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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

I mentioned last month the notion that fRoots is a kind of ongoing oral history project – not an original idea, as I credited ­– and it turns out that this issue is particularly full of fascinating background stories from the people who make the music.

I don’t know about you, but I find that knowing what makes a musician tick, hearing about their life experiences, draws me into their art. One of the things I used to find about the late-lamented Word magazine – one of the bigger casualties of the pressures music magazines are facing – was that a well-written, perceptive interview with someone whose music had, up until then, held no interest to me whatsoever, would have the effect of making me listen to them again in a different way. Mind you, the other side of that coin is that, personally, knowing a musician is a complete arsehole really gets in the way of enjoying what they do!

One of the things that people often point out as a characteristic of folk music – from anywhere out there in the world – is that the songs often have real life stories to tell. Indeed in some places songs are the main repository of a nation’s history and culture back into a distant past. Sorry, this isn’t getting into a “What is f***?” thing – after all, folk also contains some of the most beautiful first-person love songs imaginable and some of the most inspiring music without any words at all. Anyway, it seems to me that a magazine that has traditionally-based music, from wherever, at its core should very much concern itself with the background stories, not just in historic or ethnomusicological terms but very specifically of the people making it, changing it, taking it forward.

One of the criticisms levelled at some of the song collectors from the turn of the previous century was that they weren’t particularly interested in the personal stories of their sources, only in pinning down in a notebook the particularly rare butterfly of a song that had emerged from their mouths. Hopefully, these days we get a much fuller picture of why the music is being made as well as where it has come from. That’s one of the things fRoots is for.

Several people commented, after last issue’s editorial, on what a hugely valuable resource fRoots has been down our 37 years, and enquired how they could access it all since there has never been any funding to put our valuable back pages online – indeed it’s hard enough to keep bringing in the funding to put it out every month (yes, read that ongoing appeal)!

Well, like all magazines we are legally required to deposit copies with national institutions – so, for example, the British Library should have a complete set. Lots of other major public and academic libraries, not just here but around the world, have them too. We’ve also donated them down the years to places we thought should have them – SOAS and the VWML in London, for example. Our last complete set went to the traditional music course at Newcastle, though recent conversations with some students from there found them surprised at this information, so they may have gone AWOL. Check the broom cupboard up there, folks – that’s history in those dusty crates!

Ian Anderson

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