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The traditional music of England is a dark art-form. Study the words of a traditional English ballad, and it won't take you long to find murder, incest, love, death and betrayal - often all within the same song. The English people sung about the hard nature of their lives, but often their songs are lightened by an equally hard humor. Cruel Folk write, record and perform original music in the English tradition. Consisting of singer and multi-instrumentalist Sean Holden, and virtuoso guitarist Paul Holden their songs tell stories both of real events, such as the Battle of Towton Field, and of imagined events where good people take on the evils of the world, but don't always prevail. Cruel Folk are devoted to the continuing renewal of the English tradition, using instruments including mandocello, mandolin, guitar, bouzouki and whistle, and in addition to their original material perform both modern and ancient folk songs written by others.
Cruel Folk are Sean and Paul Holden. Have fun working out the relationship. (Hint: suggesting 'civil partnership' is unlikely to win you two new friends.)
Both have been playing music for about as long as they can remember. Until somewhere around 2000 they were playing mostly rock music - Sean as a drummer and Paul as a guitarist - for Underground Zero. They continue to do this, although an increasing love of the English folk tradition has led them for the last few years to spend most of their time writing, recording and performing acoustic music, both traditional and original.
Sean Holden has been a drummer since the age of nine. The nearest thing he's ever had to a religious experience was the first time he sat behind a drum kit. Having had parents who loved music he was lucky in having a supportive environment in which to pursue this, and consequently has never really stopped, playing for rock bands as well as quite a bit of big band and small group jazz.
Having learned a little guitar at an even earlier age, he was inspired to play folk music initially by hearing Martin Carthy and Roy Harper. However the real incentive came at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2001. On this occasion, hearing the sound of a mandocello in Show of Hands' set led to an 'I have to learn to play one of those' moment, and then to a re-discovery of the joys of the guitar, and the bouzouki and mandolin, and then singing.
He was initially not very keen to do the singing, until he was unfairly forced (in the timeless folk music tradition) into drinking an unhealthy quantity of beer one night and persuaded to give it a try.
He now plays acoustic music of varying styles with Cruel Folk and as a solo artist. He also built and runs the studio where Cruel Folk record.
Paul Holden began playing guitar at the age of about twelve, because his brother did, then stopped at the age of about twelve and three days, because he could only play 'My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean', and that was only recognisable if he told people in advance what it was.
He then started again at the age of seventeen, and apart form a slight lull when he was married, hasn't stopped since. He is entirely devoted to the guitar, and to the acquisition of excessive numbers of guitars. (Despite the fact that you might see him wielding numerous mandolin-bodied instruments - these are in fact twelve-course instruments designed to be tuned as a guitar. Thanks to Roger Bucknell at Fylde for his ongoing ability to accommodate the regular requests for odd custom instruments!)
Finally: no, in spite of our noisier past we will not play 'Smoke on Ye Water' or 'Ye Freebird'.