Mudcat Café message #3051600 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #134203   Message #3051600
Posted By: GUEST, Tom Bliss
12-Dec-10 - 05:17 AM
Thread Name: BBC4 Christmas Session
Subject: RE: BBC4 Christmas Session
But with respect Eliza, isn't "very protective of both modern English folk music and my mates" not all that far from what some people said when your Dad joined Steeleye, perhaps?

I'm genuinely puzzled as to why this concert should have drawn down so many strongly negative reactions, and on so many issues.

Let me try to separate them out a little.

Ignoring some odd sort of political class/regional resentment thing, the criticisms seem to fall into five categories; choice of artists, presentation style, musical performance and technical performance.

Let's begin with the first and second.

Obviously I don't know how this show was pitched to the Beeb, but I think I can guess - and I'm fairly certain that if it had been sold as, say, The Imagined Ratcatchers Christmas Special, or The Folk Club Cool Yule Singaround-up, or whatever else people here might have preferred, it simply wouldn't have been green-lit. The two reasons I suspect it got through were that a) the cast list included people the suits had heard of and believed to be 'current,' and b) the package was dressed up to avoid any risk of earnestness or any of the others things that suits fear about folk. (I'm not calling the Village or the Catchers 'earnest,' but both bands do operate in a slightly different territory - as do most folk acts in fact, with the Bellows and the 2Pauls being two well-recognised exceptions).

Thinking about it, I can't help wondering if the reaction here would have been as bad if the show title had not included the loaded word 'session' - but had instead been called something like The Belshazzowhead Christmas Knees-up and Lark-about, or something equally silly. (It was made under the 'BBCfoursessions' brand, though - which will have been another key factor in getting it through). Show titles are really important because they advise the viewers what to expect, and we all know that failing to deliver on a perceived expectation usually results in consumer complaints. I also was expecting something else, but I quickly realised what was going on and went with the flow, and if, as I suspect, the BBC had commissioned a visual feast with lashings of ironic schmaltz and a side order of history and humour (oh, and some folk music) then all the participants are to be congratulated for giving it their best shot.

(Incidentally, complaining that the show had the wrong artists or the wrong style is akin to looking at a work in the Tate Modern and saying 'I could have done that.' The answer, as you know, is; 'well, perhaps you could, but you didn't - this artist did, and they got it into the Tate Modern.' These guys got their show onto BBC4 on a Friday night. Twice).

Ok. On to the two other criticisms. I'm really not sure where the complains about musical performance come from. I thought everyone sang and played to their usual styles and standards. There may have been a few issues with the sound balance at times, (see below), and maybe some don't personally like the sound or style of some of the artists - but neither of those add up to poor musical performance. No-one was out of tune, out of time, playing poor arrangements (not always to taste, but that's about preference, not quality - though far too many people confuse the two) or otherwise lacking.

I can add here, lest people think that I'm always only nice about everything, that the show that followed the clogging last night contained very few good musical performances - and quite a lot of it really was truly dire in musical terms. Out of tune, out of time, wrong chords, all sorts - but it wasn't a bad show. It was very interesting and many of the poor musical performances were hugely enjoyable for other reasons.

I've already dealt with the technical issues above, but it's worth repeating again that the show would not have been green-lit if the budget was too dear. Maybe a few more cameras, a few more mics, more audio channels, a bit longer in audio post etc would have delivered a better mix with fewer sync glitches, but the brief was, presumably, to grab a live and lively sound - and if a few things got lost in the mix, well - so what. That's what happens at most festivals. I simply turned the volume up to max and it sounded wonderful.

To me this was a logical next step down the entertainment road that Bellowhead and Belshazzars Feast have been travelling, and if that takes public perception of modern English folk music slightly somewhere else, so be it. I'm personally convinced that this approach is a Good Thing for folk music and that it in no way threatens other folk styles or sub-genres. I know there are still people around who feel strongly that FairEye StringTangle were a disaster for English Folk, but I'm not one of them. (They probably said the same things about broadsides and troubadours too).

Sam Lee, Janet Frazer-Crook, Serena Cross and Mark Cooper are to be congratulated for giving a few folk musos a bit of work and publicity - and probably a lot of fun, and delivering a perfectly inoffensive bit of Christmas nonsense that a lot of people will have enjoyed.

And if a few new people decide to go to a Ratcatcher's gig or whatever on the back of it then, well over to the rest of us.

Tom