In praise of old folkies

Morris dancers at MMF
Morris dancers performing at the Maleny Music Festival: photo by Steve Swayne

By Laurel Wilson

Vale Tommy the Narc. We lost one of the good old folkies the other week and his wake was on last Saturday, attended by several dozen folkies who remembered him fondly from the 1970’s. The wake encompassed many of the elements dear to the hearts of folkies – fond tales involving the departed, an ample supply of cider, beer etc., laughter, music, camping overnight.
I recall meeting him in days gone past at The Red Brick hotel – named for obvious reasons, but no longer in existence. I was intrigued at the time as to how he was awarded that seemingly insulting moniker and was assured that it was all in good fun and he accepted it graciously, distinguishing him as it did from any of the other ‘Tommies’ who were around at the time. For those curious to know, he was christened thus after having innocently seated himself next to a notorious police informant at the pub folk night. At least, that’s one version. As is common with the oral tradition, there may well be other explanations floating around.
Tommy was but one of the numerous folkies, past and present, that I have enjoyed meeting over the past 40 or so years.

So who are these ‘folkies’ I have been hanging around with? The first definition that comes up when you Google ‘folkie’ is “a singer, player or fan of folk music”, which only sends you down the rabbit hole of trying to define ‘folk music’. One rather narrow definition is that “folk music is music which originates in and is handed down by oral tradition amongst common people”. That repository of all knowledge known as Wikipedia is more inclusive, saying, “Folk music includes both traditional music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th century folk revival. The term originated in the 19th century but is often applied to music that is older than that. Some types of folk music are also called world music.” I’d add dance to that mix, as there are groups interested in Australian bush dances, English Morris dancing, Scottish and Irish dancing, to name a few.
As an indication of the wide range of music which can be covered under the umbrella of ‘folk music’, consider the programme for last weekend’s Maleny Music Weekend – eg Zumpa (trio of accordion, double bass and saxophone mainly playing popular Italian tunes); Shanasheel Arabic Music Ensemble; Sweet Chilli (local all women choir) The Barleyshakes (fast-paced Irish trad); Hayden Hack Infusion (self-described funk, Afro psychelic aesthetic); bluegrass trio The Company, even The Goodwills…
Our friends from the trio cloudstreet describe their music as “new Australian folk music”, demonstrating their enjoyment of what is traditional about the kind of music they play, along with their emphasis on presenting it with a unique Aussie flavour.
Folk music is “a broad Church”, which also happens to be Malcolm Turnbull’s description of the Liberal party, but in my opinion at least, you won’t find too many who belong to that “church” at a folkie session. (Oh, there was one once, but he now acknowledges the error of his ways and has converted to the ‘leftie’ side of things political).

It might seem a stretch to suggest that performers and lovers of such a wide range of music and dance have much in common, but to my mind, there is definitely a common theme, and that is musicians and singers performing mainly for the love of it to audiences who come along specifically to hear music (rather than to have it as background as they chat, eat and drink). Sure, performers were paid by the Festival, but it seems most accept that festivals of this type try to keep gate prices at reasonable levels and in turn, don’t expect commercial payment rates. For many, the opportunity to play to appreciative, listening audiences, rather than noisy pub crowds, is a treat which makes up for the lower financial rewards.
So the ‘folkie’ performers play more for the love of it than with the aim of making the sort of money that can be made by ‘pop stars’. As well as performing themselves, when not playing they often form part of that appreciative audience and/or ‘jump up’ with other performers to help them with their presentations. And they are often involved in helping to organise music events like last weekend’s Maleny music festival. So here’s a big thank-you to all the organisers/performers/volunteers from last weekend, and of course to those who came along to enjoy the music.
As for coming to festivals, folk club nights, house concerts and the like, there may be a preponderance of grey heads and bearded older men, but the younger generation is also represented. Like The Mae Trio – daughters of well-known folkies from my generation. And then there was the young chap who celebrated his 21st birthday recently by playing at a fund-raising concert for the on-line magazine that keeps everyone up to date with local events.

If all this sounds intriguing, try coming along to the next main event on the local folkie calendar – The Neurum Creek Music Festival being held at Neurum Creek bush retreat. I’m told the camping spots are sold out, but there’s still room to come along for the day. (Saturday 12th or Sunday 13th).

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