We’re a folk trio. Voices, fiddle, various fretted instruments, and piano. We’ve known each other for decades, all played (together or separately) in various other bands and sessions, and been together as Broadoak for a couple of years now. If you want the basic blurb, it’s there on the front page of our website https://www.broadoakfolk.com/ along with sound clips, video, pictures, all that stuff. This is a chance to say WHY we do it.
Let’s start with the melodies, which are a miracle. There are only twelve notes. When you get to the thirteenth, that’s just the first one again but at twice the frequency. Twelve notes. And yet we will never get to the end of what they can do in combination. Even a single melody line, done properly, will make you laugh, or cry, or tap your foot. Add the harmonies and the textures and all the rest that three people can do when they work together, and there is no end to the power that those simple sounds create. It’s hard-wired into humanity. Babies in the womb react to it.
And that’s all without the words. Folk songs are a direct line into history, into love and hate and war and beauty and whatever it is that makes us human. They achieve great sophistication and subtlety with the simplest of means. An example: The Grey Cock, a very old song. A couple has to part (why?). The man leaves (where does he go?) but after an unknown time he feels compelled to go home again (why?). He reaches his love’s house in the middle of the night, she lets him in, they go to bed. Only now does she realise something is very wrong with him. She asks him why he is so pale and strange. He replies “Mary dear, the clay has changed me” and we realise that he is dead, something between a ghost and a walking corpse. And she’s in bed with him. That’s my nomination for the world’s creepiest line. Stephen King has nothing on good old Anon.
The themes that folk songs address are the themes of all art everywhere: our human experience of the world, its good and its bad, expressed directly and simply. They can be consoling, exciting, funny. They can make you angry, indignant, happy. They can be dreams or, as above, nightmares. It’s all in there, you just have to open your ears and listen.
So that’s the words and the music, but that’s not the whole story. Every musician knows that a performance isn’t just about what you hear. Somehow music brings people together into a shared experience in which, for a short time at least, individual cares and worries are lost in the sense of a larger, shared consciousness. It can be as simple as a mass of people all moving together to a loud, driving rhythm. Or it can be a big room full of people in which there is absolute silence for a second before the applause starts, all those people coming back from the shared song into their individual selves. It’s wonderful and spine-tingling when it happens, and only music can do it. It’s telepathy made real.
So that’s why we do it. We love the melodies, we never tire of exploring everything the words can tell us, and it brings us together into something greater than ourselves. All the weeks and months and years of finger-shredding sore-throat practice, all the hours of work writing, composing, arranging, researching… they’re nothing at all to the incredible joy and honour of being able to create what we do.