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Ian Anderson
Photo: Judith Burrows

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

The English Folk Expo, held alongside the Homegrown festival in Bury in October, was particularly enjoyable. Its size was much more to my taste than the higher profile international showcase events, reminding me somewhat of the very early Womex days in the House Of World Cultures in Berlin. It allowed the social side to become much more human – when you switch off your business head and stop thinking about who you must impress, forget about ‘networking’ and just relax in conversation in a late night bar with people you’ve known a little and get to know them a lot better. I like that.

Jon Boden gave the ‘keynote speech’ and it was most enjoyable and thought-provoking. Some of those thoughts he provoked were that it’s interesting to hear things from the perspective of somebody relatively new into the folk scene, who doesn’t carry the baggage of having fought in the folk and world music wars down the preceding decades. And one thing he said was that the profile of our music on the radio is now rather good, based on a few artists of his generation successfully making it onto the Radio 2 playlist: a bit of mainstream exposure that wasn’t there before.

But the following week reminded me just how much things have actually changed for the worse. It was lovely to hear Verity Sharp back briefly hosting Late Junction on Radio 3 after a long break, and this coincided with the tenth anniversary of the death of John Peel. At first you might think they have very little in common – he came out of a different musical base and was on Radio 1 rather than minority Radio 3. But actually their programmes are the same animal: stuff I like that I thought hardly anybody else knew about, stuff I’ve not heard before and am grateful to discover, and some things which are like a cheesegrater to my ears but I persevere with because I know something different will be along shortly. All driven by the enthusiasms of the presenter, not a playlist. The sort of thing that Peel and Kershaw and Alexis Korner did long ago on Radio 1 – the mass market station – and Charlie Gillett did on London ones. That was when our music really got out there and inspired new converts and, sadly, it’s a kind of broadcasting that hardly exists any more. Horses largely remain unfrightened.

Another great thing about Homegrown was David Agnew’s adventurous programming. Everybody knows, it says here, that audiences won’t listen to instrumental groups. So he put two on, one after the other, to top the opening night – new trio Leveret (Messrs Cutting, Sweeney & Harbron) and the mighty Spiro. Both not just instrumental, but English instrumental, including some tunes from the same tunebook. Bonkers idea. But it worked: it was one of my favourite concerts of the year, because both were inspiringly good and completely different in their musical approaches and live presentation style. Hard to top!

It flew completely in the face of that festival programmer’s mantra that you can’t take risks. Oh yes you can!

Ian Anderson

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