Saturday, September 09, 2017


It's no surprise, here at The Blog of Less Renown, that the passing of Mick Softley was a very soft news item. A lot of deserving, historical, and folks with some hits to their name, get more of a write-up here than anywhere else. Some newspapers with a page for obituaries, didn't even mention Mick. It seems to go with the general Millennial attitude of ignorant derision: "Hey, that was before my time, Dude." 

With few exceptions, "protest songs" seem to be viewed as a quaint, useless fad from the past. Did any song from Dylan or Lennon actually stop a war? Did any song about Kent State matter? Wasn't Hurricane Carter actually guilty after all? Hasn't "The Eve of Destruction" turned out to be a long, long eve, that has seen several new generations of mutants be born? 

Looking back, even when Phil Ochs died, which was a heart-wrenching suicide, the obits were kind of small. And this was Phil Ochs, who only a few years earlier was pranking the Democratic Covention in Chicago, appearing on "The David Frost Show," and getting very good royalties off "Changes" and "There But for Fortune," which so many of his contemporaries covered. So what should one expect from an obscure British folk-rocker who lived a long life, and most of it in obscurity? 

Mick Softley was fairly obscure even in his prime. With protest acts including Dylan, Baez and Barry McGuire on the charts, and a wide variety of others singing protest songs now and then, from Judy Collins to Peter Paul & Mary a lot of other performers had modest sales, including Ochs, Pat Sky, Dave Van Ronk, Jack Elliott, Hamilton Camp, and Mr. Softley, who died on September 1, age 77. 

    The closest Softley got to fame, was when Donovan covered a few of his songs, including “The War Drags On.” Vietnam certainly did, year after year. Those who aren't ardent folkies would probably argue that the song itself drags on and on, a long accusatory dirge. If some folkie Millennial tried to sing this at an open mic night, or busking in Sheffield somewhere, he or she would hear: “you’re against the war, I get it. Lines about blood and bones are cliche. Can't you do an Ed Sheeran cover?” 

      While there are some who still crave pop-psych, or psych-folk, some might think that Softley's other semi-known song “Timeless” is not timeless at all, but sadly dated. A criticism of his work then or now would involve a complaint about lack of melody and a tendency to be repetitive, but that was the tendency back then. Dylan and Ochs were worse if you didn't want eight minute songs with the same verse and chorus over and over. And circa 1970, just after the "Summer of Love," many were in love with the Vanilla Fudge style of long, bewildered, alienated songs. Even Del Shannon and Roy Orbison experimented with the new freedoms. When Mick Softley arrived, some may have considered him another Jackson C. Frank, while others said, “Well, who is Jackson C. Frank?”

    Born in Enniskillen, and raised near Epping Forest (where members of Genesis once held a battle), Mick managed a folk venue inside the Spinning Wheel, a restaurant in Hemel Hempstead (where members of Genesis often went after losing their battles). A free spirit, he didn’t care for running any kind of business, and wobbled through the years as a busker, a soloist, and sometimes part of a duo. At various points he would quit show business entirely. Somehow he managed to put out several albums, spaced apart, and they simply got lost in (all together now) the GLUT OF FOLKIE AND PROTEST AND FOLK-PSYCH STUFF that was bulging in the record racks between 1965 and 1970. That would be “Songs for Swingin’ Survivors” (Columbia 1965, a deal that Donovan may have helped him get), “Sunrise,” “Street Singer” and “Any Mother Doesn’t Grumble” (CBS UK, 1970-72), “Capital” and “Mensa” (Doll Records 1976, 1978) and “War Memorials” (1985, Doll Records)

    Despite his lack of commercial success Mick Softley seemed to enjoy performing live, and would turn up at various folk fests and outdoor concerts in Ireland in the 80’s and 90’s. His pleasant life in obscurity caught a bump in the road; he had a bicycle accident in August of 2011. Unlike Syd Barrett, who despite his problems, seemed to control his bicycle, Softley hit the ground hard, and had to be hospitalized. As with Barrett, rumors swarmed over the state of Softley’s mental health and a small circle of fans were so concerned that a Facebook page (the ultimate, huh) was created to deny that the singer was no longer functioning or no longer alive at all. But as of September 1st, he’s now officially another folk-rock legend.

  THE WAR ON DRUGS    Instant download or listen on line.  
  TIME MACHINE    Instant download or listen on line.  

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