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Why folk clubs are dying

Phil Edwards 31 Jan 09 - 05:13 PM
Gervase 31 Jan 09 - 05:14 PM
Will Fly 31 Jan 09 - 05:18 PM
Backwoodsman 01 Feb 09 - 05:30 AM
Jack Campin 01 Feb 09 - 06:24 AM
TheSnail 01 Feb 09 - 06:47 AM
Jack Blandiver 01 Feb 09 - 07:11 AM
The Borchester Echo 01 Feb 09 - 07:20 AM
Big Al Whittle 01 Feb 09 - 07:42 AM
The Sandman 01 Feb 09 - 07:53 AM
TheSnail 01 Feb 09 - 07:55 AM
Will Fly 01 Feb 09 - 08:09 AM
Jack Blandiver 01 Feb 09 - 08:45 AM
TheSnail 01 Feb 09 - 09:03 AM
Will Fly 01 Feb 09 - 09:14 AM
TheSnail 01 Feb 09 - 09:32 AM
Will Fly 01 Feb 09 - 09:35 AM
The Sandman 01 Feb 09 - 10:11 AM
Phil Edwards 01 Feb 09 - 10:40 AM
Sleepy Rosie 01 Feb 09 - 10:50 AM
Jack Blandiver 01 Feb 09 - 12:39 PM
Sleepy Rosie 01 Feb 09 - 01:25 PM
SPB-Cooperator 01 Feb 09 - 03:47 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 01 Feb 09 - 05:29 PM
Forsh 01 Feb 09 - 06:32 PM
Tootler 01 Feb 09 - 06:44 PM
Faye Roche 01 Feb 09 - 07:32 PM
Sleepy Rosie 02 Feb 09 - 05:36 AM
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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Jan 09 - 05:13 PM

A subtle distinction, Pip. Is it really sufficiently commonplace to be an issue?

I don't think it's all that subtle - people don't go out to demonstrate their contempt for the audience ("don't care"), but they do go out to give a rough-and-ready performance ("think it doesn't matter"). And yes, I do think rough-and-ready performances, & performers who admit to not having practised, are a common occurrence - in some folk clubs. Not necessarily (just to complicate matters) the ones that are doing badly.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Gervase
Date: 31 Jan 09 - 05:14 PM

I just want to know, what on earth do they get out of it?
For many folk club regulars I do believe that it's a form of therapy. Folk clubs attract an odd bunch; the average audience is by no means typical of the top deck of the Clapham omnibus. Many are drawn to folk music because of its inclusivity - folk club audiences will clap and smile broadly at almost anyone, to be honest. Thus you can get up and murder a song and still be rewarded with the sound of clapping, and no-one's going to come up to you afterwards and say, "You know, that really wasn't very good. "
And, at the same time, singing a song unaccompanied or with three guitar chords, is perceived as easy. Why, anyone can sing...
It's something you don't tend to get in other musical genres.
As a result, the performer ends the evening on a bit of a high - there's been the burst of adrenalin in getting up to perform, and the welcome ripple of applause at the end; all in all the performance has been validated.
To be honest, in that sense some clubs do have something of a 'care in the community' function.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Will Fly
Date: 31 Jan 09 - 05:18 PM

TheSnail:
The implication was that people were knowingly performing badly because they didn't care. Would you say that was true of the performers at that club? They seem to work in isolation so may honestly feel they are giving of their best if they have little to compare themselves with.

Most folk clubs are very supportive and friendly places - which is great because, if they weren't, many of us would never have had a place to get started as performers in the first place. I certainly wouldn't. Most folk clubs have a core of regular audience members, some of whom will be regular performers. When these performers get up to do their piece(s), they will usually get very warm and enthuiastic applause from the audience. The whole evening is friendly and cosy. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

However, there's a potential drawback with this. At its best, you get an evening of good singing and/or playing, with enough dedicated and competent performers to make it worth while (as WLD might say) to shift your arse away from the telly for the evening. At its worst, however, the whole ethos of the club is so lacking in discrimination and so smug that you get a whole string of poor performers who seem to have no sense of their poorness. And because the club is warm and inviting and cosy and everyone knows everyone else and everyone's used to it being like that for 1,000 years, no-one cares. Except me?

Let's be clear: when I see a performer who is obviously a beginner, obviously nervous and shaky, my heart goes out to him/her. I worry for them. I want them to get through it successfully and, when they've finished, I try to show my appreciation of their effort. Note the phrase: "their effort". Because they remind me of meself 40+ years ago. What gets my ageing goat are those who, by their smug demeanour, think they're adequate - actually sometimes think they're very good - when, in fact, they're not. And they can sometimes be experienced - and even being paid a guest fee.

