London Folk is a night of London-inspired stories and song at the 12 Bar Club, Denmark Street on 5 July featuring Nigel of Bermondsey and Vanessa Woolf as London Dreamtime, shamanic poet of the Southwark Mysteries and Crossbones Graveyard John Constable, writer, singer and host of the Magpies Nest folk night Sam Lee and storyteller Olivia Armstrong.
Folk music is currently honking and squealing through its latest revival in popularity so we thought we’d quiz these folkies about all things London. They had lots to say and a few things to give away over the internet too.
How do you think the London landscape effects singers and performers? How has it affected you, do you think?
Nigel of Bermondsey: London directly inspires much of my work. ‘Bury my Heart in Bermondsey’ was commissioned by a Bermondsey Undertaker to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the family business.
John Constable: London is a crucible of influences from all over the world, so its music is more diverse. To say, it's more er... gritty is stating the obvious - it reflects the passion, complexity and contradictions of inner city life.
Sam Lee: We have so much music in the city that we are spoilt for choice and as a performer we get to experience so many styles, of singing, stage presence and delivery. Years of cycling behind buses has given us the distinctive London gritty rasp to our voices, unlike any other city dwellers.
Is there any particular part of London that fills your heart and lungs with song?
SL: Hampstead Heath for sure, I love singing a good sea song while floating in the ponds keeps the ducks away. I always sing the Grey Cock as I cross over Tower Bridge: "I must be going, no longer staying, the Burning Thames I have to Cross, I must be guided without a stumble into the arms of my dear lass".
Vanessa Woolf: Asda, Old Kent road.
JC: South London, especially Southwark - more especially The Borough and Bankside - most especially Redcross Way and the Crossbones Graveyard.
NoB: I have written a 'Bermondsey Suite' of songs which is available for free download. I have recently written a song inspired by the shooting which happened over the road from my recording studio. There is still a bullet hole in the window. I thought it was sad that pretty soon this little piece of history would be forgotten as would the name of the child that died.
A lot of folk music harks back to the past, what would you say contemporary folk - that is, the music of the people - is today?
VW: Can I say rap? I know that's not what we do, but lots of youngsters I know are writing their own rap lyrics. Also, I suppose, football chants.
SL: New, old - what does it matter? Make it about today, all the old narratives have a contemporary instances or reference, They are like trees, sure they are old but they are not out of date, they are still alive and are coated in current affectation and impregnated with the shrapnel of our society.
JC: Used to be folk, then rock, then hip-hop, now...? Folk is the telling of stories in song. The form is not crucial.
We love ‘Lullaby of London’ by The Pogues and ‘Into the Heart of Dalston’ by Snowpony. What London songs would care to share with the Londonists?
SL: I wrote a book on London Folk Songs, called 'Singing Histories - London Song Book' - you can download the PDF - and its full of stunning songs set in or recorded in London. I reckon London 'is' a folk song, one long Folk Songphony with a million narratives all interweaving, set to the melody of millions of feet, helicopters, wires humming, glasses chinking, wheels turning. If a song is a perfect marriage of melody and words then London is the best song I ever heard. I hope to die listening to it.
JC: More Pogues: 'A Rainy Night In Soho' and 'London, You're A Lady'. The Clash: 'London Calling'. The Kinks: 'Waterloo Sunset'. And my own: 'John Crow's Riddle'. I think 'Police and Thieves' could maybe be claimed as a London song.
VW: ‘The Sewers of the Strand’ by Spike Milligan.
Thank you all.
Folk London is at the 12 Bar Club, Demark Street, 26 Denmark Street, 5th July, 7.30pm. £5.50.