Traditional music from the Netherlands Part V:
For this edition of traditional music in the Netherlands I talked to Rob Smaling. He came to my attention when I found out that he was part of the Dutch folkscene, not only during the revival in the seventies, but also before this period. Besides that he was a member of one of the first bands who recorded traditional Dutch material called; Wargaren. For a whole afternoon we sat down and he told me his story, showed me old pictures and we listened to some unique recordings. This article is just a small reflection of an intriguing afternoon of Dutch folkrevival history.
Already in the sixties Rob showed an interest in folkmusic. First by listening to the heroes of that period, later as a musician himself.
Rob: 'I got interested in folk music by listening to artists such as Dylan and Baez. Reading about Dylan led me to Woody Guthrie and other aspects of traditional American folkmusic. It was an early lp by Alex Campbell called Way out West, with American folksongs that got my attention and I found out he had recorded English songs as well. It was the way he arranged old songs; with respect but also in his own natural way. It's hard to explain why this was the music that I liked, it must have something to do with emotion. I mean, you like a certain style or you don't like it. I might as well have liked classical music. When I got interested in folkmusic the researcher in me came to life. I kept on searching for backgrounds and connections and slowly but surely I discovered the richness of folkmusic. For instance finding out that many American songs could be traced back to the British Isles made me become aware of all these wonderful mechanisms in traditional culture.
It was also Dylan who made me decide to be a musician myself I started of with the blues, mainly bottleneck style. The inspiration came from a American Folkblues Festival concert, I attended one day in Amsterdam in 1967. It featured heroes like Bukka White, Skip James and most of all Son House. A short time after , that same year, there was a folk-talenthunt in Utrecht, my hometown, and I took my chance. I started off with a blues. There was a lot of mumbling in the audience and among jury members after this first song and I thought they didn't like it at all. So I decided to do an Alex Campbell song instead of a second blues. Afterwards I found out I didn't win the contest because of that second choice. The mumbling jury appeared to have been very impressed by the blues performance.
This folk-talenthunt had produced a lot of new unknown musicians and some people took the initiative to start a club where they could perform about once each two weeks. This must have been about 1966, Folk Centre Utrecht (FCU) was born. In the beginning I took part as musician, later on I started to do some soundengineering. At the end of the sixties we even released an lp with all musicians who regularly played at the club. The lp was recorded in a small office, cables under the door and the musicians in another room, almost like the old field-recordings. Gradually I started participating in the organisation of the club. In the years that followed we started setting up festivals, this happened in 1970, 74 and 76. One of those festivals had Scottish music (amongst others with the McCalmans and researcher Hamish Henderson) as central theme. I already had an interest in Dutch traditional music. So when at one of these festivals musicians asked us if we didn't have Dutch material because we always copied English songs, for me that was the final push to dig deeper into our own traditional music culture.'
Already on the FCU lp Rob plays with his group Pitchwheel English songs. This group would later turn into Wargaren and record one of the first and one of the best, Dutch acoustic folk records.
Recommended recordings by Rob Smaling
Rob Smaling also choose some Dutch/Belgian records that in his opinion were highlights in the Dutch folk scene.
Informations to the photos:
(1) Resting his case: Rob Smaling Today, a selfportrait.
(2) 1967 talentcontest picture: Rob in his Robert Johnson look trying to win the Talenthunt.
(3) Rob Smaling in wargaren.
(4) Rob Samling solo in the seventies.
(5) Rob smaling in Deining
Do you have any questions about the article? Do you want more information? Are you interested in one of the albums mentioned above? Feel free to contact me any time; also with suggestions for future articles etc or comments on this article. Eelco Schilder
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