So what's the remedy? Well, to return to the nub of your question: if they have little to compare themselves with. Hmm. This surely can't be true? There's just so much excellence around - in good clubs, on radio and TV - on YouTube - on CD - on DVD. Surely we each have powers of discrimination? Surely we have role models? When I was starting to play guitar, I had so many role models that I wanted to be like that I drove myself crazy trying to be like them - Merle Travis, Doc Watson, Django Reinhardt, Davy Graham, Big Bill Broonzy, Rev. Gary Davis... The list goes on and on and - grows: Richard Thompson, Duck Baker, Martin Simpson - it never ends, for God's sake. I'm still driving myself crazy - but I have improved a little, I think. And so have many others - because we listened, we wanted to be like our role models - and because we weren't we tried a little harder. We could tell the difference between what we sounded like and what our role models sounded like. We may have failed to attain the giddy heights that we'd aimed for - but at least we tried!


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 05:30 AM

"you get a whole string of poor performers who seem to have no sense of their poorness"

A good point, Will. I'm pretty sure that there are many people whose musical- and self-awareness are so lacking that they don't actually realise they are bad performers. It's not their fault, it's not necessarily lack of practice, and it's not that they don't care about it, they just don't have the capacity to understand that they haven't got the necessary attributes to be a good performer.

I have a theory that, when they're performing, they aren't actually hearing themselves, in their head they're replaying the track they learned the song from, and imagining they sound the same.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Jack Campin
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 06:24 AM

Or sometimes hearing themselves as they were thirty years ago.

One of the least entertaining phenomena on the folk scene is the performer from a previous generation who used to be good once but has learnt no new songs in the present millennium and hasn't changed their approach to anything in their repertoire for longer than that (except maybe forgetting some words). They can impress a new audience for a couple of minutes because they're extremely self-confident; anything beyond that and they're a freak show.

Hearing a beginner fumble a bit is nowhere near as scary for a newcomer in the audience as thinking, "my god, if I stick around here long enough will I turn into that?

If you aren't still learning, pack it in.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: TheSnail
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 06:47 AM

I don't think you answered my question, Will. Slightly modified for Pip's benefit - Do you think the people at that club knowingly perform badly because they don't think it matters or do they simply not know any better?

When I said they have little to compare themselves with, I meant in terms of the norm of what is expected at folk clubs. They don't seem to interact with other clubs in the area very much as far as I can tell. As far as I know, the club is well attended and has been running for a good few years. It doesn't seem to be dying. They seem to be happy. If you don't like what they do, don't go.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 07:11 AM

I wonder - to what extent is this truly a matter of taste, or expectation, or else seeing the epitome of musicality in the slick preening professionalism one often finds in the upper echelons of our Folk Society... Personally, I don't, and I never have, believing that a song is greater than the singer, much less their ability to sing the bloody thing. The fact people are moved to sing at all is miracle enough to me. Indeed, one of my favourite singers of all time is often slated as the worst singer in the world even by his own admission (and has trophies to prove it). I have heard singers of little or no ability who don't put any effort into at all, who do seem to be taking the piss rather and, like Rosie, I might find myself pondering what they themselves get out of it. On the other hand, if we like our music with the bark still on, then needs must we cherish the non-muso who sings purely for the love of it, however awry his / her performances might appear to be in terms of our own prejudices, musical or indeed otherwise.

As for my own prejudices, I'd rather listen to the worst singer in the world singing a traditional song (or better still ballad) than the slickest singer-songwriter dazzling us with his faultless finger-pickings and Americanised musings on the human condition, personal, political, or otherwise... At that point, you'll find me at the bar, contemplating the latest additions to Nobby's celebrated range of Nuts and rediscovering the will to live. Once though, we had a genuine Elvis impersonator in our club (one of the perils of our proximity to Blackpool) and he brought the house down, and me with it.

The moral is, if I'm drunk enough, I'll listen to anything.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 07:20 AM

contemplating the latest additions to Nobby's celebrated range of Nuts and rediscovering the will to live

Where is this pub?
I think, just occasionally, I might like to try this.
The nuts bit, anyway.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 07:42 AM

Perhaps you should meet Nobby first, before coming to a quick decision.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 07:53 AM

well, it depends on the Nut.
I am not very keen on Train Nuts,they are fine out spotting trains,but as regards conversation in a bar,no.
but you get many different kinds of nuts in folk clubs
Insane Beard ,have you seen WAV,lately,doesnt he live near you?


