I have a confession to make as the presenter of a music show: for me it is the lyrics, not the music that matters most – but then to me words have a music of their own which is far more beautiful and more complex than any melody you could weave on a fiddle. It is the words and the ideas that appeal to me about this album from Huffy, recorded live at The Shakespeare in Coventry by Ian Bourne Music.
Sure, the lyrics are direct and not whimsical and pretty; but they are shrewd and witty, and have an unforgiving poetry of their own. Above all they are fun and refreshing. The album has lovely lines scattered across it like wild flowers springing up across a landfill site. I particularly enjoyed: ‘We’ll slaughter them on the playing fields of Eton’ (Kill the Upper Classes), ‘Heaven is different for everyone’ (One Fine Day), ‘When we look at something bound by roots, why do we feel so free?’ (Right of Possession) and ‘They used to say Big Brother is watching you, but now we’re all watching Big Brother’ (Change Channel). In terms of musicality, it is stripped back to a few harsh chords, to allow the lyrics to take centre stage. And this stuff grates, it is like someone scrubbing at your conscience with a brillo pad. The general effect is more punk than folk; but I suspect that folk and punk are more closely connected than most traditional folk musicians would care to admit. Folk music and musicians have a long association with protest, and with anti-establishment sentiment, and at a much deeper level, with socialism and working lives.
Huffy is certainly entertaining, and I don’t think that anyone who is generally politically astute and has limited time for organised religion will find this artist particularly shocking. If you are easily offended and prudish you will probably be completely horrified; but try and think of it as good for you. Huffy is rubbing Savlon into the wounds of society, not salt.
These are not folk songs of dancing through lush English meadows in a fictional golden past, these are songs about watching too much television, songs that question our modern ideas of the right of possession and the ownership of land, songs about not feeling safe in your own home and songs speculating that our obsession with wealth and status applies also to heaven. Here the existence of God is denied and the extent to which we have really understood the Origin of Species and the idea of a common ancestor is questioned. This is part of the folk scene which is about the ideas, the politics and the socialist roots. It is very much music for the classes that have always been the audience for folk. It is about exactly what our traditional songs like Newry Town are about – the ordinary man trying to make ends meet, while harbouring resentment of the idle, but bejewelled Lords and Ladies that own the land they work.
Simplicity of Huffy’s style belies a more complex set of ideas and emotions that lurk under like surface like the shadows of basking sharks. We teach our children about the sacrifices and the passion of the suffragettes and the leaders of the Easter Uprising, but we do not teach our children that they can go out and change the world, and question the structures of society. We live in an age of political apathy and increasing distance between the rulers and the ruled. I am listening to this CD at a time when news that yet another community leader is charged with possession of indecent images occurs with such regularity that it is now quite normal part of our news cycle; and when religion tends to be associated with scare stories and with news of child-abuse, rather than with peace and moral structure. Play this CD to your teenage children and teach them that if they see injustice ignored and beauty eroded then they have a responsibility to go out and change the world. It is important that artists like Huffy are around. I doubt whether his work would be broadcast often, but it has certainly got an appreciative and regular audience in our clubs and at our festivals. The fact that this was recorded live as a feature act for the Acoustic and Group Nights at Coventry pub, The Shakespeare, seems fitting. And at the end of the day ‘folk music’ (however you wish to define that) is about what is played in our pubs and clubs, and at our public gatherings, not about what is polished in a studio to broadcast standard.
Find out more about the Acoustic Nights at The Shakespeare in Coventry, where all Feature Acts are recorded by Ian Bourne Music and offered to artists to make CDs of their live work, at this link https://www.facebook.com/groups/shakespeare.acoustic/873867019296517/?notif_t=group_activity
You can listen to Huffy’s music on his reverbnation site: http://www.reverbnation.com/huffy1