Archive for the ‘Shut That Folk Up!’Category

Try Another City, Baby

When I moved to Oakland, only a short bridge span from San Francisco, I expected to spend most of my days in the City by the Bay, riding trams through Embarcadero, mingling with hippies in Haight Ashbury, and drinking Anchor Steam late into the Mission dusk. In reality I ended up spending most of my days in front of my desk trying to memorize the Krebs cycle. I do still find time to cross the bridge, and once a week or so I’ll drop by to see my sister and work a few shifts as a research assistant at the general hospital. For the most part though, I’ve been confined to the East Bay (I think some of the inmates at Alcatraz had a better view of San Francisco than I’ve had).

This is part of the reason why I was so crazily, utterly, wildly ecstatic to be offered free, front row tickets to see Laura Marling at Grace Cathedral the other night. That’s right. That Grace Cathedral. Not only was I seeing one of the greatest folk artists of our generation, I was ticking one of the city’s greatest landmarks off my Must Visit list at the same time.

My sister very graciously offered me her tickets, after her friend Abby (who is wonderful and funny and very very kind) told her she had two spare seats at a show that just happened to be the same night as Holly’s book club. After informing Abby of her prior engagement through what I imagine were very clenched teeth, Holly, in true, noble, characteristic, folk-loving fashion suggested to Abby that her younger brother might like to see Laura Marling instead. Smart investment, Holly. Today you give me free concert tickets. Tomorrow (by which I mean in several decades time) your presently unborn children will have free reign in my nationally-renowned pediatric practice.

Most of my Marling-loving friends are confined to England and though I know Sam some would cross the pond for her in a heartbeat, the performance was only 24 hours away. I had to find someone fast, and after briefly interviewing my closest friends on their opinions on folk music, settled on the lovely Melanie.

We arrived a bajillion hours too early, but passed the time in the nearby dog park wondering how long it would be till we were cool enough to move to San Francisco proper (people were actually drinking red wine while they walked their dogs. Seriously, is there some sort of hipster handbook I was supposed to receive in the mail?). After contacting Abby and tentatively asking if we might maybe you know possibly be able to watch Laura Marling’s sound check, we were given the enthusiastic go-ahead and allowed to bypass the line that was beginning to emerge from the entrance of Grace Cathedral. We only caught a glimpse of her from one end of the massive building before she went backstage, and Melanie and I were given a dizzying tour of the roof and belltower.

The performance was opened by Willy Mason, an artist who is so incomprehensibly underrated, I would have come just to see him headline alone. He seems to be only known for that one brilliant song, but he played a full set’s worth of cracking tunes. It also helped that his magnificent voice carried so beautifully into the depths of Grace Cathedral vastness. (You could burp in there and it would sound like a masterpiece.) Do me a favour, reader. Go take a look at Willy Mason’s current tour dates and if he winds up in a city near you, pay him a visit. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

And then finally, Laura Marling appeared. The crowd offered a polite cathedral clap as she entered with her band, but all pretenses of chastity and restraint were dropped the second she sat down. She was wearing a long flowery dress, and as she crossed her legs and revealed just a teensy bit of delicate calf to the audience, a collective sigh was uttered by every man in the audience. She really is beautiful. I’ve always received a similar impression from Laura Marling’s music. She sells records with her angelic blondness and beauty, but her songs are crafted from tough, gristly experiences. Those who write about her frequently refer to her humble musical beginnings, how she was nominated for a Mercury Prize at only 18, how she seems to have charming love affairs with all the London folk artists. But she is certainly a grown-up, and her performance made a point of showing it.

I found the most impressive thing about her newest album ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ to be her embrace of traditional folk, even Celtic-ish melodies. Rather than just rely on the dependable, repetitive chord progressions of her present day “nu-folk” peers, she experiments with complex melodies and guitar tunings. Having seen her in concert I now realize what an advanced guitar player she is, and a good guitar-playing girl really is an unfortunate rarity in modern folk music.

