writings  (other than songs, that is .....)
Hooper's Column, Folk On Tap 107 (April - June 2006)
I saw "Walk The Line" recently, the film about Johnny Cash.  It's a good film, and I recommend it even though it probably won't still be in the cinemas by the time you read this.  I won't give too much away, just in case, but there's one particular scene that got me thinking hard, particularly as I'd just seen a documentary about Cream and read some of Bob Dylan's autobiography.
The scene is where Cash tries to get a record cut, at Sun Studios.  The legendary Sam Phillips is dismissive of Cash's gospel singing, and asks him what he'd sing if he had just one chance, one song, to express the things he most wanted to express.  Just one chance before the door closes.  It's a powerful question, and the re-telling doesn't do it justice, it's much better put in the film.  Perhaps all of us who perform should ask ourselves the same thing.  Phillips was looking for a level of artistic integrity that wasn't compromised by notions of what anyone else wanted to hear – although as a shrewd businessman he knew only too well that once he'd found that he was onto a winner.
The Bob Dylan book, "Chronicles", carries a similar story.  John Hammond, the talent scout who discovered the likes of Billie Holiday and Count Basie, signed Dylan to CBS on the strength of just two original songs, because "I understand sincerity."  The story is somewhat undermined, but not completely invalidated, by the fact that Dylan immediately told the label's publicity man a pack of lies, about travelling from the mid-West to New York by freight train and suchlike romantic disinformation.
Integrity, sincerity.  If you think of some of the great names of folk music – let's take, say, Alex Campbell, Peter Bellamy, Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy, Pete Seeger – it's not hard to see that integrity and sincerity are hallmarks.  All those people know, or knew, their stagecraft too, how to captivate an audience so that there's little or no gap between what the performer wants to give and what the audience want to receive, but always in the service of the music they are or were passionate about; the important element is the song, not the performer or the performance.
Of course that's not true only of folk music and the folky end of its country cousin.  Beethoven had that same degree of integrity.  Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce have it (I'm not sure about Eric Clapton, hero of mine though he is).  Van Gogh and Gauguin had it, Frank Lloyd Wright had it.  Is it the quality that defines art as 'great'?  Actually I don't think it is.  Shakespeare, Constable, McCartney, they don't seem to me to have it; their work seems to me to give the audience what it already wants.  That doesn't mean it's not great art - it's differently motivated, and generally makes fewer demands on its contemporary audience, but it can still be described as great.  And on average it was/is a lot more commercially successful in the artists' own lifetimes.
So what line am I walking here?  That popular art doesn't have integrity?  That we should only listen to the last song anyone wants to sing to us?  That what we don't want to hear is more valid that what we do want?  Hell, no!  Give me some entertainment, please!!  I guess I'm just pointing up the subtle but vital difference between that one song you'd sing before the door closes, and all the other songs you know.
Brian Hooper
“Hooper’s Column” has been running in “Folk On Tap” magazine for many years.  Scroll down this page for a recent example - not the current one, you’ll have to buy the magazine for that, or keep checking this site to see when/if it appears.
I literally wrote the book on folk club MCing, obscurely entitled “So You Want To Be A Folk Club MC?”, in 1986.  The Folk Roots review said “Excellent!” and a lot of people learned a lot from it.  It’s probably the world best-seller on the subject; you just have to find a small enough niche, I guess!  Send me £4 and you can still get a copy.....
My name very occasionally appears in “Hampshire the county magazine” as the author of an article, but in fact my work appears every month, as I compile the crossword.  There’s a prize, so don’t ask me for the answers to the current one.  But if there was a clue that particularly challenged you, or especially one that amused you, do let me know!
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