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Ian Anderson
Photo: Judith Burrows

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

There are two human traits that have seemed reasonably constant in the Western societies that have grown up over recent centuries: the tendency to accumulate stuff, and the desire to exchange enthusiasms and discoveries with your friends. And the more fascinating and unusual paths that your discoveries and enthusiasms led you down, the more stuff you accumulated and, quite often, your social circle evolved.

When I first got hooked into music off the mainstream – folk, blues, jazz, what later got called ‘world music’ – I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I found the other people locally who shared these tastes, I got to know some of their friends further afield, and I devoured and constantly re-read magazines. In truth probably no different from rock fans or classical music lovers, the first thing you did when you were invited to a new person’s home – or later in my case, got put up by club organisers or their friends when travelling the country as a musician – was make a bee-line for their record collections and bookshelves. You often spotted something you’d never heard, or even heard of, and they might then take delight in introducing you to it. Like today, very little of this music could be found on the radio and although there were far more record shops, the general high street ones didn’t really stock anything unusual and certainly didn’t have the sort of enthusiastic expertise you’d get in the few specialist stores like Colletts.

I was pondering on why, when pretty much everything ever recorded can now be found somewhere on the internet for free, that the range of musical pleasures people take to seems to be lessening, and the curiosity about the story behind the music diminishing. Some people have pointed, as Elizabeth Kinder did in her ‘Whatever happened to world music?’ feature last issue, to the savage decline in record shops removing browsing and impulse buy possibilities. Others have suggested the ‘too much information’ overload: that there’s now so much stuff on YouTube, and so many sites whose ‘if you like that, you might like this’ algorithms are completely nonsensical, that you get stuck in the loop. If you think you like death metal, there are probably so many death metal links you can follow that you’ll never break out of that ghetto except to some barmy computer-generated link that will send you scurrying straight back to the womb.

But maybe it’s simpler than that. In these days of too much domestic stuff and of music being devalued, the iPod dock or the streaming site are often now the only music in the house. When you get invited to somebody’s home, it’s not really the done thing to rifle through your host’s laptop and, anyway, all mp3s look the same. What are the chances, as a young English folk player, of you stumbling across something fascinating looking, like Skip James, or the Bauls Of Bengal, Charlie Mingus – or even Harry Cox?

I hope that’ll be one of the benefits now the physical is making a comeback, with an extraordinary deluge of wonderful new CDs and a steady increase in subscribers to fRoots as a trusted, independent, fellow enthusiasts’ informal guide through them. Come in! Heard this? Lives changed!

Ian Anderson

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