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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

One of the many things I like about working at Sidmouth FolkWeek is that I occasionally get recognised as the writer of this column, even though my hair is a different kind of stupid to how it is in the photo. It helps that I’m usually wearing a lanyard with my name on it but it’s a good feeling. I don’t want to be famous but a little bit of acknowledgment takes the edge off the screaming misery of existence.

At this year’s Sidmouth FolkWeek a man told me he’d enjoyed my column on Brexit. That was nice to hear, even though I hadn’t written a column on Brexit. He could’ve easily imagined I’d written a terrible column on Brexit and chastised me for it but instead he imagined I’d done a fantastic job. I’ll take that compliment.

It’s not that I didn’t have any thoughts about Brexit for that issue of the magazine. I thought the referendum was a cowardly political game that disastrously backfired, ensuring the former Prime Minister will forever be remembered as the man who severed the European Union, tanked the economy, divided the nation and still didn’t rid us of Boris Johnson. Even John Major’s CV reads better than that and he cheated on his wife with a woman who declared that all eggs were poisonous.

The reason I didn’t write about Brexit is I believe very strongly in finding a niche and sticking to it. And my niche is making poor quality jokes about traditional music. To stray outside of that is to risk comparison with far smarter, funnier writers. Which isn’t to say I think I’m the smartest, funniest writer in folk (that’s for others to say). There are just not many of us, and we all have different styles and areas of expertise. It’s a small pond but there’s room enough for us all to be big fish without getting on each other’s gills.

I think that’s true of the music too. At this year’s Sidmouth, Anna & Elizabeth didn’t have to compete with several duos weaving mesmerising spells with old-time American mountain music and scroll-assisted storytelling. That niche is theirs. Trio Dhoore didn’t arrive to discover they weren’t the only Belgian brothers astounding audiences with buoyant tunes on guitar, diatonic accordeon and hurdy gurdy (with matching shirts). They were unique in that respect, the most important respect to be unique in. There weren’t other Stick In The Wheels. There weren’t even groups who could be described as Stick In The Wheelish. If you wanted to hear something that sounded Stick In The Wheely there was only one place to go.

Out in the real world there’s a lot of pressure to be like everyone else. The greatest ambition most people have is to be normal. Unless they’re mountain climbers, and even they probably want to be normal mountain climbers – just your average Everest-conquering Joe. Our school system is geared towards everyone achieving excellence in everything. If you’re really good at Literature but lousy at Geography you can be sure it’s your failure to identify depositional landforms that will dominate parents’ evening rather than your devastating feminist critique of Measure For Measure. Screw those guys. Find something to do that can be uniquely you and do the heck out of it. But not this. I do this.

Tim Chipping


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