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Ian Anderson
 
Photo: Judith Burrows

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

This column usually gets written last before the magazine heads off to the printers, and this time is no exception. Having done the usual series of midnight oil jobs on pre-press, I took a break to pop down to a local folk festival to catch a band I wanted to see. The event was full and well organised, and the band were excellent, but as usual there was something I noticed.

The same familiar thought had also struck me when an official photographer had posted an audience shot from the Folk Awards on line. As reported elsewhere this issue, it was the most professional of those events that I’ve ever attended, both in terms of production and performances. In spite of my best attempts at introductions (always a bugger when nobody wears name badges and you’re crap at remembering them), my partner, for whom this was her first time, did rather sympathise with Guardian columnist and award presenter Tim Dowling when he subsequently wrote “How many complete strangers can you fit into the Wales Millennium Centre? I don’t really know any folk music folk but they all seem to know each other.” But it wasn’t that. The circulated photo not only showed that nearly all the audience were, shall we say, well past the first flush of youth, but it was quite obvious, in the absence of Mr Keita this year, why our writer Steve Hunt has been known to refer to the event as “the MOWOs.”

It’s easy to knock the folk scene – after all, it has made a considerable habit of self-flagellation down the decades – but there are many, many things about it where it beats the mainstream music business hands down. For example, earlier this year, there was a meme circulating on Facebook (or fBook, as we like to call it) where somebody had removed all the male acts’ names from several major rock festival bills, leaving virtually blank pages. Gender equality – or even better, gender blindness – is something which the folk world very much gets right these days, as borne out by a glance through fRoots covers over the past decade or longer.

Cultural apartheid is another matter though. Even at the height of the anti-BNP ‘Folk Against Fascism’ movement, an otherwise admirable campaign, there were very few related events whose reach went beyond the usual suspects in performers and audience. Apart from Edward II and The Imagined Village, non-white English faces are mostly absent from our stages. But things – partly for reasons touched on in Elizabeth Kinder’s ‘Whatever happened to world music?’ piece in the April issue – are getting worse.

Back in the 1980s, UK folk festivals regularly featured visiting French, Italian and Scandiwegian bands (as well as griots a-go-go), but that’s much less common now. We may be heading back to the bad old days when the unthinking clearly considered that only the British and (white) North Americans have something called ‘folk’. The mind still boggles at the notion of that UK (or should it be UKIP) folk festival that decamps with its typical audience en masse to Spain, and yet doesn’t include a single Spanish performer on its bill.

We can do better than this. And everyone will win.

Ian Anderson


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