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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

It can’t be ignored, but in the current climate of anger, bewilderment and shock it’s almost impossible to write anything coherent about the state the U-but-possibly-not-much-longer-K finds itself in. The headless political chickens are running so fast in ever-decreasing circles trying to knife each other in the backs (© Tortuously Mixed Metaphors™), who knows what will have changed again between now (the last week of June) and the time this is published.

Let’s just concentrate on the music then. It’s very likely that the old barriers will soon come up again for UK musicians working in Europe: not just the tiresome old business of visas, carnets, withholding tax etc but basic angry retaliation against what ‘we’ – because we’re all tarred with the same brush – have brought about. In the opposite direction, we’ve already been losing out culturally because conservative booking policies have been denying our audiences access to inspiring music from our neighbours (don’t start me on the Costa Del Folk mentality again…). We’ve got maybe a two year window to do something about this, to show that the folk scene isn’t xenophobic in the way that the whole UK population is now being painted across the world, to forge international musical alliances. And don’t forget it’s not just with Continental Europe – in England it could soon be Ireland and even Scotland outside the wall too.

In our scene there’s bound to be an admirable upswell of activity to combat racism and xenophobia – but this will only work by involving the musicians. Talking the talk and wearing the badges is not enough if we don’t welcome the numerous great UK-based European bands to share stages as equals.

Then there’s the economy. fRoots – and the whole cottage industry folk scene in general – somehow sailed through all the recessions, property crashes and interest rate hikes of the Thatcher years and later with a charmed life, largely unaffected. But the 2008 crash was different. Arts funding was slashed, ‘world music’ touring shuddered to a halt, everybody was frightened to take any risks or invest, the likes of the BBC massively cut non-mainstream programme budgets. Our advertising income dropped 30 percent in six months as the record business imploded, and venues closed or put the onus on artists to do the promotion because from then on they were expected to play for non-guarantee percentages rather than a fee. As the economy contracts savagely again, you can be sure that arts and cultural funding and arts education will be the very first to get scrapped, and a cash-strapped public will also be cutting their leisure spending. Scared? You bet…

It’s going to be a difficult summer. There need to be a lot of late-night conversations at festival gatherings to find a positive, unified way forward. One thing’s certain: Joe Strummer wouldn’t have liked this or taken it sitting down.

If the world hasn’t ended before September, the next issue is our 400th. That’ll be something to celebrate and I hope you’ll join us. Please, again, read the appeal. Meanwhile, I’m going to go out and twang my guitar and sing some stupid folk songs very loud. I may be some time…

Ian Anderson

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