The folk revivals of the 20th century in the USA and UK involved the performance of traditional songs and dances by young singers and instrumentalists in coffee houses, clubs, concert halls and at special folk festivals. In addition, a number of ‘source singers’ were identified and brought into the revival.
The US Folk Revival dates from the late 1940s when the considerable commercial success of recordings by the Weavers was the catalyst for the formation of numerous folk groups among which were the Kingston Trio, the Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio. The revival also included solo singers who sang ballads as well as their own compositions (Joan Baez, Caroline Hester and Judy Collins), blues players (Dave Van Ronk and Alexis Korner, Ray and Glover), source singers (Fred McDowell and Son House) and exponents of ‘old time’ white rural music (the New Lost City Ramblers).
The revival was founded on song collecting and field recordings undertaken in the first decades of the 20th century by such figures as Carl Sandburg, John and Alan Lomax, and on the extensive musical repertory of such key source singers as Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, along with early revivalists including Oscar Brand, Burl Ives and John Jacob Niles. Particularly in the field of rural blues, the revivalists ‘rediscovered’ recording artists from pre-1939, including Son House and Mississippi John Hurt.
The backdrop to the contemporaneous Folk Music Revival in England and Scotland (see England, §II) was the work of song collectors in Britain stemming from the period of the formation of the English Folk Song Society in 1898 and associated primarily with Cecil Sharp. The hundreds of songs collected and published at this period were initially used in schools and as inspiration for compositions by Vaughan Williams, Holst, Grainger and others.
Half a century later, these songs, plus those codified by Francis James Child and those which continued to be performed by rural singers, provided much of the repertory for the British revivalists. Source singers in England included Fred Jordan (Shropshire), Walter Pardon (Norfolk) and Bob Copper (Sussex; of the Copper family), who was both the heir to a family folk singing tradition and a song collector for the BBC. In Scotland, the ceilidhs organized at the Edinburgh Festival in the early 1950s by the collector Hamish Henderson and others were attended by such major source singers as Jeannie Robertson and Jimmy Macbeath. In Ireland the piper Seamus Ennis was also a song collector. The songwriter and singer Ewan MacColl was a leading figure in the revival, providing an influential if controversial definition of what constituted the correct procedure for a revivalist singer.
The younger generation attracted to the Folk Music Revival in both sides of the Atlantic often had a more flexible attitude to issues of repertory. The revival spawned a large number of singer-songwriters who accompanied themselves on the acoustic guitar but had little in common with those concerned primarily to bear witness to the tradition. In this category were Paul Simon, Donovan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Joni Mitchell and, above all, Bob Dylan. In the UK, revivalists such as Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza typify much stronger traditional links. The end of the 20th century saw folk revivals in many European countries.
A term used for a broad range of popular music in which contemporary amplified instruments are used to reinterpret traditional music or to accompany contemporary songs in a folk idiom. It was first applied in 1965 in the USA when the Byrds recorded songs associated with the folk singers Pete Seeger (Turn, Turn, Turn) and Bob Dylan (Mr Tambourine Man). The group had an orthodox rock line-up of drums and electric guitars. The Byrds inspired others in turn, including Dylan, to attempt various forms of folk-rock synthesis. Dylan used electric guitars and the electronic organ playing of Al Kooper on his recordings before working with the Hawks (later renamed the Band) in concert. In New York, the Lovin' Spoonful performed the charming and witty compositions of John Sebastian in the manner of an electric jug band. However, ‘folk rock’ was soon appropriated by the record industry as a marketing concept, used to describe almost any group employing vocal harmonies and an acoustic or semi-acoustic instrumental sound. Such groups included Simon and Garfunkel, Sonny and Cher, the Turtles, the Mamas and the Papas and Harper's Bizarre.
In Britain, the pioneers of folk-rock included Fairport Convention, a group whose initial aesthetic was drawn from West Coast groups such as Jefferson Airplane as well as the Byrds. Fairport Convention then turned to traditional music for inspiration, followed by such groups as Steeleye Span and Mr Fox in the development of electric folk music. Steeleye Span's Hark! The Village Wait and the eponymous début album of Mr Fox were among the first recordings of the genre, initiating two different strands within British folk-rock. Steeleye Span fused the texts and melodies of traditional songs with mid-Atlantic pop; Mr Fox wrote their own songs, inspired by traditional themes, and combined the uncompromising sounds of English village bands and singers with those of rock. Folk-rock excited strong passions within the folk revival. It was condemned by ‘purists’ such as Pete Seeger in the USA and Ewan MacColl in Britain who saw the use of amplified instruments as a fatal compromise with show business and the music industry.
Electric folk music also emerged in many other European countries in the 1960s and 70s. In Ireland, the groups Sweeney's Men and Horslips created different syntheses of traditional and contemporary musics. In Brittany the harpist Alain Stivell and the electric guitarist Dan ar Bras renewed the local Celtic repertory. The Swedish group Hedningarna provided a variation on the formula by treating traditional instruments such as the Hardanger fiddle and hurdy-gurdy with contemporary techniques of reverb and sampling. Outside Europe, other variants of the combination between indigenous musics and modern rhythms or technologies were developed, as in Brazil by Chico Science and the group Naçao Zumbi and in Australia by Yothu Yindi.
Although many of the European folk-rock musicians above continued to perform at concerts and festivals throughout the 1990s, new forms of transforming folk music were developing. The most important of these was connected with the growth in local variants of rap music around the globe where musicians integrated sounds and lyrics from their own cultures into the black American genre. Also, in 1999 the latest revival of songs from the United States folk movement of the 1950s occurred when the group Snakefarm made arrangements of them in melancholic trip hop style on the album Songs From My Funeral. (D. Laing and others: The Electric Muse: the Story of Folk into Rock, London, 1975)