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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

Here you have it: your first brand new, bigger (indisputably) and better (we think) quarterly fRoots, all completing our 39th year of publication! If you’ve been following the story in our pages or on social media over the past four or five months, you’ll know that this is the first fruit of our plan – wondrously well-supported via our recent Kickstarter Save fRoots campaign – to evolve your favourite music magazine into something sustainable and better suited to current publishing realities.

While old-school magazines, glossy covers all plastered with shouty type lines, have increasingly struggled for space in mainstream news chains, there has been a quiet revolution in independent publishing. From arts/lifestyle magazines like Hole & Corner to reborn music titles like Americana bible No Depression, there’s a more subtle, better quality look, much more substantial in size and content. They sell, increasingly direct to readers, at a justifiably higher, more realistic price in a world where advertising no longer pays the print bill and reading habits have changed. The same as with records in the digital age: nowadays you need to produce a better physical artefact that people want to own, keep and spend time with.

I hope you approve. There are a few subtle tweaks where you won’t notice why it looks a bit better (is the plan!). With this transitional one we’ve tried to include all the news and reviews to hand. All this will evolve once we see how quarterly publishing works, but major design and content changes are something I think should be left to the vision of the next editor – and the opinions and needs of you, the readers.

Our website will be redesigned soon, and is then intended to include a ‘late breaking news’ section for things that come up too late for the current issue but will have happened by the time of the next one. And it’s possible – still under discussion – that important reviews may show up first online, and some minor ones may only appear there. If you’re a subscriber and we have your email address, you’ll be the first to know. Oh, and from now on our remaining airplay and historical charts will only be on the website where they can be updated monthly.

On the other hand, when our wonderful advisory panel gathered together back in January, one of the things they strongly suggested was that we make use of our substantial historic archive – 418 issues and 39 years of it, my sole bound set currently taking up 2.5 metres of shelf space and rising! You’ll see the first fruit of that in our big Ali Farka Touré retrospective this issue, which I’m very proud of.

Oddly enough, going quarterly takes us right back to where we started. When we launched as a regional folk magazine under our original title Southern Rag back in 1979, we were indeed that – though at 48 pages of A5, the equivalent of 24 at the current A4 size which we changed to in 1982. After that we did another three years as a quarterly before going monthly and changing the title to Folk Roots in 1985. That last Southern Rag had grown to 60 pages with the already established annual festival spread which that year contained details of just 39, quite a few of which are still with us.

The world was beginning to open up rapidly at that point: Martin Carthy may have been on the last Southern Rag cover and the lead LP reviews were on The Oyster Band (as they were billed then), Richard Thompson and Martin Simpson, but the first of the now-recognisable Womads was about to happen at Mersea in Essex, and the tour of the moment was by Flaco Jimenez’s Tex Mex band. Enthusiastic reviews went to artists as diverse as Thomas Mapfumo & The Blacks Unlimited, Brave Combo and Calabria’s Re Niliu, all of whom would subsequently tour.

Features included our first interview with young (this was already considered worth remarking on) Billy Bragg who was about to release something called Between The Wars while “Ewan MacColl’s daughter Kirsty” was in the charts with Billy’s song A New England. Clare Cooper from Visiting Arts reported on how they were helping to fund organisations like Arts Worldwide (see that Ali Farka Touré retrospective) to bring in music from around the world. And The Men They Coudn’t Hang were quoted as saying to the NME that “folk is kinda trendy now”.

Meanwhile a letter writer from the Netherlands, commenting on the proliferation of UK festivals, asked why the English folk scene was so closed: “I wonder why one never sees any foreign acts on the bill. There are quite a lot of very good folk groups from the continent, most of them better – in my opinion – than most of the English acts.” Costa del what? Some things change, some things remain the same…

The following issue, bowing to the inevitable of so much going on that we couldn’t keep up with it all in a 60-page quarterly in pre-interweb days, we went monthly. As I’ve often said since, if I’d known then what a life-eating monster it would be, would I have done it? Jury still out. But one thing’s for certain, we have to change with the times. Fingers crossed that you like this change too. Good (lots of) reading!

Ian Anderson

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