If Steeleye Span could attract the patronage of Noel Edmonds (yes I did spell his name wrong in my last post) folk was becoming a force to be reckoned with. Times were a changing and not everyone was happy with electric guitars and drums being used to play folk songs,
Nothing new here, Dylan had been through the same process in fact there were those who became upset when Tyrannosaurus Rex became T Rex and stopped singing songs about Hobbits. The fact is however that traditional folk songs are not meant to be accompanied at all, not by a guitar (a Spanish instrument after all) or a synthesiser or anything. Folk songs were originally sung by working people who were not in the habit of lugging and instrument about in their daily lives.
The 60’s had opened up folk music to include the ‘heads’ so as well as the two main bands Steeleye and Fairport we had the likes of Mr Fox and the Trees as well as folk influenced bands who went out on a limb such as the Incredible String Band. Somewhere in the middle we had the likes or Martin Carthy and Nic Jones who were using acoustic guitars in a new unique and sophisticated way.
And then we had the hard core folkies who were largely unaccompanied. You could hear a lot of these if you went to a folk club but they didn’t get played much on Two Way Family Favourites or the Jimmy Young Show. I assume my exposure came through,as ever, John Peel who was always up for something challenging.
The guy who caught my ear was Peter Bellamy. Bellamy’s voice was unique, possibly no more unique than Marc Bolan but Bolan had T Rex and a Tony Visconti production. The only element that might soften the Bellamy voice was his concertina which is an uncompromising instrument at best.
Bellamy was in fact something of a local hero having spent his formative years in north Norfolk and subsequently studied at Norwich School of Art in the 60’s. He cut a rather flamboyant figure with his long blond hair and clothes he made himself from furnishing fabric which kind of captured the swinging 60’s vibe. His musical style was so uncompromising as to seem almost progressive. A nasal voice with exaggerated vibrato which was to earn him the anagrammatical name of ‘Elmer P Bleaty’.
Here he is from the first of his 1970’s albums.
Bellamy had ambition beyond folk club slots.As well as the anglo concertina he would play guitar of occasion and could even branch into delta blues with a bit of slide guitar. He wrote his own songs and even produced a ballad opera ‘the Transports’ based on a true story he found in a Norfolk paper.
The Transports was something of a folk star studded super album. As well as his own material Bellamy went on to put a number of Rudyard Kipling poems to music. ‘Danny Deever’ is every bit as chilling as anything Nick Cave could dream up
Sadly he took his own life in 1991. He had been a towering and controversial figure on the folk scene for almost 30 years but still was playing the same circuit. Despite an outwardly extrovert personality he was getting embarrassed at ringing up the same people asking for the same gigs. The engagements dwindled, the money ran out and he became depressed, he was unable to make a living from the art from he excelled at.