Article: New Blood

Up until fairly recently the banjo has been absent from UK pop culture, in fact I struggle to remember hearing it on commercial radio during my teens, 20s & 30s, with exception to the Rednex version of "Cotton Eyed Joe" - why, Why, WHY!

So how could an instrument that was so vocal in the 60s folk movement become so unpopular? Was it because George Harrison never played banjo on "Norwegian Wood"? Bob Dylan and the Stones certainly didn't use it in the early parts of there careers, which is a sad thing, cos it would've worked well on some of there tunes. Over the years there were a few exceptions, such as The Violent Femmes Blister In The Sun and "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" by the Byrds, have a listen to I Am a Pilgrim, it's cool, but this album is more of a nod to the past than a step into the future. Looking back it seemed that nobody considered the Banjo to be a creative instrument, you had to learn to play the thing like Earl Scruggs or some other pro, and for years when ever anyone mentioned the banjo all you heard in your head was Dueling Banjos. Yes "Dueling Banjos" it's cool, and I do secretly wish I could play it like all those guys on YouTube, but for my generation it pigeon holed the instrument firmly the the American Deep South.

And then, about five years ago I heard an American Indie band called Le Loop. Their music is largely banjo lead, very experimental and a bit triply, have a listen to Canto I from their second album, you'll get the picture. Shortly afterwards Mumford & Sons turn up, and love or hate them, you have to admit that their banjo player can really pick, check out The Cave. Mumford & Sons banjo player (Winston) also plays on a lot of Laura Marling's songs, check out Rambling Man, it's cool. The banjo naturally fares better in the USA, and in recent memory we have had The Be Good Tanyas (check out Waiting Around To Die, a Townes Van Zandt cover) and Gillian Welch's Six White Horses (good old time picking). However my favourite American act has to be Hurray For The Riff Raff. Alynda Lee Segarra (singer/banjo) plays the banjo with space and atmosphere, using the instrument purely for colour, check out Young Blood Blues, it's ain't clever playing, but it sounds awesome. The UK has it's banjo talent, I love the banjo on Euros Childs My Love Is Gone and recently I heard Mary Epworth's Black Doe, and the banjo and violin rule on this recording. Finally a bit gimik, and have added this on the insistence of my partner, check out Hugo's 99 problems, it might make you smile :)

I guess what I'm saying here is that we live in extremely diverse times, and the banjo is back. I play banjo on a handful of songs in my bands set (Swindlestock), and it has a massive impact. Sometimes I get a concerned look from the audience as I plug it into my amp, and then I play, and people just love it.

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About Me

I have been playing guitar for over 20 years, at first playing in indie bands, followed by a long stint playing rockabilly on the streets of Oxford, a short excursion into dance music, followed by looking at early blues styles. Now after a few years of listening to Dylan, Guthrie, and early Americana I find myself in possession of a banjo, and I'm addicted! Currently I play Banjo and Guitar in an Oxford based group called Swindlestock, you can hear our music our myspace page.

Listen to my favorite Banjo songs on