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This article is within the scope of WikiProject Ireland, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of Ireland on Wikipedia. If you would like to participate, please visit the project page, where you can join the discussion and see a list of open tasks.
Going through some old NI arts and music magazines at home during a purge, I came across this short article by Geoff Harden, written late in life. It's a nice little piece about his general views on folk music. There may be some way of incorporating part of it into the main page, but I don't have the time at the mo so I figured I'd just copy it in here and someone might have a go (or I might come back eventually).
"Folk & Roots" by Geoff Harden
Marty Neill, ed. (January 2004). "NIMUSIC". No. 4. Northern Ireland Music Commission (NIMIC). p. 10.
[Date estimated, no published date but definitely winter/early 2004 according to editor's introduction]
Funny old world, folk. For some people it suggests an unaccompanied singer, finger in ear, earnestly chanting a twenty verse dirge. For others it's a wimp with a guitar, singing into his navel. Then again, is it a bunch of boyos in Arran sweaters singing "The Wild Rover"?
In most parts of the world, folk music is first and foremost traditional music. In Ireland, though, it is often treated as a separate entity from traditional so that, for example, we have the Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Festival. I remember offering a fiddle player a copy of the free magazine Ulster Folk News only to be rebuffed with the information that he didn't like folk music.
My first encounter with the term was at university when someone told me a club had started where they sang dirty songs. It was true – once you worked your way through the symbolism. What we got was something quite new to me – mostly traditional songs with a few tunes. Slipped in among them were political songs from the likes of Woody Guthrie. Then along came Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and people started singing songs from them and even writing their own.
Curious about this mixture, I was bold enough to ask one of the organisers what the term folk music actually meant. "It's music of the people," was the response. Then came the real eye-opener: the Beatles were probably writing the folk music of the day. Pretty much anything goes as long as it comes from the heart.
With the rise in popularity of Dylan, Baez and their camp followers, there was a commercial boom in folk music while imitators like Donovan were two a penny and for many this became the perception of what folk meant. For others, it was the Clancy Brothers or Dubliners.
At the end of the day, it matters not a jot how you define it. Musical barriers have been well and truly broken down with the advent of folk rock and other developments. The important thing is that it moves the listener one way or another and labels don't mean a thing.