The New Folk Zoomsic

It is in the world of British Folk Music that we find our history. Our oral traditions, our customs, our sports, our interests and the stories of our characters throughout the years: Shropshire has played a huge part in this scene since time began. It is here we boast a thriving folk scene, we are home to one of the biggest folk festivals in the country, Shrewsbury pubs are usually alive with sessions and it is here where so many great singers and musicians have made their homes.

John Kirkpatrick, the Folk Singer and Squeezebox Wizard made the Clun Valley his home back in the early Nineteen-Seventies. Latterly we find him at home in his Bishop’s Castle cottage, where he is still having a huge and indelible impact on the Folk Scene; not only in the U.K. but the rest of the world also. John has fans in Canada, America, Africa, and Australia. He is seen by all as one of the doyens of British Folk Music and he has maintained that reputation since his career began over fifty years ago.

Having enjoyed working in Steeleye Span, The Albion Band, Brass Monkey and Kirkophany, John has been a major player in the scene since the revival and if one was to idly flick through his discography one would very quickly realise that he is something rather special. He has worked with the great’s Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy are just two top players that have done great work with JKP!

But not only has John made a huge impact in the music scene, he has also built up something quite remarkable in the world of Folk Dance too. Shrewsbury shoppers have enjoyed the antics of The Shropshire Bedlams and their female counterpart, Martha Rhoden’s Tuppeny Dish, for decades.  All creations of John’s. He has breathed a life back into Border Morris with his research and choreography he has placed it once more firmly in the public domain. The Bedlams are the Black Faced Morris in tattered coats and black masks. They started the crazy fashion of whooping and screaming at the end of each dance. Now teams up and down the country are capturing John’s essence as they dance Border Morris, whooping and yowling through towns and villages throughout the entire UK. Shropshire certainly was lucky when he chose to come and join us here from his parent’s London home.

For years John and other folk musicians have made their living playing to the people. Folk clubs and festivals are thriving people cannot get enough of this music and it is as popular now as it ever was. That is from right back at the beginning of the revival when a keen interest on Skiffle and Jazz lead the young into this great new, old music scene. Stars were born and one of the Brightest was a young London lad with a concertina and a melodeon, John Kirkpatrick.

So there was a living to be made. What happened? What happened? Folk music just like everything else we love and hold dear stopped in the fateful March of 2020. The Pandemic arrived. All musicians, including John found the diaries turning white and unwritten in and for John that was time to regroup.

Having run a successful group of Carollers in Bishop’s Castle, when Christmas 2020 was looming somebody suggested they perform their carols on Zoom. To many including John, this was a new thing and after the concert had been a success, John saw the value of Zoom and how he could still gig and bring music to his fans. This he has done.

To watch the gigs all one has to do is to go onto John’s website, johnkirkpatrick.co.uk, there one finds information of up and coming Zoom gigs, it is also here where one can buy  tickets too. The website is excellent and easy to use, payment is easy as the site is linked to PayPal.

Last night I joined as virtual doors opened at Seven. As I entered I was greeted by Trevor: he is a compere, or an M.C. if you like. On entry one sees the many, many faces of the people who had bought a ticket for the concert. As everybody’s microphone is live at this time one is able to say hi to others and maybe even chat to a friend. It is a lovely feeling everyone chatting together, just like a folk club before the evening kicks off. People; just chatting and laughing. John was there too and just as accessible as anybody else as we all chatted together. At Seven Thirty on the dot, our mics were muted and John began his show.

 Last night’s show was about the farming year and John played songs and music from the days when the Victorians broke the soil with sweat, when there was a country to feed and not a tractor in sight. Kicking off the evening with the classic tune, “Speed the plough,” We were instantly treated to John’s signature syncopation and harmonics, and the night was away. It was fascinating hearing about his experiences as a contributor to the top history show “Victorian Farm,” where he can be seen playing and making the events that the others had prepared, come to life with his own inimitable style of song and music.

After forty five minutes there was a break. But unlike the folk club John stayed and answered questions and swapped anecdotes and stories. It was really good to feel involved at that level. 

Before the night was over John played another full forty five minutes, answering questions and telling tales as he went along. It was fascinating and one feels the screen and the virtual constraints falling back as you are there, sat in a folk club where up in front just a few yards away, there is the  musician you can’t wait to see.

I cannot say if John is the first folk musician to be doing Zoom gigs; but he shouldn’t be the only one. It is a great fun medium. It is not only a, "for now," short term solution, now that John has proved it is possible to entertain an audience for an entire evening through Zoom, one can see it becoming part of the panoply of other mediums that we now use for communication and entertainment.  That is good. For the performer a Zoom gig means no long motorway journey, no strange bed in a strange house, no living out of a suitcase and no wearing oneself out. Its win, win. Especially as players grow older and look for a way to slow down.

That said obviously one misses the clinking of glasses the sound of shared applause and the joy of a shared joke, hearing the laughter. But if one is mindful to hold different expectations for a Zoom concert than one might hold for an “in person,” gig, you will see John is going a very long way into proving how useful a tool this Zoom can be. Let’s face it our lives have been dealt some rubbish over the last 15 months or so, it’s nice to see something good come of it.

As this is more of an article than a review I cannot employ my usual marking system. If I was merely commenting on John’s performance alone, I would point out that he is the real deal. His performance is flawless, his facts and tales are fascinating and without a doubt he would have earned himself a five star review from this reviewer, however this article is about much more than that as we shine a light on yet another brilliant way we the British have adapted to this rather horrid situation.

There is nothing more to add other than I hope you will join me in wishing John the very best of luck as he goes to Buckingham Palace later this year to collect his MBE. Well done John, we know you’ve earned it.

Owen J.Lewis

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Three times Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet. Follow hos blogspot at https://owenscribblerlewis.blogspot.com

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