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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Why Robert Peston loves folk music

Why does anyone love anything?

On the day it became known that Bert Jansch had died, Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, mentioned on Radio Four's PM programme that he'd seen Jansch play, that he'd been to the gig with his wife and that he was a bit of a folkie on the quiet.

He said later, by email: "I love folk, especially 70s' folk - Pentangle, Fairport, Jansch - but my tastes are eclectic and also I love lots of other music, especially guitar rock, Purcell, heavy reggae dub. And I certainly wouldn't claim to be an expert on the current folk scene. I have warm feelings towards morris dancing but there's a time and a place for it."

He also explained that his folky leanings could be traced to his relationship with his wife, the social historian and writer Sian Busby.

As I say, why does anyone love anything?

Busby explained: "It was part of the music that was around when I was growing up. My dad was really keen on trad folk and one of my early memories is that he taught me to sing in harmony with him from the Pete Seeger folk book.

"I liked Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and I went to see Bert Jansch and John Martyn with dad. Then in my teens - I'm 51 now - I liked electric folk: Pentangle, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention.

"Robert and I have known each other since we were teenagers - he was in the year above me at school. Apparently I gave him a folky compilation tape, but at school he was really cool and liked David Bowie and guitar rock. We had an on/off relationship for many years before getting together about 20 years ago now and I think I gave him the tape when we finally got together."

There's more about their life together here.

"He's not a big fan of Bob Dylan or Joan Baez, but he does listen to The Dubliners because I've heard him when I'm not in the room. He likes the stories - we both do - if there's a good tune and a good story, that's all you can ask.

"We used to have family gatherings with musician friends when I was growing up and I still love singing folk music. But it can make you hear a bit flat, I think, because a lot of it's pentatonic so it messes up your tuning. I sing around the house all the time: Rosemary Lane by Bert Jansch, The Lambs on the Green Hill and a version of Ca' the Yowes, which is based on a poem by Robbie Burns."

Didn't her husband say something about once having been to a folk festival? "Hmmm," she pondered. "I don't think Robert would go to a folk festival, though he's taken our younger son to Reading." And what about morris dancing? "It's good fun for a while but I find it gets boring: there's only so many times you can watch men banging sticks on the ground before it pales.

"I remember going around with my stepfather one afternoon - he loved The Corries - and every pub we went into these bloody morris dancers turned up. He kept bundling us up and taking us to the next place, so we basically spent the whole afternoon running away from morris dancers. Then at my younger son's primary school in Muswell Hill some of the fathers used to morris dance and at the summer fairs there used to be a tug of war and some morris dancing. But I don't think I could watch it for a whole afternoon."

Well, that's OK: I can't really think of a circumstance under which you'd have to. There's usually too much beer to be sunk behind the scenes...

What do you listen to in the car? "We don't have a car, we haven't had one for twelve years and rarely travel in them. But we live near Ally Pally and Wood Green tube station, so public transport's easy to come by. Sometimes we hire a car for a break and, yes, when it's there we use the stereo. That's when the old electric folk mix tape comes out."

She says that she's not very up on today's folk scene, although she's seen The Unthanks and liked them very much, prompting me to send her an email with some links on it to things I thought she might like. They were towards the festival headlining end of the folky spectrum, though, and now I'm wondering whether I should have included more female voices.

Busby said she thinks her musical influences and her choice of work are connected. "I'm a trained historian and I'm very interested in these lovely bits of social history that you get in many of the songs. I especially like the ballads that were sung at executions. They're very sentimental and for me that's a rich seam. I like the stories about ordinary people's lives, about the sad and happy things that happen to them. The unrequited loves and the snapshots you might get of the life of an ordinary serving girl, for instance."

At the moment she's working on her second novel. "It's supposed to be delivered at Christmas but I don't think it's going to be. It's set in 1946 and is a sort of detective story, about a murder that's all tied up with the black market and the background is the depleted, bombed-out landscape of London. It's a very modern setting for me because I'm much more at home in the 19th century and I'm thinking that it's going to be called The Commonplace Killing. But the publisher doesn't know that yet so it might turn out not to be..."

* Here's Sian Busby's Amazon page.

* If you'd like to have posts from this blog arrive directly in your Facebook news feed, you can make it so by *liking* its Facebook page.

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