Category Archives: this passing world

A New Year’s Song

Here’s a great song to play as we say goodbye to what’s left of 2009 and welcome in 2010.

It’s a song by folk group the Unthanks, and it’s about a New Year’s Eve tradition in Allendale, Northumberland. It’s called ‘Tar Barrel in Dale’. Here’s the explanation by Rachel Unthank:

The men of the village get dressed up in lots of different kinds of fancy dress.

They put a barrel filled with tar, paraffin and other highly flammable things on their heads, and they set them on fire and they go off in a parade around the village and then just before midnight they come back and throw them on the fire. It’s a really spectacular, beautiful thing. One year, when we were there, it snowed as well.

And so my dad George was inspired to write this song.

For the next few hours you can watch the Unthanks introduce and perform the song on a BBC 4 show (at 37:50).

Here’s ‘Tar Barrel in Dale’ on Spotify for when that’s gone.

Enjoy, and enjoy welcoming in the new year with friends and good company!


Beards and the man

Good article from the Guardian on the prominence and meaning of beards in noughties indie music.

Here’s the conclusion:

But if face-fuzz has become an epoch-defining signifier in leftfield rock, what exactly does it signify?

Let’s look again at Fleet Foxes’ He Doesn’t Know Why, where the group sound like angels but look like satyrs. Here, beardedness is tantamount to a visual rhetoric, almost a form of authentication, as though the band are wearing their music on their faces. The video is a symphony of shades of brown. There’s even livestock mingling with the band as they play, goats whose tufty throats accentuate the band’s bewhiskeredness. The promo’s earthy colour-palette and the group’s greasy beards amount to a blatant case of the image following the music’s lead, together invoking a hallowed era of rock history: 1968-69, the first time that rock grew bearded. On He Doesn’t Know Why, the sound and visuals are equal parts Crosby Stills and Nash, and The Band.

With Fleet Foxes’ 2008 debut album featuring ditties about red squirrels and meadowlarks and song titles like Ragged Wood and Blue Ridge Mountains, it hardly takes Roland Barthes to decode the band’s beards as the literally facial expression of a perennial American yearning for wilderness (a longing seemingly felt most fervently by those who didn’t grow up anywhere near rural areas). In this symbolic scheme, facial fur = fir (and pine, spruce, maple, shagbark, hickory, et al), while Gillette = the timber industry, or perhaps “mountain top removal” mining. In a silent but eloquent protest against modernity, Fleet Foxes have turned their chins into miniature Appalachian forests.

So much of the music I listen to strains for authenticity – I think the writer is right to see beardedness as an extension of this.

Read the whole thing

Hemmingway chats to Castro

Spot the real man