Folk singer Chris Wood is not impressed by historians such as David Starkey pontificating about the Tudors and Stuarts on the telly; his preferred historical sources are the folk songs of these islands as composed by the greatest songwriter of them all, Anon.
National Centre For Early Music
November 30, 2016
He believes these songs present a more accurate version of our story than that written by members of the elite, such as Winston Churchill. Folk songs are so compelling to Wood because they show what it was like to be alive back then and yet, somehow, they remain topical.
Inspired by Anon, Wood has set himself the task of writing contemporary folk songs that give an accurate impression of life in 21st century England. And if only a couple stand the test of time to enter the repertoire of future folk singers, then Wood will be a happy man.
Well, he already has a couple of contenders based on his excellent concert in York, promoted by the Black Swan Folk Club, where the audience was left spellbound by his singing, lyrics and delicious melodies, finger-picked on jazz electric guitar.
None The Wiser and So Much To Defend are the title tracks of his two most recent albums; both songs have a similar structure in which Wood, through clever word play, conjures up captivating vignettes that he pieces together like a mosaic to create a vivid picture of modern life.
It’s an England of pound shops, bookies and army recruitment centres; an England where couples are bamboozled by financial advisers; where workers on zero hours contracts can’t afford to switch on the heating; where a family man dusts off his mobile disco to earn some cash after being laid off; where a student resorts to phone sex to pay her tuition fees.
Only A Friendly, Wood’s anthem to Faversham Town FC, is another vignette-laden song where his gaze is focused on the fans rather than what’s happening on the pitch.
Wood explained his approach thus: “We live in confused times, so I tell lots of stories rather than one big story.”
Hollow Point, by contrast, does tell one big story: the shooting of the Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes by the Metropolitan Police in 2005.
Wood’s passionate rendition of this powerful song starts softly, like a pastoral ballad, as he lulls us into a false sense of security, before deftly leading us into an urban nightmare; the song’s intensity increases to create a climax of shock and awe. Masterful.
Wood is not really a curmudgeon; the “Jack Dee of folk music” moniker is an act. He has a tender side; that’s why he excels in writing love songs for grown-ups.
A wonderful example is My Darling’s Downsized about a middle-aged couple re-igniting romance by going part-time, baking rock cakes and digging an allotment.
This Love Won’t Let You Fail is a sublime song about a father’s love; it was inspired when Wood’s daughter left home to attend university. As the father of three children who flew the nest for varsity life, I can vouch for its poetic truth.
Channelling his inner choirboy, Wood conjured up a sensitive guitar arrangement for William Blake’s Jerusalem. And his guitar chimed like church bells when he sang an intimate version of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night.
Ever resourceful, Wood used a length of cord to mute the strings of his guitar to make it sound like a banjo when he sang a folk song about the American Civil War.
All in all, an entertaining concert where members of the audience were happy to be strung along by a master musician.