28 August 2015

High lonesome below sea level

The book High lonesome below sea level: faces and stories of bluegrass music in the Netherlands, with text by Loes van Schaijk and photographs by Marieke Odekerken (on the right and left respectively in the colour photo), has already been reviewed by Niall Toner on the Prescription Bluegrass Blog and by Richard Thompson on Bluegrass Today. Why here? Well, at least twelve of its 112 pages comprise photos, interviews, and biographical details of artists well known in Ireland (all the Blue Grass Boogiemen and non-German members of 4 Wheel Drive). It sets high standards of research and presentation for any writer on the history of bluegrass outside the USA; will Ireland ever have anything comparable?

Over ninety people contributed their stories to the book. Much of their experiences and views will be recognisable and familiar to bluegrass enthusiasts in any country. The photos,* though, are a constant reminder that these are strongly individual people, all but a few of whom are Netherlanders. The text originated in research for a master's degree thesis on Americanisation of European culture. In the Belgian play and film The Broken Circle Breakdown (mentioned in this book), the central male character has an attachment to bluegrass that is linked to an idealised image of America. In contrast, Loes found that for many of her informants 'Americanness' was irrelevant - what drew them to bluegrass was the sound of the music.

High lonesome below sea level was published in May, in time for major bluegrass events in the Netherlands; photos of Doyle Lawson receiving a presentation copy at Utrecht can be seen on the book's Facebook page. It can be bought for €30.00 (plus P&P) via the book's website. The BIB editor is grateful to the good friends who brought him a copy.

*PS: Credit to Richard Thompson for drawing attention to the fact that the photos are also gateways to more about the people shown: as the note following the foreword says, 'Listen to music and/or find more information by scanning the pictures in this book with the Layar app.'
Among other work in education and culture, Loes plays bass and sings lead in Red Herring (NL), who will be playing next month at this year's Moniaive Michaelmas Bluegrass Festival and other venues in Scotland (20-26 Sept. 2015). Red Herring is also on Facebook and has its own YouTube channel.

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