Book Review: The Imagined Village: Culture ideology and the English Folk Revival

on Thursday, 29 April 2021.

Georgina Boyes, 2010
(Revised, illustrated edition)
Manchester University Press
ISBN 978-0-9566227-0-9, paperback
283 pages, index, bibliography

The author begins by noting that the English Folk Revival succeeded, but the aim of the book is to chart its progress from the 1870s to the 1970s and to answer questions such as why and how did it promote change, what were the motives and who was involved?

The ‘invention’ of folk is traced through it’s founding members such as Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Other principle players are brought to attention, such as Mary Neal, A. L. Lloyd, Maud Karpeles, Rolf Gardiner and the tensions and clashes between different the varying ideas about the folk revival throughout the early to mid-20th century.

The development of the Folk Song Society and English Folk Dance Society are discussed. The differences in approach, from anthropological theories and Taylor’s survival theory to the left’s Worker’s Music Association, the Morris Ring, Skiffle and the folk club movement; the authentic/traditional approach versus the innovators and new creators of the mid to late C20.

Societal changes are also taken into account, using examples such as pageants to dancing styles and education. Georgia Boyes reveals a gender bias, a theme that progresses throughout the course of the book, even down to the level of the clothes women had to wear to perform, which will be of interest to researchers of this genre.

The role of the folk song collectors is invested, highlighting the differences in class and society, often at the detriment of those ‘folk’ who performed their works and new communication channels are considered including the influence of the American music scene. The small selection of photographs is an interesting and valuable addition to this 2012 reprint, well chosen for their illustrative purposes.

An in-depth and well-studied piece of work, that is well written and thoroughly researched. It weaves different strands of the story and covers the many interweaving themes clearly. It is an interesting and thought provoking read, recommended for anyone interested in the Folk Revival itself, social change and class distinctions, women’s rights and education.

Georgina Boyes concludes ‘The Folk Revival had succeeded, folk songs were known and sung, folk dancers of all types dances, but unless its fundamental concepts of the Folk and folk culture were rejected, the movement had no possibility for development.’ It would be interesting to see if this is the case a decade on.

The Imagined Village: Culture ideology and the English Folk Revival is available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre and to loan via your local library, reference 781.6.

Julie Davis
County Local Studies Librarian

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