The musical kaleidoscope of the 1960s: The folk music revival movement

As the beat groups flourished, the mid-1960s also witnessed a parallel resurgence of folk music. Influenced by American folk artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, British folk musicians began exploring traditional songs and acoustic sounds. This movement emphasised storytelling and social commentary, reflecting the changing socio-political landscape of the era.

Notable folk artists:

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman, is an American singer-songwriter who became one of the most influential figures in folk music. His introspective and socially conscious songwriting captivated audiences and led to the popularisation of folk protest songs. Dylan’s iconic songs, such as Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They Are a-Changin’, became anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movements. His distinctive voice, poetic lyrics, and ability to capture the spirit of the times solidified his status as a folk music legend.

Donovan

Donovan, born Donovan Leitch, is a Scottish singer-songwriter known for his melodic and introspective folk songs, and is sometimes called the British Bob Dylan – often by himself! His laid-back style and gentle vocals resonated with audiences during the 1960s folk revival. Hits like Catch the Wind, Sunshine Superman, and Mellow Yellow showcased Donovan’s poetic lyricism and catchy melodies. He also embraced elements of psychedelia and incorporated diverse musical influences, in songs like Season of the Witch, making him a versatile and innovative artist of the era.

Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention, formed in 1967, played a pivotal role in the development of British folk rock. Known for their reinterpretation of traditional folk songs, they blended acoustic instruments with electric elements, creating a fresh and dynamic sound. Albums like Liege & Lief and Unhalfbricking established Fairport Convention as pioneers of the genre. Their line-up included talented musicians who would go onto successful solo careers, such as Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, and Dave Swarbrick, and their contributions continue to inspire generations of folk-rock artists to this day.

Pentangle

Pentangle was a British folk-jazz band that pushed the boundaries of traditional folk music. Formed in 1967, they blended folk, jazz, and blues influences to create a unique sound. The band’s virtuosic musicianship, intricate vocal harmonies, and innovative arrangements set them apart. Songs like Light Flight and Basket of Light showcased their fusion of genres and introduced a new dimension to the folk music landscape. Pentangle’s musical legacy continues to resonate with their innovative approach and captivating performances, and its individual members – Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Danny Thompson, Terry Cox and Jacqui McShee are all rightly considered to be some of the most influential musicians of the era.

Shirley Collins

Shirley Collins is an English folk singer who played a significant role in the revival of traditional folk music. With her pure and expressive voice, Collins recorded traditional ballads and songs, contributing to the preservation of cultural heritage. Albums like Folk Roots, New Routes (with Davy Graham) and The Power of the True Love Knot highlighted her ability to breathe new life into traditional material and established her as a leading figure in the folk revival movement.

John Martyn

John Martyn was a British singer-songwriter and guitarist who seamlessly blended folk, blues, and jazz elements in his music. Known for his distinctive voice and innovative guitar playing, Martyn’s albums like Solid Air and One World showcased his ability to create atmospheric and introspective folk compositions. Martyn’s exploration of different genres and incorporation of electronic effects pushed the boundaries of folk music, making him a highly influential figure in the development of progressive folk and the British singer-songwriter tradition.

Nick Drake 

Nick Drake was an English singer-songwriter known for his introspective and hauntingly beautiful folk music. Despite limited commercial success during his lifetime, Drake’s albums like Five Leaves Left (released in 1969), Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon showcased his intricate guitar fingerpicking, delicate vocals, and poetic songwriting. His music reflected a deep introspection and a sense of melancholy, exploring themes of solitude, introspection, and nature. Drake’s unique guitar style, combined with his delicate vocals and poetic lyricism, created an ethereal and emotionally resonant atmosphere in his music. Though his career was tragically short-lived, his posthumous recognition and influence have solidified his place as one of the most revered and influential folk singer-songwriters of all time, and he has garnered a huge and loyal fanbase in the years since his untimely death in 1974.

This is the second installment of our series delving into the decade and how music transformed through an array of genres. The previous blog in the series can be found here.

The 1960s was a transformative decade for music, with Britain playing a central role in shaping its evolution. From the emergence of beat groups to the rise of psychedelic and progressive rock, this era witnessed a profound shift in musical tastes and a proliferation of groundbreaking artists. In this comprehensive exploration of 1960s music, we’ll delve into the major bands and artists of the time, including both household names and lesser-known gems. We’ll examine the evolution of musical genres, from crooners to folk, psychedelia to hard rock, and the cultural movements that accompanied them.

The crooners and the birth of beat groups

At the start of the decade, the influence of crooners like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley still held sway. However, a new wave of bands, collectively known as beat groups, began to emerge, capturing the energy and rebellion of the youth. These bands laid the foundation for the British Invasion that would dominate the international music scene later in the decade.

Notable beat groups:

The Beatles

Formed in Liverpool in 1960, The Beatles consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. They skyrocketed to fame and became one of the most influential bands in history. Their early hits, such as She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand, showcased their catchy melodies and harmonies. As their career progressed, they experimented with different styles and concepts, culminating in groundbreaking albums like Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album. The Beatles’ innovative songwriting, studio experimentation, and cultural impact continue to resonate to this day.

The Rolling Stones

Formed in London in 1962, The Rolling Stones were known for their rebellious image and blues-infused rock sound. Led by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones, the band exuded raw energy and delivered iconic hits like (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Paint It Black, Sympathy for the Devil, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash. With their provocative lyrics and dynamic stage presence, The Rolling Stones became the embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll and continue to be celebrated as one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

The Kinks

Hailing from Muswell Hill, London, The Kinks, led by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, gained prominence with their distinct British sound and sharp social commentary. They produced hits like You Really Got Me, Waterloo Sunset, and Lola, showcasing their knack for catchy melodies and clever lyrics. The Kinks’ music often explored themes of everyday life and British society, making them one of the pioneers of British Invasion rock.

The Who

Known for their powerful and energetic performances, The Who combined hard rock with elements of pop and art rock. Roger Daltrey’s powerful, charismatic vocals, Pete Townshend’s guitar theatrics (and destruction), John Entwistle’s thunderous bass, and Keith Moon’s explosive drumming created a unique sound. Songs like My Generation, Pinball Wizard, Won’t Get Fooled Again, and Baba O’Riley became anthems of youth rebellion and captured the essence of the Mod subculture.

The Hollies

The Hollies, originating from Manchester, blended intricate harmonies with infectious melodies, producing a string of hits throughout the 1960s. Their songs, such as Bus Stop, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, and Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, showcased their polished vocal arrangements and catchy pop sensibilities. The Hollies’ music seamlessly fused elements of pop, rock, and folk, earning them a dedicated fanbase.

The Animals

Originating in Newcastle, The Animals brought a bluesy sound to the British Invasion. Their renditions of songs like House of the Rising Sun, We Gotta Get Out of This Place, and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood showcased Eric Burdon’s distinctive vocals and the band’s powerful instrumentation. The Animals’ gritty and soulful approach to rock music made a lasting impact on the genre.

The Yardbirds

The Yardbirds served as a launching pad for three legendary British guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. They pioneered the blending of blues and rock, producing hits like For Your Love, Heart Full of Soul, and Shapes of Things. Their innovative guitar work, experimentation with psychedelic sounds, and improvisational live performances laid the foundation for the development of hard rock and heavy metal.

The band would eventually morph into a truly giant rock supergroup: Led Zeppelin – but more on them later.

This blog series will focus on the whole decade, so stay tuned to find out what else was happening on the music scene.