Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Izzy Young

On a trip to Stockholm in the summer I finally got around to visiting Izzy Young's Folklore Centrum on Södermalm. (It's on Wollmar Yxkullsgatan, about 5 minutes walk from Mariatorget T-Bana station).
Izzy Young (pictured right on his 80th birthday) is a splendidly ornery chap. He was born in 1928 in New York. He's one week younger than his schoolfellow Tom Paley. Bob Dylan wrote one of the best descriptions of Izzy: 'Young was an old-line folk enthusiast ... His voice was like a bulldozer and always seemed too loud for the little room. Izzy was always a little rattled over something or other. He was sloppily good natured. In reality, a romantic.' (1)
Izzy opened his Folklore Center in Greenwich Village in 1957. The Center was a commercial venture, built on his romantic attachment and commitment to folk music. The Center sold books, records, magazines and instruments, and was a venue for concerts and events. It also became a focus for the emerging folk music scene. It was the place to go to learn about this music and the people who made it. Izzy keeps an extraordinary archive of cuttings, books, magazines, photographs.
You get some idea of Izzy's passionate romanticism from the battle to allow folk musicians to congregate in Washington Square Park. The city authorities were attempting to clamp down on these informal gatherings by insisting performers had permits. In 1961 the Parks Commissioner refused to issue permits. Izzy and about 500 musicians went down there without permits. The NYPD sent down a riot squad. Izzy was indefatigable in soliciting support for the musicians. I spent a happy half hour studying his scrapbooks of letters and press cuttings about this period.
He's probably best known because of his association with Bob Dylan, but that reflects the obsessive scrutiny of many Dylan fans rather than Izzy's own preoccupations. He was instrumental in staging concerts by many of the musicians who emerged from that Greenwich Village scene. (When I was there Izzy was very pleased that a 1967 Tim Buckley concert at the Center had finally found a CD release).
Like Tom Paley, Izzy also got the bug for Swedish music. In 1973 he closed the New York Center, and moved to Stockholm. The Folklore Centrum moved to its present location in 1986.
Izzy still stages small concerts in the Centrum. There is still a commercial aspect to it, although this is these days very much dependent on what material Izzy can obtain. He complains that people don't buy things from him, then admits that he doesn't have much for them to buy.
But he does still have the most magnificent archives and library. He complains that people don't know what to make of the Centrum: the uses that could be made of Izzy's resources depend on people having a sufficiently passionate interest in all aspects of the music. Go in and ask him about something. He showed me files of correspondence on the question of copyright of Leadbelly's music. He has an extraordinary knowledge of, and passion for, folk-derived musics from around the world. He loves poetry, and learns verse every day. We talked about Charles Aznavour, Swedish fiddle music, Mike Seeger, Zimbabwean vocal groups, Phil Ochs, Jacques Brel ...
I may love different aspects of folk music to Izzy, but in the Folklore Centrum I felt right at home. It's worth dropping in.
1: Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One (London: Pocket Books, 2005), pp. 18-19

1 comment:

  1. I was just in Stockholm and stopped in to visit Izzy. He is exactly as described here "...always a little rattled..." But what a wonderful experience it was to meet him and alk with him as well as watch him nteract with the folks who popped into look at books and talk about folk music. I loved it. Long Live Izzy !!!