The appeal – pure songwriting
So what is it about these artists that appeals to people today? Back in 2008, at an interview to promote Noah & the Whale’s debut album Peaceful The World Lays Me Down, frontman Charlie Fink said: ‘I think the thing with a lot of these London bands is just people going back to a basic sense of songwriting.’ And really, if you strip back the instrumentation, lumberjack shirts and tweed, good songwriting is what these bands have in common.
They are songwriters before they are performers, as we could see from Laura Marling’s debut Jools Holland performance in 2007, when she was clearly terrified. But as she said recently: ‘I wouldn’t write songs if I didn’t want people to listen to them.’ Laura’s performances have since become more assured, but her songwriting remains the focus.
The Leisure Society’s Nick Hemming’s Ivor nomination is another testament to the talent these artists have for melody and lyrics. ‘I take songwriting very seriously – probably too seriously,’ Nick jokes. ‘So to be recognised by your peers is the ultimate accolade.’
Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, Noah & the Whale, Mumford & Sons, Peggy Sue and others have been collectively dubbed ‘New Folk’ – and sometimes, God forbid, ‘Nu-folk’ – but while their music does have some similarities, folk is by no means the only influence for many of them.
No surprise, then, that some are getting a little annoyed at being pigeonholed in this way. Johnny Flynn says: ‘It feels suffocating to be told that you’re in a “folk” scene. I think “folk” is one of those unspecific catch-all hats that people who play anything other than an electric guitar get put in.’
Nick Hemming agrees that the folk tag is used rather too widely: ‘I don’t really think the Leisure Society are a folk band in the traditional sense. We definitely have more of a pop sensibility as far as songwriting goes.’
But Peggy Sue, who are possibly the furthest from traditional folk of all the artists, are happy to be included in the group. Katy Young says: ‘It doesn’t bother us. We have definitely benefited from the association with other people in that crowd such as Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling and there are definitely similarities in our music and a strong folk influence. We pride ourselves on what sets our music apart from other people’s though, and I think anyone would struggle to describe our album as a folk album.’
In the absence of another catchy term, these artists are likely to have to continue to put up with being referred to as folk. And although both the folk music purists and many of the artists themselves rail against the term, the friendly and inclusive connotations of the word are spot on. And it’s that warmth and old-fashioned sense of community that has helped this extended clan take the world by storm.