Friday, April 27, 2007

Folk and Country

A while ago, somewhat unintentionally, I chucked a hand-grenade into the nz-folk list. There was a post, mentioned in an earlier blog:

"Folk? The Warratahs? They are listed as a Country band."

To which I somewhat rashly replied,

"Something I notice that we have trouble getting our heads around is that country music is the folk music of this country."

The response was astounding, from those who thought I was joking to those who were indignant and miffed (and those who agreed and told me so quietly in the background).

"Mike, I am guessing that you are teasing when you say that country is the real NZ folk music, but I'll react just for fun... Country has always been a small, but welcome part of our folk music, but is hardly the folk music of New Zealand because it has always so commonly featured American culture: All that fake rolled-r accent emulating Texas, the whiny nasal singing about county jails and horses, the Stetson hats & braided clothes and boots with spurs. Contrast that with our our Swandris, stockmen's hats & oilskins & gumboots."
"I find it rather interesting that Bluegrass music is seen as part of the folk scene, whereas 'whinge and cringe' country isnt."
"There's been no mention of Victorian palour music or classical music which I think has had a huge influence of NZ music from the early days right through to the Verlaines and beyond."
"But to say it's THE main influence? I don't think country is quite a 'national' music here in the same way as in Australia. It's big and been around for a while, but so have brass bands and Highland piping."
"I tend to agree with Mike, Phil and Alan that country music has had a strong influence on 'homemade' songwriting in NZ, ever since it was the latest trendy music back in the 1930s."
"And as far as I´m concerned, country music stemmed from this celtic stuff anyway... don´t believe me?? Go out and rent Songcatcher."
I have no problem with any of this. I was talking somewhat historically. Back in the 50s and 60s as the folk revival burgeoned, folkies started looking at their own rich traditions; Ireland and Scotland had their celtic musics, America had its dust-bowl ballads and blues and appalachan traditions and so forth. New Zealand folkies, NZ being a much younger country, struggled a bit to find a traditional identity in their music. We tended to look straight past characters like Tex Morton and Cole Wilson because they were a bit recent, a bit twee and maybe, a bit naff. Paul Metsers wrote Farewell to the Gold to get the ball rolling in the NZ folk songwriters' camp, Neil Colquhoun collected some songs of a young country. Phil Garland wrote, resurrected and reconstructed contemporary and other material and so did Martin Curtis (these are the most noteable I can think of, there were heaps of others). We looked at our fields of gold and gum for old songs. But meanwhile, perhaps from as early as the 20's, there was a mainstream music that was being played in parlours, theatres, pubs and shanties that was "ordinary" and played with instruments of the day. A lot of formal music was based around the piano, but those songs that were based around more portable stringed instruments were undeniably "country" in sound.

Now whatever you choose as your folk music is absolutely fine by me whether it's based on a tradition or not. But when you're talking about the indigenous music of this country (with a respectful nod to the tangata whenua), it's country music that has been the mainstream music of the dock worker, the stockman, the tramp, the soldier, the miner and the digger.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pillar to Post

Our local folkclub prides itself in giving our visiting artists all the bells and whistles when it comes to providing sound for our iconic Victorian venue. A hard room to play at the best of times, so we spend a bit on hiring the right gear for the job and having done a few dozen decent sized concerts now we (me and my team of hardworking, unpaid techies) believe we have finessed the venue. It's a wide, high vaulted room with inopportunely placed pillars but we've found the best layout, built a stage platform and arrange the room accordingly. It's a great venue when everything is working.

15:00 The boys turn up and we start lugging the speakers in (2 JBL Concert series), place them on their plinths, angle them just so - experience has taught us this is critical for uniform coverage of this widish room.
15:30 We're running out the multicore and plugging in the amps - about a kilowatt per side. The thing we know well is that big is always better where folk and acoustic music is concerned. No other music, except perhaps classical music, is more demanding of power for its wide dynamic range (soft to loud) and intolerance to any form of distortion or unnatural artifacts. "Headroom" is key and we strive to keep the sound warm, real and uniform across as much of the room as possible. To do this you ideally need big speakers gently moving swathes of air through the space to avoid peaks and troughs in different locations. It's those annoying peaks that listeners percieve as "too loud".
16:00 The lights are going up and the sound system is ticking over nicely with a CD playing through it. Lines, mics and di's are checked, the desk is EQ'd and things are looking good.
16:30 We're onto the housekeeping, taping down leads and packing cases away. Time for a celebratory beer. No hitches, callbacks or toolkit breakouts.
17:00 Soundcheck time. Enter the Talent, who look aghast and say, "We won't be needing that, this is not a rock and roll gig. We've brought our own gear."