After a couple of songs, Laura Marling paused to retune her guitar. The cathedral sat patiently in the quiet darkness as she worked. Suddenly aware of what must have seemed to her to be a gigantic awkward silence, she said quietly into the microphone, “Stage banter isn’t really my strong point.” We all laughed at her generous self-deprecation, but beneath the sweetness there was a sharpness. We were being told by Laura in the most disarmingly charming way that we had to take what she was offering, and that we shouldn’t expect any comforting small-talk from her any time soon. This is part of the duality that defines Laura Marling, an innocence and a cold reality that to me just seems so quintessentially English. I’m not complaining, however. In that dress, with that voice, with those legs, I could sit and watch her tune a guitar all night.

Laura Marling sings Blues Run the Game from Luke Burns on Vimeo.


Check out the video above to hear that stunning voice in action, and if that’s still not enough, take a listen to her very folky single ‘All My Rage’ from her new album A Creature I Don’t Know.

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07 2012


Ohmygoodness I’ve been so busy. Moving countries, losing passports, starting new schools. It’s all a little too much to take in. Happily, though, a lot of beautiful folk has somehow drifted into my iTunes, and I’ve got things I’d like to show you.

But since I’m supposed to be studying chemical bonds right now, I’ll have to make this brief. Since we last spoke I’ve bought a car, driven north, moved into a girls’ college and learned what an electron valence shell is.

It’s been a long week.

Until I get a nice grip on it, though, this live version of a beautiful, beautiful song by Mick Flannery that’s been notched up to #1 on my Morning Singing-in-the-Shower Top 100 Chart list (uh, sorry new housemates, guess the Chart wasn’t part of our lease when you signed it, huh?) will have to do. It’s called Safety Rope and if you don’t know it already, I think you’re gonna thank me for it.

‘Bye for now, don’t worry, we’ll chat soon!

Or download it here:

Safety Rope – Mick Flannery


08 2011

1081 Days Down, 14 Left To Go

Today I woke up and had the best bowl of cereal I’ve had all year.

It wasn’t particularly high-quality cereal. The milk was pretty standard. The bowl was decidedly average and the spoon was nothing to write home about.

My chair was the same one I always sit on when I eat breakfast, the table, if anything, was even grimier than usual. Somebody had neglected their bin duties and there was a slight pong in the air.

All of this was irrelevant, however. Today was (and, technically, still is) my day off.

You know that feeling you get when you wake up and suddenly remember that it’s a Saturday, or a public holiday, and you can roll over and go right back to sleep? I experienced that three times this morning, as three different housemates each walked past my room three different times and shut the front door with three different slightly disgruntled, pointed slams.

My designated Day Off began as soon as I knew they had left. After the aforementioned Awesome Bowl Of Cereal, I had an Incredible Shower and read my Really Really Interesting Book. Then began the errands. For me, running errands is one of life’s purest joys. Filling a closet with fresh laundry, posting a letter that’s been sitting on your desk for days; there is no better feeling on Earth than the steady rhythm of box ticking on a To Do List that has been nagging you for weeks (I feel I get a lot more excited about completed To Do Lists than 21 year-old university students should probably get).

Now I’m back in the library, smiling at the exam crammers around me, preparing for the afternoon football in the park and the curry I’m sharing with a friend in the evening that will flesh out the rest of my day. I know that tomorrow morning will be another 6 am wake-up, a bowl of Genuinely Average Cereal and a Mildly Stimulating Shower, a day in the library studying the politics of Sub-Saharan Africa and an early night to prepare myself for starting it all over again in the morning. I also know, however, that in this ocean of diligence and drudgery and routine and perseverance, today I have built myself a little deserted island that I can sit on for a few hours, watching the rest of the world get caught up in knots and knowing it’ll be a while before I’ll have to start worrying about untangling them again. I don’t have many days left in this country, but I’m making sure the ones I still do have are as brilliant as I can make them.


