Music Journalist Lauren Zahra discusses live folk music’s new way of expressing itself, and how community still exists for the genre.
As a music journalist, I find myself going to a lot of different gigs – anything from live music nights at small pubs to the arena gigs of international stars. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been to two folk gigs in London, and at both I noticed something quite remarkable.
The gigs in question were Stars Of Sunday League’s EP Launch Party at London’s brilliant Luminaire venue and a gig titled Laura Marling and Friends that took place at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. Both were brilliant, but they operated very differently to what has become the expected structure for live music in the twenty-first century.
Rather than having support bands come on for twenty minutes or half an hour followed by the headlining star, both gigs operated as what I would describe at the highest quality open mic nights I’ve ever been to. More professional and rehearsed than most open mic nights, of course, but nevertheless, the structures were unique.
Stars Of Sunday League were joined by a myriad of friends, including Broadcast 2000, Little Words (featuring Jeremy Warmsley), Planet Earth, Younghusband, Sempahore, Olly The Octopus and I Said Yes, and each performed a song each before passing the microphone over to frontman Euan, who introduced the next act. Each artist was asked to play because they are friends with Stars Of Sunday League. It made for a great evening, mainly because if you didn’t like a band (though I must say, this wasn’t a problem), you only had to listen to one song. If you did like the band, you’re quite likely to go ahead and see them or listen to them next time round.
Laura Marling’s friends for the evening were Johnny Flynn, Mumford & Sons, Andrew Bird, Peggy Sue, Ethan Johns, Pete Roe, Alessi’s Ark and Sons of Noel & Adrian. Laura appeared on and off throughout the night, playing songs with some of the bands and introducing each one. The sell-out crowd couldn’t be anything but impressed with the high calibre of her musical friends, and the big finale of her song ‘Crawled Out Of The Sea’ featured all of the artists that had performed.
I realise that the ‘traditional’ ideas of folk have fallen away now to some extent – the emergence and popularity of artists like Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, Johnny Flynn and Noah And The Whale has pointed towards a new indie-folk hybrid genre – but it has really struck me over the last couple of weeks that one element of traditional folk remains. The element I’m talking about is a sense of community and friendship.
Traditional folk music was and is all about this. It’s a form of art that’s always been shared between families and friends, with them working together and enjoying the music. To see that these modern folk artists are pioneering a change in the British live music scene is fantastic – their shows have an amazing community feel, and to know that the headliner is personally in awe of those supporting them musically makes the listener much more likely to pay attention.
I’m not sure whether we’ll see other genres or international mainstream pop artists following suit, but I do hope we’ll see more folk and indie artists stretching the boundaries of live performance over the coming months. It would be lovely to see a larger fresh take on the idea of live music.