Our Crack Tongue & Groove
Seeking out Dutch Clown Music
A 70th anniversary edition of John Lomax’s ‘Adventures of a Ballad Hunter’ has just been issued in a fine new edition from Souvenir Press.
Lomax was a pioneering musicologist, who, in 1908 set out on horseback with an Edison phonograph and wax cylinders to record and preserve America’s folk music. He spent the next four decades doing some hard travelling and found over 5,000 songs in Arkansas mountain cabins, Mississippi prison farms, New Orleans saloons and Minnesota lumber camps.
His work was important because he conserved songs that may have been lost to time. He also helped bring new genres such as the blues to a wider audience.
Today, it’s difficult to imagine any genre slipping past your average music fan, what with the entire history of recorded sound being easily accessible via the Internet. That’s what I thought anyway until I did some hard travelling of my own this summer, around the Costa del Sol, and discovered a scene that had completely passed me by.There was a big Dutch contingent where I was staying and they were well served by the many Dutch bars in the area that were constantly rammed, even from first thing in the morning (their continental breakfasts consisted of a hunk of bread, some condiment that made no sense to me, and a pint of lager).
Anyway. Noting the raucous atmosphere these Dutch bars generated, I decided to give them a whirl one night and walked into something that was as underground as the UK’s Northern Soul scene of the 1970s, but with the clouds of talc being replaced by the sickly tang of Piz Buin.
The music – which everyone, young and old, were up dancing to – was as obscure as those old soul records, but where those tunes were all lost classics, this stuff was unspeakable.
I’m talking barrel organs, sugary accordions, sodding cowbells (COWBELLS!) all maddeningly combined into a relentless oompah beat. It was like being assaulted by a happy-go-lucky blitzkrieg, every song different but somehow the same. It was the kind of music that clowns would listen to when getting ready to go out. Dutch clown music.
Stupidly, however, it’s not called that. It’s actually called Levenslied (translation: “Life song”), which, according to my sources (Wikipedia) is “a sentimental, Dutch-language subgenre of pop music.
Typical Levenslied yrics concern subjects such as love and nostalgia, besides longing for exotic holiday places.”
Levenslied is undoubtedly musical pap of the highest order, but I did return home curiously sated after my exposure to it, reasoning that this modern day John Lomax truly had found something new under the sun.