Anyway, continuing for a moment the Paul Kingsnorth theme (yes I know, I know), back in April Paul had a feature published in The Telegraph about three jolly fellows who roam the country, forage for bantam egg sandwiches in hedgerows, sleep 'neath the stars and sing for their supper. It is worth a read.
'People like to put labels on us’, explains Ginger. ‘Troubadour, minstrel...’
…Busker? Tramp? Now it would be very easy to poke snarky fun at Ed, Will and Ginger. Which, in itself, is no reason not to do so: the juxtaposition of their anti-modern values and the Web 2.0 technologies they use to promote them is inherently amusing, or at least worthy of a middling Mitchell & Webb sketch. They regale passers-by with songs of the “riddle-me-fal-de-roddle-o” variety and then hand out cards promoting their website, which includes MP3 downloads. The incongruity is perfectly captured in this picture, in which one of the minstrels, ensconced in a suitably rustic pub, taps away at a spanking laptop which, presumably, he had to do a bit more than sing for.
But – as with poets, or British surfers who embrace the bleach-blonde Zen-lite lifestyle to its full extent – Ed, Will and Ginger are only laughable to the degree that they take the thing seriously. If the project is seen as a bit of adventure, as fun, as source material for a book and a website – even as a way of promoting folk music – then it is rather admirable, in the same way that anything involving a bit of pluck and determination is admirable.
They only become ridiculous if they are described in terms of a political movement. As Vern points out below, it is telling that Kingsnorth’s article appears in the Telegraph, when the Grauniad would seem his natural home. In fact, a major part of Kingsnorth’s worldview is a sort of British crunchy conservatism (although, to certain temperaments, the very act of protesting against the mainstream is in itself more important than any worldview the protester hopes to realise).
The central conceit of this brand of crunchiness is the idea that the modern world, and its cultural, economic and political structures, is erected on a bedrock of national folk traditions. The modern structures depend on greed and shallow individualism and are less ‘real’ than the rootsy, earthy things that underpin them. And, hope the more eschatological crunchies, they can be peeled away or might one day collapse under their own gluttonous weight, to reveal the Leveller’s idyl that always lay beneath.
The crunchies, of course, have it all the wrong way round. The idyl is mythical, the crafts (here Ginger carves a wooden spoon and blogs about it!) are Dressing-Up Box imitations of grim rural poverty. Alternative lifestyles can only spring up and flourish because supporting them is the thing they are an alternative to: a complex web of tax credits, tax payers, economic freedoms and restrictions, healthcare services, pension provisions and so on. Without the context of the liberal democracy they profess to despise, the crunchies are entirely meaningless. Nothing wrong with having folksy types about the place – they add to the richness and variety of life, and nobody loves a traditional English pub more than I do – but as emblems of a political vision they’re hopeless.
Ed, Will and Ginger illustrate the problem neatly. They can sleep rough and walk all day because they are young, fit and healthy, have no family responsibilities or dependents and are free to live entirely self-gratifying lives. They are impeccably well-spoken middle-class beneficiaries of a good education, acting out Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood fantasies. Tattooed men in tracksuits tap their feet to the rhythm, writes Kingsnorth revealingly, but it’s hard to imagine ‘Ed, Will and Ginger’ being replaced by ‘Lee, Jase and Scott’.
Above all, their method of supporting themselves is not in any sense scalable. They can exist as troubadours only because troubadours are scarce. “We want to show that it’s still possible to do things like this, and the only way to show that is by example. We’re sowing seeds, I suppose…” insists Ed. But if everyone takes to the lanes and dines on wild garlic, the lanes will soon lose their appeal and the wild garlic will have to be farmed to meet demand. They can only get a free supper from the friendly pub landlord because the landlord’s other customers are prepared to pay him. And the landlord is only willing to give them supper in exchange for a song because they are a novely act: if thirty or forty Ginger-inspired troubadours come tramping in every night offering a rustic ballad as payment for pie and chips, he’d soon be booting them out on their bottoms.
Fortunately, Will, Ed and Ginger don’t really seem to take themselves all that seriously. Their blog is rather enjoyable, they seem like decent coves and their singing is nice. The appeal of their 'endless' Walk, however, can’t last, because eventually they won’t be young enough and they’ll either meet women and stop, or carry on and grow mad, ill and unattractively trampish. And in fact it turns out that Ginger has already left the band, citing artistic differences. So, as they like to say, it goes.