So. How was it that Celtic music got into the Appalachian mountains again?
I suspect history’s a bit more complicated than the story I’ve heard, which was that the English arrived first in that part of the country and took all the good land in the valleys, whereas the Scots and the Irish (and the Scotch-Irish, as Northern Irish immigrants were known) missed the early boat after a heavy night, left their claim-staking kit behind, and ended up in the hills where they had to battle, and eventually come to an accommodation with, the indigenous peoples who were there long before any of them.
Anyway. What’s certainly the case is that folk music from the British Isles (yes, even the English stuff) found its way into the musical DNA of American popular culture from that original immigration to areas like the Appalachians.
It may have been the first British Invasion, but it wasn’t to be the last.
The most famous, of course, was in the mid-Sixties period. When Bob Dylan called his 1965 album ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ Dylan only knows exactly what he meant, but part of it was reflecting that his conversion from protest-singing folkie to rock and blues was happening at the precise time that British bands like the Stones and the Kinks – not to mention a certain four cheeky Scousers – were selling American music back to the Americans, especially the blues.
Ten years on, and the Brits were back again, bringing a particularly virulent strain (sorry, last virus reference) of back-to-basics rock n’ roll that may have begun with American bands like the New York Dolls and the Ramones, but found its apex with punk and new wave coming out of the British Isles in the grubby, unsafe hands of the likes of the Sex Pistols, the Undertones, the Clash, and the Skids. This fresh outbreak (sorry!) was to influence Springsteen to choose his most stonewashed material for ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,’ and Fleetwood Mac to step away from the sublime MOR of their previous two albums and make ‘Tusk,’ with varying results.
What I didn’t fully understand at the time was the connection between punk, new wave, and another form of American music, country. When Elvis Costello released ‘Good Year for the Roses,’ whilst recognising the quality of the songwriting, I thought he’d gone soft in the head. Country music, for me, was the pedal steel, rhinestone and teeth Nashville version: I was largely ignorant of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, and all the rest of Outlaw Country, let alone nu-country, or indeed alt.country. My apprenticeship with country punk legends Isaac Brutal is helping to redress that, of course.
Anyhoo, this is a long way around of saying I’ve two albums of my own on the go at the moment: one, the singer-songwriter edition, is very much still in a state of flux at the moment; on the other hand, I already have quite a few songs I think of as country stretching back over a number of years. Some of them will have to be re-recorded; but since there are a couple of them already in the can, I’ve decided to release an EP just now, and I hope raise some cash for a good cause.
As a very junior lawyer a long time ago, I had a brief and unhappy period doing divorce work, which I found very stressful, partly because I was no good at it and mainly because it told me some uncomfortable truths about the level of domestic violence that was going on in my home town. Some things, unfortunately, haven’t moved on that much since then. It’s been in the news quite a lot that the lockdown is causing particular problems for people trapped in abusive relationships, so up until 10th June, I’m putting the songs for ‘The Country Casual’ up on Bandcamp here, and will turn any money that comes in over to Fife Women’s Aid. You can of course donate to them direct, if you can’t bear the music!
I hope you do download the music, obviously. I’ve remixed ‘Prufrock’s Revenge‘ to put in some blues box guitar instead of harmonica; Mr
Brutal has kindly agreed to my putting in the band’s version of ‘Winter that the Snow Fell‘ ahead of it going on their next album; and, as well as ‘Roy Orbison,’ there’s a brand new track, ‘If God’s Not on the Angels’ Side (Who the Devil Is).’
Not exactly the next British Invasion, then. But Mrs F and I will launch our own personal invasion of the States one of these days. Apart from anything else, I want to find out if the story about the Scots missing the boat because they were hungover is just yet another example of English propaganda. Or possibly Scottish propaganda, come to think of it.
The Country Casual – Players
Roy Orbison – acoustic guitar, vocals, keys, Andrew Ferguson; electric guitar, Jeff Sniper; drums, Mr Mixcraft.
Winter That The Snow Fell – vocals, Emz Wright; electric guitars, Mark Allan, Graham Crawford; acoustic guitar, Andrew Ferguson; bass, Murray Ramone; drums, Calum Crawford.
Prufrock’s Revenge (Country Remix) – acoustic and blues box guitars, keys, vocals, Andrew Ferguson; electric guitar, Norman Lamont; drums, Looperman (this sample here).
If God’s Not On The Angels’ Side (Who The Devil Is) – acoustic and electric guitars, vocals, Andrew Ferguson; bass, Mark Allan; drums, Mr Mixcraft.
I’m glad to support this cause. I bought the EP.
Neil, thanks so much for doing that! At an incredibly generous rate too – you’re a good man.