British Folk Music

September 19, 2016 : Gilmore and Roberts, “Doctor James”

So no doubt you have come across to see my video of the week (yes week, the monthly thing was too short even after one month).

If you have not read my blog post on Gilmore and Roberts and their appearance to crowds at the Doncaster Folk Music Festival, you are of course invited to here.

If not, lets just say they left a lasting impression, so the folk video of the week I think belongs to “Doctor James” from their 2012 album “The Innocent Left”.

It was a tough choice with the video, they have an extensive body of work and there are so many great numbers, but I will try and explain my thoughts below.

“Doctor James” is a song based on the historical person “James Barry”, an Irish military surgeon who was in the British Army. Unremarkable this seems in itself, when the good doctor passed away following dysentry and examined on the table it turned out that Doctor James was in fact a woman. Quite remarkably he fooled everybody including Florence Nightingale and several other contemporaries. He was by all accounts a cantankerous but powerful advocate for equal rights and access to healthcare and in works alone is a worthwhile subject of study.

Off the bat it is an interesting story for an interesting life and Gilmore and Roberts bring it to life in a thrilling way.

The music video is almost guerilla-style, it almost looks like they scouted for the best 5 metre square patch of autumn leaves in the woods and hankered down on it for the four and a half minutes duration. The moving spotlight half shows and half hides, it is masterful conveyance of the hidden parts of Dr James’ life, it gives the video a slightly ghoulish, haunting feel; Dr James was considered a difficult person even if accomplished, he is almost being channelled here in the modern day. The song doesn’t let up, it paces through quite briskly and yet packs a lot of historical information in while it does so. The lyrics are snappy and their delivery is smooth and rich, it is by all means a cool song. As previously mentioned in my other post, the arranging of all these components of folk into an exceptional working package takes some effort, to make it a great sounding song is something else again.

Most importantly it is like a crossover hit. It is undoubtedly folk, yet the cinematography is near modern, for some reason it reminds me of the music videos directed for some of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hits (maybe a less satanic Y Control), which is certainly a good thing. There is a lot of red here, everything not the main artists is red. I did not know there were this many red things in the world. It’s significance is not apparent to myself though it does pierce the moving darkness of the video shot, it adds another dimension to the video and is in itself a discussion point. The artists both look slick, and wear red face-paint with grim, beautiful determination.

Well played with exceedingly well intonation, and a sharp beat and sound it stands on it’s own legs throughout and above the genre it is placed in.

Give it a go, click the video above see if you agree 🙂

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