The panelling was quite obviously laid by Jackson Pollock, seemingly randomly accreted in different corners and heights around the oddly columned room that some aspiring architect with a sledgehammer has carved out above the Horseshoe pub in Farringdon. The people were odder still, a collection of people who look like they’d fought tramps for their clothing and lost. (In a nice way. Folk people do everything nicely). The manner that some seemingly random person in the crowd would be called up onto stage, to then sing an amazing song, even gave the place a missionary air.
I’d told my friends I was going to see Martin Carthy, at the Islington Folk Club, but my mumbling had rendered it as the F**k Club, confusing them somewhat about my proclivities; just to emphasise, yes, I like sex, but I’m not the King of the Swingers. Sorry, yes, I was there to see Martin Carthy, father of the British folk scene (though he’s getting into grandfather territory these days) and expected him to come on soon after the 7.30 start, but there are no rules about Folk Club. That was evinced by the opening.
First, the Angel Band warmed up. They’re a good group of mainly squeezebox players (they had a hurdy-gurdy, which I’d never seen before!) So far, so NFF (Normal For Folk). Then some thin guy at the front started ranting in rhyme, and all the people behind me started singing a kind of slave chorus alongside with him, which was disturbing to say the least. It turned out the madman was the compère, as evinced by him next shouting “and, as always, the Singing Doorman” at which point the oddly dressed buttoned-up psychopath type by the door starts singing with the voice of an angel and the filthy, florid mind of a Vaudevillian.
Then it turns into a church meeting, with the thin madman ruffling the crisp monochrome of his floral silk shirt with every James Brown expostulation, calling on all and sundry to come up, a woman called Rosie, a webmaster who sang a sweet song about a wife running away with the hairies and the hippies (which I reproduce below), lonely cowboy Stanford Stan (or summat), another woman called Rosie, and, only after nearly everybody else in the room had sung, Martin Carthy stopped his supping and started playing – great as always, though he stumbled over his fingers a little.
What always amazes me about traditional folk music, as recovered and recorded by Mr Carthy, is how bleak it is. It’s full of murder, death, suicide and incest, an endless angry roar against the injustice of the world. Tonight I heard that King Willy found his mum had bewitched his lady love, so she was nearly dead and unable to give birth, poachers were deported to the colonies for 14 years hard labour, and father-of-six Georgy got sentenced to death for an unnamed crime. The only positive bit is where the impoverished and undertrodden rise up and murder some authority, an aristo or landowner, or buck some law, as in The Devil and The Feathered Wife, where the devil is foiled in his plot to claim the soul of a henpecked farmer by a wise wife who rolls in cowshit and feathers to fool him into thinking she’s some fabulous animal. Dumb Devil, but the rural heroes buck authority to keep living in squalor. Woo.
Oh, yes, I came back and found Toby still playing Guitar Hero II at fantastic speeds on expert and was only released from my rabbit-like hypnosis by Vicky staggering in AMAZINGLY DRUNK. I can’t believe she was upright. She was like one of those drunks you see in movies or comedy shows, where the brain is completely gone but they’re still upright and teetering. Anyway, here’s the lyrics to the hippies and the hairies, taken from here. It’s not quite what the feller sang tonight (he swapped freezer-o with stere-o) but it gives you the gist of modern folk, ye naysayers, ye harlots of the guitar and the drum.
HIPPIES AND THE HAIRIES
It was late one night Mr. Jones came home
On the nine forty-seven from Euston O
He was big, he was fat and he wore a bowler hat
And he hated the hippies and the hairies O
As he stopped before his mock Tudor door
He called to his wife I am home dear O
The train was delayed, I’m late I’m afraid
Must have been the hippies and the hairies O
As he stepped inside a note he espied
The au-pair came to greet him O
Saying Madam is not here she has gone I fear
She has gone with the hippies and the hairies O
Go prepare for me the MGB GT
The Roller’s not so speedy O
And I shall drive ’till I find her alive
Or dead with the hippies and the hairies O
So he rode North and he rode South
‘Till he came to a field near Knebworth O
And there she did stand with a joint in her hand
Getting into Harper with the hairies O
What makes you leave your house and car
Your Habitat kitchen and your freezer O
And the children three, not to mention me
And go with the hippies and the hairies O
Oh what care I for my house and car
My Habitat kitchen and my freezer O
A fuse I’ve primed and the whole thing’s timed
To explode in the middle of the Jimmy Young show
So now I’m free of the Bourgeoisie
And the cosmic twits at the golf club O
So Chorleywood you can stuff for good
I’m spaced with the hippies and the hairies O