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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

After comments in recent issues, you were probably expecting a pained mini-essay from me on how the only English artists to be rewarded with BBC Folk Awards this year were half the Furrow Collective and 40 percent of Songs Of Separation, but so much has been said on the subject on yer social meeja that I think the point has already been well made. You might also be anticipating some commentary on the upcoming general election but, let’s face it, you’re all familiar with where our loyalties definitely don’t lie, and as we’re going to press on not-that-May Day (yes, while you’re engaged in bacchanalian revels in the streets of Padstow), who knows what state the nation will be in by the time this issue hits your doormat. Back to your Facebook bubble!

In theory I have a masterplan for fRoots content, but actually it often has a mind of its own and just needs a little bit of push and pull to pretend that we had an elegant theme envisaged all along. Last month it did that itself with our “merry month of May” issue with its focus on English traditions – women’s morris, hobby horses and beasts, collecting – which I was pleased to get plenty of good feedback from. I should give some appropriate praise to Elizabeth Kinder for that: time and time again over the decade-plus she’s been writing for us I’ve chucked projects at her that I suspected she’d get her teeth into but, at that initial point, knew very little about. She never fails to come up with the goods from a standing start, and so it was with that excellent women’s morris feature last month – for which I really wanted somebody with absolutely no preconceived ideas or tribal agenda, and certainly didn’t want a cold, academic approach. Win!

As it happens, Elizabeth gets the cover feature again this month, interviewing Portugal’s remarkable Lula Pena about whom, I have to admit, none of us knew very much at all, other than her mesmerising music. Well we do now! And it turns out that this is another issue which has grown its own sub-theme. As well as Lula Pena, we have pieces on a number of other powerful, individual, original women artists including Valerie June, Ani Cordero, Grace Petrie and Alsarah. We deliberately didn’t flag it up as a ‘strong women’ issue because it wasn’t intentional – more a sign of the times, maybe – any more than we note that this one has, by chance, more of what we’re probably going to stop calling ‘World Music’ features than has been common, of late and on average.

It’s instructive to look back at the CD sales chart from 15 years ago where a dozen of the top 20 would have been found in the ‘World Music’ box in record shops. Compare and contrast with charts from the mid-1980s which were completely dominated by ‘Celtic’ LPs: not only had the sound carrier changed, but so had the main fashion in our neck of the music. Without record shops or any way to accurately assess what’s selling now – not to mention streaming (which seems have been rapidly monetised by the major labels whose power we thought for a brief but glorious few years had been vanquished) – how will we know in 15 years time what was really popular in 2017? Oh yes, the Folk Awards. Hmm…

Ian Anderson

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