Thursday, April 5, 2012

Light Flight


Some of the songs I want you to hear are not particularly pretty - nor are they intended to be - but they are true and the truth sets us free. The troubadours of the middle ages sang to win the love of a lady. These troubadours of the 1960s sing to win your love for the unloved, the despised, the rejected. The outsider speaks for the outcast who cannot speak for himself. Listen to them...

A recent and utterly wonderful BBC retrospective of Sixties folk music featured performances from Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, The Incredible String Band, Al Stewart, Pentangle and Paul Brady. It also included footage from the Hampstead Folk Club in North London - including a performance by Isla Cameron - and clips from the religious programme Meeting Point where the late German-Jewish refugee Judith Piepe walked through Soho at twilight on her way to the Les Cousins basement club in Greek Street against the musical accompaniment of Simon and Garfunkel's Blessed.

The programme also included clips from one of the other major folk venues in Sixties London - Bunjies Coffee House in Litchfield Street off Charing Cross Road - which closed at the turn of the century. The Troubador in Old Brompton Road in Earls Court however, where Bob Dylan performed as "Blind Boy Grunt" at Christmas 1962, remains open at the time of writing.

Piepe, who converted to Christianity in the Fifties, was associated with the outreach work of the nearby St Anne's Church in Soho and a Sixties folk scene in the capital which at one point included a transitory Paul Simon. The footage of her early evening stroll along what appeared to be Romilly Street and Brewer Street was an atmospheric glimpse into a Soho that may be clearly recognisable to this day yet conversely a London whose social base has changed beyond comprehension by way of lifestyle flexbility and work-life balance.

The philsophical, bohemian and political underpinnings of Hampstead life today - in the age of the absentee oligarch - are in turn about as far removed from the dream landscapes of Les Bicyclettes de Belsize or Linda Thorson's bicycle tour of the area on her promotional film for The Avengers as could ever be imagined.

That modern day and clearcut sense of physical and cultural distance all fundamentally underpinned by the interweaving results of ludicrous political leadership since June 1970, unparalleled surrender to the economics of national suicide, demographic shifts not seen in Europe since the invasion of East Prussia in early 1945, the spooky silent otherness of the post-credit boom world and the evaporation of job opportunities for most men over the age of 25.

Certainly sources as disparate as Derek Hammond and Gary Silke's recent Got Not Got overview of three decades of football cultural artifacts from the Sixties onwards or Dave Thompson's Children of the Revolution study of Glam Rock's 1970-75 golden years - while both celebrative of unequivocally inclusive and certainly fun-packed chapters of British social history - essentially relate to a relatively contented society that is clearly now extinct.

Granted that a recent reading of an internet forum on Belfast included references to secondary school teachers of the period who were so aggressive as to have actually descended to caning a passing window cleaner on the school premises for not wearing his school uniform. Yet that (and the nightmare dentistry) aside, at least there was a fundamental bedrock of all-encompassing security around in those late Sixties and early Seventies days from sunny Saturday mornings with The Double Deckers and afternoons at your grannys to proper jobs, pensions and trade unions for your scary adult future.

46 years on from Tomorrow Never Knows and even Paul McCartney's son looks utterly bloody fucking suicidal as he starts out on his professional musical career.