Southern Tenant Folk Union at South StreetBy Willie Douglas
January 09, 2013
Seven-piece bluegrass collective Southern Tenant Folk Union (STFU) make a welcome return to South Street on Saturday.
The Edinburgh-based acoustic combo delighted the audience at South Street last year with their Celtic-tinged take on old-time Americana, and this time they are back touring material from their newly launched fifth album Hello Cold Goodbye Sun.
STFU are a tight outfit – literally. They gather cheek by jowl round a single microphone in the style of an old-time American string band. When a vocalist or musician takes a lead, they approach the microphone for extra volume, calling for some fancy footwork and making for a genuinely acoustic show.
Although now riding the crest of a resurgent wave of interest in acoustic styles, the band actually formed back in 2006. The name comes from a progressive tenant farmers’ union that came together in Arkansas in the 1930s. So does that mean there is a political edge to the band?
“I can’t speak for everyone in the band, but personally, yes,” says vocalist and band leader Pat McGarvey. “I purposely named the band after a union, in defence of the attack on unions from the media and the right as being the cause of holding back social progress.
“Now we can see that it was actually big business and the greed of a handful of individuals that got us in the mess we’re in now.”
McGarvey, ex-bass player with bluegrass giants The Coal Porters, says he runs the band as a ‘benign dictatorship but in a collective way’.
Some tough decisions had to be made on what material was included on the album and what was binned.
“With so many people contributing to the songwriting process, it’s hard to get things sounding consistent,” explains Pat.
“Everyone gets the chance to contribute and vote on the material that ends up on the final recording.
“In that way we get songs out of people who maybe wouldn’t normally write songs, so that the bass player doesn’t have to be just the bass player. It makes the band a stronger unit.
“Some people got upset that their song didn’t get through – including me! We’ve had a stable line-up to the band for a couple of years now so people are starting to get a feeling of ownership and get quite opinionated.
“In these situations everyone thinks they’re right, but the truth is there is no right or wrong in music. At the end of the day it’s all about compromise and communication.”
Doors open at 8pm. Tickets are £12.