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So, I'm just back from the 50th Cambridge Folk Festival. (Why, thank you, yes, it was marvelous. I may have mentioned I was going.....) Anyhow, refreshed with the delights of such devout folkies as Sinead O'Connor and Van Morrison (?), clearly my mind is still entrenched in that tradition, songs about beggars being a solid part thereof, curiously often jolly beggars, giving perhaps credence to the current urban myth that they drive in from the suburbs, change their clothes to panhandle all day, before a visit to the safe deposit box of their high interest account on their way back home. Which, on the whole, is purely that. Myth. There can be fewer more souless ways to spend a day, poor devils, however they find themselves there.
First, some essential reading , a remarkable article I found online, with an elegant expose of the various subgenres. I then searched my collection for songs with begging, beg or beggar in their title, finding surprisingly few, if one discounts the whole of Beggars Banquet, for beknighted tax exiles, Jagger at least, and the Temptations being "too proud to beg", as it wasn't money they were necessarily seeking. (Tho' in later years, as the drugs slunk in, I wonder?). However, I found these 3, each of which give off the unlikely fumes of the freedoms of the gutter.
Firstly I invite you into the Irish Tradition, now a given, on both sides of the Atlantic, but back even only 30 odd years ago the Dubliners and the Clancy brothers were all you got, decrying neither, but it took the trailblazing Planxty to fully explore and enhance the instrumental magic therein, giving a warmth and humanity to the sometimes more clinical offerings of the Chieftains, roving out themselves at much the same time. Whilst Planxty have long gone, give or take the occasional reunion gig, each of the 4 original members, Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Liam O'Flynn, continue to imprint their identities on the tradition. Let alone later member, Paul Brady, and without them, despite their acousticity, I believe there would be no Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, whomsoever. Here is their Jolly Beggar. Buy it!
Back across the Irish sea, at much the same time, the folk tradition was plugging in, with Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and various Albion Bands subsequently each at the helm, often, in all of them, under the vigilant supervision of the "Godfather of Folk-Rock", Ashley Hutchings, who would spend all day in the archives of Cecil Sharp house, the repository of these islands' traditional song, before foisting them on his bandmates and a sometimes bemused public. Here is a relatively late, post Hutchings take on their paean to poverty, Beggar's Song.
(Not singly available on Amazon.com bar the full LP, Red and Gold)
Finally, a personal favourite, perhaps a better match of the acoustic purity and the sometimes leaden plod of electricity, it's Richard Thompson to whom I turn, himself also a Fairport alumnus. Incidentally, he played at Cambridge, solo, just this weekend. (As an aside, his daughter Kami, later also appeared with her own group, the excellent Rails, featuring her nephew, Richard's grandson, on rhythm guitar and mandolin) this is from when he was a duo with Kami's mother, as Richard and Linda Thompson. This clip is their Little Beggar Girl, and I apologise for the appalling quality, making it sound as if sought from a wax cylinder field recording. Buy it!
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