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Eliza Carthy, Water Rats, London, March 18th 2010

March 20, 2010

It’s a pain to read reviews that barely mention the music… but I’m afraid I’m going to be a pain this time – for what I think is a good reason. On January 16th, The Guardian published this snidey piece of crap under the subhead, ‘We reveal which artists fill up the iPods and Spotify playlists of the world’s most evil men’:

The author of this lazy rubbish, Christian Koch, did mention that the umbrella group Folk Against Fascism had been set up expressly to counter this BNP bollocks, but the muck had already been well and truly raked. Here’s what FAF say about themselves:

The UK folk scene is a welcoming and inclusive one; folk music and dance have always been about collaboration, participation, communication and respect. Folk Against Fascism has been created to take a stand against the BNP’s targeting of folk music, a stand against the appropriation of our culture. Folk Against Fascism isn’t a political party or a bureaucratic, top-heavy organisation. It is any and all of us who want to make ourselves aware of the BNP’s bigoted view of our history and culture, and who want to do something about it.

The BNP want to take our music, want to twist it into something it isn’t; something exclusive, not inclusive. We must not let them. Folk Against Fascism is a way to demonstrate our anger at the way the BNP wants to remodel folk music in its own narrow-minded image.

Eliza Carthy went further and got a ‘right to reply’ which is worth reading in its entirety, but here are some pertinent bits:

The thing that really bothers me about Koch’s piece, however, is when he says: ‘No prizes for guessing the BNP chieftain’s favourite type of music. Yes, it’s that most arthritically white of genres: English folk.’ These words offend me with their ignorance and prejudice. Ancestral music is blameless in this, and what does my ancestors being white have to do with anything if civilised people know that race is irrelevant?

…. At the moment I’m touring with the Imagined Village, an English folk band that includes British Asians alongside guests such as Billy Bragg and Benjamin Zephaniah. You mentioned Folk Against Fascism: we support their attempts to distance folk music from the far right. Bollocks to Nick Griffin. And because talk is not cheap when it comes to this, bollocks to Christian Koch. It’s just not funny.

Yay, Eliza! I’m not going to rant too much here, but I’d love to hear the response from The Guardian if someone complained that bhangra was ‘too Asian’, or grime was ‘too black’, or jigs and reels were ‘too Gaelic’…Pah, a pox on ’em and their pathetic ‘liberal’ veneer.

And now to the music (with a number of barbed cultural references chucked in for cheap rhetorical effect). The audience  – old and young, black and white – was sweating up a storm in the tiny back room of grungey Water Rats when Eliza Carthy (Gypsy-Yorkshire mother, London-Irish father) and her band took the stage. She started with a slow number from her forthcoming album, a soulful bluesy ballad called Thursday, followed by Little Bigman, a rollicking tale of how crap Whitby can be. This was one of (I think) six songs from her most recent album, Dreams Of Breathing Underwater, including the reggae-ska-folk of Like I Care (Wings), the gentler Lavenders (with psych-cello opening), the louche music-hall style of Mr Magnifico and the folkie number Hug You Like A Mountain, a cover of a song written by Rory McLeod, who has a Scots-Irish name but comes from London.

The band was on good form and Eliza sung and fiddled up a storm, despite the occasional lull. I think I’m right in saying that none of the songs this evening were from her Mercury Prize-nominated Anglicana – an album of traditional songs given a twist so as to be, in Eliza’s words, ‘an expression of Englishness as I feel it’. Make of that what you will. Instead, we got Eliza as the music-hall entertainer, the pleaser of audiences and the bane of dull traditionalists.

Anyway, it was a very entertaining if hot evening and would have left an English fascist very disappointed, which can only be a good thing. Support Folk Against Fascism and make him even more disappointed.

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