Ken Hunt’s biography – updated 23 December 2019

Ken HuntThe writer, broadcaster, obituarist and occasional lyricist Ken Hunt was blessed with a nondescript name. Once long ago before the internet really kicked in, during correspondence about Lal Waterson and English folksong, a Japanese professor of English Literature asked if he knew of the other Ken Hunt who wrote about the Indian subcontinent’s art music. One and the same was the answer. Whether it was the music of Joseph Spence or Gorō Yamaguchi, Martin Carthy or Ali Akbar Khan, the Grateful Dead or Viv Stanshall, Iva Bittová or Artie Shaw, Shirley Collins or Martin Simpson, he believed that serious-minded music of whatever persuasion was something to be treated seriously – no matter, he adds, how pontificating that may sound.

Iva Bittová paid him one of the ultimate musician compliments. She told him he didn’t think like a music journalist but like a musician. (Later, in October 2006, they would later begin a songwriting partnership.) India’s sitar maestro Ravi Shankar called his intuitive approach to writing about the music of the Indian subcontinent “unique” in his experience. Yehudi Menuhin just told him he was “extraordinarily well-informed”. Increasingly since the explosion of so-called world music in the late 1980s, on account of only having one brain, he has specialised rather than be a generalist.

Born in the Southern English county of Surrey in April 1951, he grew up in a house filled with the music of Ellie (sic) Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Nellie Lutcher and Artie Shaw. Plus whatever was on the wireless. His first published writings appeared in 1967. Annoyed by the standards of music journalism, he resumed writing in 1975. In the meanwhile he had returned to England after living in Northern Germany where he worked for Gruner + Jahr on a host of magazine titles including Stern, Frau im Spiegel and the eventually banned twen and abandoned English for High and Low German bilingualism.

Back in Britain he began writing for the second wave of alternative, post-Zigzag music publications, part of Britain’s so-called underground music press then running parallel with International Times and Oz. His work appeared in the Nick Ralph-edited Dark Star, Tony Russell’s Old Time Music, Peter O’Brien’s Omaha Rainbow, and small folk magazines (which by their very definition tended to be small).

Between 1979 and 1989 he edited the groundbreaking magazine Swing 51. It was predicated on enthusiasm, lashings of business naivety and in-depth interviews with the likes of the Grateful Dead’s lyricist John Perry Barlow, Paul Brady, Anne Briggs, Martin Carthy, Shirley & Dolly Collins, Ray Fisher, Jerry Garcia, Alan Garner, Mickey Hart, the Home Service, Dagmar Krause, David Lindley, Christy Moore and Ralph Steadman. For information about available back-issues, please email.

Once his published writings began appearing in the All-Music Guides (USA) nowadays, the part-work The History of Rock (Orbis Publishing), Q, Mojo and Donald Clark’s Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (all UK) he had no time to stop. A succession of new clients followed including fRoots (UK), Folker (Germany), The Guardian (UK), The Independent (UK), The Irish Times (Éire), Jazzwise (UK), Penguin Eggs (Canada), the Luton-based Indian arts magazine Pulse (UK), Rock’n’Reel formerly R2) (UK), Sing Out! (USA) and The Scotsman.

Since before the millennium he has contributed entries, and has acted as one of the consultants on musical matters to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (UK) and its supplements (available online at many UK public libraries). This 200-year-old evolving reference work tells the the story of Britain’s culture through biography. By May 2015, he tied with the noted folklorist Roy Palmer (1932–2015) with entries on folk music-related subjects. He has now written more folk-related entries than any contributor in the Dictionary of National Biography‘s two-century history. Hunt’s biographical essays include ones on Peter Bellamy, Ian Campbell, Sydney Carter, Dolly Collins, Hamish Henderson, Bert Jansch, Peerie Willy Johnson, Lou Killen, Alan Lomax, Rory & Alex McEwen, John Pearse, John Renbourn, Jeannie Robertson, Stanley Robertson, Cyril Tawney, Lal and Mike Waterson and Duncan Williamson. Plus non-folk entries about Kevin Ayres and John Mayer.

