Joe Boyd | World Pioneer Award 2023 | Songlines

World Pioneer Award

Joe Boyd

Songlines World Pioneer 2023
White Bicycles Making Music In The 1960S

“I’m very honoured,” are the first words that come out of Joe’s mouth when we tell him of the award. Of course, it can’t have been too unexpected, considering what a vital champion of both folk and world music Boyd has been over the years, and how many times he’s featured in our pages.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Boyd got his start fresh out of college in 1964 when he was asked to manage a tour for Muddy Waters and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He then worked at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965 when Dylan fever was at its peak, before moving to London to open the UK office of Elektra Records.

In London he started the UFO Club, the hub of ‘psychedelic London’ and recorded two of the club’s regular bands, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine. However, it was for two of the biggest folk groups of the time that he made his name: Fairport Convention and Incredible String Band – with his productions of Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan only getting their dues years later. He would also produce Toots & The Maytals and South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana before starting his own label, Hannibal Records, in 1980. Kate & Anna McGarrigle recorded for Hannibal, as well as many former Fairport Convention members (Richard & Linda Thompson’s early 80s albums being the big sellers). The label increasingly looked at artists from outside of the UK and North America, releasing albums by Muzsikás, Ketama and Kanda Bongo Man with Boyd producing or co-producing records by Ivo Papasov & His Bulgarian Wedding Band, Toumani Diabaté and ¡Cubanismo!.

In recent years he has hasn’t stopped, producing albums by Damir Imamović and Maya Youssef, with his championing of music from Bulgaria and Albania vitally important in their reputation overseas.

Boyd wrote a memoir in 2006, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, which covered his entry into music and his various dalliances into folk and psychedelic rock in the 60s. Excitingly, he will be releasing a follow-up in 2024 that will cover his interest in world music, and how music from around the world has had an impact on Western popular music. He tells us that the book is about his stories and “the back stories” of world music, adding: “you realise this phenomenon of the West’s fascination with music from over the horizon goes back a very long way. I’ve got a scathing review that Charles Dickens wrote about a Zulu choir in 1853. The book goes back into the origins of all the music that we’ve grown to love and how much interaction there’s been over the years. It’s a doorstop! I’ve been working on it for many, many years.” It’s true, he told us about the book back in 2013.

Expanding on his love of music from around the world, which has increasingly become the focus of his production work, he once told us: ‘I think most world music fans are looking for what we’ve lost in our own culture – great playing or singing, a strong personality and a connectedness to a tradition.’ I don’t think many could argue that he has delivered on bringing those exact qualities time and time again over the years. Thanks Joe, a worthy winner of this year’s World Pioneer. RUSS SLATER JOHNSON

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