Musical labels are hard to avoid. Sometimes they are demanded of you, when you are starting out in a band – what sort of band is it? What sort of music do you do?
The Boxties are definitely “schooled musicians” – the roots of their training are mostly in classical instrumental technique and choral singing, along with musical theatre, cabaret and dashes of jazz and rock.
There are definite folk influences too, such as the Matthews sisters’ early exposure to Irish tunes (see Memory), and the group has certainly gravitated towards the traditional music of the British Isles and North America – with a few detours.
So – are the Boxties a folk group?
I think it’s hard to define us as a folk group – is Dolly Parton “folk”? Are Paris Combo a folk group? I think we will start to realize where we fit in that spectrum one day, but for now it’s just fun playing all types of music.
I’ve always used the term “folk choir” when describing the group to strangers, which I think both fits and jars simultaneously. I like to think of the true meaning of folk coming from a tradition of “musical wandering” - singing to pass on stories, share human experience and emotions.
I believe that applies to the Boxties as we are constantly searching for stories and emotion in the music we choose, regardless of genre.
But if folk is pigeon-holed as a peasant-shirt-wearing, banjo-strumming, clog-wearing cartoon, of course that’s a misrepresentation of what the Boxties are really about.
Naturally I call the Boxties a folk group because of the style of our music and our performances. We don’t fit into any folk stereotype of being sloppy and improvised in our performance, I think we are aiming for a strong interpretation of what folk music can be, which is energetic, technically challenging and full of emotion. We are a folk group without the flannels.
Are we a folk band? I suppose we are, because we don’t really fit into any kind of genre well, and the folk title gives us the most leeway to describe what we are, and what people should think of us as.
Yes, we’re a folk group, but not because folk music is old-timey, small-town Hicksville banjo and fiddle playing; not even because folk music is the passing on of stories. The Boxties are and do all of those things, and proudly so, but the real reason I like the term folk music and a strong reason I feel we can connect to that title, is to do with what “folk” actually means. The word comes from the German “Volk” which means a group of people.
Everything the Boxties do is to express emotions that come from us as a group and individuals to other people and for other people, to each other and for each other.
In other words, sharing and connecting as people which is a need I think all people have as individuals, societies and civilisations. But what do I know, I’m just a hick.
In which Annie is possessed by the Muse Calliope, ancient Goddess of Epic Poetry (including rhyming couplets).
Cowboys, farmers and sailors we ain’t
Though some of us can build and paint
We’re not much into frumpy frocks
Though the boys do like their vibrant socks
That being said we derive our fun
from singing until the night is done
So if hillbillies are humorous
We shouldn’t laugh they’re just like us.
I don’t think the Boxties are a “folk group” We don’t just do folk songs and we’re looking to expand our style of music even more. In the future we might do musical theatre, choral pieces, who knows? We don’t pick songs from a certain style, it’s all about how the song connects to us.