The genre of English folk music hasn’t always been progressive. Now, queer-friendly collectives such as Bogha-frois and FemFolk are narrating LGBTQ stories through traditional music and flourishing. A Scottish singer-songwriter and fiddle-player, Pedro Cameron, set up Bogha-frois (Gaelic for ‘rainbow’) in 2018 with the belief that “the tradition [of folk music]is storytelling” and “the point is that stories change all the time.” “You don’t have to just sing old songs,” he explained. After debuting their first gig at Celtic Connections in 2019, the Bogha-frois collective was subsequently invited back in 2020. Both years’ gigs showcased various queer musicians from up-and-coming songwriters, Finn Anderson and Scarlett Randle to established traditional performers Anna Massie and Rachel Sermanni. In their first year, the gig had “felt like a bit of a gamble”, shared Cameron. They were unsure of who their audience would be and who would attend but eventually it turned out that there was a “whole audience of people that were waiting for it.”
On the final night of the Celtic Connections festival 2020, the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall saw a variety evening with performances from some of the biggest names in the genre. However, in the Strathclyde Suite, the Bogha-frois project had brought together queer folk musicians from Scotland and beyond – A Cajón drum displayed “Trans rights are human rights” marked out in black tape and a rainbow-colored fiddle was lit up at the back of the stage, reported Harry Harris of The Guardian. Harris also explained that this year’s Pride month saw events that acknowledged the “richness of queer identity” and the increasing part of folk music in that because queer artists are using It to “communicate their experiences” by speaking to a community whose stories are rare in the genre. Additionally, Canadian folk songwriter and founder of FemFolk, Ariana Brophy stated, “folk songs and clubs are overwhelmingly dominated by men, in intimidatingly masculine and hetero-normative contexts,” – Hence attempts are being made to create a space outside the traditional circle. Similar to Bogha-frois, Brophy set up FemFolk to support women, non-binary and intersex artists in the UK folk scene – The artist explained that such artist can end up stuck in a bind because “their ability to find audiences is directly linked to the support they receive, which is directly linked to the number of opportunities available to them,” referring to the Spotify playlist statistics which show that the number of listeners for women and non-binary musicians are very less compared to the number for male artists.
While queer stories had made their way into folk music in the past – Billy Bragg and Kirsty MacColl had sung Sexuality – “an elated hymn to sexual liberation” – in 1991 while Tom Robinson had released Glad to Be Gay way back in 1978— they are not front and center in the folk scene, as experienced by Jane Edwardson (musical director of an LGBT community choir, Gay Abandon) when preparing for a queer-themed folk set which would be “quite a big change for Gay Abandon,” she said. “I wanted to bring in songs that they could relate to, that would be impactful for now,” explained Edwardson.
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