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Jim Moray, The Lexington, Islington, London, April 25th 2010

April 27, 2010

Since his debut in 2003, Jim Moray has been something of a poster-boy for exciting young English folk music, although Seth Lakeman runs him close. Seth is more trad, with his rustic good looks, while Jim has been praised to the skies for mixing traditional songs with modern rap, indie rock and so on. Nigel Williamson in Uncut called his debut album Sweet England ‘the most significant new development in English folk music since Fairport Convention’s Liege And Lief‘. That’s a claim that takes a lot of living up to… and I’m not entirely convinced.

The Suit is a big fan and persuaded us along to Jim’s album launch show at The Lexington. We’ll pass swiftly over the support band, Pig Earth, whose lead singer looked like a cross between John Lydon and Robert Plant. Suffice it to say, I will die happy if I never hear another Oirish version of Whiskey In The Jar again. Anyway, Jim came on with his band and gave a much rockier performance than when I’ve seen him before – lots of electric guitar, hurdy-gurdy and flailing fiddle.

I reckon most of the songs were from the new album, In Modern History, which is being offered for free on the cover of Songlines magazine on April 30th. This Prince-style move is brave, but it will ensure a wider audience – and fans can buy an ‘enhanced’ version in June. New song Hard sounds, well, hard, while folk favourites Long Lankin and Jenny Of The Moor were strongly done.

So what’s my beef with Jim? I’m not keen on folk piano, for one, not because I think the instrument’s ‘inauthentic’, but I do think he plays it in a very showbiz way – lots of swooning cresc. and dim., which, coupled with his emotive vocal style, almost tips his music into West End musical pastiche.

It’s interesting that his big 2008 album was called Low Culture. Despite it’s inclusion of rap and so forth, it shows very much Jim’s musical roots as a student of composition at the Birmingham Conservatoire. And you can’t get much more High Culture than that. I think Jim feels the tension, as he said of the album, ‘If folk song is the music of the people then it’s surely wrong to treat it as “high art” that should be preserved unchanged. Folk music is low culture.’ Absolutely right, but Jim’s work drips with a high musical appreciation, which to these ears often gets in the way of the tunes and the songs.

Astral says much the same about Bellowhead, whom we love listening to, but who are, I think, also something of a dead-end rather than a new way forward for folk – front-man Jon Boden’s second degree in Composition for Theatre from the London College of Music is fine and good, but it lends a style to the music that is somewhat stagey and, dare I say it, elitist. I’ve no fundamental problem with elitism per se, but I have when it comes to the low culture of folk. However, that’s not going to stop me enjoying Jim Moray’s rollicking version of XTC’s All You Pretty Girls:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. The Suit permalink
    May 2, 2010 7:53 am

    Jim told us he was playing at the cafe in Foyles at this gig so I trooped down there on Thursday and experienced a very different set with Jim accompanying himself just on acoustic guitar and piano…and a little of his electronic trickery at the end. An appreciative audience was treated to some old and some new (get a copy of Songlines magazine which has a covermount of the new In Modern History album – it’s excellent).
    A fire alarm in the middle of the gig didn’t phase him and he followed us all out onto to Charing Cross Road with the guitar and continued on. We blocked the pavement and the tourists and commuters were perplexed but it was great fun. A massed singalong to All You Pretty Girls in the middle of a major London street was not what any of us envisaged, I’m sure. ( link to a blog with pic – Jim was asking for requests and I was tempted to call out for Black Joak but that may have got him arrested….(You can look up Black Joak’s lyrics at your own risk!)
    Anyway, we got to go back inside for yet more – about 12 songs in all which made it more of a gig than a mere album launch – which was to be for the ‘A Beginner’s Guide’ CD that is also just out rather than the In Modern History album really.
    He’s a lovely bloke to talk to and he told me of quite a few things to keep your eyes open for in the future. I’ll leave him to announce them though….
    You can find Jim here – and here –

  2. The Suit permalink
    May 2, 2010 8:21 am

    BTW – I should have said something about the Lexington gig too. Guy’s right about the support but we aren’t in agreement on Jim. I thought the gig was fabulous. Yes I am a fan – having originally dismissed him in a narrow-minded way the first time I saw him with a plexiglass guitar and an Apple laptop when supporting the Oysterband – and I’ve seen a considerable number of gigs with many incarnations of his bands, but this one sticks out with the best. Jim has a couple of new electric guitars and he’s gonna make sure you know it and know that he’s no slouch on the fretboard either. It’s folk music but folk music with a difference and that’s what he wants. Jim told me on Thursday that some had said the gig was too loud and that one long-term supporter was surprised by it and left. As Jim said to me, ‘Given he has been listening to me for some time, how did he not expect that?’ Jim said that the band now is what he has had in head all along. To me it is a mix of the more straight-ahead folk he has done of late mixed with the harder ‘rock’ edge he had back with the ‘Jim Moray 4’ in 2005. There’s James Delarre’s fiddle and hurdy-gurdy and Saul Rose’s melodean and accordian underpinned by some fine drumming and Jim’s acoustic and piano playing but when this gig really lifted off for me was when Jim picked up the Danelctro and went at it.
    It was a mix of old and new songs – many from the ‘A Beginner’s Guide’ retrospective just launched – and most of the audience didn’t seem too familiar with the older ‘Sweet England’ material – especially the gaggle of younger girls that seemed to be waiting just to dance to ‘All You Pretty Girls’ and crowd round him after the show(but, hey, good for Jim).
    I’d go for him getting the laptop back on stage and I know he can do marvellous things with just an iPhone and a tape loop as backing, but as long he’s got the ability to change things up during a gig with an electric guitar and an amp to savage as he does on ‘Bristol Harbour’, I’m a happy follower.

  3. The Suit permalink
    May 3, 2010 8:28 am

    Some video up of the Charing Cross Road experience:


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