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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

As is customary for this time of the year, I extend a greeting to WOMEX delegates who will be finding a copy of this issue in their goody bags and possibly perusing our pages for the first time. Luckily this year, the calendar gods (those same ones who try to wreck our summers by confusingly making major events clash some years but not others) have also made it possible that the same issue can go into the bags for English Folk Expo and AFO as well, the first time they and our print/publishing schedules have allowed this. Anyway, enjoy your reading: hopefully you’ll be enthused to discover some musics you’ve not encountered before and this will bring you great joy and a fruitful life. That’s the idea anyway!

As I understand it, the reasons for setting up the very excellent English Folk Expo are several. They include the fact that Scotland has long promoted and showcased its music each year at Celtic Connections (and reached out to English festivals too), and that historically WOMEX has tended to omit English folk/roots music. It’s a weird anomaly that whereas the other parts of the increasingly dis-United Kingdom have long, and quite justifiably, considered themselves hard-done-by on political and economic levels and ignored by the London-centric mainstream media, it has historically been English folk and roots music which has been the disregarded poor relation compared to that of the ‘Celtic fringes’ (though Wales may well disagree).

Part of this problem must be the way that we’ve been taught history. It’s all been about royalty, aristocracy, empires and battles. Things have been made worse in recent years by the nasties on the far right appropriating the notion of England and Englishness so comprehensively that many people are embarrassed to identify with it. They promote a fictional racial idea of ‘pure’ Englishness which is very far from reality.

I’ve just finished reading the second maxi-thought-provoking book by Robert Winder. His first, 2004’s Bloody Foreigners: The Story Of Immigration To Britain, should be on every school history syllabus as it blows every racial and cultural purity theory out of the water, establishing what a wonderfully mongrel nation we have been over thousands of years. (And a real poke in the eye for that magazine which once declared that English music shouldn’t be considered part of ‘World Music’.)

His new one, The Last Wolf: The Hidden Springs Of Englishness explains who we are and how our unique character has been moulded, not by kings and wars but by wool, water (from above and around us), weather, wheat, the rocks and minerals beneath our feet, our countryside, houses and towns. Folk music never gets a mention (let alone Moorish dancing), but everything in its inspiring pages is a sub-text – along with our mongrelness – to the sounds we make and the stories our songs tell.

As many cultures say, you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you come from.

Ian Anderson

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