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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

The topic of this column came from regular reader Andrew Carruthers who generously donated money to our recent Kickstarter campaign: Save fRoots’ Writers From Having To Eat Out Of Bins. Andrew pledged to have me write about a subject of his choosing, and that subject is his disappointment that many UK folk festivals often seem to be closed off to good music from connected genres. His ideal festival, he adds, would be fRoots Live. But that doesn’t exist.

I also look at the line-ups for festivals and feel they no longer cater for me. But like a relationship that’s reached the point of living separate lives under the same roof, I have to ask, is it them or me? Perhaps they’re who they’ve always been and it’s me who’s changed and now craves diversity, experimentation and to not have to listen to them clearing their throat in the shower every morning.

What makes us fond of a festival is largely confirmation bias and they only need book four or five of our favourites for us to think it’s an exceptional year. The big rock festivals attempt this tactic, dazzling you with Radiohead or Björk so you don’t notice that further down the bill are bands who should’ve broken up years ago but are all they can afford, having forked out for Radiohead or Björk. Our judgement isn’t to be trusted; it’s too easily entranced by shiny things and repulsed by the ooze at the bottom of a bin. So just because I think a line-up looks awful, doesn’t mean everyone else does. One man’s Best Cambridge Ever is another woman’s Why The Frig Have They Booked Jake Bugg?

That’s the objectivity out of the way, because actually I agree with Andrew (and not just because he’s effectively paying me to write this). Live entertainment is so financially precarious that for most festival programmers their first concern must be to put bums on grass. To do otherwise is to put the future of the event and its dependent livelihoods in jeopardy. That’s meant a noticeable shift towards booking the same guaranteed big hitters year in year out. People (that’s you) like familiar things. If we want large numbers of them to spend a lot of money we have to offer them those familiar things so they don’t get scared and spend it on shoes instead. The skill is to balance those obligatory bookings with additional programming that casts a net wide and weird, which is a big and unrealistic ask of most organisers. The best they can do is please most of the people most of the time, and most of the people don’t really want weird.

What’s the answer? Doing it yourselves is my best suggestion. I started my own tiny, local, booking-only-diverse-musicians-I-think-are-amazing festival last year, and I’m mostly a useless idiot. Yet people asked me to do it again, so it can’t be that hard. In 50 years’ time it might be a week long and have to take place in an abandoned Westfield to fit everyone in. And the artificially intelligent hologram writing this column will be having a go at me for booking Lankum yet again, even though it’s clearly not the original line-up and three of them aren’t even Irish. Well screw you, future columnist. I’ve got bills to pay.

Tim Chipping


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