How do you like your folk? Whether earthy and traditional or mystical and magical, step into Bella Union’s world of folk music as the independent record label present their playlist in celebration of British Folk Art at Tate Britain

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  • Bella Union
  • British Folk Art Press shot 1
  • British Folk Art Press shot 2
  • Items hanging on the wall for British Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain
  • British Folk art objects
    Clockwise from top right: Chimney sweep sign, painted wood, 1020 x 380 x 250mm; Heart pincushion, fabric, beads and pins; Tin tray covered with boody including part of a broken doll, c.1900, tin and broken ceramic, 420 x 240mm; Joint of beef shop display, painted wood, 195 x 190 x 115mm; Model of a cockerel made of bone, c.1797-1814, carved bone 230 x 120 x 230mm; Bottle with bobbins, glass and bobbins, 300 x 100mm

It was a pleasure putting together this playlist of music inspired by the British Folk Art exhibition. Initially the playlist was going to be strictly by British folk musicians, but this was too limiting. One of the foundations of folk music (and likewise for the ethos of ‘folk’ art in general) is its ability to be shared, covered and adapted and so it would’ve been a shame to not include a few of the tracks below. You can hear Fleet Foxes covering the traditional ballad Silver Dagger, which was made popular by Joan Baez in 1960 on her debut album, and has since been covered by countless other artists.

The song by Vetiver is sung by the mythical and magical Vashti Bunyan, a cover of a song by Kathy Heideman. Andy Cabic, the main maestro behind Vetiver, is a keen crate digger and the song appears on an album called Thing Of The Past, which is a collection of covers of 60s and 70s folk songs. Mountain Man sing the traditional Babylon acapella, which is just about as earthy and traditional as you can get. The Tony Caro and John track is the original version of the Beach House song Lovelier Girl from their first, self titled album. 

Daniel Johnston is perhaps the personification of a folk artist, the musical equivalent of an outsider artist - a Henry Darger or Madge Gill for the ears. Much how the Folk Art show is primarily by self taught artists, Johnston shares a(n extremely) DIY charm to his music. The same can be said of early CocoRosie (they’re much more polished these days). Also included are a couple of songs from the classic Wicker Man film, inspired by the exhibition’s very own straw man. 

Listen to The Sound of British Folk Art playlist on Spotify 

  • 1. The Landlord’s Daughter, Magnet
  • 2. Reason to Believe, Karen Dalton
  • 3. Angie, Bert Jansch
  • 4. I Lost Something in the Hills, Sibylle Baier
  • 5. Stain, Sophie Jamieson
  • 6. Silver Dogger, Fleet Foxes
  • 8. Sleep a Million Years, Vetiver
  • 9. Grievances, Daniel Johnston
  • 10. Silver Coin, Bridget St John
  • 11. The Sky Children, Kaleidoscope
  • 12. Lily Pond, Vashti Bunyan
  • 13. Town Feeling - 2003 - Remaster, Kevin Ayers
  • 14. Terrible Angels, CocoRosie
  • 15. Snowden Song, Tony Caro and John
  • 16. One Man Band - Instrumental, Orchestra
  • 17. See Here, This is the Kit
  • 18. When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease, Roy Harper
  • 19. Masks/Hobby Horse, Magnet
  • 20. Babylon, Mountain Man

British Folk Art is at Tate Britain till 31 August, so this is your last chance to see the works that inspired the playlist. Find out more, buy tickets and plan your visit.