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GUEST,MikeofNorthumbria (sans cookie) Folk music in England. (77* d) RE: Folk music in England. 09 Jan 05

Hi Everybody!

An interesting discussion so far: here's my 2p worth for whoever's still following it.

Are folk clubs today less numerous, less well-attended and less interesting than they once used to be?   The overwhelming majority opinion seems to be: yes.   But what's the reason? Opinions differ. The generation gap seems to be the prime suspect, but for me, the obvious answer is that there's a lot more competition around today.

Cast your mind back four or five decades. Few folk records were issued, and not many shops stocked them. Folk music got little attention from radio or TV.   Folk concerts were rare – and mostly staged in London, which was unhelpful for those living elsewhere. The folk dance scene (both Morris and social) was rarely visible, and pretty moribund if you did encounter it.   There were no folk music instrumental sessions outside of a few hard-to-find Irish pubs. Most significantly of all - folk festivals as we know them today had not yet been invented.

Because there were so few alternatives, those of us who cared about the music – performers, organisers, or listeners - became heavily committed to our local folk clubs.   (And in those days clubs did tend to be local, because few of us had our own transport.) The music in those clubs was not always of the highest quality. Surviving live recordings reveal many technical limitations, and a widespread naivety which seems almost laughable today. But the enthusiasm of both performers and audiences was intoxicating. (And it had to be, given how feeble most of the available beers were then.)

Today, a vast array of excellent folk music is available on CDs - which are considerably cheaper than the old-time vinyls when measured against the current average income. However much some of us may complain about the BBC's coverage, there is some very good folk (or folk-related) stuff on the air now (even if people without BBC4 have to wait six months before the best of it gets repeated on BBC2). The folk dance scene is flourishing mightily, and there are live instrumental sessions in many pubs. Arts centres all over the country put on concerts featuring some of our best folk performers. And between the spring and autumn equinoxes, we have dozens of excellent festivals to choose from. Given all that competition, it's not surprising that the clubs aren't what they used to be. Indeed, it's astonishing that so many of them survive at all.

I think we must accept the fact that the folk scene's centre of gravity has shifted decisively away from the clubs.   If some of them survive in their present form, that's good. It will keep one more option open.   If some of them undergo a Dr Who–like regeneration, that's even better. They will enrich the overall quality of the national scene. But if the clubs die off along with the generation that founded them, it will be a pity, but not a disaster. The music and the conviviality which they fostered will keep flowing through other channels.

Over the past five years, at festivals and at numerous other folk events, I've encountered a great many young singers, dancers and musicians who show astonishingly high levels of expertise and commitment. I am convinced that the future of folk music will be safe in their hands, for long after I and my contemporaries are gone, and the clubs we used to attend are forgotten.


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