In a fascinating and beautifully produced podcast for Pod Academy, Dave Arthur, author of Bert: The Life and Times of A. L. Lloyd, discusses the life and times AL Lloyd, Britain’s ‘father of folk’, with songwriter and journalist Alan Franks. The wide-ranging interview, which features Bert’s music, covers Bert’s time as a young farm hand in Australia, Communist activism in the UK in the 1930s, travels around Europe in the 1950s recording different native forms of folk music and his later singing, activism and journalism:
AF: It was such a many-faceted life that I imagine that when you first got in touch with those people and heard their testimonies, that it must have been like pulling at the ends of little cords and little bits of rope and you didn’t really know where they were going to go. Were you surprised by the directions in which this research took you?
DA: Absolutely because Bert in later life when I knew him in the sort of ‘60s, ‘70s he was very reticent about his early life, he never mentioned his early life so none of us on the folk scene at that time knew that he’d been a wonderful radio writer. None of us knew about his work as a translator of Lorca or Kafka, none of us knew about his work with the Communist Party of Great Britain, his Marxism, all the stuff he was involved in and the people he knew in London in the left wing literary scene, the artistic scene, he was an absolutely central part of it and none of it came out. And then suddenly I was finding all of these people who said, ‘Bert was this, Bert was that’ and I thought, ‘my god!’
N: Bert was born into a working class family in Tooting, South London, in 1908. By the age of 16, however, he was on the other side of the world, working as a farm hand on the vast open plains of the Australian outback.
AF: We were saying earlier that it was one of those lives that he didn’t live so much as got lived by it. Is that your view, that his life led him?
DA: Well he did follow where it led but also he instigated a lot of things, he had a lot of visions. He wrote a lot of things to the BBC suggesting programmes, he had the idea of the folk revival, he was very involved in industrial folk song so out of Bert’s work you got the whole industrial folk revival in England, in Britain, and the research has gone on since then and collecting and things. You’ve got electric folk, the use in so many bands now use things that came from Bert – like Frank Zappa was a great Bert fan, so he’s had influence in the pop world to a certain extent. People who are now listening to world music are now going back to his early recordings and hearing this wonderful Eastern European music that he recorded in the 50s, so he had a lot influence on all sorts of people, he did.
Visit Pod Academy to listen to and read a full transcript of the interview.
The Life and Times of A. L. Lloyd
Dave Arthur. Foreword by Richard Thompson OBE. Preface by Rt. Hon. Sir Stephen Sedley
The definitive biography of the folk legend and left-wing activist.
“When everyone else was listening to Cream, I was listening to A. L. Lloyd.
“I’m old enough and have been close enough to many of the events recounted in this thoroughly but sympathetically researched book to recognise the ring of truth when I hear it.” – Bill Leader, record producer (Bert Jansch)