Since July 1994 he has been the English-language writer, editor and translator for the paperback-sized festival programme for Germany’s and one of Europe’s paramount music festivals, the Rudolstadt Festival (previously Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt) in Thuringia. Other writings have appeared in Glastonbury Festival programmes, Rolling Stone (Deutschland), succeeding editions of four Rough Guide volumes (namely, Rock, India, South India and World Music), The Strad (UK), the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), The Times and the Times Literary Supplement (UK).

The third edition of The Rough Guide to World Music published in December 2009 includes his chapters on Bangladesh (one), Germany (one) and India (seven). The two-volume work’s single biggest contributor, he also contributes two essays to Jiří Plocek’s chapter on the Czech and Slovak Republics.

He has contributed, as editor or translator but predominantly as writer or lyricist, to scores of audio and visual releases. It is not a bad list. An incomplete one includes

Albums compiled by Ken Hunt

Various artists The Rough Guide to India and Pakistan (World Music Network, 1996)
Ravi Shankar From Dusk to Dawn (Earthsongs/Connoisseur Collection, 2000)
Ravi Shankar The Teacher – Key Works (Manteca, 2002)
Various artists The Rough Guide Bollywood (World Music Network, 2002)
Various artists The Rough Guide to the Music of India (World Music Network, 2002)
Asha Bhosle The Rough Guide to Asha Bhosle (World Music Network, 2003)
Lata Mangeshkar Rough Guide to Bollywood Legends: Lata Mangeshka (World Music Network, 2004)
Ravi Shankar The Rough Guide to Ravi Shankar (World Music Network, 2004)
Mohammed Rafi The Rough Guide to Bollywood Legends: Mohd. Rafi (World Music Network, 2004)
Various artists The Rough Guide to Bollywood 1CD/1 DVD set (World Music Network, 2010)
Various artists The Rough Guide to India 2CD set (World Music Network, 2010)
Ravi Shankar The Rough Guide to Ravi Shankar (World Music Network, 2018)
Zakir Hussain The Rough Guide to Zakir Hussain (World Music Network, 2018)
Ali Akbar Khan The Rough Guide to Ali Akbar Khan (World Music Network, 2018)

