I want you to imagine a record shop. A big, cavernous room with rows and rows of shelves, little dividers on each one. Jazz, blues, rock and roll, soft rock, hard rock, punk rock, post rock. Everything, all lined up for you to pore through. Now, I want you to listen to this song, and I want you to tell me where you’d put it. Got that? Ok, here’s the song.
I’m asking you this question because I’ve been a bit stumped by this song, and indeed, the entire album from which the non-remixed version of it comes from – The Ballads of Peckham Rye by Scottish songwriter Blue Rose Code, otherwise known as Ross Wilson. The record is a fluid mix of old soul, Del Amitri-esque pop, Danny Thompson’s jazz infused bass licks and heart-on-your-sleeve poetry. With each listen, I’m hearing more. It’s a beautiful album. I wouldn’t know where to put it in that shop, other than near the front, or by the tills, I don’t know which is better.
This remix though, that was another curveball — A song which, on the record sounds like something Richard Thompson might have written, and then given to Dougie Maclean. Here it is pulled through a computer and thrown out sounding beautiful and fresh, the same words but undeniably a different song, Karine Polwart’s backing vocals used sparingly for the gorgeously haunting instrument they are.
What confused me even more was Ross’ assertion that he does not write folk songs, or rather, the assertion from the folk clubs who wouldn’t give him gigs for this very reason. I mean, there’s definitely folk sounds coming out of this record, but what is folk music? I think at its core it’s music that should resonate with and be about the people, whoever they be. Grime from East London, Hip-Hop from across America, Blues from the deep south, traditional Gallic songs passed from generation to generation – there’s a pride in community and locality in all that music that, to me, sums up folk music beautifully. It may all sound different, but the meaning, the feeling, it’s the same. Incidentally, none of that stuff I hear in Mumford & Sons, all I hear is stomping.
Lars Ulrich said something in a Guardian interview recently about how Brits tend to categorise music, moreso than other countries: “At one point you had four weekly magazines – you had Melody Maker, the NME, you had Sounds and Record Mirror – if you have that kind of scene, that kind of culture, there is a need to put deeper definitions into some of the stuff.” He’s right, but really, how useful are these definitions in describing actual music? Metallica are the 4th biggest selling band of all time, but they’re a metal band, so people are bitching about them headlining Glastonbury?
There are musical archetypes, sure. Power chords will always sound like rock and roll, pedal steel always fits best in a whiskey-soaked country song about your cheating man, slapped electric bass is nothing but funky, but really, there are two kinds of music – good and bad.
So put yourself back in that record shop, only this time, imagine it full. Every album, from every genre, lined wall to wall and stacked high. Vinyls and CDs and minidiscs and listening posts with headphones dangling down. Go and listen to something new, and don’t worry about where to file it away.
The Ballads of Peckham Rye by Blue Rose Code is out June 2nd. It’s great, really great.