn and off I’ve been part of the U.K. ‘Folk Scene’. I have both performed as a dancer and played and sung in a number of local clubs and I was interested to get a deeper insight into the clubs and players and singers who frequented them in the past.

If you take a passing interest you are going to be informed by the book and it features everyone living you could possibly expect to be in it, talking about their experiences; Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger, Martin Carthy, Ian Campbell, The Watersons, the list goes on.

It is a collection of their views, little more than a vox pops, or transcriptions of their memories and opinions, spoken directly. Unfortunately I think it suffers from this and becomes repetitive and rather pointless. The book in and of itself doesn’t interpret, it makes no assumptions, there is no larger discussion. No digest of the interviewees views. Page after page of text doesn’t really tell you anything new. You knew McColl was controlling, you knew that folk music was linked wholeheartedly with the C.N.D. and with left-wing politics, there is very little of revelation in it.

Possibly the closest I got to a joyful discovery was that Ian Campbell’s sons are the leading lights of UB40, a predominantly white U.K. Reggae ‘supergroup’.

It only confirms the frustration I have always felt with the Folk scene; where traditionalists were only ever sold a different version of the same old story, the same sell, the same hype. Yet pompously they then defended it as immoveable God blessed historically accurate tradition and refused to be swayed by those who wished to create a living breathing self-sustaining musical world. The book confirms one thing, it was folk music that killed off folk music and there is more music of the people and by the people in one Beatles melody than 50 verses of some snoring dirge from the Outer Hebrides.

And yet I feel I’m being overly harsh, for those that were there or those that have surfed dangerously on the edges of folkdom it can be a rather cozy and self satisfying read. As a participant you may have met and talked to those in the book. When they speak you are standing listening; to Martin Carthy, Liza, Martin Simpson, and Ralph Rinzler in my case.

I don’t think the book would attract a newcomer, but it would comfort a past participant and perhaps it did. Maybe I’m just a little too close to the reality of enduring Tina’s performance of her ode to marine mammals ‘seal seal, how does it feel to be a seal‘ to ever fully recover an open mind when it comes to ‘folk music’. I have great difficulty even using the term. To me it’s redolent of homespun sheep’s wool pullovers, real ale, nice people being nice to one another, dishonest suppressions of performers egos, quiet one upmanship, corn dollys and cold nights of tented sleeping next to human repositories of beery methane.

I was kind of hoping that the book might persuade me that I’ve always been a bit wrong, a bit ugly and a bit cynical about the world of Folk, but in the end..

It’s just one of those books you read to the end because you think you should rather than because you really wanted to.

Thoughts on the passing of Amy Winehouse


Dead dead dead, dead as a Dodo…

Lilly livered get out clause…

As I begin to write this I have to say, that I, know bugger all of the ‘truth’ in this matter and my perspective can only ever be that of a listener and as a digester of whatever the media cared to throw at me during Ms. Winehouse’s career. Only her family and those close to her will ever know the truth. Everyone though has their angle.

Mourning

Many will not mourn the passing of Amy Winehouse. Many will see her as an average talent amongst much else that is jaw droppingly mundane in the scene of British popular music circa the 2000s. She was undoubtedly disturbed, self-indulgent, inward looking, tearfully sentimental in that way only the lost soul of a teenager can be, without a backward glance or self-critical say so; but she was one great singer, she was a talent I believe to rival the greats, or could have been, given the chance and the opportunity.

On an off day she could vocally out manoeuvre her nearest rivals and I believe probably leave them wishing she do something as stupid as fuck things up. She did this, most royally of course. Talentless ‘squeekers’ like Duffy could never fill the fissures now that a true star has fallen from the firmament.

Above all though, and depressingly so, once success hit, she was a commodity bought and sold and then personally let down I believe by family, friends and her management, by her record label, her minders and everyone else INVESTED in her.

27 and an adult?

Sure she was 27 and no doubt considered herself an adult and capable of making her own decisions when she passed away. Where were the management that professed love for her.. where was ‘love’ when handlers pushed her onto an Eastern European stage only half a month ago when SHE said ‘I don’t want to go on’ and was in no fit state to do so..? It seems as though those that should have cared weren’t there for her, or perhaps there was no opportunity to help. Whatever the true story behind the tradgedy of her addiction and struggle it seems to me, that she was let down.

So family have said that Amy was always a wild spirit who knew her own mind and couldn’t be controlled, I wonder if she was just looking, as young children do, for boundaries, for someone to love her enough to make up some rules, or someone to say ‘enough is enough’. No one did, and after her success no one wanted to dared, or could probably have got close enough to impose any single will upon her. However desperate the situation.

Of course there is always addiction, an affliction that she and many others have, but every addict I have ever known was in some way physically or sexually abused, or nurtured some deep schism in the dark recesses of their un-shared soul. It wasn’t so much the addiction in my experience as the need to plaster over the cracks that led to those that I have known harming and in one or two cases killing themselves as a result.

Devil at the Crossroads?

Many performers I believe are fractured people who ply their trade for more, much more, than financial reward. The average Joe doesn’t feel the draw or need to please other people and the love (supposed) that returns to them by way of this bargain. And will not understand the contract that Winehouse and others like her sign for themselves. Perhaps this is the contract, the very same one, that Robert Johnson who died at 27 years of age, or Jimi Hendrix who also suffered loss when his mother left the family home (and died at 27), signed with the Devil at the Crossroads.

Fractured

It is no surprise to me that she enrolled in Acting school in the same year as her father left home, one wonders what hole is created by loss and how it might be subsequently filled? The adulation associated with succesful performance seems a candidate fo gap filler. But no doubt, like many before her have found, once success comes your way, there is nothing real to fill the gaping hole of loss and sadness with, there is in the end, only you and if you have it, love for yourself. Is this who Amy Winehouse was? Only her family and friends will know, but I think it’s how I saw her and how I see her now.

But what I heard was someone with all the ability of Billie Holliday, (Tony Bennett likened her to Dinah Washington) but with the recorded output of a crowd pleaser. I think, had she lived to a ripe old age, circled by earlier successes and had re-negotiated the contract between herself and the World she might have had the opportunity to show us more than just a spark of genius.

She was that good. As it is, we’re left wondering and wishing.

Amy Winehouse was someone’s child, don’t forget that.