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Monday, 8 July 2013

Josienne Clark and Ben Walker's Fire and Fortune

Ben Walker and Josienne Clark have a new album out soon and this makes me wish I could write more eloquently. I'll elaborate...

I think that folk is process, not a genre. Every traditional folk song worth its salt was once a pop song: a pop song that people liked enough to sing over and over again. I was thinking this while listening to the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury the other night and noticing that the audience, predominantly of teenagers, already knew the words to most of their songs.

Covering a song is applause writ larger. It is an expression of the folk process, in that it keeps a song alive, introducing it to a new audience or reinforcing its value to an existing one.

In opposition to this, the idea of "perfect pop" - often held up in the media as something to which one should aspire - makes me very impatient, as there is an assumption that for a pop song to be any good there should be something transient about, that it is a bubble that will burst and that therein lies its value.

In fact, what is "perfect pop" but a marketing construct that takes music and makes it a commodity for capitalist use: something to be consumed, discarded and replaced as if there were a finite amount of it? You could argue that life is transient and we should therefore embrace transience. But there is another way of viewing it.

If a pop song is any good people remember it and recycle it. Music has the power to transport you to the time and place in which you last heard it and so it endures. This 80s revival that I've found so depressing - they've repackaged my childhood while I'm still enjoying large chunks of it - is an expression of the opposite: a need to fall back on the reassuringly familiar in times of economic woe, a passive process of comforting by the mass media that involves transporting the eighties to you.

Music is the other language we all know - even if we don't speak it fluently - and it is a language all about emotion. Understanding this will make you freer and it is one of the reasons certain regimes ban certain kinds of music. The Talibans of this world fear music's power to move people because every action is provoked at some level by an emotional need and once you go stirring people up who knows what will happen? 

Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker's music speaks to me because, in their precision and discernment, they seem to understand all of this. I'm projecting, I know, but the thoughtfulness of their sound has led me to develop these thoughts. They're inspiring.

Their new album, Fire & Fortune is a thing of great beauty, something exquisite that it would be anathema to throw away. Whether they're covering traditional songs - My Love is like a Red, Red Rose, Green Grow the Laurels - or introducing something of their own - Fire & Fortune - they apply the same sky-high standards of musicality and production. They are deliberate, distinctive and outrageously talented.

The album's title track is embedded at the top of this post with a memorable video and here is another version of it, remixed by Pete Flood.

I'm a fan of Flood's influence on the most recent Bellowhead album and wondered how the remix came about? Josienne said that it was the suggestion of Glenn Johnson at Navigator records with which they recently hooked up, and which is also Bellowhead's record label.

"Yes. I'd told Glenn ages ago that I was interested in remixing," said Flood. "To be honest it's the song that's good. The remix just builds a fairly obvious Portishead-y treatment around it. I'd sooner not deflect any credit from what should be Ben and Josienne's moment of glory."

Is this the first remix you've done?

"No. I did a remix of a track by Massukos from Mozambique, under the Sesutbun Bean Unit name. And way back in the mists I used to remix dance tracks by friends. This is the first remix I've done in which I was consciously aiming for a radio-friendly sound. Maybe not Radio Two, but certainly Late Junction or similar."

Flood says that he hasn't yet seen Josienne and Ben play live, which is quite thought-provoking. I've sometimes wondered how strong their sound would be if they had percussion.

"There may be something in that. In the opinion of an expert they're rubbish at stamping on floors," he joked.

It sounds as if Navigator may already be offering serious added value to their new recruits.

* Pre-order Fire & Fortune here. It is officially out on July 22.

* Or attend the official album launch at The Forge in Camden on July 19, with special guests including Jim Moray.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

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