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Robin Williamson: Songwriting and the Bardic Tradition- Part Three - Interview by Danny Carnahan

Robin Williamson: Songwriting and the Bardic Tradition (3 of 3)
Interview by Danny Carnahan - All rights reserved by the author and posted under permission.

Though you’ve been working more and more with the traditional Celtic styles in recent years, you’ve never recorded an all-traditional song album until recently.

The first traditional record I ever made was A Job of Journeywork. It got picked as one of the top ten folk albums of 1998 and also picked as one of the top ten rock albums of 1998.

How’d you manage that?

I don’t know. It’s extraordinary. I didn’t do anything. It was some guy on the Birmingham Post thought it was a top rock album, although there’s no rock on it at all, as far as I can see.

Your very next project was "Old Fangled Tone" with, of all things, a brass band. What possesed you to try that?

I had a go at this brass band record because, similarly, brass bands were popular more than 150 years ago, right? In the mill towns the mine owners would decide the workers needed some form of ethical recreation that wouldn’t involve getting completely blasted and hitting each other with beer bottles so they gave them brass band instruments and tried to encourage them to play tunes. Unfortunately, the tunes tended to be mainly Methodist hymns and so on. They weren’t plugged directly into British traditional music in the way they might have been. And nowadays the basic repertoire of the brass bands is mainly hymns and, say, "South Pacific," and the greatest hits from the shows. So I said let’s try to do traditional music played on the brass band, using those old instruments to play traditional songs. And it worked.

Is there a future for this, or was the album a one-trick pony?

It is a one-trick pony. But we may do some festivals later. But basically, all the things I’ve been doing lately have been catching up threads that were dropped quite a while ago. The most recent record was working with Clive Palmer, with whom I haven’t worked since the early ‘60s. It’s a lovely little record, called At the Pure Fountain. It’s just coming out now.

There’s been a recent flock of recorded covers of your first song, hasn’t there?

October Song has been recorded by about five people in the last year—Gordon Bok, Dick Gaughan, the House Band. They’re all good versions. I’m hoping they’ll soon catch up with song Number Two now.

Dozens of CDs featuring Robin Williamson are still in print and available. Many can be found by hunting up one of the many websites maintained by Williamson and Incredible String Band fans. Robin’s most recent recordings on his own Pig’s Whisker label, as well as many earlier story tapes and books of his prose and poetry are available through Pig’s Whisker Music.

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