I’ve been writing the songs that may become the Warmwaters second album. While thinking about creating a medieval rock song for them to play, stumbled upon a sub-genre which has given me much pleasure. Medieval Rock. Yes. There are stage-names, (sometimes pointy) guitars, beards, but where else are you going to see or hear ancient bagpipes, shawms and sturdy hurdy gurdies driving a crowd wild? There’s a range of mindsets, worldviews, geographical variations, musical traditions and arrangement choices behind the style that can only be diminished by writing about them, so I’ll just share some of my favourites here. In terms of music and performance, I admire the dedication and seriously playful artistry in this music.
From Belarus, Stary Olsa have been at it a while but have drawn attention to themselves with covers of popular rock songs. A good way in for the way out.
Corvus Corax from Germany describe themselves as playing new medieval music, and these massed bagpipes certainly make an impression. Some of these acts collect and reinterpret genuinely medieval music, lending a scholarly flavour to the good times. There’s a worryingly rally-like flavour to proceedings here, but the same could be said for many festivals, and all those songs with chanty bits that go “Whoooaah- Wooaah!”
In Extremo have been going since ancient times. 1995. They’ve also topped the charts in their native Germany. The blend of hard rock with medieval folk music defines the genre. I have included this clip in tribute to the flaming drumsticks.
Imagine catching the Bohemian Bards down at your local school fete. You can’t. Unless you live in the Czech Republic. Their interest also seems to be in the authenticity of instrument designs.
Serpentyne (UK) refer to themselves as symphonic rock, and maybe are on the outside of the medieval definition, but there’s an enthusiasm for the mystic drama of the historical which finds its way into both the music and the lyrics. This tune, Viking Blood, contains the lyrics ‘once a farmer, now in armour’.
Vogelfrey, again from Germany are also popular, and I included them in this small collection because of their group stylings and movement codes.
I don’t have the privilege of speaking another language, so my pleasure is uncluttered by meaning. I can see how you’d have a lot of fun sending this stuff up, which is done masterfully here by the Horrible Histories team.
My brief survey of Medieval Rock, which initially began to support the writing of a piece of musical comedy, lengthened as I started to enjoy the challenges these musicians must have set for themselves, and met with such enthusiasm and skill. I’m certain I won’t be its equal. It may be fun to make fun of this music , but it looks like it’s enormous fun to make, and is sometimes very very popular. So who’s got the last laugh?
There are many variations and sub-genres which I’ve failed to do justice to in this short post. Much of this work pre-dates the current enthusiasm for medieval style fantasy so dully embodied by things like Game of Thrones. Maybe as the world crowns fools and steadily head back towards a kind of economic feudalism this music will make its way back in from the fringes.