Albums with writings by Ken Hunt

Commander Cody Let’s Rock (Special Delivery, 1987) Liner notes
Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen Cody Returns From Outer Space (Edsel [vinyl compilation], 1987) Liner notes
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick Byker Hill (Topic [reissue], 1991) Liner notes
Home Service Alright Jack (Fledg’ling/Hokey Pokey [reissue], 1991) Liner notes
Kronos Quartet Kevin Volans’ Hunting:Gathering (Nonesuch, 1991) Liner notes
Kronos Quartet Astor Piazzolla’s Five Tango Sensations (Nonesuch, 1991) Liner notes
U. Srinivas Modern Mandolin Maestro (Ace/Globestyle, 1991) Liner notes
Kronos Quartet Pieces of Africa (Nonesuch, 1992) Interviews, liner notes
Lakshmi Shankar Live in London (Vol 1) (Navras, 1992) Liner notes
Various artists Travellin’ Companion 3 – A Musical Journey to Germany (Weltwunder, 2002) Liner notes
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Revelation/Ilham (Audiorec, 1993) Liner notes
Martin Carthy The Kershaw Sessions (Strange Roots, 1994) Liner notes
Various artists Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt ’94 (heideck, undated [1995]) Liner notes
Ali Akbar Khan & Asha Bhosle Legacy: 16th-18th Century Music from India (AMMP, 1995) Liner notes
Shivkumar Sharma, Brijbushan Kabra and Hariprasad Chaurasia Call of the Valley (EMI Hemisphere [reissue], 1995) Liner notes
Various artists Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt ’95 (heideck, 1996) Liner notes
Folk och Rackare 1976–1985 (Resource, 1996) Interviews and liner notes
Bismillah Khan; Vilayat Khan & Imrat Khan Inspiration India: Duets for Sitar, Surbahar, Shehnai (EMI, 1996) Liner notes
Home Service Alright Jack (Fledg’ling [reissue], 1997) Liner notes
Hundsbuam Hui (Lawine/BMG, 1997) Translation
Various artists Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt ’96 (heideck, 1997) Liner notes
Various artists Das 7. Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt ’97 (heideck, 1997) Liner notes
Yehudi Menuhin and Friends All The World’s Violins (Virgin Classics, 1998) Liner notes
Ravi Shankar Shankar: Sitar Concertos and Other Works (EMI, 1998) Liner notes
Various artists Rudolstadt ’98 Tanz&FolkFest (heideck, 1998) Liner notes
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (BGO [reissue], 1999) Liner notes
Yehudi Menuhin & Ravi Shankar West Meets East (BGO [reissue], 1999) Liner notes
Shivkumar Sharma & Hariprasad Chaurasia Rasdhara (Navras, 1999) Liner notes
Various artists Sing Christmas and the Turn of the Year (Rounder, 1999) Liner notes
Dissidenten Live in Europe (Exil, 1998) Liner notes
Various artists Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt ’99 (heideck, 1999) Liner notes
Anne Briggs Classic Anne Briggs (Fellside [reissue], 2000) Liner notes
Kronos Quartet Caravan (Nonesuch, 2000) Liner notes
Various artists Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt 2000 (heideck, 2000) Liner notes
B.E.V. (BonificaEmilianaVeneta) variabile/naturale (Felmay, 2001) Translation
Hariprasad Chaurasia and L’Orchestre Tanses Européennes Adi Anant: Création Mondiale (Navras, 2001) Liner notes
Real Ax Band Move Your Ass In Time – Nicht stehen bleiben (Fünfundvierzig [reissue], 2001) Liner notes
Buddy Rich and Alla Rakha Rich á la Rahka (BGO [reissue], 2001) Liner notes
June Tabor Rosa Mundi (Topic, 2001) Translation
Bollywood Brass Band Rahmania: The Music of A.R. Rahman (2002) Liner notes
Shirley Collins Within Sound 4-CD box set (Fledg’ling, 2002) Alan Lomax interview and artwork memorabilia
Scarlett O’ & Jürgen Ehle From The Spree To The Roe (private release, 2002) Lyrics
Various Travellin’ Companion 3 – A Musical journey to Germany(Weltwunder, 2002) Liner notes
Rahul Sharma Music of the Himalayas (Real World, 2002) Liner notes
Dave Swarbrick & Friends The Ceilidh Album (Storyville [reissue], 2002) Liner notes
Alex Campbell In Copenhagen (Storyville [reissue], 2003) Liner notes
Alex Campbell At the Tivoli Gardens (Storyville [reissue], 2003) Liner notes
Ian Campbell Folk Group “Live” (Storyville [reissue], 2003) Liner notes
Shahid Parvez & Akram Khan Sitar – II (Sense World Music, 2003) Liner notes
Dave Swarbrick Lift the Lid and Listen (Storyville [reissue], 2003) Liner notes
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt Samadhi (Sense World Music, 2004) Interview and liner notes