I have to say, I was reasonably impressed with how good their own system sounded given it was one tenth the size of the system we were now packing up. Apart from being annoyed at the wasted expense (money and time) I was sad that, given how good this group was, we couldn't have made them sound as good as they could have. Needless to say, tiny speakers on a stick were never going to cut it in front of 50 plus people spread across a room as wide as this. As expected, intelligibility fell right off 30 degrees off axis, so unless you were right down in front, it was a bit of a struggle.

I suppose it comes down to a matter of trust, really. When you turn up at an unfamiliar venue, do you trust that the locals have got it sussed or do you manage what you can with what you've got. The problem here was that the detail of who was doing what was not sorted out by their agent at the time of booking. We both made assumptions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Canterbury Festival

Review by Bernadette:

My review of the Easter folk festival held at Waipara will concentrate on the aspects of the festival that I didn’t expect. Guests like Chris While and Enda Kenny are known quantities so it is pointless for me to spend time discussing their performances.

The first pleasant surprise at the festival this year was the weather. The forecast horrendous and after freezing last year, I went with every snuggly garment I have, along with extra quilts and a wheatbag (they do have a microwave available for campers) for night time. However, only Saturday was wet and the rest of the time the sun shone and I don’t think overnight temperatures got anywhere near zero!

Several guests stood out for me. Lindsay Martin’s violin playing and accompaniment is always a pleasure to hear but this year he shone on the mandolin. He is not only a skillful player but he seems to know just how to fill in the spaces without taking over the performance. For those of you who have never been to the Canterbury Fest, they have created a clever idea of having a ‘blind date’ concert where anyone who is attending the festival who wishes to perform, puts their name into a box, including all the guests, and the names are drawn out to go into groups. These people then get together and create a number to perform in a special concert on the last day of the festival. It is always great fun and sometimes some amazing acts appear. This year, Lindsay obviously decided to be the ‘blind date’ and he dressed up beautifully with a blond wig, tasteful makeup and a ‘stunning’ outfit. He looked amazing and you could see that he was playing some rousing mandolin breaks but it was a real shame that something was wrong within the sound system and he could not be heard more than one row away from the stage. The other act in this concert that I loved was Enda’s group who did a great prĂ©cis of The Sound of Music.

Another guest that I particularly enjoyed was Lindon Puffin. From beginning to end of his concert he hardly stopped talking and he was very funny. His rendition of ‘Baker Street’ on the kazoo was inspirational. Add to silliness, a great voice, plenty of stage experience and tons of ‘street cred’ and you get some idea of what he was like. Often people who are not from the folk world feel out of place and have no idea of how to act at festivals but he came along to sessions and joined in where he thought he could without taking over or opting out.

I didn’t get the see Adrian the Clown do his clown act but as a compere he was an inspired choice. He is obviously a ‘street performer’ with lots of clever tricks to get people involved and they worked amazingly with a concert audience – some good ideas for the rest of us to steal.

The President’s choice this year was also a departure from the norm and Russell asked ‘Dunedin’ to be the guest. So a jam session was arranged on stage. Even though I was in this myself I will say that I enjoyed it immensely. Some of the numbers I have heard people do in the past worked incredibly well with the wall of sound behind them – and everyone was obviously having fun!

So, as a festival organizer myself, I have to say that my hat is off to Russell and his team for thinking ‘outside the loop’ with their guests. It was fun festival and I would recommend it to anyone.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Canterbury Folk Festival, Easter 2007

From the nz-folk list:

A quick report back on a very mellow and lovely Canterbury festival. Thanks to the organisers. It gets better every year! Or is that just me who gets to know more people every year and so enjoys it more? Quite a mixed bag of musicians this year, from an English trad feller through thirties swing to some younger local (and loud!) artists, all tastes catered for. Enda Kenny and his great band were my highlight - I just love the way Enda uses words and the naughty way he delivers them, and Lindsay is a GREAT backing fiddle player. Mike Mikaelides Moroney was an added bonus in the band at the final concert. James Wilkinson was in fine form, I've never seen him play with such fluidy and verve.

My partner Fran got some nice pics of him (and lots of other stuff), shortly to be up on the site .

Chris While with the voice of gold added her own magic to the mix. There were also a raft of wonderful workshops, topped by the magnificent tunes workshop :) And the usual Easter delicacies like the blind date concert, fairy "bondage" grotto for the kids and the much-patronised coffee bar. I sampled a variety of late night sessions from serious diddly through to lovely English trad harmony, mmmmm.

The spoons were a great idea for meeting people, what a nice pickup line "may I spoon with you?" Thank goodness nobody thought of playing the damn things. And after four years of going to these festivals, I've finally learned how to stay awake until the wee small hours and then still be able to function the next day! My body must have acclimatised to the folky

See y'all there again next year.

Jenni K