by Becky Derbyshire
Do we not all have one of those friends who just seems to be able to discover bands and singers who no-one else has heard of? Mine introduced me to bluegrass through a band who I most cordially encourage you to seek out, Nickel Creek. Impressive enough on CD, on stage they are open-mouth gawpingly awesome. It is only on stage that you can fully appreciate the skill, talent and downright enthusiasm that bluegrass musicians have for their genre.Bluegrass has only had an impact on mainstream British music fairly recently. Often mistaken for folk music, bluegrass in fact has many influences on it. The genre combines old-time British and Irish inspiration with a great African-American influence (gospel, ragtime, jazz and blues all having their effects), to create a mesh of sometimes toe-tapping and sometimes incredibly soothing music.The father of the genre however was one Billy Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. The band formed in 1939, but it was only in 1945 when Earl Scruggs, a banjo player, joined the group with his distinctive playing style (a three-fingered roll on the banjo) that this new genre of music actually developed.It only became truly distinctive in the mid-1950s during the emergence of Rock and Roll, and whilst electric guitars began to be strummed by the fingers of many Country players, the Bluegrass players stuck to their acoustic instruments. There has indeed been much debate between those in the know as to what constitutes a bluegrass band, Most accept the benchmark of a fiddle, a five string banjo, a mandolin and an upright bass. Nevertheless, there have been movements in recent years to more progressive bluegrass music with some electric instruments.Like with any style of music boundaries are flexible and the style of bluegrass in often very varied. One of the few guarantees of bluegrass though is that the music is likely to be very technically demanding with fast and complex melodies often being improvised. Indeed the great aptitude of these players is amazing when one considers that often all within the band are not only good singers but virtuoso musicians.With the fusion of different styles that have influenced this genre, there is a little of something for everyone. From the pure and meaty sounds of Flatt and Scruggs, to the silky feather-light voice of Allison Krauss, to the more progressive sounds of ‘newgrass’ with Nickel Creek, Bluegrass is a well worth giving some ear time to.