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: TheSnail
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 07:55 AM

PLEEEEEASE! Make this a WAVfree zone.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Will Fly
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 08:09 AM

Bryan - I suppose the answer is - deep down at heart - I really don't know. Why do I go to places like this? Because I do believe passionately in keeping live acoustic music alive, and I like to try and do my bit in that direction.

As it happens, I was at that club to meet up with some old friends, to renew acquaintance with people I really like and to give out some concert fliers. And, do you know, I always go with high hopes. At every club I go to, I genuinely hope the evening will be good fun. More often than not, they are actually good fun, because the company is good fun and the people are genuinely good people. But I still can't help wishing that some performers made more of an effort... so, sorry to be an old bore, but that's me. (and the particular evening I commented on was musically dire).

Perhaps if I wasn't driving and could get a few pints of Harveys inside me, (and some of Nobby's nuts) the critic in me would happily dissolve in an alcoholic haze...


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 08:45 AM

have you seen WAV,lately,doesnt he live near you?

WAV lives over in Tyneside, some 130 miles away from us, though we lived in Durham until September '07 which put us in a similar orbit, so our paths tended to cross from time to time. Actually, he's a classic example of the more singular creature you get frequenting singarounds, and before ever I became aware of his somewhat bizarre on-line persona (and the opinions thereof) I found him as affable a cove as you could wish to meet, the eccentricity of his performances notwithstanding. But having long since embraced idiosyncrasy as a fount of (potential) genius, one must then weigh each case on more particular merits, which in WAV's case are, alas, severely compromised by his political motives.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: TheSnail
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 09:03 AM

You're a man with a mission, Will, but I don't think you are going to change them. There are plenty more good clubs and sessions in the area. I've heard that there is quite a good session in Henfield, second Sunday of the month if memory serves me right, not to mention the session at the Trevor at Glynde this afternoon. Details can be found at Will Fly's Folk Clubs, Singarounds and Sessions.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Will Fly
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 09:14 AM

LOL! Bryan, I guess you're right. I must admit, I do love acoustic sessions, when I can get to them, as I've said before. Most people get to play most of the time. You can learn, or at least hear, new tunes, there' often a different mix of instruments - and I do see a lot of younger people at sessions.

At the last sessions I went to (last Sunday) in Sussex, there was a young lad there who we all knew. He has some learning difficulties but dances with the local Morris and has learned to play the accordion - upside down! He brought it along to the session and was persuaded to lead off on a tune that he knew. So he played "Shepherds Hey" - a little tentatively at first, but better when we all joined in. It turned out that it was his public playing debut and he got a huge round of applause. That's why I like sessions. I've learned a great deal from them myself over the last 2 years or so - and not just music.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: TheSnail
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 09:32 AM

Haven't been able to get to that session for a while but it epitomises all that's good about the folk scene. There are musicians there who will blow your socks off (including your good self if I may say so) but it can accommodate people like your young friend. If any one went along there thinking "It's only folk music so it doesn't matter, they'd learn the error of their ways very quickly or take up karaoke.

Back to Rosie's question - But if there are these mythical beasties who allegedly are ruining folk clubs by turning up week in week out, but never learn the words or keep a tune, I just want to know, what on earth do they get out of it?

I've no idea. If you ever come across one, ask them and let me know.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Will Fly
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 09:35 AM

There are musicians there who will blow your socks off (including your good self if I may say so) but it can accommodate people like your young friend.

Too right. There are some sessions I wouldn't dare participate in because I just don't know the repertoire well enough - particularly true of some of the Irish sessions in Brighton where many of the players would vaporise my socks! Still, we can but hope, though I'm not getting any younger.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 10:11 AM

who cares ,there will always be someone better,the secret is to enjoy what you are doing and maintain the enthusiasm to keep working at it.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 10:40 AM

If any one went along there thinking "It's only folk music so it doesn't matter, they'd learn the error of their ways very quickly or take up karaoke.

The question answered. Why do you see a lot of the GEFF mentality at some folk clubs? Because some folk clubs foster and encourage it. Why do you see none of it at other folk clubs? Because they don't.

