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Come Write Me Down


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The ’70s, Deleted

Nic Jones
Nic Jones
Photo: Ian Anderson
Add to the equation the lost royalties to some great and deserving artists, then this ought to be classed as criminal behaviour, wouldn’t you say, or at very least evidence of insanity? If a luxurious 19-CD Sandy Denny box set – as described elsewhere this issue – is commercially viable, then a well-remastered, beautifully packaged, well annotated and memorabilia-filled box of the four Trailer label Nic Jones works, plus his Bandoggs album with Pete & Chris Coe and Tony Rose, ought to be what our colonial cousins would call a ‘no-brainer’.

Electric Eden does of course include loads of people who do deserve being written back into history – for example characters around the Donovan/ St Albans scene like the nigh-forgotten Mick Softley (who, nevertheless, did have the advantage of recording for CBS). And whatever you might think of Vashti Bunyan’s music, that’s a great story of her epic horse-drawn journey away from fame and fortune: few can match that other than the disappearing act done by the vastly under-rated Shelagh McDonald who some rank up there with or above Sandy Denny. And the mouth-watering advance sections I’ve seen of Jeanette Leech’s book indicate that it’s jam-packed with stuff about people I’m only dimly aware of, especially from more recent times.

Shelagh McDonald
Shelagh McDonald
Photo: Keith Morris
The 1970s are, however, in great danger of becoming the decade that time deleted as far as histories of the English folk scene go. Its image may be warped by coinciding with the era in which some folk clubs, especially those in colleges, became hugely successful breeding grounds for the new stand-up comedy, but it was also the decade in which the Free Reed label began, bringing us the first flowerings of The New Wave Of English Country Dance Bands like The Old Swan Band and Flowers & Frolics, a hugely important and influential movement reshaping instrumental music and the ceilidh revival since, but which has been ignored by nearly every history. I tried really hard to get the producers of the Folk Britannia TV series to include such things, but they weren’t part of their pre-set, already rewritten history agenda.

Instead, we still get endless repackaging of the 1960s Transatlantic catalogue, the 1970s Island store, and a yawning time gap between Ewan MacColl and Billy Bragg, Pentangle and The Pogues, as if little happened for nigh on 15 years apart from the bouzouki turning into an Irish traditional instrument.

So I’ve started in my own small way by getting some of the Village Thing catalogue back out there. Short of a commando raid on Dave Bulmer’s warehouse to liberate the Trailer masters or the invention of a working Tardis to take writers and musicians under 50 back to experience the 1970s folk scene for themselves as it really was, though, I’m really not sure how this sad state of affairs can now be remedied. But if I’ve piqued your curiosity, it’s a start.

fRom fRoots 328, October 2010


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