Last weekend’s Guardian had a fun piece about the music favoured by dictators and political villains (Robert Mugabe is apparently a fan of Cliff Richard whilst Mahmoud Ahmadinejad favours Chris de Burgh). However, there was little bit of the article that mildly pissed me off. Amongst the pantheon of bad hats and loonies was Nick Griffin,who apparently is a fan of (and I quote) “that most arthritically white of genres”, English folk music including ‘nu-folk poster girls Eliza Carthy and Kate Rusby’. According to his blog Griffin finds it ‘"an alternative to the multi-cult junk played incessantly on Radio 1"
First of all, a slap for the journalist for that lazy bit of stereotyping and secondly a slap for Griffin (I don’t think I need a reason for that). I’m sure they’ll both be pleased to hear that Eliza Carthy is currently touring in the band Imagined Village, whose members include a sitar player, one of the country’s leading dhol drummers and an overall line-up which is about 50% ‘non-indegenous English’. I saw them live in Leeds at the Irish Club on Tuesday (I’ll post a review soon). Pleasingly the band had also picked up on the article and videoed the entire audience flicking the Vs at Griffin and shouting “bollocks”; they are doing this at each venue on the tour and will be editing it all together and putting it on there website as a suitable rejoinder to the BNPs attempt to get into folk music.
Does this matter in the big picture of things? Well, lets face it, I don’t think that all Nick Griffin needs to do to make the elusive electoral break-through is to profess an appreciation of Steeleye Span and The Wurzels; nor, I suspect, will the SSuporters of the BNP be particularly dismayed that a bunch of weirdy beardy folk fans don’t like them. I still think its important though to try and attempt to resist Griffins/BNP attempts to annexe English folk music, history, archaeology and other things close to my heart in his rather half-arsed attempt to create a volkish image of an indigenous national culture which he is trying to use to contest his (mis)-understanding of the multi-cultural society we actually live in. So, if shouting “bollocks” to Nick Griffin and his nasty little party are what we have to do, then so be it!
(Image whipped from David Owen's Ink Corporation website; an excellent site well worth looking at).
The Guardian's always excellent Ben Goldacre strays into the world of archaeology with a nice piece on the latest claims about the sacred geometery of the prehistoric world - also worth reading for the comments below. The work in question claimed that prehistoric monuments were so arranged as to form a network of triangulated points that were used by past societies to navigate around the country. It also reports a counter analysis that showed that similar patterns could be found in the spatial distribution of Woolworths The key point, of course, is not whether prehistoric societies ritualised their landscapes through monument construction (something accepted by all mainstream and 'alternative' archaeologists), but how data is used and analysed. Like any study which involving recognising patterns in huge amounts of data, it never really confronts the fact that if we have enough points of data (whether these are inscriptios, Bronze Age mounds etc etc) and subject them to enough analyses seemingly meaningful patterns will be found. However, the trick is proving whether these apparent patterns are a function of meaningful action by a past society or just a freak of statistics. Another example of this is the work by Charles Thomas drawing on the approach developed by David Howlett on Biblical Latin Style on the early medieval inscriptions of Wales and Western Britain. Thomas's analyses of these inscriptions seem to show messages (and even images) hidden within these simple inscriptions (this is best laid out in his his book Celts: Messages and Images. Stroud: Tempus, 1998). He argues that these messages can be made visible by certain mechanisms such as letter counting and the ascription of numeric values to letters. However, his critics point out that it is possible to identify hidden messages using such techniques in almost any text if you analyse it in enough different ways - is it a case of the 'wisdom of ancients' or simply infinite monkeys producing, if not Shakespeare, then at least Biblical Latin?
Whilst searching something for entirely different I've just come across this old picture report from the BBC news website about the Seto people who live in the south-east border of Estonia and the neighbouring area of Russia . We went to Estonia in 2004 and spent some time in Setumaa (the land of the Setos) whilst we stayed nearby. The Seto are an Orthodox minority within Estonia where the main religion is technically Lutheran. They still maintain their traditional culture very strongly, particularly their folk song and their polyphonic choral tradition has recently been inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.
It was when we were exploring this forgotten corner at the edge of Europe that I really fell for Estonia and its history- this has led to the accumulation of far too many books on Estonian archaeology. I'm desperate to some fieldwork there at some point...
It's the time of year for mumming plays. I got to see one performed in Wantage on Boxing Day this year- the text of the play is actually recorded from my parent's village of Steventon (which is just down the road). Fortuitously, whilst I was working on archives at the Museum of English Rural Life research H.J.Massingham I came across the text of a mumming play which I think has not previously been published - it was in a box along with the manuscript for an projected book written by Massingham on Cotswold folk-tales and humour. It is very similar to one from Snowshill (Gloucestershire) so I presume its from somewhere in the neighbourhood. The copy of the text is not written in Massingham's hand, so I presume it was passed to him by someone else; presumably at some point in the 1930s.
This is the personal blog of David Petts ( Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University and AHRC/Radio 3 New Generation Thinker). It contains diverse digressions and rambles on English archaeology, landscape and folk traditions with the occasional scenic diversion.