English underground

English underground

:"For the 1960s counter-culture 'underground', see: United Kingdom Underground."

The English underground is a phrase used by those who study and chronicle the arts history of England, especially the musical traditions. It usually refers to popular musicians who have benefited from acquiring the sensibility of native English folk song, as that tradition has been passed down through the generations, often without any formal conveyance.

It was first identified by the neo-romantic historian E.P. Thompson in 1963, in his "The Making of the English Working Class"...

:"We must remember the 'underground' of the ballad singer and the fairground which handed on traditions to the nineteenth century (to the music hall, or Dickens' circus folk or Hardy's pedlars and showmen); for in these ways the 'inarticulate"' [masses of people] "conserve certain values - a spontaneity and capacity for enjoyment and mutual loyalties - despite the inhibiting pressures of magistrates, mill-owners, and Methodists."

The phrase was used, in slightly wider cultural sense than just music, by Jonathon Green in his book "Days In The Life: Voices from the English Underground, 1961-1971" (1988). This was a collection of first-hand accounts of the 1960s pop & rock -based 'underground' counter-culture in England; a counter-culture that often drew on carnivalesque traditions and music hall styles of entertainment.

The term is now often used among educated music fans, to identify a modern song-writing tradition which is usually taken to arise into the past thirty years via the work of Syd Barrett, Robert Wyatt and Nick Drake. "Wire" magazine also regularly applies the term to the gothic-tinged neo-romantic 'post-industrial' music of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil, Current 93 and others - calling it... "a shadowy scene whose work accents peculiarities of Englishness through the links and affinities they've forged with earlier generations of the island's marginals and outsiders."

The term has since been applied to the wider 'underground currents' by which essentially English romantic popular-cultural forms have been conveyed down through the generations, and into different art forms than music.

Casual use of the term

The term "English underground" also very occasionally appears in reference to the English alternative press of the 1960s and 70s; to English underground film of the 1970s; and to the English underground rave music scene of the 1990s. However, here its (often journalistic) use is likely to arise as a simple casual co-joining of two words rather than consciously as a distinct and meaningful phrase.


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