Here’s an artist I’ve been meaning to write about for a while. He played in Bristol a few weeks ago but exam guilt kept me at home. Hopefully sharing him with all of you will undo some of my shame at being such an armchair folkist lately.

It’s been a while since I’ve got my hands on quietish, falsetto, Bon Iver-like folk, but I think that’s exactly the kind of music you need on sunny Summer days like the ones the weather gods have been bestowing England with lately. I’m really keen to hear what you think. James Vincent McMorrow: do you love him or do you, upon reflection, mildly disapprove of his style of music (there’s no space for haters on STFU)?

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06 2011

I Think I Got a Little Too Much into the Librarian Thing

Today was going to be one of those normal days where I, you know, get out of bed and do stuff, but then a series of events saw that this was not going to be a likely outcome. Firstly, I realised that if I stretched myself out enough I could reach my laptop and bring it back to bed, all the while retaining contact with my mattress and duvet, and secondly, I touched the radiator that I sleep next to and found that some poor kind housemate had deemed our home freezing enough to turn on the heat, thereby condemning me to at least another hour in bed. Any other day of the week, these events would spell disaster (rushed shower, skipped breakfast, failed degree) but on a Sunday, I let that lazy part of my personality take precedence for a few hours. I can go save the world in the afternoon.

It’s been a week made busy by interviews and coursework. I also found the time to have a nice little trip with my friend Cat to London to see Iron & Wine. I know there were some naysayers among you who commented and emailed about the ‘meh’ quality of Iron & Wine’s latest album, but after seeing Sam and his band perform at the Roundhouse on Tuesday night, it became apparent to me how much of a ‘live’ album this is supposed to be. The interwoven percussion and echoey synth and sax solos and falsetto shrieks just seem to work when you’re seeing them do it live. To be fair, I got a little tired of the long, artsy instrumental breaks that occasioned throughout the concert, when it seemed like the band just wanted to have a drawn-out jam session, and we all kind of swayed awkwardly in the audience, wondering if we could get to the bar and back before the next song started.

For the most part, though, it was an excellent gig, and Sam Beam was such a performer, despite having a cold that nearly made him cancel the show. He collectively called us ‘man’ the whole night, and responded with charm to those weird people you inevitably get at gigs, who made awkwardly bad jokes and shouted out how much they wanted to live in his beard. Even if you were underwhelmed by the latest album, I definitely recommend you go catch Iron & Wine on their tour through the UK and US. Sam knows that we all really want to hear the old stuff, and I would have gone just to be able to sing along with him as he played Naked As We Came.

Do you remember when my older sister Holly called that guy in the library a D-bag? Since then, I’ve found serious pleasure in egging myself on to speak up against strangers who are getting away with being jerks in public. I specialise in shushing people who are making too much noise, politely but firmly silencing loud earphones and giving death stares to cell phone chatterers on the Quiet Zone section of trains. I call myself The Librarian, but I am constrained by no library: if you talk when sound is not allowed, YOU WILL BE SHUT DOWN.

A group of girls suffered my muting wrath on Tuesday night as they chatted and laughed through an otherwise gorgeous rendition of Lion’s Mane. I sighed inwardly, and donned the armour of The Librarian.

I just can’t let people get away with being obnoxious! Ugh! The injustice of it! I assume that the crowd of people around me are always also silently cursing the noisy perpetrators and it feels good to do my public duty. Sometimes after the deed is done I make eye contact with fellow passengers or theatre fans who smile and nod, as if to say, Thank you, Librarian, you have conquered another obstreperous foe, kudos to you. Of course, I am humble and expect nothing but thanks for the duty I perform. It’s my cross to bear.

And so the moment came, the chatty girls had surpassed the minute of grace they are allowed, they had deflected my Polite Stares of Justice, they had talked over my Throat Clearings of Valour…I was left with no choice. I struck.

