FOLK N’ FUSION, it’s official! Randall Stephen Hall explains his original brand…

FOLK N’ FUSION, it’s official!
Randall Stephen Hall explains his original brand of music
and the phrase he coined, to describe it.

When I was a wee man I tended to listen to everything around me as I was growing up in the little cultural bubble we now know as Northern Ireland. We tend to look beyond ourselves and these shores for many of our loves in music, which in turn, influences us when we play music locally.

Whether it was Jazz, Rock n’ Roll, Folk, Pop or Comedy on the radio it all went into my wee lugs. I didn’t differentiate between the sounds, other than to decide whether I liked it or not.

This was the deciding factor. Did I like it? Did it move me? Move me enough to want to hear it again or buy a record?

I was very influenced by my older brother and sister, who both had very wide tastes in music. My brother had all manner of stuff in his record collection from Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Still Nash & Young, the Dubliners, Van Morrison to The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Lindisfarne, Harry Nilsson and Elton John. The Beatles too. My sister, on the older hand liked Soul music and Black music in general, along with the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and Led Zeppelin.

One common theme in a lot of this music was harmonies and background vocals. I would have a lot of admiration for American Doo Wop groups of the 1950’s along with many Blues players, R&B and rhythm in general.

When I was in my early teens I got a guitar, paid for five lessons without any real musical ambitions other than being curious about the sound you could make. Around the age of sixteen I got a Burns and Mullen electric guitar and a tiny WEM amp my friends referred to as “The Matchbox”. I was invited to join a garage band with friends from school, called ESSENCE. We just did covers.

At art college in Belfast I played in another group called SIXTELÉ. This was during the Punk era. We played in the Harp Bar and other local venues with punks (who actually looked like punks). So if I ever was a punk, I must have internalized it.

This, of course, was during the Troubles. They began in 1969, just as I was moving on to grammar school which broadened my horizons in some ways, with music and art, history and English, the main components of what I do now. I wasn’t thinking of this at the time. I was just drawn to certain subjects. Living in Belfast, tended to make you develop inward looking and insular hobbies. Song writing was one of them.

After college I worked in a few local Advertising Agencies before going freelance to specialize as an illustrator in advertising and design for over ten years. All these experiences taught me a lot but again reflected an eclectic approach to my art, in general.

I left art college in 1980 and continued to write songs going though a period of about five years where I created a lot of home recordings with two friends. We called ourselves MUDSI MUNTU, an African word, meaning “Men of the Village”. Derek, one of the musicians had lived in Africa as a child. We were aware of events in Soweto, South Africa, around 1980, where it was illegal to record on a Sunday.

We happened to get together on a Sunday afternoon and even then, a few of our tracks were influenced by African High Life music, along with folk, funk and other styles. It never seemed right to stick to one thing.We never played live, creating three song collections.

I got married in 1983 (just celebrated thirty years) and took up wall papering, gardening, knocking down walls, stripping floors and all the usual stuff. Our daughters were born in 1985 and 1987. I went freelance in 1988 so the music almost stopped completely. My output reduced to a trickle. However, I kept on getting ideas while my main focus was on creating images.

Time passed and through creating a few self published books I was asked to come and tell some stories in schools, which I enjoyed doing. One thing I would bring along was a Kenyan hand drum, which makes a great sound. A present from a Tear Fund shop in Belfast.

As I had little or no recording equipment I began to write songs on the drum and record them onto cassette until I got a laptop in 2006. (Though my use of computers began in 1997.) The laptop came with a little recording programme called Garage Band and, over time, I began to fall into home recording once again, after a wee gap of twenty four years.

In 2009 I created a wee collection of songs and poems. One of my initial experiments at recording was “The Wee Wee Man”. It’s amazing what you can create with a laptop and a tiny USB mic. I had a lot of fun with that and because of my Ferguson side of the family, this track came out all “North Antrim” in sound, yet with a Kenyan hand drum. (Hey boy! That’s Cookin !’.) I was touching base with just a few of my ancestors. The voices and the humour reflect that. Where as “The Reiver and the Gael” shows a more serious side to my writing.

I happened to get some fairly regular airplay on the Gerry Anderson Radio Show, in 2010 on BBC, Radio Foyle, Radio Ulster. It was Gerry who got me to play live again on the radio, along with my friend John McKeever who got me back into playing and writing songs as well as playing the mandolin. Playing with Barry Tipping, Rohan Young and Michael Sands has been great craic too, in “The Moon Shed”, along with other traditional musicians like Aodán Mac Shéafraidh

So hopefully you are getting an inkling that this “FOLK & FUSION” didn’t begin a few years ago with recent recordings. It very much depended on who my ancestors were. My father played piano by ear and my mother sang in the Ulster singers. I grew up watching American musicals, the radio, plus the music of my brother and sister. All before I touched a guitar. When I did, I loved the drone of two stings playing off each other.

So I suppose “FOLK & FUSION” is more about an attitide, an open attitude, to ideas, culture and music. I am a fusion of many things. I accept that and I am open to what that opportunity brings. Folk and Fusion is an unusual field.

My change in the spelling to “Folk n’ Fusion” is just because I like to make people smile at themselves and at their rich, varied cultural traditions, here on this wee sod, Culbeg, the music from the wee corner.

In up-loading my music at My Space and Sound I was asked, what genre the music was. So I just came up with the term “Folk n’ Fusion”, partly because it was a good description and partly because it made me smile