IB - I'm not a big fan of Jim Eldon, but I'd much rather listen to him than to some of the polished, professional, bland and meaningless stuff I've heard at folk clubs - no matter how well rehearsed it was. It's not lack of polish that annoys me but lack of attention to the material: people who wander on stage, smile apologetically and say something about not having had time to practise, then give a performance which shows they were telling the truth. I reckon a club where that doesn't happen is a club which has (in whatever intangible collective way) the right attitude.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 10:50 AM

"I've no idea. If you ever come across one, ask them and let me know."

Fair enough Snail!

My initial post was prompted by what I've been hearing here, almost constantly since first arriving. The continuing debate about these dreadful mythic creatures and what to do about them has been a matter of interest to me, because as a beginner I want to know what common pitfalls to avoid. And the more I watched some threads, the more paranoid I began to become!

In fact I heard so much about terrible amatuers on one thread when I first arrived, that it inspired me to ask about half a dozen questions onlist about what DOES constitute a 'good performance', what IS a 'good voice' etc. etc.?

Honestly, I'm laughing now!

See, I've got this image in my head of a mysterious breed of shuffling mumbling voudou-ressurected peat-bog men, who only hang out in the dim lighting of folk clubs where their true nature will not be identified. Their habits include hogging the limelight for hours on end, keeping their heads permenently wedged in a folder the size of a black-hole (maybe they don't have heads?), drifting all over a tune like some hapless soul lost on a life raft, while barely managing to string more than half a dozen words together (probably because they only speak Peat-Boggish).

Do we have a case of a folk Yeti or Nessy here? A kinda 'Folk Club Urban Legend'? Anyway, I'll be sure to keep my camera phone handy if I do venture out to one of their mysterious folk-lairs. And Fortean Times have already been promised exclusive rights to publish some completely out of focus images of something that actually looks amazingly like something completely unrecognisable! Camera shake mandatory.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 12:39 PM

I'm not a big fan of Jim Eldon, but I'd much rather listen to him than to some of the polished, professional, bland and meaningless stuff I've heard at folk clubs - no matter how well rehearsed it was.

They don't come any more polished or professional than Jim Eldon, Pip - as a look through Corona Smith's recent videos on YouTube will testify. There are, of course, detractors, but they tend to exist at the more muso end of folkery, more concerned with playing notes than playing music.

I got into folk music (rather than folk notes) because it allowed people to sing material that seemed to me possessed of an appropriately feral charm in a context that was entirely fitting; an outsider aesthetic that was as much about the collectivity of a given tradition (however so perceived) as it was about the idiosyncrasy of the people who represented it - traditional, revival, neo-revival or otherwise. The so-called source-singers have always been of great significance to me, as are the rank & file folkies who sing this stuff week in week out at folk clubs & singarounds with precious little reward for their life-long efforts & endeavours.

Folk celebrity hasn't born any great fruits musically, I fear, IMHO - unless one might think of Jim Eldon as a folk celebrity, or Peter Bellamy, who could barely scrape a living in his own country despite his extraordinary genius. When PB died, something died inside of me as well, and I really had to get to grips with just what it was about folk music that I loved - and despised. I think I'm more or less on top of that now, just about, but in the end it's always down to a handful of people who make this music real for me, otherwise I'd just as soon not bother at all.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 01:25 PM

For my own part, whatever the craft or art, wherever there is genuine Love, there beauty and joy may be also be found.

And while I find the notion that there may be those out there who appear to evince a complacent absence of love for their craft somewhat bemusing, I also believe that where there is genuine love, then ample latitude may be allowed for relative aesthetic merits and degrees of ability.

I also believe imperfection to be an essential element of anything aesthetically beautiful. Without some imperfection comes inauthenticity and sterility. Perfection is fraudulent. We feel it in our gut, we instinctively know these are intricately constructed forgeries of the truth. And we feel betrayed and empty. No love, no anima or pneuma, no communion.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: SPB-Cooperator
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 03:47 PM

From experience the kisses of death for folk clubs seem to be:

(1) Lack of supportive venues (i.e. clubs having to move at the whim of a brewery/change of management, and loud music in another bar drowning out the music in the club).
(2) Regulars becoming too introspective making 'outsiders' feel unwelcome.
(3) Lack of professionalism in club organisation, e.g. starting late.
(4) In-fighting between those who want to stamp their authority on club policies and those who pull there finger out and actually do the work.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 05:29 PM

"Do we have a case of a folk Yeti or Nessy here? A kinda 'Folk Club Urban Legend'?"

Unfortunately not! Sadly I can think of several - and they are certainly not mythical!


