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Ian Anderson
Photo: Judith Burrows

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

I saw a hitch-hiker yesterday. There he was, hopefully thumbing it by the petrol station, with a guitar case propped up on his backpack and a large handwritten sign saying “South”. I realised that I can’t remember when I last saw a hitch-hiker, and had almost forgotten how that was an absolutely normal way of getting around the UK back in the days when I was setting out doing ‘floor spots’ in the folk clubs of the West and South of England. It was so normal and reliable that you could calculate what time to set out to arrive at a venue a hundred miles away, even to do a gig.

This was of course in ye olden days before almost universal car ownership and tabloid scare stories about the bad people out there. Now, of course, you have to build an extra few hours into your computer-calculated driving time because chances are that the motorway system will grind to a complete halt at some point on your journey, plus the unlikelihood of finding a parking space once you’ve arrived. This is something I believe is called ‘progress’.

For a long time, another form of progress has been the increase in quality and opportunity for musicians. Back in those thumb-powered days, only a minority got the chance to make a record, and as well as coming out on fairly poor sounding (and soon scratchy) vinyl, chances are it was recorded on quite basic equipment using the only instruments then affordable. It’s a miracle that so much extraordinary stuff got recorded (and small surprise that lots from ye olden days really doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, regardless of the prices rarities fetch on eBay).

Nowadays, even open mic participants and Young Folk Award entrants can be found announcing “here’s a track from my CD” and stepping up with instruments of a quality that hitch-hiker generation could never have dreamed of owning. And why not? This is a good thing, surely?

And then there’s the internet. In the hitch-hiking years, if you weren’t in easy reach of one of the handful of specialist record shops or could catch one of the few radio shows that could pique your ears, then the only way you were going to find out about artists, their songs and records was by word of mouth – if you were lucky enough to meet fellow enthusiasts – or magazines. So I became a magazine junkie.

Nowadays, everything can be found on the internet, which is another wonderful thing. But that assumes you know it’s there to look for, and is why magazines like fRoots are still the best, most user-friendly thing alongside word of mouth for pointing you at the needle in the digital haystack. It’s significant – possibly a parallel to the revival of vinyl – how physical magazines continue to confound the expert pundits who were confidently predicting their demise back in the last century. Thanks for continuing to believe in ye olde technology!

I wonder if that hitch-hiker is still there…

Ian Anderson

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