Kronos Quartet & Asha Bhosle You’ve Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman’s Bollywood (Nonesuch, 2004) Originator, co-compiler, consultant and liner notes
Shahid Parvez Sitar 2 (Sense World Music, 2004) Liner notes
The Watersons Mighty River of Song 4-CD/1 DVD boxed set (Topic, 2004) Interviews, accompanying booklet text, and artwork memorabilia
Čechomor/Czechomor Co sa stalo nové:/What Happened Next (Sony/BMG (Czech Republic), 2005) Translation with Petr Dorůžka
Chakra Bhava (Sense World Music, 2005) Liner notes
Purbayan Chatterjee Talaash (Sense World Music, 2005) Liner notes
Shirley Collins & Davy Graham folk roots, new routes (Fledg’ling [reissue], 2005) Liner notes
Davy Graham Folk, Blues & Beyond (Fledg’ling [reissue], 2005) Liner notes
Davy Graham Hat (Fledg’ling [reissue], 2005) Liner notes
Robb Johnson A Beginner’s Guide (Irregular, 2005) Liner notes
Ronu Majumdar A Sacred Space (Sense World Music, 2005) Interview and liner notes
Nomads of Rajasthan Desert Charm, Vol. 2 (Sense World Music, 2005) Liner notes
Scarlett O’ & Jürgen Ehle Gans ohneTannenbaum (Electrocadero, 2005) Lyrics
Kala Ramnath Nectar (Sense World Music, 2005) Liner notes
Ravi Shankar Jazz et Ragas (BGO [reissue], 2005) Liner notes
June Tabor Always 4-CD boxed set (Topic, 2005) Interviews and accompanying booklet text
Various artists TFF Rudolstadt 2005 (heideck, 2005) Liner notes
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt & Musicians of Rajasthan Desert Slide (Sense World Music, 2006) Liner notes
Iva Bittová Superchameleon DVD (Indies, 2006) Liner notes
Purbayan Chatterjee and Subhankar Chatterjee Talaash (Sense World Music, 2006) Liner notes
Ougenweide Ougenweide/All die weil ich mag (Bear Family Records [reissue, 2006) Liner notes
Ougenweide Ohrenschmaus/Eulenspiel (Bear Family Records [reissue], 2006) Liner notes
Yashila Drive East (Sense World Music, 2006) Liner notes
George Mraz and Iva Bittová Moravian Gems (Cube Metier, 2007) Translation with Petr Dorůžka
Anne Briggs Anne Briggs (Water [reissue], 2008) Liner notes
Buffy Sainte-Marie Buffy/Changing Woman/Sweet America (Ace [reissue], 2008) Liner notes
Robin Williamson Journey’s Edge (Fledg’ling [reissue], 2008) Liner notes
Buffy Sainte-Marie Soldier Blue – The Best of the Vanguard Years (Ace/Vanguard Masters, 2010) Liner notes
Iva Bittová and Dorothea Kellerová Béla Bartók’s 44 Duets For Two Violins (Nonesuch, unreleased [2011]) Liner notes
Robb Johnson Some Recent Protest Songs (Irregular, 201105) Liner notes
Country Joe McDonald Thinking of Woody Guthrie (Ace/Vanguard Masters [reissue], 2011) Liner notes
Hedy West Ballads and Songs from the Appalachians (Fellside [reissue], 2011) Liner notes and artwork memorabilia
Hedy West Hedy West (accompanying herself on the 5-string banjo)/Volume 2 (Ace/Vanguard Masters [reissue], 2012) Liner notes and artwork memorabilia
Eviyan Live (Les Disques VICTO, 2013) Lyrics
Iva Bittová Entwine/Proplétám (Pavian, 2014) Lyrics and liner notes
Kronos Quartet Explorer Series: Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch, 2014) Interviews and liner notes
Various artists Roots Folk Weltmusik – Rudolstadt 2014 (heideck, 2014) Liner notes
Eviyan Nayive (Animal Music, 2015) Lyrics
Bert Jansch Jack Orion (Sanctuary/Transatlantic [reissue], 2015) Liner notes
Various artists Rudolstadt Festival 2015 (heideck, 2015) Liner notes
Anne Briggs Four Songs Fledg’ling, 2016) Liner notes
Kronos Quartet Pieces of Africa (Nonesuch, vinyl edition 2016) Interviews, liner notes
Iva Bittová a Čikori at home (Pavian, 2016) Lyrics
Various artists Rudolstadt Festival 2016 (heideck, 2016) Liner notes
Various Café Arabia (Not Now Music, 2017) Liner notes
Various Rudolstadt Festival 2017 (heideck, 2017) Liner notes
Various Rudolstadt Festival 2018 (heideck, 2018) Liner notes
Anne Briggs Anne Briggs (Topic, 2019) Liner notes
Dick Gaughan Handful of Earth (Topic, 2019) Liner notes
Hedy West Untitled (Fledg’ling, 2019) Liner notes

Various Rudolstadt Festival 2019 (heideck, 2019) Liner notes

The possibilities of a living wage in freelance music journalism still lead him on like a will-o’-the-wisp, but the impossibility of not writing even more.

Exciting projects for 2020 on the go…

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