Mudcat Café message #3975227 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #165645   Message #3975227
Posted By: Jim Carroll
07-Feb-19 - 03:56 AM
Thread Name: Where Have all the Folkies Gone
Subject: Folklore: Where Have all the Folkies Gone
I missed these when they first appeared (the end of 2017 and a later response)
I thought a discussion of it might cut through some of the acrimony that has arisen whenever the subject is raised
Jim Carroll

Austerity bites - but is that all?
Rod Stradling editorial Musical Traditions Magazine (end of 2017)
There can be very few of us in the UK who are not feeling the combined effects of the Tory Government's austerity programme and the fall in the Pound's value engendered by their disastrous Brexit Referendum ... very few people that I know, anyway. Sales of unimportant things like CDs of traditional music and song are, of course, being seriously effected. But I have been surprised by the extent to which they have fallen. None of the CDs I've published in the last two years have sold more than 50 copies! To put that in perspective, sales from 1998 to 2015 (before austerity really kicked in) averaged about 145 sales per CD released. Sales of CDs released since 2015 have averaged about 40 sales per CD.
The one piece of data that really surprised me relates to our 2-CD set of Sam Larner, published just before Christmas, 2014. In November 2016 I got the very welcome news that it had won The Folklore Society's Non-Print Media Award 2014 - 2016. But upon checking, earlier today, I discovered that this superb set of CDs, containing 67 songs from one of England's finest singers, many of which have never been available before, has sold just three copies since gaining that prestigious award. I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering "Is it really worth all the effort?"
I've had one single CD of Bob Lewis and Bob Copper, one double CD of early American music and song and, in a couple of weeks, another CD-ROM of Vaughan Williams' collecting work in Norfolk, released this year. And I hope, a double CD of Freda Palmer for release in 2018. Once that little lot is published, I suspect I'll need to do some hard thinking about the future. Because I'm not at all sure that it's Austerity that's entirely to blame.
Every time I publish a new CD, I send out some 1,500 email messages to everyone who's bought an MT CD or Download in the past, announcing the new publication. The interesting result is that almost half of the resultant sales seem to come from people who've never bought one before! (Or, to be realistic, people who have changed their email addresses, or whose names I don't recognise). So, maybe not half, but a significant number of new purchasers. What does this imply? From reviews, and from comments in various emails I've received over the years, I do know that people think that our CDs are pretty damn good. So why aren't many former purchasers buying the new ones? Have they all died?
It seems that we are in a new, and very different 'folk scene':
Today's young 'folk' enthusiasts seem to be primarily interested in newly composed songs (and tunes) rather than traditional ones. What's 'folk' about that?
The EFDSS seems to be almost entirely interested in this new 'folk' music - EDS now contains almost nothing related to traditional music and song.
Despite continued interest in, and playing of, traditional music - at the ECMW and several similar events and numerous sessions - there seems to be no similar enthusiasm for traditional singing.
This is quite unlike Ireland, where every county, and many cities, have regular, well attended, 'singing circles' and song weekends - most of which are entirely devoted to traditional singing.
Dance bands playing traditional music in a more-or-less traditional style (without bass'n'drum) are finding it harder and harder to get gigs.
Many of the regular dance or ceilidh events have closed, or are considering it.
Yet at festivals that still include dance events, you'll find them thronged with enthusiastic young dancers. Where do they get to dance the rest of the year?
Finally - we've lived here for 23 years, yet whenever we've been to gigs in the area to see people like Lynched, Chris Wood, Furrow Collective, Eliza Carthy, etc, the audience is mainly our age ... yet almost entirely unknown to us!
Someone I know recently wrote a complaint to the BBC about the lack of coverage of English Traditional Music (as opposed to Irish, Scots or American folk music) and questioning whether the BBC should give reasonable coverage to our national music. The response was either hilarious or appalling, depending on your frame of mind. "There have been numerous programmes on the BBC relating to folk music, most recently on BBC Four in the programme 'Folk Britannia'. There is also a number of radio programmes that play folk music including 'Radio 2's Bob Harris Country'."
Folk Britannia you may recall, was aired in 2006 - 11 years ago! - and Radio 2's Bob Harris's Country covers American music. Checking the track listing of the 2 DVDs of the three hour Folk Britanniaprogrammes, I find just Harry Cox and John & Jill Copper among those who might be described as English traditional, plus Ewan MacColl, Bob Davenport, and Martin Carthy who might be described as English traditional style. All the rest are 'Irish, Scots or American folk music' - the genres specifically excluded by the questioner!
This is a very strange world we now live in - and not just politically!
Rod Stradling

Re: 'Austerity Bites' editorial
I've just had the following from someone who's just bought a copy of Just Another Saturday Night, Sussex 1960 (MTCD309-0) - Ed.
Dear Rod,
I very much sympathise with your evaluation of the younger end of current folk scene, but wanted to offer myself as an example of how all is perhaps not too glum? I am 'only' (ha!) 35, but am very much committed to real traditional singing. I came to it from a background of studying traditional singers in Bulgaria when I was at university, and a desire to find out whether we had anything similar closer to home. I found out that we most certainly did when I came across the recordings Percy Grainger made of Joseph Taylor.
Since then its been a slow process of following leads into what has felt like a lost world. I have very little interest in (though nothing against) the contemporary folk scene, though to be honest, I've never really felt inspired to investigate it too much. Instead, I've taken most of my inspiration from the sort of field recordings you have devoted yourself to making publically available, various printed and online resources, and amazing friends from Ireland (and further afield) where, as you say in your article, there is so much more value attached to traditional singing.
I don't sing in public very often. When I do, it is within events that are more part of the art/performance scene than any branch of the music world (where funnily enough, I think people are much more open minded about listening to someone sing a long song with no accompaniment), or those rare occasions when you're at someone's house for dinner, they ask you to sing, and it somehow feels like the right moment. Predominantly though, I just sing at home, in the kitchen!
Please don't lose heart. Your efforts to make rare and indescribably precious singing available to a wider audience really are filtering down through the generations, even if it might not seem like it sometimes.
Phil Owens 14.2.18