About the time that I wrote Her Name Is Shelagh, I was listening – not surprisingly – to a lot of British folk music. My introduction to that form was through a compilation CD released by Island Records. I was fascinated by much of what I heard, enough for me to build a music collection of such artistes as Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Nick Drake. I think, but I could be wrong, the most well known and successful of these is Fairport Convention. Home to a long roster that reads like the who’s who of the folk scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s including Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks and one of the greatest voices of modern music, Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention was known for its fine interpretations of traditional folk as on ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ as well as exceptional original compositions.
With both her own compositions and take on traditionals like ‘Dowie Dens Of Yarrow’, Shelagh McDonald seemed a perfect fit to fill the void for a great solo folk artiste created when Sandy Denny left her solo career to form Fotheringay. But after two stunning albums, McDonald disappeared abruptly, not to be recognizably seen or heard for 35 years.
More tragic was the the fate of Nick Drake whose magical voice was carried on such songs as ‘Road’. Over time he has been an inspiration to scores of musicians but his efforts in his own lifetime yielded little success. Frustrated, his life ended in suicide. He was only 26.
Drake’s good friend, John Martyn (his song ‘Solid Air’ was written for Drake), outlasted him to the surprise of many, given his lifestyle. A brilliant musician, he was one of, if not the most experimental of the ‘folkies’. His superb guitaring technique as can be heard on ‘Seven Black Roses’ and unpredictable selection of music ranging from folk to jazz, rock to electronic experiments bestowed upon him cult status.
Folk has been a strong influence on other forms of music, be it country or the folk-laced rock of some of the works of acts like Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin. And that’s not surprising, considering the quality of playing without going on fiery solos, the beauty and clarity of the voices and the high level of songwriting that are characteristic of this genre of music.