Anglophiles Rejoice: The TFT Review of Rob Young’s ‘Electric Eden’
Rob Young’s Electric Eden provides a fascinating review of the English folk revival, concentrating mostly on the psychedelic-folk and folk-rock of the sixties and early seventies, but also providing an overview of the early figures responsible for bringing English folk music to popularity. The book focuses on the search for an idealized rural Albion—the oldest known name for Great Britain—and finds this quest in folk and pop culture of various stripes. It is undoubtedly a scholarly work (as the pages and pages of endnotes attest) but it hardly ever reads like one.
Young divides the book into three sections: ‘Music for Neverland’, ‘Electric Eden’, and ‘Poly-Albion’. His structure is sound, often eschewing purely chronological order in favor of a more aesthetically pleasing and logical format. Young begins the book with the almost too perfect story of Vashti Bunyan and Robert Lewis’ two-year cross country trek in a Gypsy caravan to a remote island owned by Donovan.The chapter also includes a brief overview of The Incredible String Band, who Bunyan met around the time she was recording Just Another Diamond Day, a thread Young picks up again later. He uses this account to draw the reader in before giving background on English composers and folk-collectors who ignited the flame of the folk-revival years later—unfortunately one of the slowest sections of the book.
The heart of the book lies in the ‘Electric Eden’ section, not surprising since that it is the book’s title. Here, Young examines the rise of the folk community in Britain, centered around myriad folk clubs, and the evolution of folk-rock and psychedelic folk during the 60’s and early 70’s, ending with the movement’s decline in the mid-to-late 70’s. It’s clear that this is the music that Rob Young is the most passionate about. Part of what allows Electric Eden to read so well while it maintains its academic integrity is that Young’s appreciation for the subject matter matches his expertise. Particularly during this section of the book, Young’s enthusiasm is pretty contagious.
Following the discussion of the decline of folk-rock and psychedelic folk is the section ‘Poly-Albion,’ the book’s shortest section, which traces the enduring influence of this music to some unexpected places. He points out the more obvious folk influences on the music of Kate Bush, David Sylvian, and Talk Talk (who recorded their video for “Life’s What You Make It” in a forest in the wee hours of the morning). Young also describes Julian Cope’s (formerly of The Teardrop Explodes) cross-country amateur archaeological expedition of pagan landmarks, resulting in Cope’s book The Modern Antiquarian. Young also points out the less obvious echoes of psychedelic-folk in modern artists like The Focus Group, The Orb, and Boards of Canada. He concludes that in the post-colonial present it is impossible to predict how Britain’s music will “continue to channel all the buried dreams, imaginative advances and desired utopias harboured in its people.”
Those interested in the topic will find Electric Eden a great leisurely summer read, perfect for lazy days on the beach or rambling through the countryside. It will also likely leave you (as it did me) with scribbled lists of albums, books, and films to check out once you’re done reading.
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