A day devoted to folk music has been sneered at in some quarters, but I think it's absolutely right that the Proms should do this sort of thing, not least because the SCCM* scene could take instruction from the folk scene: a small, minority interest that for many years seemed threatened with extinction at the hands of indifference, a perception that this was a dead or dying genre with nothing to say of any relevance to the modern world, and well-meaning but misguided fundamentalism on the part of some of its most zealous advocates. Sound familiar?
The evening concert, meanwhile, featured three acts, two of whom we'd already caught a glimpse of. Bella Hardy had already demonstrated during the afternoon what a beautiful voice she has, and her set here was equally impressive, adding her own fiddling and harp and concertina to the palette to produce a sound that managed to fall entirely within what you might call a purist definition of folk, but never seeming anything other than fresh.
Martin Simpson, meanwhile, represents another aspect of tradition in a set that I wasn't sure I was going to like at first, as after Bella Hardy it seemed to have a whiff of noodling about it. However, he's such a persuasive performer that I soon settled into the more introspective mode, and ended up thoroughly bewitched by his mellifluous guitar style (and was impressed by the way he avoided those awkward pauses you often get while a player re-tunes by making little sketches of music out of his string adjusting, wryly commenting on the unashamed way classical musicians tune up.
Bellowhead are in some respects about as far from traditional or purist as it's possible to get, and yet they escape the trap of crossover hell by the simple fact that no matter how loud they get, no matter how many Latin rhythms or dance beats they throw in, everything they do has its roots very firmly in the folk tradition. There are different ways to extend and revitalise a tradition though, and giving it a good (friendly) kicking can be just as effective a way as tender care.It's easy to knock this sort of day as tokenism, and I guess the proof of that particular pudding will be in whether further potions are served up in future years. I hope that happens, as this day has scratched the surface of a very deep mine that could be profitably explored for a long time. When you think that a century ago, as Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp travelled around the British Isles collecting folk songs, that this was a tradition on the brink of extinction, it's remarkable what a healthy and diverse landscape now exists, and it's a thought worth dwelling on that without Vaughan Williams there might not be Bellowhead. It's fascinating both in its apparent unlikeliness and its potential to spark new connections and evolutions, and this is just the sort of thing the Proms ought to be nurturing.
*So-Called Classical Music