A new monthly column, reflections from the Lantern Society, Hastings’ Candlelit Acoustic Club


February’s exceptional edition of The Lantern Society saw one accomplished performer after another gracing our Printworks stage to an appreciative capacity audience. However amid the high spirits it seemed like this Lantern had got the blues.   

Returning to the club was St. Leonards’ own bluesman Mick Knight, so authentic sounding that it’s difficult to tell when he ends and the house music begins, our playlist featuring some of the great delta bluesman. Making an impressive and long-awaited debut was Robert Picazo, who despite hailing from Spain via Battle could easily be mistaken for a 1930s rock and roll pioneer, his contorted Elvis Presley meets Louis Armstrong voice belying his years. If he hadn’t introduced his song ‘Late Night Train’ with a story about his daily commute, spoken with soft received pronunciation, we would have presumed he was recalling freight-hopping across the deep south. Later on came the ever exquisite Lantern regular, Pepe Belmonte, who similarly owes a lot to the blues tradition despite being of Italian descent via Cork, London and St. Leonards. So why is American blues, in this English fishing town’s acoustic club, the most common form of traditional music played? And is this grey squirrel forcing others into extinction? 

“Seeger was reduced to fits of laughter by a cockney singing Leadbelly”

This is no modern phenomenon. In the 60s the seminal ‘Ballads and Blues Club’, run by godfather of folk Ewan MacColl and his American wife Peggy Seeger in Soho, introduced ‘The Policy’ after being inundated with American songs following the explosion of skiffle. This policy prescribed that you must perform music representative of your own culture. This was after Seeger was reduced to fits of laughter by a cockney singing Leadbelly, inserting English vowel sounds into a black southern US prisoner’s song. This all but banned American songs from the club. The Policy was taken up by numerous clubs across England and according to many was responsible for the British Folk revival taking hold.

Britain and the US have deep historical cultural connections. US folk music is derived in large part from Irish and Cornish settlers and its direct descendant, rock and roll, dominated popular music for the latter half of the 20th century. This may be why many of us, myself included, sing with more than a little twang. And conversely, the current British folk boom hears singers from all around the world now imitating MacColl’s Lancashire drawl.

“Folk music is folk music because it has no definite beginning”

Folk music is folk music because it has no definite beginning, no true source. It is music of the people, belonging to everyone and no one. Regeneration is the best form of preservation, locking it in a glass jar will suffocate it. Honesty is the best policy. If you feel it, and mean it, then sing it, with or without your finger in your ear.

The Lantern Society is not about to introduce ‘The Policy’. That said, I do long for the day a fisherman walks in straight off the Stade, still covered in guts and salt spray and sings us a song… and I don’t mean a Leadbelly.

The Lantern Society takes place every first Thursday of the month at the Printworks on Claremont Rd.
Tune in to the Lantern Society Radio hour on Conquest Hospital Radio and online.


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