I’m looking for a bit of help here. One of the styles of music that I love is what you might call “modern folk” — I don’t know if there is a proper name for it. What I mean is reasonably sparse singer-and-a-guitar songs, cleverly written to be about something. Current examples would include people like Dar Williams (listen, for example, to her song February or When I Was a Boy) and Richard Shindell. Older and maybe better-known examples would be Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and a band like Crosby, Stills and Nash.
My problem is that all these artists are American. Not a problem in itself, but if I stand up at the local folk club and sing a cover of, say, Dar Williams’ The Hudson — which is a song not just about America but specifically about New York City, where I have spent a grand total of four days of my life — it’s just going to sound stupid. Likewise if I sing Richard Shindell’s The Next Best Western, which is about a long-distance trucker in the mid-west looking for a hotel that’s part of a chain most Brits have never even heard of. And don’t even get me started on Paul Simon’s American Tune. (As it happens, these are three of the songs I can do a passable job with, and so constitute about 50% of my entire set.)
So where are all the British folk singers? After all, Paul Simon initially established himself playing in folk clubs around England — there must have been some Brits there doing the same kind of thing, mustn’t there? But who were they? And who is doing that kind of thing today?
I know about the folk tradition of people like Martin Carthy and June Tabor, but that is very different. It’s mostly their versions of very old traditional songs which have a distressing tendency to be about jolly tinkers or barmaids and sailors, or indeed about Childes Rowlande. Actually, I quite enjoy that stuff, but it’s different from what I’m looking for here. I want insightful singer-songwriters with their own material that touches on ageless and universal themes through personal and specific songs. And I want them by British singers. Is that too much to ask?
Who should I be listening to? Who’s writing and playing songs that will leave me with a new and profound insight into, well, whatever the song is about? And who’s doing it in Britain?
Oh, and don’t say “Billy Bragg”. I am unreasonably demanding, and like my singers to be able to sing, and ideally to play guitar as well.