In a new English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) commission, in association with WOMAD Dom Flemons who co-founded the Carolina Chocolate Drops is to collaborate with Martin Simpson to create new material inspired by English and American folk traditions.
They will research and explore how folk songs travelled from England to North America and vice versa, changing shape as they journeyed. “Using archive collections in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House – including Cecil Sharp’s landmark folk music fieldwork notebooks and diaries from his collecting trips in the Appalachian Mountains”. The project will culminate in four shows (details below).
Hopefully their research won’t be totally bound by just the work of Mr Sharp which was blinkered when considering the influence of West African music. It was the likes of Alan Lomax, decades later, that emphasised the importance of that musical journey from West Africa to America via the slave trade. Seeing as Dom was taught by African American old-time fiddler Joe Thompson I’m going to assume this isn’t just about Cecil Sharp’s research and is more about the unsanitized bigger real picture.
Whilst known for being an English folk singer, guitarist and songwriter Martin has been combining British and Afro-American music for many years, he also lived in the US for fifteen years and anyone that has seen him perform live will testify to his fondness of those experiences through the stories he tells. Whilst Dom Flemons doesn’t have the 35 years experience under his belt he did co-found the Carolina Chocolate Drops with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson who won a GRAMMY for their 2011 album Genuine Negro Jig and was nominated for its most recent album, Leaving Eden, in 2012.
Dom has plenty of other strings to his bow, as well as playing guitar and banjo, a talent they both share, he also plays harmonica, fife, bones, bass drum, snare drum and quills…and they both of course sing. For me personally, what set the Carolina Chocolate Drops apart from many other bands at the time was that a lot of their repertoire was based on the traditional music of the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina and was taught by African American old-time fiddler Joe Thompson. Something which led me on a great voyage of discovery and which influenced our playlists on FRUK.
Around the time of the Carolina Chocolate Drops formation in 2005 there was already a growing resurgence in Afro-American banjo playing thanks to such brilliant releases by Smithsonian Folkways including Black Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia (recorded between 1974 and 1997) which featured Joe Thompson as well as the unforgettable Dink Roberts (listen below) and John Snipes. Such releases highlighted the fact that Africans brought the gourd ancestor of the banjo with them, “in their minds and sometimes in their hands” to the New World in the seventeenth century. The recordings on that album were an eye-opener to many. It set in place a whole chain of events that led to many new recordings including Otis Taylor’s ‘Reacapturing the Banjo” which featured Alvin Youngblood Hart, Guy Davis, Keb’ Mo’, Cassie Taylor and others.
Dink Roberts – “Georgia Buck”
Carolina Chocolate Drops at Joe Thompson’s house
Martin Simpson Trio in fine form: Lakes of Ponchartrain
Martin Simpson and Dom Flemons will go on to perform just four shows:
23 July: Cecil Sharp House, London, 7.30pm
24 July: Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich, 8pm
25 July: Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham by Sea 8pm
26 July: WOMAD, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16 9DG
photo credit: Alan Cole