Electric Eden : Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music

Electric Eden : Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music

Book - 2011
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In the late 1960s, with popular culture hurtling forward on the sounds of rock music, some brave musicians looked back instead, trying to recover the lost treasures of English roots music and update them for the new age. Young shows, through enchanting storytelling and brilliant commentary, that this revival in England inspired the Beatles and Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Traffic, Kate Bush and Talk Talk.
Publisher: New York : Faber and Faber, 2011
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780865478565
Branch Call Number: 781.6221 YOUNG
Characteristics: viii, 664 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm


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Jul 31, 2017

Wonderful overview of the eclectic strains of folk-rock that have emerged from the United Kingdom placed within a sociological and political frame that does a lot to illuminate what was going on in that time while always striking back at the primary thesis of "reclaiming Albion," or the old Pagan spirit of the isles. Lots of relatively obscure (but excellent) groups get mentions, from the weird organ pastorals of Mr. Fox to the roaming lullabies of Vashti Bunyan and Heron to the dark, violent and incantory Comus. Wish some of these folks had been discussed more in depth, but of course that is neither here nor there as the purpose of Electric Eden is more of a survey than an intensive analysis. Full biographies of may artists herein can be found elsewhere...or should be written! As might be expected, the bigger names such as Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and the Incredible String Band get allocated a little more ink.
The only flaw with this one was a somewhat disjointed writing style in which it was often obvious that Rob Young had to strain to tie some things together - not that it is difficult, but his attempts were a little clumsy and sometimes took away from the flow of the writing. All in all a great read though, and one that will make you eagerly search out many of the sounds discussed inside.

Nov 18, 2014

For fans of British folk and folk-influenced music in its many incarnations (e.g., symphonic, electronic, and psychedelic), Electric Eden is a must-read. This lengthy book (607 pages plus notes, bibliography, discography) results from years of research and thought by a good writer. In Electric Eden, he argues that British –– and especially English –– people have a centuries-old nostalgia for a pastoral land in which people lived good lives in a state of relative innocence (think of Hobbits).Throughout the ages, people longed for and tried to re-create this imaginary Eden. Focussing on music of the late 19th and the 20th centuries, Young shows how ideals espoused by William Morris and his contemporaries influenced the collection and interpretation of folk song, and shaped British music –– orchestral, choral, folk-revival, protest, rock, psychedelic, electronic, and indy. The book deals with many musical people, including Cecil Sharpe, Vaughn-Williams, Holst, Ewan McColl, A.L. Lloyd, Martin Carthy, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Kate Bush, David Sylvain, and the Spirit of Eden. (Most of the music is available on YouTube.) Young links musical trends with parallel movements in literature, art, and popular culture, even connecting a riot at a 1970 rock festival with ongoing resentments over the 17th-century enclosure movement.

The book has numerous flaws: Young often confuses "Britain" with "England". With notable exceptions, such as the well-known Scots, Bert Jansch, Donovan and The Incredible String Band, Scottish and Welsh musicians are largely ignored. The USA gets its due, but parallel, influential folk revivals in other countries, including Ireland, are neglected. Furthermore, many of the issues Young discusses have been studied and analyzed thoroughly by academic folklorists who Young did not consult. Occasionally, he shows great lack of understanding, for instance, not placing the British folk revival within a much broader European celebration of "folk", influenced by Herder's "romantic nationalism." The book is too long -- its author is sometimes self-indulgent, giving too much space to his favourite musicians (but wouldn't we all), and even sharing his own (weak) fiction. Finally, references to Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen as "Americans" and to Figgy Duff as "English" make one wary of Young's accuracy.

Still, I'd recommend this book to those interested enough in its subject to delve deeply -- and to anyone who's been wondering for over four decades what "Koeeoaddi There" means.


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