“Excuse me ladies, but if you’re going to chat, could you do it at the bar?”

Silence. They were dumbstruck. Behind me I heard Cat groaning with embarrassment. That’s okay. She doesn’t understand the tenets of The Librarian Code.

Suddenly I realised the three teenagers I had expected to be talking to were not teenagers at all. They were much older than me, probably in their early thirties, and probably wondering why such a little boy was telling them to shut up. I held my ground. The standoff continued for a few seconds. Then the leader spoke:

“Oh, sorry. Sure.”

Justice was served. I removed my Librarian cape (lest anyone should learn my true identity) and returned to the concert. The rest of the song was beautiful, and only made sweeter by the silence behind it. Of course Cat spent the rest of the night trying to disassociate herself from me, but I wasn’t ashamed. Sometimes honour comes at a price.

Remember, The Librarian cannot work alone. Have you ever stood up to a stranger, or been too afraid to say anything? Cacophonous foes lie everywhere and the League of Silence needs your help to subdue them. Will you answer the call?


Talking of justice, Iron & Wine’s opening act, Daniel Martin Moore, who you might remember as the duet partner of cello-jammin’ Ben Sollee, is a big activist in the fight against the mountaintop removal mining that is slowly destroying his home state of Kentucky. He gave us a brief overview of the scourge before playing a beautiful rendition of his own Flyrock Blues, written about the large flyrock boulders sent cascading into people’s homes when mining engineers blow pieces out of mountains with explosives. Listen to him singing with Ben Sollee below.

Mountaintop removal has been a key issue with folkists today, which is an incredible echo of the past. It seems Sollee and Moore have picked up on the same sort of issues Guthrie and Seeger were singing about more than half a century before. Tom Paxton is a big activist too, maybe he provides the link between past and present.

Whatever your feelings about MTR, I’m pretty sure your feelings about Daniel Martin Moore are the same as mine. I’ve posted a slightly less politically-charged song below, one he played on Tuesday night, for you to enjoy and let me know what you think.

But please, guys, no talking while the song plays.

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Time For Folk

Am bogged down in a particularly chunky bit of uni work at the moment, and haven’t had the time to write about several awesome things that I’d like you to know about. Until I get a chance–soon, I promise–sit and listen to this terrific Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling duet that’s been floating around Youtube for four months without me even knowing.

See you soon.


03 2011

In Case You Didn’t Think You Could Love Iron & Wine Any More

If you’ve been reading and listening for a while, you’ll know that we’re fairly liberal with our folk definitions here at STFU. It seems that everyone is these days.

Take Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver, for example. His collaboration with Kanye West last November was not only a bold step, it was a genre-stretching one, that opened up a whole new realm for folk to slip quietly into. If you didn’t hear either of the two songs that Justin lent his falsetto croons to on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, here’s my favourite:

It feels a little weird putting auto-tune on this site, but also I think it kind of works.

When I meet someone who’s not really aquainted with folk music, I always have need to be a little cautiously condescending when I start showing them new tunes I want them to like. It’s so easy to whack on your favourite Iron & Wine song (mine), and slowly watch them shut down and say non-commital things like, ‘Oh yeah…um…it would be nice to fall asleep to, I guess.’

It’s much better, I find, to start them off small. Put on a little Feist. Go look up some cheerful Matt Costa. If all else fails, I am yet to find anyone who doesn’t like Dan Mangan. Just ask Holly.

If you still can’t find accessible folk for your friends to like, it seems like Sam Beam (AKA Iron & Wine) is trying his best to make everything a lot easier for you.

There was a fair bit of hype in the contemporary folk world about Iron & Wine’s new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, which was released a couple weeks ago. While everyone raved in magazines and blogs, there was a certain undertone of doubt that inevitably accompanies any artist’s musical ‘rebirth‘. Beam hadn’t released a full studio album in three years, and snippets of Kiss Each Other Clean anticipated a release that was not only different but maybe, even, infused with a little bit of pop.

