Politics of Folk
by The Editor
Zimmerman belongs in prison. He has tarred the good name of folk music with the stinking brush of cultural Marxism. I’m referring not to George Zimmerman, but to that false prophet of the sixties, Robert Allen Zimmerman also known as Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham, more widely known as Bob Dylan.
By Edwin Harwood
Zimmerman belongs in prison. He has tarred the good name of folk music with the stinking brush of cultural Marxism. I’m referring not to George Zimmerman, but to that false prophet of the sixties, Robert Allen Zimmerman also known as Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham, more widely known as Bob Dylan. Dylan was not the first to sully folk with left wing politics. The unions hooked on to the genre long before and in fact the Left, whose world view now dominates discussion of both history and popular culture, have sought to look for evidence of Marxist sympathies in British folk music as far back as the peasant’s revolt of the fourteenth century. Although no true evidence supports these theories, it’s not unlikely that folkish ditties scorning the nobility were written in the Middle Ages. But these in no way defined the genre and indeed there were probably just as many, if not far more songs adoringly dedicated to British institutions such as the church and the monarchy. In the Wassailing carols of Christmas it is common to hear “God bless the Master of this house.” Yet despite these traditional roots, folk was an obvious and effective medium for communicating Marxist ideas to the proletariat and was therefore manipulated by leftists in the same way they use pop music and the culture industry today.
But the Left have done we Traditionalists a great service. They recognised an organic and innocent expression of humanity and sought to twist it to their ends, but did not succeed in destroying its traditional core; instead they preserved it for us. Even Bob Dylan admits such qualities when he explains what attracted him to folk music.
“I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings”
These qualities are absent from pop music and are what gives folk its power. The left-wing bias of folk music has been enhanced by people like the famous collector and archivist of British and American folk songs, Alan Lomax, whose communist sympathies were strong enough for him to be investigated by the FBI. People like Lomax neglected folk songs which didn’t correspond with their ideology, this has left the remnants of the genre somewhat skewed.
A. L. Lloyd was a fantastic folk singer who recorded many charming old English songs. He was a communist and a Marxist historian and did a lot to preserve the traditional music of the proletariat in the first half of the twentieth century. But he may not have realised that it is this music and its unique culture which sets the beloved proletariat of England apart from those of other nations. Being a communist, he worked at the BBC where he made anti-Nazi documentaries but he also documented the seafaring culture of England. By the 1960’s, Lloyd was an ageing Marxist who had been singing and studying folk music for decades when he became attached to the folk revival of the counter cultural generation. Many young folk musicians in Britain and America were content with Dylan’s style of pseudo-folk mixed with black musical forms such as blues, rock and jazz. But there were others who, influenced by Lloyd, chose to revive the old songs of Britain. The Scottish singer Ewan MacColl, also a communist, was heavily influential for this movement too.
The greatest artists of the traditional folk revival were; The Watersons, The Young Tradition, Peter Bellamy, Shirley Collins and Anne Briggs.
English folk survives mainly in its revived post war form and in the remnants to be found of its influence on classical music, popular music and poetry. Much of the traditional folk music of England has been lost while Irish and Scottish folk songs are far more widely celebrated. English folk songs are very often comprised entirely of unaccompanied vocals, without the fiddles and banjos common to Celtic music. Surviving songs are frequently religious or ceremonial in nature. The Lyke Wake Dirge is a song for a funeral procession. Sung in the Yorkshire dialect, it warns the living of the perils of Hell and the value of generosity. It was written down in 1616 and is likely to be much older.
Sea shanties have also been well preserved and are quite popular in modern Britain, with Cornwall’s The Fisherman’s Friends achieving notoriety from the BBC documentary British Shanties and Sea Songs and later appearing in a television advertisement for Young’s fish. The singers of the folk revival delved into both sea shanties and old hunting songs which reveal a rare glimpse of the traditional culture of rural England. Two of my favourite recordings of old hunting songs are Peter Bellamy’s version of the humorous ‘The Fox Jumped Over the Parson’s Gate’ and The Watersons’ version of ‘Dido Bendigo’ , sung from the perspective of a commoner admiring the nobles and their hounds.
In these materialist times we have neglected many of the festive customs that our ancestors held dear. Christmas songs like ‘The Boar’s Head Carol’ and ‘Here we Come a Wassailing’ each detail quaint regional customs of traditional British society. Folk music is an art form which naturally lends itself to conservatism in spite of efforts to transform it into a tool for cultural destruction.
Traditional folk music is joyfully free of the twisted views on relations between the sexes that we find in other forms of popular music. The delightfully un-PC sexual pursuit depicted in the bawdy old song ‘The Twa Magicians’ is the kind of thing that has feminists spitting blood. The lyrics tell the story of an amorous blacksmith and a coy virgin, each possessed of transformative magic powers. The maid employs these to evade the sexual advances of the smith to whom she eventually submits. The folk-rock version by Steeleye Span irritatingly omits the Smith’s inevitable victory, thereby changing the original meaning of the song. The best recorded version is by that portly old commie, A. L. Lloyd. (Ewan MacColl once described him as a human toby jug.)
Old folk songs are written about historical subjects that are hardly talked about these days. The white slave trade is the subject of both ‘The Turkish Lady’ and ‘Lord Bateman’. Both songs tell the story of Englishmen enslaved by North Africans (all Muslims were referred to as Turks in those days). The earliest written versions of each are from the 18th century, but they were probably composed at the height of the white slave trade, in the 17th century. In ‘The Turkish Lady’, as sung by Peter Bellamy, the English slave wins the heart of an Arab woman who offers him his freedom if he will convert to Islam. This is his bold response:
“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” said he,
“For a slave I am and a slave I will be.
I would sooner die all at the stake
Before I would my God forsake.
The tradition of folk songs about Christians enslaved by Muslims is widespread in Europe and goes right back to the medieval era and The Crusades. No doubt many such songs would be labelled “Islamaphobic” today, just as the medieval ballad of Little Sir Hugh of Lincoln is considered anti-
It is surprising to see how many English songs were written on the subject of Napoleon. One such song, ‘The Grand Conversation on Napoleon’, celebrates him as a brave and noble enemy of the British, seemingly admiring the man but finishing with lines such as, “may our shipping float again to face the daring foes.” This decent regard for one’s enemies is sadly absent from modern war and politics.
In the video below, Peter Bellamy explains why he played traditional English folk music and didn’t just focus on left wing protest songs like his contemporaries. Bellamy had a unique voice, at once quavering and powerful. He maintained the traditional form of folk music, criticising folk-rock acts who attempted to combine folk with modern genres. Tragically, Peter Bellamy committed suicide in 1991. It has been speculated that this was due to the sadness he experienced when he was no longer able to get gigs.
Not much is left of the folk revivalists of the 1960s but there are still singers and musicians singing English folk songs. Jon Boden of the Remnant Kings is a singer and fiddler preserving some of the bawdier sorts of English folk songs. This video shows him performing a chauvinistic nineteenth century ballad to a delighted crowd in the liberal haven of Brighton. The song is called ‘The Maid of Australia’ and it cuts through a century and a half of liberalism, warming the hearts of the listeners with its lewd yet innocent humour. The left failed to totally subvert the folk music tradition, having moved on to corrupt other forms. This leaves traditionalists free to approach the genre anew and create songs with right wing themes like this one by Wulfshead . So in truth, folk music was not entirely tainted by the left, but can we lock Zimmerman up anyway?