Archive for April, 2009

Live: Folks, Proud Gallery, Camden

April 25, 2009


  Named after both one of the oldest words in the English language AND George Bush Jr.’s favourite innappropriate colloquialism (as in “we’re gonna get the folks that did this,” after 9/11), Folks are a Manchester band steeped in the soundtrack to the American Century, whether that be Spector, Dylan, The Beach Boys and The Byrds or, less obviously, Marvin Gaye, John Coltrane, Beck and Dr Dre. Throw in The Beatles and The Stones too, who whatever their origins were always American in essence. But in reconfiguring these sources for the present moment, Folks, unlike many of their so-called peers, don’t just wear their musical influences as a borrowed suit of clothes, but rather take on the attitude of these long-gone greats too- the indefinable spirit that made, say, Buffalo Springfield write ‘For What It’s Worth,’ Lou Reed lay down ‘Heroin,’ or, for that matter, NWA to knock out ‘Fuck tha Police.’

  Y’see, while superficially, from surface impressions, you could be tempted to file Folks next to the dinner party soft psych/MOR of Fleet Foxes and their pleasant if rather inspid ilk, that’s only if you register the close harmonies and melliflous melodies but ignore the message behind them. Cos Folks are a protest band, albeit one in the mellow tradition of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rather than the more commonly abrasive likes of The Clash or Rage Against The Machine. But that doesn’t mean they’re any the weaker for it; just a tad less inclined to state the obvious and bash you over the head with a sonic sledgehammer when, lets face it, that kinda noise is only gonna be preaching to the converted anyway.

   Nope, Folks are kicking against the pricks and protesting our rights in the true, um, folk tradition. That’s down from Dylan and Ochs to CSNY to solo Lennon and on, the pre-punk era of sticking it to the man, if you will. And when it works it’s damn powerful, cos it gets in under your skin and subverts ya from within.

   The Proud Gallery is a converted Victorian horse hospital, of all things, at the top end of the thieves’ bazaar known as Camden Market, and I guess the ketamine is the only constant between the two. It’s a painfully trendy bar-cum-mausoleum for frozen rock n’ roll images of the past, the kinda rebellious iconography that sells cars and insurance and keeps the careers of late-middle-aged millionaires afloat, with picture-memories of themselves as drug-damaged children pouting palely in black leather jackets, self-consciously cheap trash now framed and designated as art with an appropriately expensive price tag. Cultural gentrification- dontcha just love it? And in the middle of it all are Folks, playing a free showcase set on a Saturday afternoon to a passing, transient crowd of disinterested bodies that they’ve gotta try to hold onto somehow if they want to be invited back. It’s a tough gig, but you’ve gotta take the breaks where you find them. And actually, Folks do pretty well, holding onto a sizeable fixed audience, and such is the nature of Camden on a Saturday afternoon, or perhaps Folks’ particular pulling power, that I find myself watching them from an artfully arranged minimalist leather sofa between a cartoon Polish bag lady on my left and an up-and-coming Radio One DJ on my right, although perhaps that just reflects my own status in life right now.

  “We’re all dead, there’s no protest and the map’s gone,” Scott Anderson sings on ‘We’re All Dead,’ a hypnotic acoustic drone topped by dream-like harmonies, inspired by the late JG Ballard’s short story, ‘The Life and Death of God.’ Scott has the casually charismatic presence and the neat beard of a young Barry Gibb, and his slurred yet strident vocals shine powerfully on ‘Nest,’ which also features a stunning slide guitar solo from Andrew McKerlie. Rhythm guitarist and songwriter Michael Beasley provides the gentle, chugging groove of ‘Fireflies,’ which descends artfully to a dark, minor key climax, while ‘Providence’ is a white soul ballad with a Big Star feel, an ominous chorus- “Drown the sailors, burn the rowboats” -and an impressive choral coda. Throughout, Terry Kirkbride’s driving drums keep things moving and tight when they could otherwise easily drift apart at the seams, and Colin Ogdon’s confident keyboard runs add a depth and texture missing from many contemporary guitar groups. It all comes together on the amazing ‘In A Moment,’ which combines swooning George Harrison slide guitar with tight, modal jazz picking, soulful organ and hammering drums, and a soaring chorus straight from ‘The White Album.’ 

   Such is Folks’ successful absorbtion of the less-travelled tropes of classic songwriting of the past that many of their tunes contain passages that seem naggingly familiar, even if you can never quite place where they come from. Me, I don’t believe they are stolen; they just trigger the same synapses and associations of some half-forgotten favourite from childhood radio.

   A few days later, I join Folks on the G20 protests in central London. Or rather, I don’t: the police’s now-notorious kettling techniques, the cordons and general chaos (orchestrated by the authorities rather than the people), conspire to keep us apart, and we don’t manage to rendezvous until late afternoon at the relatively sedate and old-school anti-war demo in Trafalgar Square, which in contrast to the heavy-handed scenes around the banking district is practically unpoliced (and entirely peaceful as a result). Folks- or to be precise, a stripped-down trio of Scott, Michael and Andy- had been spending the day playing their song ‘Dirty Words’ to the people, busking and adding their voices to the combined shout out against the financial robber barons, war mongers and those who would ravage and plunder and stick knives in the earth, in the words of Brother Jimbo. Encouraging as many people as possible to join in with the song’s simple, affirmative chorus- “Wasn’t born to kill nobody” -they’d just, when I ran into them, got no less than Arthur Scargill on board the bandwagon. Not bad, considering the song has already been adopted as an anti-war anthem by protesters in America, with one Jesse Dyen arrested for singing it on the lawn of the White House. Now, I joined them for a lusty performance on the steps of the square, accompanied too by impromptu bongo-playing hippy chicks, which immediately attracted a crowd of curious, smiling faces and cameras clicking away.

   Folks are inclusive, not aggressive; they don’t wanna alienate ya, they wanna welcome you all in, their message is unfailingly positive, even as they acknowledge the confusion, hate and negativity in the world today. Music, ultimately, is for bringing people together. Or in the words of Johnny Keats, “Truth is Beauty, and Beauty, Truth.” And that really is all you need to know.

   For more info, check

Folks play ‘An Evening with Folks’ at the Inn on the Green in Ladbroke Grove on May 13th, with LA /New York based singer-songwriter Luther Russell, plus Colorama and Ain and very special surprise guests- I know everyone says that, but this is for real, I know who it is but I can’t say. It’s free and well worth going down.