ALL FOLKED UP ON A FRIDAY NIGHT
By Stephen Cashmore
One recent Friday night four front parlour music fans were imposing their tastes on one another. As a musical safari the evening was a non-starter. Although we'd listened in to Memphis, New York, Louisiana, San Francisco and backsticks Texas at various times during the past forty years, we were still firmly grounded in the USA. Was rock music condemned to spend forever rolling along some endless interstate highway, where each fresh generation merely scrawled its name on the same old signposts?
"Let's go into town"
"No. It would look bad, a youngster like me being seen out with an old man."
" Youngster? Remember, you brought Bob Dylan CDs round here."
At times of crisis a serious head is sometimes useful. "Here you two, keep quiet and give a listen to this."
"This" is a tune called Folked Up. Out of a tinkling acoustic background a guitar note stretches its electric sinews, while deep within this musical cavern a bass rumbles away. A mandolin chimes in with its skippity-lick rhythm, whistle notes rise lark-like into the air, past meets present - and suddenly we are no longer in America.
Ages ago, from somewhere beyond the Danube river, a people moved westward, driven by we know not what. War, famine, accelerating birth rates, or just plain wanderlust: whatever, these folk spread themselves across Europe as far as the bleak Atlantic coast of Ireland and the lonely Scottish hills. This far-flung Celtic world was knitted together by common threads of music, poetry and dance, expressive arts that mirror the true soul of a people.
Centuries later a wild race of shepherds stormed out of the Middle East bringing with them a stark choice - Islam or death. Nothing could withstand such youthful enthusiasm, least of all the rotten-to-the-roots remains of the old Roman Empire. From its origin in an obscure Arabian village, within two lifetimes Islam's rule stretched from Iran to Spain. But maturity softened Islam's early fierceness, producing a high culture whose refinements have probably never been equalled. The Arab world too had its song and dance art forms, each one a component in a culture that cast its sunbeams into every corner of human life.
From the ruin of the East Roman Empire sprang Byzantium, Christian cousin of Islam, a culture of gorgeous ceremonial where gilded images glowed in the gloom of incensed basilicas. A thousand years and more ago this spangled world was rudely burgled by a race of fierce plunderers, come sailing down the rivers of Western Russia to ravish, murder and steal. These northern Vikings were later to spawn the chief aristocracy of Europe, but when they first burst upon an outraged Byzantium society their social graces were unsubtle to say the least. Those who could buy their lives were ransomed; those who couldn't had their throats cut. Yet the Vikings too had their sagas and their drinking hall songs, which travelled with them on their wild wanderings.
Patience reader, this history lesson is given merely to illustrate the musical panoramas opened up by one track in ten from an obscure but excellent CD. The other nine offerings are equally relevant, skilfully painted soundscapes evoking timeless folk memories. Celts whirl round campfires on wind-kissed northern moors; beside alabaster fountains heavy with the scent of orange blossom, moorish beauties preen and slink, while from a distant minaret a holy man calls the faithful to prayers; patriarchs in jewelled vestments chant psalms before a candlelit icon; and Norsemen, tanked up on strong ale, tell tales of legendary man-slayers. This is all part of our wider cultural heritage, a real European Common Currency, worlds removed from the boring grey-suited gabble of small-time parliaments.
Folked Up we may have been at the start of the track; when it ended we were definitely un-folked, courtesy of Trudge Euphoria, four young Highlanders who cut their musical teeth last year at Thurso College. David Tashnizi, Stevie Glover, Stephen Sinclair, Ewan Barker and Bernie Spalding, talented music-makers and songwriters, no doubt known to some of you. Their ten-track album Festering Days was recorded at Ian Sinclair's Murkle Bay Sound Studios.
Criticisms? None really. Like all fine things in life Festering Days is best taken in small doses - after all, no sensible soul sucks malt whisky from the bottleneck. A Trudge Euphoria capsule taken now and again is the perfect prescription for transatlantic rock sickness.
E-mail the band at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 01599 534009 to order their CD and celebrate your European musical inheritance.
Highland Archives Index
Steven Cashmore 1999
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