Images of England

For all the ties that bind Ireland to England – not least in family and employment – it remains in our perception a force to be pushed against. In this jostling, there are expressions of English culture which we are prone to overlook. English folk music is one such treasure that, in its very different musical approach, its instrumentation and repertoire, will be a revelation for anyone not yet familiar with it. Chris Wood, whose passionate article on English society and music we lead with in this issue, is a huge creative force in that tradition – in song and on fiddle and with his ensemble the English Acoustic Collective he re-creates and re-invents the repertoire and tradition as he goes. Indeed, there is an edge evident throughout English folk music at present. Not having yet reached critical mass, still having to fight to make itself heard, it has a freshness and a freedom that our own traditional music can sometimes struggle to attain in the midst of so much commercial success.

If the rise of English folk music – and what the voices coming through are saying – might make us reconsider old perceptions of England on one level, we could hope that, in the thaw the Northern Ireland Peace Process has created, we look at what else we wilfully ignore about the country. For example, for all our obsessing with trivial aspects of English culture (as detailed by Breandán Ó hEaghra on page 17), we miss the great commitment there is there to diversity of opinion, to debate and discussion, while their critical culture – their breeding ground for new ideas – is far superior to our own. Perhaps we are content to focus on England as simply producer of light entertainment because it feeds our recently acquired superiority complex? For however close our neighbour is, it is almost as if, because of past hurts, we are still above learning anything new from it. Isn’t the ability to learn from everything around you meant to be a sign of strength?

March 2006

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