Six Static Scenes 

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Available to pre-order now - full release 22nd July

CD and digital, via Neolithic Records

“The past is a fake. It must be destroyed.” Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

Actually, that isn’t a quote by Henry Miller. I just came up with it. Which takes me neatly onto my grand thesis…. There’s a persistent misconception in the folk community around “authenticity” and the spit-flecked need to preserve it. There’s a convention of researching the most obscure version of a song. Committing it to memory. Performing it along with a lengthy introduction about its origins (knowledge-wielding masqueraded as information-sharing). Then delivering it at a solemn pace, as if the performer is a medium at a seance; channelling the ancient voices of our forebears for our supplicant edification. Whilst pretending to be a milkmaid who’s been wronged by a plough boy or some shit.

Fuck that.

Folk music is a mongrel breed. Unreliable. Malleable. Promiscuous. The most exciting moments happen in its imperfections. The grit and grain of the old voices and their idiosyncratic ornamentations. The unintentional shifts in pitch. The untutored relationships to their instruments. The misheard lyric. The personality of the performer bringing out all the elemental, carnal beauty of the text- as if leavening a trowel under the mossy rock of our collective memory and showing us what’s writhing beneath.

Thank Jack-in-the-Green then for banjo player, Jacken Elswyth, who is so fluent in the tradition that she immediately evokes most of its major contributors (Roscoe Holcomb, Dink Roberts, Margaret Barry, Dock Boggs) while bringing something new to the conversation. In fact she has more in common with avant-hillbilly Henry Flynt in terms of zoning in on the most abstruse details of folk-form and amplifying them into hypnotic prayers. Foregrounding the shadow-drone that underpins all folk song and manifesting it as a devotional pulse. Using repetition and pattern-shift like the warp and weft of a weaver at their loom. Her banjo cogitating and coagulating like memories tunnelling into apprehension.

Mixed metaphors and spurious comparisons aside, Jacken is only equivalent to folk iconoclasts such as Flynt or Alastair Galbraith because she’s reached similar conclusions. By immersing herself in the medium and operating at its margins, she has developed a very singular voice and an intensely personal approach.

This observation is borne out by the fact that she makes her own banjos. And spent lockdown breaking them in, while dancing around the great totems of British culture- Topic Records’ Voice of the People series- birthing a music that reflected both the ennui of our self-isolation and the sophisticated savagery of our greatest music.

That is what we hear here. Six Static Scenes is a masterpiece in stasis. Exhibiting the slowly blossoming beauty of a single idea pushed to its limit. Jacken is like Giotto in her ability to apply deeply human faces to predicaments that had previously seemed anonymous. And to use peripheral information as a rich bouquet of detail, bringing to mind the old gardeners adage; there are no such things as weeds. Only misplaced flowers.

The past isn’t fake. And doesn’t need destroying. It just shouldn’t be put in a jar and mansplained at folk concerts. It can be used as a springboard to creativity, not a ring-fence. All hail Jacken Elswyth for being brave enough to blaze the trail.

Alex Neilson, Gran Canaria, December 2021. 

Betwixt & Between 8
Sullow / The Silver Field 

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Available now

Betwixt & Between Tapes bandcamp

The eighth instalment in the ongoing Betwixt & Between series is an opportunity to showcase a new collaboration. Continuing directly from Betwixt & Between 7's featuring of Shovel Dance Collective, Betwixt & Between 8 opens with Sullow - a new improvising trio featuring Jacken Elswyth (banjo), Daniel S. Evans (guitar), and Joshua Barfoot (percussion). Each also play as members of Shovel Dance Collective, but here they're stepping away from trad tunes and towards free-folk - quick attack, short decay, rapid burst composition.

On the reverse it features The Silver Field - her dreamy ambient psych-folk a perfect match for the series. The Silver Field is a sound world of Coral Rose & friends. Voice, tapes, bass, strings, reeds, drums, small sounds, big sounds, sunlight, moonlight, a lot of water.

Jacken Elswyth’s cassette label continues to shore up jagged folk jewels. The Guardian

 

Sullow fair tear out of the blocks, Barfoot spraying percussive wildfire a la Chris Corsano and the two stringspeople electing to saw, gnaw and pluck on their own respective tips – this music is free (as in improv) but each player reacts to the others’ wanderings with a sensitive ear. More Sullow soon please!  The Quietus

 

There is so much beauty here. Space opening up for musicians and instruments to sail across aural seas.
Lost in a sea of sound

Banjo with the sound of its own making

Fractal Meat Cuts bandcamp

Jacken Elswyth bandcamp

 

Banjo with the sound of its own making closely marries Jacken Elswyth's practice as a musician and as an instrument maker. It comprises six improvisations and two traditional tunes for mountain banjo alongside layered and manipulated audio recorded during the banjo's construction:

 

“This tape is the result of an on-off project of the last year and a half, begun as I started to build my first mountain banjo at the end of 2019 and continued through lockdowns in 2020 / early 2021.

Fretless, gut strung, and made out of readily available materials, the mountain banjo was a return towards the banjo's roots by people who couldn't afford to buy one. Like the cigarbox guitar, it's a folk appropriation and approximation of a mass-market instrument, firmly in lineage with the instruments that preceded that market. This mountain banjo was built of oak, cherry, walnut, bone, calfskin, and pvc, following instructions detailed in the Foxfire Appalachian ethnography collection.

Recordings were made throughout the banjo build and then grouped, manipulated, and arranged to provide the basis for the album. As I got to know the instrument I recorded improvisations in response to these tracks, adding the two traditional tunes to showcase a more straightforwardly folk playing of this folk instrument.

At the end of the project I selected discarded pieces of oak, cherry, and walnut, collecting them into 12 forms from which 12 blocks the size and shape of a cassette box could be cut. The cover art shows these scraps arranged and assembled ready for the blocks to be shaped.”

 Banjo With the Sound of its Own Making foregrounds the talents of the instrument’s most exciting young practitioners and makers The Guardian

Elswyth invites listeners into so many aspects of her world, sharing not just her music, but pieces of her work most wouldn’t otherwise experience. It’s a vulnerable position to dig into, but she makes the most of it and creates a wonderful, memorable experience. Foxy Digitalis

This pairing of actual music and the roughened noises of woodworking creates a level of intimacy with the instrument that might not have ever been quite captured before ... an important study of the artistry of the banjo’s construction and very presence, that deserves to be carefully preserved Record Crates United