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Ken Russell 'In Search of the English Folk Song' (1997)

| Documentary, Music
This documentary begins with Ken Russell posing the question: "What is a true English folk song, if there is such a thing?" After recieving an indifferent response from his dog, Ken ... See full summary »


Ken Russell


Ken Russell


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Credited cast:
Ken Russell ... Presenter
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Bob Appleyard Bob Appleyard ... Singer 'The Fawley Flame'
Eliza Carthy Eliza Carthy ... Herself - Singer ("Good Morning Mr Walker")
Waterson Carthy Waterson Carthy ... Themselves - Singers ('Stars in my Crown')
Chris While and The Albion Band Chris While and The Albion Band ... Themselves - Singers ('Young Man Cut Down in his Prime')
Donovan ... Himself - Singer ('Nirvana')
Fairport Convention Fairport Convention ... Themselves ("Seventeen Come Sunday")
Garry Fenna Garry Fenna ... Himself - Singer ("Going to put a Bar in my Car and Drive myself to Drink")
Lynne Fortt Lynne Fortt ... Herself - Singer ("Down at Greenham Common on a Spree")
Carole Harwood Carole Harwood ... Herself -Singer ('East Boldre Trinity')
Osibisa Osibisa ... Themselves - Singers: 'Sunshine Day'
The Percy Grainger Chamber Orchestra The Percy Grainger Chamber Orchestra ... Themselves (song "In an english county garden")
Sian Elizabeth Rees Sian Elizabeth Rees ... Herself -Singer ('Brigg Fair')
Edward the Second Edward the Second ... Themselves (as Edward II) - Singers ('Shepherd's Hey')
June Tabor June Tabor ... Herself - Singer ("The King of Rome")


This documentary begins with Ken Russell posing the question: "What is a true English folk song, if there is such a thing?" After recieving an indifferent response from his dog, Ken journeys around the countryside of England searching for an answer. He bumps into and interviews such famous artists as; Donovan, Fairport Convention, Osibisa, Eliza Carthy, So What, Edward II and The Albion Band among others. Written by Archie Moore <spicarch@hotmail.com>

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User Reviews

The great filmmaker's personalized documentary
2 February 2016 | by lor_See all my reviews

The late Ken Russell is my favorite filmmaker, who I was fortunate enough to meet and whose career I followed closely for over 40 years, through highs (top of the world circa 1971) and lows (the amateurism of his later efforts). This TV documentary is light and fanciful but incorporates many autobiographical themes and strengths of the oft-misunderstood maestro.

As in an earlier TV opus, "Ken Russell's ABC of British Music", he is able to enliven even a catalog-style, laundry-list subject, akin to that old saw about an actor (name your poison, John Gielgud, Glenda Jackson or whomever) who could make reading the phone book aloud entertaining.

With his kindly producer Maureen Murray occasionally in tow, Ken sets about his country environs to find itinerant and sometimes famous people who sing traditional songs, or revamped, updated versions of same. In an interview with an expert from The Albion Band, we learn the key characteristics of British Folk music, dating back to a time before radio & TV when one had to make one's own entertainment, and the direct, honest simplicity of the form.

Such music often delivered a message, and Ken has survivors of a key anti- Nukes protest of the '80s at the scene of their run-in with the Law, singing a vintage song they performed back then.

Pro acts include Donovan hitchhiking, singing to Murray and Ken "Nirvana" as he comments on the influence of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on his life and music when he went with the Beatles to visit him in India in the '60s. Donovan's simple rendition has within it haunting memories of the style of George Harrison, no coincidence.

Cleverly interwoven with Ken's newly shot music-video style recordings of locals (he helped invent the modern music video format with "Tommy" and other works) is 1997 festival footage of huge crowds enjoying the work of Fairport Convention, Eliza Carthy and a hokey, showmanship oriented reggae band Edward II, with on-stage antics and performers demonstrative of the Russell/Fellini circus approach.

Throughout the deceptively simple hour we catch many verbal snatches of Russell's own life, as he sentimentally recalls and integrates with the music his early history as Royal Navy sailor and ballet dancer, and memorably sitting in a gazebo outdoors leafing through a stack of 78rpm disks as he tells his friendly RCA dog Nipper about the vast range of music that could qualify, singing snatches drawn from sea ballads, music hall, singalongs from the Great War trenches, football cheers, nursery rhymes and the like. Pioneers like Percy Grainger get their due along the way and though he's admittedly merely scratched the surface of a broad subject there is something endearing about his honest and sincerely embedded approach to covering the subject.

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