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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

Thanks for all the kind words in the wake of our 400th issue last month. Six pleasantly slow quarterly years of it being called The Southern Rag, fourteen years monthly as Folk Roots, another seventeen years and rising as fRoots. Some readers weren’t even born in 1999 when it changed to fRoots (pronounced ‘eff-roots’, like iMacs which had just been invented at the time are pronounced ‘eye-Mac’ – easy, no?) but we still can’t shake off that last-century title. A record label which only started a couple of years ago submitted an advert for this issue including a recent quote it claimed came from a review in ‘Folk Roots’. Sigh… I shall henceforth refer to my daily newspaper as the Manchester Guardian

And talking of the Guardian and other mainstream media, have you noticed how all the folk, roots and world music we cover in fRoots has quietly fallen out of fashion again here in the UK?

By the first years of this century we had finally shaken off decades of apathy, misconception and/or piss-taking. You could guarantee to see regular features and reviews in the ‘quality’ dailies and the dad-rock monthlies. With the launch of BBC4 in 2002 came a golden age of documentaries, televised festivals and specially produced concerts covering the whole range of roots musics. A new regime at BBC Radio 3 brought in several world music strands, the wonderful, esoteric Late Junction, and soon the Radio 3 Awards For World Music. Radio 2 never increased its hour ration per week for a specialist folk programme, but they put lots of budget and support into the Folk Awards and occasionally tracks into their general playlist. For quite a few years you could count on folk albums getting nominations in the prestigious Mercury Awards. As a result, UK folk and world music became expected staples of programming for arts centres and concert halls, and festivals boomed.

But then the record industry got murdered by the internet, and the economy got murdered by American bankers. Everybody’s advertising income crumbled. John Peel and Charlie Gillett died, Andy Kershaw vanished off air and ‘must listen’ radio habits ended with the coming of iPlayers. Content everywhere suffered budget and space cuts – now Robin Denselow in the Guardian gets allowed one review per week across the whole folk and world music landscape covered by fRoots. Everybody in the mainstream got conservative and risk averse, and promoters followed suit. The constant deluge of amazing new music hasn’t lessened though, just because there aren’t ‘token folk’ nominations in the Mercuries – it’s just harder to get its profile raised, given the ever-expanding haystack/needle ratio of the internet.

So it’s a good thing we’re still here, eh? This issue is heavy on world music as it usually is for WOMEX every year. Next month we balance it with a ‘Monsters Of Folk’ issue. Most months we try and cram in as much across the board as we can. Somebody has to!

If you’re a WOMEX delegate bag recipient seeing fRoots for the first time, welcome. We think you’ll find you need us!

Ian Anderson

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