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Forsh
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 06:32 PM

Because idiots who run them say stuff like "oooh, I never book anyone I haven't heard/seen"
other idiots let committees run their clubs.
others still, just like the kudos, and being 'in charge'.
IT'S ALL ABOUT 'FOLK', f'chrissake!
Folk is what folk want to hear, folk want to sing & folk enjoy; NOT what YOU Mr stick-in-the-mud want to book! (You know who you are!)
Regards
Mr Angry.

OK
It's me
Forsh.
You Got Me.
Hrumph.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Tootler
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 06:44 PM

Whether you think folk clubs are dying or not depends on whether you see the pot as half full or half empty and it is possible to put most of the regular posters on this thread - and on the many other threads that discuss folk clubs - into one of these two categories.

In fact there are certainly good clubs and bad clubs and a lot in between. If you find a good one, stick with it.

On the other hand what you think of as a good or bad club depends on what you are looking for - and your expectations. I have heard almost diametrically opposed views on one local club - which seems to be quite successful, btw - and they were both from people whose opinions I respect.

In discussing singers, I have seen no mention of choruses. I mention this because I was at a session last night where the chorus singing was fantastic and somehow I think that helped to raise the overall standard of the individual singing.

If a club has good and enthusiastic chorus singing, it will compensate for the variability of the individual singers and also give the weaker ones something of a helping hand.

There is something special about joining in the choruses. Certainly last night I felt the proverbial tingle up the spine.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Faye Roche
Date: 01 Feb 09 - 07:32 PM

I didn't know that I was going to kick up such a storm.

One last comment from me- there is a difference between people who get up to sing and are not very good but try their best and those who can't be bothered.

If you think that you can sing in tune and yet can't hold a tune in a wheelbarrow, you need someone to take you aside, have a quiet word with you, and then guidance and encouragement to improve. I have a reasonably high tolerance level of people like this.

If you forget your words in the second, fourth and sixth verses because you can't be arsed to learn them, you KNOW that you've done badly. It's people who sing like this and don't seem to care than **** me off. And I still can't see what satisfaction they get from it.

A folk club organiser said to me the other day: "Ah but old Jim's been coming here since we started. He always gets lost in the third verse of "Fathom the Bowl" but he's one of our main supporters so we have to give him his turn. And Amy's been bringing her tin whistle here for the last three years; when she started we couldn't make out what tune she was trying to play, but now we can, quite often, so we always let her go on."

Jim and Amy (all names have been changed, as has the song and instrument) were also the nicest of people, so I can see the club's dilemma. I don't know what the answer is.


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Subject: RE: Why folk clubs are dying
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 02 Feb 09 - 05:36 AM

Faye: "I didn't know that I was going to kick up such a storm."

I wasn't even specifically thinking of your thread Faye, though it was another which I recall. When I first landed at Mudcat there was an ongoing discussion about these Bog Beasties that ran and ran! Check Folk Club Manners if you're interested.

"One last comment from me- there is a difference between people who get up to sing and are not very good but try their best and those who can't be bothered."

Well, that seems to be a point of contention, as to whether anyone is actually so lacking in interest as not to learn their words. But my own query and puzzlement, was based on the assumption that there are these people out there, who actually want to perform but are seemingly not all that into singing the songs for themselves.

See only recently I discovered this whole secret hourd of little sparkling worlds. At first they look a bit dusty and antiquated, but give them a little love and attention and they slowly open up for you and let you inside. It's a bit like staring at some faded sepia photo that you've found in an old leather trunk in Grannies loft, and then something magical happens and the image comes to life. And there are these living figures fulfilling their microscopic destinies. But more than that, you find yourself slowly pulled into this little world, which is both of the past and yet timeless, but very much alive. I'm still stuck in the loft sifting through this enchanted trunk of old photos. Don't think I'll be down for supper til way past pumkin midnight...

Right now I don't have a burning ambition to become a performer in any formal capacity, be that as a 'floor singer', a 'guest', or whatever other assignations there are in folk clubs! I'm enjoying learning the songs for their own sake. Maybe the desire to step it up a level will come in time. I dunno, but while I do understand singing for it's own sake, I sure don't understand why someone might want to perform seemingly for its own sake. But especially when you know you're inevitably going to give a poor performance. Which does an injustice not only to the audience and to yourself, but to the song.

And that's the last I'll be saying on this matter too! Because I too seem to have generated some irritation.
In innocence I hasten to add. And indeed, as is becoming more apparant, in ignorance of the full range of issues which I may be clumsily stumbling over.


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