Beginner’s Guide to Folk Music


Nascente NSBOX 002; 3 CDs; 114 minutes; 2004


Retailing for less than a tenner, on the surface this three-CD boxed set might seem to be good value and serve its purpose as an introduction to folk music. Unfortunately, there are two straightforward reasons why this is not the case.


The first is the set’s woefully short duration. When it is presently possible to cram almost eighty minutes’ worth of material onto one CD, a combined length of under two hours for three such discs is plainly inadequate, especially as one of the threesome rolls home at just over a mere thirty-two minutes.


The second shortcoming lies in the fact that this is very much an English language compilation (with one notable exception). The three CDs, each consisting of ten tracks, are themed as ‘English Folk’, ‘Celtic Folk’ and ‘American Folk’ so anyone expecting to hear the folk music of any other area of the world should not be tempted to add this set to their collection.


Obviously, it is beyond the scope of this site to consider the English or American discs contained in Beginner’s Guide to Folk Music (although the American disc, despite its brevity, is by far the best of the bunch), so let us just consider the ‘Celtic Folk’ selection.


This consists of five tracks by Scottish musicians unless the presence of Manus Lunny makes Capercaillie a Scots-Irish band. The remaining four are John Martyn singing the English folk song Spencer the Rover (and his real name’s Ian McGeechie, by the way, in case you are questioning his origins), Bert Jansch (a guitarist largely associated with the English folk guitar movement of the 1960s), The Incredible String Band (which emerged from the folk revival, but soon departed from it) and Dick Gaughan singing Thomas Muir of Huntershill.


Add to that quintet the only non-English language song, the Welsh band Fernhill’s gorgeous Fi Wela and you will discover that the Irish contingent consists of: 1) De Dannan with Mary Black performing the over-compiled Song for Ireland; 2) Sinéad O’Connor’s version of Paddy’s Lament from her Sean-Nós Nua album; 3) Sharon Shannon’s Bonnie Mulligan taken from Each Little Thing; and, 4) Clannad’s Two Sisters from the band’s Dúlamán album.


Could those four tracks ever provide more than the sketchiest picture of Ireland’s music? Of course not, and the same applies to the selections from Scotland and Wales.


Still, the collection in itself is pleasant enough to pass the time if you’re stuck in a traffic jam, but whether it would entice further investigation of the many facets of folk music is debatable.


Geoff Wallis


10th December, 2004



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