Thursday, 23 August 2018 11:22

Musings from Folk East

Written by John
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The weather was perfect for Folk East on Saturday, bright but not too hot, which meant that I could focus on the music and not on whether I was about to develop sun stoke or hypothermia! 

Maybe it was just a coincidence but many of the acts, that I watched, had a significant number of songs with a Social Injustice theme - Irish Mythen actually used the term when telling a story related to a song about Syrian refugees. 

Kath Tait (famously described by Simon Haines as the Diva of the Dysfunctional) poked fun at some contemporary figures, Peter Knight sang about 'Hard Times in Old England', Show of Hands bemoaned the high cost of housing in rural areas.    I'm pretty sure that Martin Newell's poems - set to music from the Hosepipe Band - included some comments on social injustice.   A visit to the Fairs Archive (be aware that the Fairs site has been hacked and has links to dodgy sites!) tent brought back memories of fairs in the 80s - which were popular with young families.  Whilst there were some young people at Folk East, most of the audience and many of the performers no longer have to pay for bus tickets.  If they ever use a bus that is - certainly there were plenty of newish cars in the car park.

So when Show of Hands were railing against second home owners there were no cries of outrage and I suspect that a show of hands of second home owners or users of holiday cottages would have been embarrassing.  Several of the social injustice songs had their origins in the 80s and felt dated but not old enough to be history. 

My introduction to folk was in the 70s with Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span etc. Songs about press gangs, deportation and miners were common but had no contemporary relevance to someone in his 20s.  The miners strikes of the 80s brought a new relevance and gave rise to some new songs.

No one at FE was singing about Climate Change or Generation Rent - is that why the audience was predominately pensioner?  Is life now too comfortable to inspire new folk music or do people not want to be reminded of real life problems when they go to a festival?   Will a painful Brexit be good for folk music and bring in a younger generation?  It is great that so many artists are continuing to perform into old age - their fingers seem to get ever faster - but more younger people at folk events would be good. 

It was a great FE and it was good to see that some truly mad people are keeping the spirit of those earlier fairs alive -


Read 894 times Last modified on Thursday, 23 August 2018 22:57
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  • Comment Link David Evans Friday, 24 August 2018 14:40 posted by David Evans

    On the one hand I agree about the age profile; I have never seen so many mobilitiy aids, ride-on scooters etc but that is a good thing, no-one is excluded. The site is accessible in most respects, although a powerful mobility scooter helps with some of the rough terrain and the slopes.

    With regard to the acts it probably says more about the choices made and which arenas, tents, marquees, or Soapboxes you went to. The Soapbox in the woods had lots of younger acts and lots of young people hanging out and an amazing laser light show. We also saw Alden, Patterson and Dashwood, Millie Kirkpatrick (16yrs), Cohen Braithwaite-Kilkoyne (who some compared to a young John Kirkpatrick) and the Young'Uns are still fairly young and always irreverant.

    The Morris sides also had some fantastic younger dancers and sides, especially Harlequin Morris, Moulton Morris Okenyouth (the clue is in the name!) and some young dancers with Pretty Grim and other sides not forgetting Crooked Moon appalacian dancers who couldn't do what they do if they were old! The young Emma Beale also got lots of youngsters having a go at East Anglian Step-dancing.

    So it's a more complcated story than "Old fogey-folkies"!

  • Comment Link Dawn Wakefield Friday, 24 August 2018 12:16 posted by Dawn Wakefield

    Inviting more younger bands to perform could be one way to attract younger audience too, as then they would advertise the event to their own followers. I now see as I am posting this at the second attempt that Simon thinks otherwise, but I still think it has got to be worth trying!

  • Comment Link Simon Friday, 24 August 2018 06:20 posted by Simon

    You're spot on regarding the age of most of the audience at Folk East, John, though I have to say there were considerably more young people there than at any of the folk clubs we visit up and down the country. Whether they were there because their parents had dragged them along or because the festival gave them three days of relaxation with cheap food and drink, I have no idea. It would be wonderful to think they were all there because they enjoyed folk music.

    Whenever I go to folk gatherings of any kind I end up worrying that, in twenty years' time, today's many talented young musicians, some of whom are trying to make folk their future career, will have very small or non-existent audiences. What must it be like for them as they perform on festival stages looking out across the comfortably-off sea of grey hair and balding heads?

    Festival organisers rightly want to promote young musicians because some of the older performers are giving up, and also because audiences find energetic youngsters attractive to look at and listen to. Of course, they also hope that young performers will attract young audiences, but sadly there is little evidence for this.

    John asks the question, "Is life now too comfortable to inspire new folk music or do people not want to be reminded of real life problems when they go to a festival?" Life for most festival goers is, almost by definition, comfortable. Equally, I'm sure the real life problems of today do inspire new music but whether it reaches the world of folk is another matter. Two singers I can think of who have been accepted into the folk fold are Grace Petrie with her overtly political songs - and Attila the Stockbroker, both of whom have appeared at Folk East and are popular with many different kinds of audience. It may be, however, that the real-life issues of today are being voiced in other settings by other kinds of musicians and by stand-up comedy acts.

    It's interesting to ponder John's final question: "Will a painful Brexit be good for folk music and bring in a younger generation?" My guess that a painful Brexit will indeed bring a strong reaction from young people, but I doubt very much whether it will penetrate the currently conservative and to some extent complacent world of folk.

    Having said all that, Folk East was great again this year. It's an island which provides three days of sanity at a very reasonable price and it's a great escape from the mad world that's developing around us, especially for people of my generation!

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