What is Folk Music?

As a music lover, and occasional general-purpose Monday-night layabout at Colchester Arts Centre, I’ve had a lot of time to overthink this question: what is folk music?

The easy answer would be to suggest that, if someone plays an acoustic guitar, then that is folk. If it has Morris dancing, that must be folk too.

That’s bullshit. The implication would be that if you pick up an electric guitar, you ain’t folk. Dylan at Newport in 1965 may argue with you there.

I guess the clue is in the name: folk music is the music of the folk, in other words the people.

That’s you and me, humans.

Any time you can sit, stand, dance, share a musical moment, laugh, cry, tease the dogs, tease the children…maybe raise a glass, but mainly feel that warmth and love that only humanity and shared experiences can do for you, that is folk.

If, somehow, the music can get you through the best of times and worst of times, then that is folk.

Forget the chord progressions or the scales or the modes or the instrumentation: they don’t matter.

Once a song passes into the public domain, it is now folk. That isn’t using the legal definition, because fuck that. Folk music is written, adopted and loved by the people. It changes and it changes at will, and you all get involved. Getting involved is the whole point of folk.

Take the iconic riff from Seven Nation Army by White Stripes. Is that an acoustic guitar? No. Does that mean it isn’t folk?

Jack White’s seven chords have passed into the public domain: visit any football ground on a Saturday afternoon and you will hear the humans singing that riff. Every club has their own version. At SUFC it was Oh! David McGoldrick. At Labour rallies it was Oh! Jeremy Corbyn.

Whatever your sporting or political allegiances, this is about us. Folk is the music of the people. If we all sing along to Rick Astley & Foo Fighters…

…then that is folk music. It is our music. We own it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *