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Tim Chipping
 

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

The award-winning film Whiplash has garnered much praise. It’s a masterfully-made drama about pure artistic ambition. But it’s also received its fair share of dissenting blog posts, mostly from jazz fans complaining that jazz isn’t about playing rapid paradiddles till your palms bleed. They were also irked that the character of Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons, got an anecdote about Charlie Parker wrong. Seemingly forgetting that people often misremember the stories they tell, particularly when those blurred facts serve their own personal narrative. As in this case.

As folk fans we’re also inclined to make mountains out of erroneous molehills. So it’s unfortunate for us that English folk music and traditions rarely pop up on the big or small screen.

There was of course the Doctor Who serial The Dæmons, in which Jon Pertwee was molested at a maypole by Headington Quarry Morris Men; an episode of Dad’s Army begins with the platoon larking about in Morris attire to the tune of Constant Billy; The Two Ronnies preceded their folk song parody Bold Sir John with an overlong and inaccurately choreographed Morris routine, and Russ Abbot's Madhouse included a thinly-veiled spoof of The Spinners for which the comic Dustin Gee blacked up.

More recently Stewart Lee’s meticulous depiction of Del Day – where the villagers of Ferrety St Margaret celebrate David Jason falling through the bar on Only Fools And Horses – featured an entirely fabricated traditional dance as the genuine Morris side Stewart asked to take part refused, citing the damage done by the likes of Dad’s Army and The Two Ronnies in the ’70s and ’80s.

But finally the folk pedants have something to sink their griping gums into. In February, ITV broadcast an episode of Midsomer Murders set entirely at a folk festival. This instalment of the detective series (that doesn’t have John Nettles in it any more) revolved around a festival organiser drowned in a bowl of eels and eggs seemingly because of an unreleased song by Seth Lakeman, which he has since released as a duet with a woman who was on the same series of The X Factor as Jedward. It also featured Lester Freamon from The Wire pretending to play a violin that was really being played by Jackie Oates hiding behind a curtain.

What’s angered particular viewers isn’t the idea that a folk festival could economically sustain a small village, despite its largest stage being in a hall barely big enough to swing a Brownie. It’s the depiction of mass murder amongst the folk community that’s really got the blood boiling.

At a time when the country’s festivals are working hard to tackle trad-related homicides, a programme like Midsomer Murders is simply fuelling prejudices. Stranglings at Sidmouth alone are down by 15 percent, and this year’s Shepley festival will be offering tankard coverings in an effort to thwart poisoners. Rapper on rapper killings are still a major problem, and police have admitted to EFDSS that they’re still no closer to arresting the notorious singaround slasher, but progress has been made.

The producers of Midsomer Murders should also make it clear that any resemblance between an Oxfordshire festival promoter angering locals with plans to relocate the event, and Joe Heap’s decision to shift Towersey to another field was entirely coincidental.

Tim Chipping


 

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