Everything You Needed To Know To Be A Folk Legend But Were Afraid To Ask

The start of the so called Folk Revival made serious demands on those who wanted to make it. First was the great quest to discover exactly what there was to be made. This question, still unanswered, caused many hearts and souls to be deeply searched, even down to that smelly, mouldy bit in the bottom left hand corner. More physical discomforts had to be endured. It was obligatory for all aspirants to any sort of folk reputation to come from, or to, London and live in a grubby bedsit off the Charing Cross Road which had to be shared with an American boy (preferably - English girls were just too comfortable then) and abuse oneself. (The American boy would eventually make more money than you ever did, of course.) English etiquette fortunately saves me from having to detail the exact nature of such abuse. Sleep, cleanliness and sanity were sacrificed to the study of obscure lyricism, guitar strumming and something else I can't remember at the moment. Some more dedicated exponents adventurously and eccentrically also frailed at the banjo. (Frailing is a curious activity which I have been unable to define precisely but seems to have something to do with biting the fingernails.)

Another interesting variation was to spend time sitting in the venerable Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House. The rewards of this particular vice were great. The Library was especially cold and uncomfortable. More important it was harder to get into than the reading room at the British Museum (You ever tried getting into the reading room at the British Museum? - you have to have read more books than they have before even the security guards consider you worth talking to.)

So much sacrifice and searching had to lead somewhere. Usually it was to a dirty corner of a dirty town somewhere in the North of England. (I can't help thinking that the myth of England's Green and Pleasant land was actually invented by Cecil Sharp himself, but I digress.) Here you could perform the products of your scoured soul to an audience of ten coffee drinkers too stupid to realise that a night in the pub was more fun. But you were on your way to becoming a legend.

What disconcerted most probationary legends of the time was that they had to pass through a purgatory of being neglected for a further twenty years after all this discomfort before they could actually become legends. No one got rich, no one got famous. Quite a few got pregnant, many got divorced, some got venereal disease, most got fat. No one got happy. What actually happened was twenty years of discussing what was wrong with the Folk Scene. These discussions were mostly held in the back rooms of pubs where the word "decorator" was as unheard as the phrase "good pint", so the answer should have been self evident. It wasn't. When you've spent all that time searching your soul it's almost certain you've lost a bit of your eyesight. So no one noticed.

No one noticed. Until..... finally the products of all those pregnancies hit puberty. And in the easy discipline of the Folk Festival they hit it with a bang. Quite a lot of bangs actually. And with this new upsurge of energy came a new phenomenen. The young upstarts had to look somewhere for their inspiration. The coffee houses had gone. Pubs had turned into bars with louder music than a banjo or even Hamish Imlach could compete with, and this new generation had been brought up with creature comforts. They weren't going to go off to a cold library or dingy bedsit in London. No, they walked down the road to a mates house and cribbed off his parents record collection. Easier, cheaper and warmer. The parent generation could finally become legends. They had houses, comfort, income taxes and trendy old record collections. And that's the strangest thing. What made them most like the rest of the population finally made them legends.

So what, apart from a mate with suitable parents, do you need to start you on your way to becoming a Folk Legend now?

Well first and formost you don't need or want a London postcode. No, the more obscure the place you live the better. The optimum is an inaccesible island where they speak with strong regional accent. The sense of coming from somewhere, however little your music actually refers to it, is vital. You can't start a good press release without this element of exoticism.

You also need a name. Again exoticism is helpful. If ever they spoke gaelic where you came from you must get your name translated into it, even if you have to go to London (briefly) to find someone who can. Otherwise you need a name that's been given to you by a legend. (If it's not been given to you legally then borrow it.)

Finally you need a skill. Since in this modern era you have no soul to search you can't write obscure lyrics and strumming guitars has been done to death by Oasis and Blur so the only thing left is to practice. The modern legend has to be all those things her parents weren't (I forgot to mention it helps to be a girl, loutish boys are a thing of the past.) - wizz kids at something (not a banjo) accordian, fiddle - whatever. It doesn't matter as long as you're as fast as a computer chip.

There are only two other requirements. A press officer and a well equipped bathroom. That album cover ain't gonna look right unless you've got your make up right.

In twenty years time you could be a legend too.