The p-word tends to raise the hackles of any folkist who is happiest when instruments are primarily unplugged and made of wood, and being the snob that I am, my hackles were indeed raised. When Sam said during an interview that this album would be poppier than most, my hackles were practically raising the roof.

As you would expect, when the opening snare beats and background synths rolled in at the start of the promotional single ‘Walking Far From Home’ released way back in November, I was ready to burst into tears and bury my head under my pillow like a fifteen year-old girl, kicking my feet in anguish and swearing Iron & Wine out of my life forever. Then, like all revolutionary folk seems to do, the music worked its way under my skin. The next thing I knew it was pulsing through my ventricles, zipping about my brain and ricocheting around inside my skull. Suddenly, my folk horizons had expanded even further.

Sam Beam said in an interview that he hopes people can dance to some of the songs on his new album. I’m kind of hoping this means that Lizard Lounge and Oceana will start playing his tunes on a Friday night, but somehow I doubt it’ll happen any time soon. In the meantime, though, have a listen to two of my favourite songs from the new album and see how long it takes you to fall in love with Iron & Wine all over again. If a non-folk fan happens to be listening in the background, I’ve got a feeling Sam will be able to change their minds.

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02 2011

If They Made My Life Into A Movie This Would be a Pretty Cool Scene

[It's 10:32 pm on a Thursday evening in January. Luke sits in his room working on an essay that should probably have been done a few days earlier. It's one of those evenings that comes at an end of one of those days where you didn't quite manage to get anything at all done, where you try and stuff as much as you can into its dying hours just to redeem all the time you wasted in front of screens all day. It's the kind of evening when you least expect a phone call from an old friend at a concert in Dublin. The phone rings. It's Tom M, calling from a Joe Pug concert in Dublin.]

Tom: [You'll have to do the County Cork accent in your head if you want this to be realistic] I’m watching Joe Pug. You should be here.
Luke: That would be really cool. I wish I could.
Tom: I have to go, I’m going to call you later.

[An hour passes. The essay on American social capital begins to write itself. Luke's friends come back from the pub and retreat to their own laptops. He can hear a girl laughing downstairs. The house begins to shut down. Suddenly, the phone rings. It's Tom again.]

Luke: Hello?
Tom: Shh! Shhh! Listen!
[Luke strains to hear. There's music. It's Joe Pug, singing Hymn #101. For a few moments, Luke is standing in a pub in Dublin, swaying to the music, listening to Tom quietly sing along in the background. But it's a long song.]
Luke: That was awesome, Tom.
Tom: [Whispering] Yeah, yeah, I’ll call you later.

[Now it's getting really late. The housemates have all gone to bed. There's a clock ticking on the wall behind him, knocking down seconds as the distance between the present moment and the approaching deadline slowly contracts. Luke is nearing word count limit territory when the phone rings again.]

Tom: [No longer whispering. Probably a little drunk] Hey, man, it’s me, I’m going to pass the phone over to Joe Pug, talk to Joe Pug.
Luke: Wait. What? Tom, what?
Tom: Talk to Joe Pug, I’m going to give him the phone, are you ready? Here he is.
Luke: Okay, yeah. Okay. Yes. Yeah!
Tom: Here he is.
[There's a pause. During this time Luke considers how difficult small talk with barbers, supermarket clerks and taxi drivers can be. He imagines that small talk, over the telephone, at 2.30 am, with a stranger who makes beautiful music, is probably very difficult too.]
Joe Pug: Hey, Luke! Why the hell aren’t you here! [Joe uses the f-word a lot more than my PC blog wants to admit. Add expletives as you deem necessary]
Luke: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey! [This seems the most obvious response]
Joe Pug: Luke, you are seriously missing out!
Luke: Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!
Joe Pug: Man, we’ve spent like 20,000 dollars on strippers and cocaine! There is so much cocaine! You should be here, man!
Luke: Yeah! Hahahahahahahaha!!! [These inappropriately enthusiastic laughs occured far more often than I like to admit]
Joe Pug: Get on an aeroplane! Come to Dublin! Your friend Tom says you should come.
Luke: Yeah I…Dublin…I could…Well…………Hahahahahahahaha!!!
Joe Pug: Hey, don’t worry about it. You’re in Bristol right? I think you should drive up to London this weekend and come see me play.
Joe Pug: Awesome, man. Seriously you are missing out on this, we have hundreds of strippers and like three kilos of coke. It’s awesome. Okay, well you have a good one. See ya, man.
Luke: Bye, Joe Pug!

