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Music of the United Kingdom

Music from the United Kingdom has achieved great international popularity since the 1960s, when the British Invasion peaked. Since then, the UK has produced numerous popular performers in far-ranging fields from heavy metal to folk-rock and drum n bass, as well as undergoing a renaissance in the ancient forms of folk music indigenous to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

 This article is an overview of the 
Music of the United Kingdom series.
 English folk
 Irish folk
 Scottish folk
 Welsh folk
 Cornish and Manx folk
 Early British popular music
 1950s and 60s

Table of contents
1 Folk music
2 Early British popular music
3 1950s and 60s: Importation and Exportation
4 1970s: Rock splinters, Jamaican and Indian music
5 1980s
6 1990s: Britpop and techno
7 References
8 External links

Folk music

There are four primary components of the United Kingdom, each with their own diverse and distinctive folk music forms - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition, there are numerous distinct and semi-distinct folk traditions from the Isle of Man, Cornwall and the Channel Islands, as well as immigrants from Jamaica, India and other parts of the world.

English folk music

Main article: Music of England

English traditional music is an extremely broad concept, as there is much variety between the different regions of England. Folk music varies across Northumbria, Kent, Sussex and Yorkshire, and even within cities like London. England's Martin Carthy was perhaps the most influential traditional English performer of the 20th century, alongside the Copper Family and the Waterson Family, who helped inspire a roots revival later in the century.

Irish folk music

Main article: Music of Ireland

Of all the regions of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland (and its neighbor, the Republic of Ireland) has the most vibrant folk traditions. Traditional bands including instruments like fiddles have remained throughout the centuries even as analogues on Britain died out. Traditional music includes a wide array of traditional dances and songs, many of which have had a major impact on British popular music.

Scottish folk music

Main article: Music of Scotland

Scottish folk music includes many kinds of songs, including ballads and laments, sung by a single singer with accompaniment by bagpipes, fiddles or harps. Traditional dances include waltzes, reels, strathspeys and jigs. Alongside the other areas of the United Kingdom, Scotland underwent a roots revival in the 1960s. Cathy-Ann McPhee and Jeannie Robertson were the heroes of this revival, which inspired some revolutions in band formats by groups like The Clutha, The Whistlebinkies, The Boys of the Lough, Incredible String Band and The Chieftains.

Welsh folk music

Main article: Music of Wales

Wales is a Celtic country that features folk music played at twmpathau (communal dances) and gwyl werin (music festivals). Having long been subordinate to English culture, Welsh musicians in the late 20th century had to reconstruct traditional music when a roots revival began. This revival began in the late 1970s and achieved some mainstream success in the UK in the 80s with performers like Robin Huw Bowen, Moniars and Gwerinos.

Early British popular music

Main article: Early British popular music

Beginning in the 16th century, printed broadside ballads were the first genre of British popular music. These were lyrics transcribed and eventually printed (after the invention of the printing press) and meant to be sung to some well-known tune. They were popular until the early 20th century, when a combination on newspapers and recording technology made them obsolete.

After the industrial revolution, bars that proved musical entertainment arose, fuelling demand for popular songs and professional songwriters. These bars were called music halls.

1950s and 60s: Importation and Exportation

Main article: Music of the United Kingdom (1950s and 60s)

The 1950s saw most of the world that had access to records listening to American rock and roll, especially the country-rock hybrid rockabilly, exemplified by superstars like Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. Though most countries soon developed their own rock traditions, it was the United Kingdom that evolved its own distinctive scene, making American traditions into distinctively British ones, and eventually adding influences from English, Scottish and Irish folk music. By the middle of the 1960s, British artists had grown so adept at British-style rock, R&B and blues that the British Invasion occurred, and artists began to popularize more authentic forms of American roots music in the States than had previously found mainstream success there, while highly-evolved forms of rock like heavy metal and progressive rock were developing into full-fledged genres of British popular music. British music in the 60s also saw a roots revival of folk music, beginning with England and Northern Ireland before spreading to Scotland, Wales and, eventually, even smaller cultural regions like Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Northumbria.

1970s: Rock splinters, Jamaican and Indian music

Main article: Music of the United Kingdom (1970s)

In the 1970s, the United Kingdom saw intense diversification in both popular and folk music. Heavy metal evolved from pioneers like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath into the hard-edged, complex music of bands like Iron Maiden. Progressive rock grew extremely popular, with ever-increasingly "progressive" elements added in the form of obtuse lyrics, classical-tinged music and long-playing suites in multiple parts. The reaction against progressive rock was swift, as the genre came to be perceived as needlessly obscure and inaccessible; a new generation of British youth hated progressive rock and the bombastic, indulgent sounds of heavy metal, disco and glam. They were called punks, and their music was loud, angry, rebellious punk rock. Punk became well-known after the coming of the Sex Pistols and their anarchist, incendiary lyrics which attacked the pillars of British society, such as the monarchy. In its purest form, however, it was short-lived; the energy could not be sustained, especially after anti-pop bands like The Clash found mainstream success and became unwilling pop stars. The 1970s saw tremendous changes in folk music as well, which saw the development of folk-rock fusions and powerful singer-songwriter traditions and the evolution of popular forms of folk-based music from the United Kingdom's Jamaican and Indian immigrant communities.


In the 1980s, the spirit of punk rock fuelled a gaggle of new genres that took stylistic elements of punk and added new approaches and influences. The first of these developments was New Wave music, which featured atmospheric accompaniment to dreamy, otherworldly vocals. New Wave was very popular in the early 1970s, while other, less mainstream outgrowths of punk developed underground. These included an ever-increasing number of alternative rock subgenres, including The Cure and Joy Division's Gothic rock and psychedelic-influenced bands like The Smiths and Jesus & Mary Chain. The latter was the primary impetus behind the growth of new genres late in the decade, including Madchester and shoegazing, both of which incorporated more pop structures into alternative rock and led to the next decade's Britpop explosion. The 1980s also saw tremendous diversification and modernisation of the sounds of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, especially bhangra, which fused traditional Punjabi music with the burgeoning house music scene. House and allied genres like techno music evolved out of a complex electronic music scene in 1970s United States, but began to grow popular as part of club culture in 80s Britain, where it spawned numerous subgenres like drum n bass.

1990s: Britpop and techno

Two genres that remained mostly underground throughout the 80s burst into the mainstream around the middle of the decade. Britpop was a fusion of all the alternative rock stylings of the previous two decades, with a special focus on neo-psychedelia and it began to dominate the charts, while house techno music and its various subgenres, and the entire club culture, became increasingly mainstream. Electronic music began fusing with rock, hip hop and other genres, producing fusions like trip hop.

See also: Culture of the United Kingdom


External links