NO PLACE IN FOLK HISTORY FOR GAY WOODS !
The long-awaited BBC series on the history of folk music has been screened on BBC4 over three weeks. 'Folk Britannia' told the story of the emergence of the genre and its influences from the dust bowl singers of thirties America to the present day. It included many luminaries including Martin Carthy, the Watersons, Roy Harper and Donovan but coverage of Gay Woods and her influence on both the Irish scene and Steeleye Span was absent.
The first episodes were reasonably factual in bringing folk upto its most recent revival as it emerged from the pub scene to mass appeal. There was great footage of Davy Graham, Jackson C Franke and memories of the Dylan/Simon era. The format of the show meant that these clips were merely tantalising glimpses but immediately afterwards a 'Folk at the BBC' compilation aired fuller performances of many of the songs - a great idea !
Unfortunately though, when it got to the major revival of the late sixties and early seventies, the period was sadly neglected with only Fairport Convention being given any serious coverage and Steeleye virtually none at all. The programme pointed out that traditional music was marginalised by the emergence of electric folk without mentioning that Gay and the first Spanners were recording one of the definitive albums in that genre at the same period !
The third and final part brought the history from the seventies to the present day with the arrival of punk being considered as a response to the 'medieval' feel of the big folk shows at the time (cut to a few seconds of Steeleye). Members of the band past and present would no doubt be pleased to hear they played such a part in music's change of direction especially as it had previously been ascribed to the rise of stadium rock bands. It might be worth suggesting most fledgling punks wouldn't have even heard of Steeleye Span or the genre ! There was a brief attempt at considering Irish folk but it was limited to a biopic of Shane McGowan and the Pogues.The rich vein or earlier material was glossed over - better to have not included it in the remit rather than showed it so in-effectually. Billy Bragg and the Levellers were included to bring the history upto date.
In conclusion, it was nice to see a history of folk shown on, if not mainstream, then certainly a non-subscription TV channel and the idea of showing longer clips of archive performances and those recorded just for the shop was very welcome. Where the series fell down was when it was called upon to assess the wealth of material available from the sixties and seventies and place it in the correct context. All to often, programmes rise and fall on an editors own personal choice and this was no exception.Too much time was spent on indiviual acts with the contributions of others neglected or ignored. When you're making a history you have to include all the integral characters otherwise you might as well not bother.February 2006