[The phone goes dead. Suddenly, Luke is back in his room in Bristol, inexplicably standing on his bed, cell phone clamped to ear. It’s cold. There is an unfinished essay blinking at him from his computer and clock is still ticking. He is shaking a little bit. In a few minutes he’ll be asleep, dreaming of things that couldn’t possibly be as weird or surreal as those last waking moments of his Thursday evening.

Oh, and I got a first on the essay. Thanks, Joe.]


I REALLY want to talk about Iron & Wine’s new album, but I think it would be weird not to now post a little Joe Pug for you to enjoy. If you already know Joe Pug, you’ll already know Hymn #101, so I’ll post another one of his great tunes, Speak Plainly Diana. Hope you like it.

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02 2011

Let’s Get Serious

It’s been exactly seven months since Shut The Folk Up was born, seven months of awkward first steps and teething issues, seven months of slowly realising that my computer knowledge basically extends no further than point-and-click, seven months of joyfully watching my visitor stats slowly creep upwards day by day. During those seven months many things have happened and a lot of folk has been discovered, approved and downloaded. At some point during this great maelstrom of good music I managed to find the time to turn 21. This was particulary poignant considering that in my family there is an unwritten rule that the presents we give each other for birthdays and Christmases must never, ever suck (Christmas is like a thousand times more fun when it’s a competition).

This year my favourite older sister and brother-in-law unfailingly followed the Burns Family Principle of Awesome Gift-Giving and bought and designed what you probably by now have realised is a whole new website, beautiful, accessible and free from the constraints of Blogspot.

Today is the dawn of a new era for STFU, and it’s lovely to be able to share it with all of you.


You know what’s awesome? Joe Purdy is awesome. If you’d like some awesome evidence, I’m happy to provide:

This is the kind of folk you don’t have to be a snobby folkaholic like me to appreciate. It’s the kind of folk you’d quietly sneak into the playlist you made for your friend, secretly indoctrinating him with your acoustic lullabies so that by the time he realised he was a folky convert there would be nothing he could do. Joe Purdy is the California roll of the folk world:  fun, simple, but most importantly, likeable by almost everybody.

This was the logic I was pursuing up until about 24 hours ago, when undercover folk agent Paddy reminded me not only how awesome Joe Purdy is, but that he has just posted his new album This American for FREE online. This has resulted in two consequences.

Firstly, Joe Purdy has now, in my books at least, become cooler and more folk and just generally a better person.

Secondly, he has been upgraded from California roll status, to Complicated-Octupus-And-Worrying-Orange-Stuff-Wrapped-In-Seaweed status. Even though there’s nothing more here than a fella and an unplugged steel-string, his lyrics have become so deep they’re probably scribbled all over the Mariana Trench. It’s incredible how easy it is to break hearts with good lyrics and a touch of reverb, but this guy knows just how to do it.

Now Purdy ain’t no fool, and his album is only available throughout this December. Come 2011 and you’ll have to stay satisfied with your Californian rolls, so you’d better get downloading if you want to partake in this awesomeness.

Me? I’m going to go get some dinner. These extended metaphors are making me starving.

Download Joe Purdy’s Free Digital Album ‘This American’ Here!


12 2010