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Step back in time today with Fiddler’s Dram, Spriguns of Tolgus, and more good folk music from the years 1975 to 1980. ~ Sunday Simmons
With increasing rock and pop influences, folk music experienced a bit of an overhaul during the seventies. Whilst much of the blueprint remained, a more commercial, streamlined style began to emerge, giving folk music a much wider audience.
I was never exposed to much in the way of folk music as a child, but that didn’t stop me developing a love of it when I started spreading my own musical wings in my early teens. I’d just picked up the acoustic guitar, and suddenly artists such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez were my new heroes, with a little of John Denver’s folksy/country thrown in for good measure.
Today, I’m wandering down memory lane to those forgotten folk gems that need a little love. Merry meet, fellow traveller, and off we go!
Essential Track: ‘Day Trip to Bangor’ (1979)
“Wouldn’t it be grand to have cash on demand and to live like this for always // Oh it makes me feel ill, when I think of the mill and the wheels going ’round.”
Kicking off with a fun, uplifting electric folk track and a #3 hit for UK band, Fiddler’s Dram, ‘Day Trip to Bangor’ is the epitome of foot-tapping folk music done beautifully. I do love Cathy Lesurf’s lilting vocal style; it’s just gorgeous on this track.
‘Day Trip to Bangor’ was a step away from Fiddler’s Dram’s usual acoustic style, but it certainly served to introduce the mainstream charts to just how fun filled and frivolous folk music can be. I was a mere seven-years-old when this song took the charts by storm, and it’s remained a firm favourite.
I guarantee this song will become an ear worm from the first play! And if you want to hear more of the band’s true sound, then check out the debut album ‘To See the Play’ (1978) and give this shockingly neglected folk album the love it deserves.
Essential Track: ‘Barrett’s Privateers’ (1976)
“I was told we’d cruise the seas for American gold // We’d fire no guns-shed no tears // Now I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier // The last of Barrett’s Privateers.”
Canadian folk singer/songwriter, Stan Rogers, left a rich legacy after his death in 1983. He received posthumous nominations for Juno Awards and spawned the yearly Stan Rogers’ Folk Festival.
‘Barrett’s Privateers’ was featured on Stan’s debut album ‘Fogarty’s Cove’ and is an absolutely stunning sea-shanty style folk song, perfect from beginning to end. From Stan’s rich, unctuous tone to the foot-tapping rhythm, if this doesn’t transport you to the wooden deck of the Antelope sloop, I don’t know what will!
Covered by many artists – most notably metal band, Alestorm – on their album, ‘Back Through Time’, there really is no better version of ‘Barrett’s Privateers’ than Stan’s completely unaccompanied original. Get this fabulously nautical track on your playlist today!
Essential Track: ‘None But One’ (1977)
“I mine and I thine // Father, mother, son // I’m me and I’m thee // And all of us are one.”
Known as The Mother of Folk, Jean Ritchie’s career had already spanned two decades by the time she released her 1977 album ‘None But One’ – today, I’m sharing one of my favourite tracks from this stunning roots folk album.
My song choice from ‘None But One’ is the title track – a fast-paced, acoustic offering, and a perfect representation of how Jean managed to move with the times yet stick to her own time-honoured style.
Jean has a glorious voice, deep and soulful yet light and joyful all at the same time. She really does have to be heard to be appreciated, so check out ‘None But One’ and I guarantee it will leave you wanting more.
Essential Track: ‘Rise Up Like the Sun’ (1978)
“And it’s after years of much abuse // (And they say so, and we hope so) // Then we’ll salt him down for the sailors’ use // (Oh poor old man)”
‘Rise Up Like the Sun’ from The Albion Band’s 1978 album of the same name, is a beautiful, lullaby of a track and one of my favourite fiddle-laden electric sea-shanties. Are there many of them, you ask? There are a few, but this is one of the best!
I do love the way this track just sways along, with a traditional intro segueing perfectly into a mellow, electric folk style that’s done so well by The Albion Band.
Formed by Ashley Hutchings, founding member of both Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, it’s hardly any surprise this band had such an incredible eclectic sound.
What I particularly love about ‘Rise Up Like the Sun’ is how well the musical arrangement transforms this traditional shanty into a contemporary track – absolutely breathtaking.
Essential Album: ‘Time Will Pass’ (1977)
‘Time Will Pass’ is the penultimate album by short-lived and grossly overlooked psych/folk band, Spriguns of Tolgus. Fronted by the angelic voiced Mandy Morton, it’s a crime this band didn’t reach the commercial success attained by some of its peers.
Much in the same vein as Fairport Convention, Spriguns of Tolgus produced a sublime blend of traditional and electric styles to create some incredible tracks. Two of my favourites from ‘Time Will Pass’ are ‘Dead Man’s Eyes’, with its heavily psychedelic, guitar-driven groove, and my song choice today, ‘White Witch’.
The latter is a melancholic piano ballad, simplistic yet beautiful, and perfectly performed by the gorgeous, ethereal voice of vocalist Mandy. If you’re looking for a hidden gem of the seventies folk scene, Spriguns of Tolgus’ ‘Time Will Pass’ will tick every box.
Essential Track: ‘Sleepy-Eyed Boy’ (1980)
“Have I cast her aside // Like an unwanted toy? // Tell me where, oh, where // Is the sleepy eyed boy?”
I’m rounding this off with a gorgeous track from US folk singer/songwriter, John Prine – ‘Sleepy-Eyed Boy’ from his 1980 album, ‘Storm Windows’. This is absolutely my favourite song by John; I love the lullaby quality, the mellow, acoustic guitar backing, and his sweet, smoky vocal just drifting across your ears.
A key player in the surge of seventies singer/songwriters, John’s musings on life in general are often sentimental and reflective with a twist of humour and an honest, conversational style.
For easy listening folk with a touch of country, you really can’t go far wrong with John Prine’s ‘Sleepy-Eyed Boy’.
It’s clear there’s a colourful spectrum to folk music, from the traditional roots style to electric progressive, and all the subtle hues in between. For my honourable mention today, I’ve chosen one of my all-time favourite singer/songwriters – Joni Mitchell.
From humble beginnings in Canada to global folk legend, Joni has written songs as diverse as the environmental commentary ‘Parking Lot’ to the whimsical ‘Both Sides Now’, the latter of which was recorded by Judy Collins and served as my lullaby as a newborn. This multi-Grammy award winning lady is a folk force to be reckoned with – past, present, and future!
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