By the early 1980s, it seemed as though country music was even less cool than easy listening. The perfectly-coiffured Kenny Rogers; the less rebellious/inspiration-free Johnny Cash; the ultra-saccharine long-forgottens whose hairspray outrages caused you to splutter even when watching them on television. Has a music genre ever been more doomed?
By the mid-1990s, those memories could scarcely have been more distant - the incredible rise of mainstream country via the likes of George Strait and Garth Brooks; the astonishing rebirth of Johnny Cash at the hands of Rick Rubin; punk and metal appropriating Willie Nelson as an icon; Americana being the fastest growing indie music genre. However, its close cousin, the folk genre, continued to splutter - neither country, blues, nor singer-songwriter, it remained the haunt of beards, pipes and long frocks. There was a marketing problem of some magnitude, clearly.
Barbara Mandell’s rather awful 1982 anthem, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”was oddly insightful. It’s very much the case that if an artist has a loyal band of fans which can keep the gas bills paid during the lean years, there’s every chance of a remarkable resurrection as trends and fashions inevitably come full circle. With folk, this is proving somewhat trickier.
The Godfathers of the genre - Fairport Convention; Pentangle; Richard Thompson et al - have not really careered back into being cool, partly due to never being cool. Even the huge successes have glossed over their “folk” credentials - Bob Dylan is a genre in his own right; Woody Guthrie is lumped in with country; newer artists like “Bonnie Prince Billy”seem to circumvent style chat somehow. Yet, some brave campaigners are still resolutely sticking to their guns and flying the folk flag.
JohnlikeJohn, a band rather than a person (though a name-change might not be a terrible idea) are a folk ensemble - acoustic guitars, banjos (or is it banji?), involved story-telling lyrics, a distinct British flavour running through it - it’s by numbers in some respects but more than anything, a reminder that folk music is ALL music of any artistic worth. The art of enchanting through the telling of both tall and poignant tales; the simple instrumentation; the personal, conversational feel - it’s all here on JohnlikeJohn’s EP, titled, contrarily, “Vegans are Evil Too”, a typically wry dig at a population who are forever trying to point the finger at someone. Folk needs a name-change. JohnlikeJohn need a name-change. However, the future is looking positive.