Finally finished this wonderful book on the flight back from Galway. I’m a sucker for BBC music documentaries, and this scratched exactly the same itch.
It’s the story of British folk music over the last hundred years or so, essentially. Which sounds dry as dust. Except that Young convincingly positions British folk as our visionary music, the true sound of mad Albion. From William Morris and song collector Cecil Sharp, through Vaughn Williams and Peter Warlock, Seeger and McColl, scattering through the explosion of the Sixties and out to the complex obituaries of the Seventies (taking in The Wicker Man and hauntological touchstone The Changes), it’s an absolutely fascinating journey. There are some confusing gaps towards the end – I’m still unsure how you spend so many pages on Talk Talk (the drummer used to live down the road from me when I was a kid) and manage not to address, say, XTC or Billy Bragg. But that’s an entirely personal caveat (if I played Devil’s Advocate I could probably see an argument against including Billy, but I think Mr Young may have missed a trick in not using him to unify and tie up so many of his themes) and doesn’t deserve to be held against an immensely impressive, clever and thoughtful piece of work, superbly researched and very well written. If you have any interest at all in British music, native musics or mad people, then you want a copy of this.