If you’re a folk music fan then you’re living in a golden age. Whether your tastes run to trad, contemporary, nu-, psych or any other of the sub-genres there are great performers out there. Most of them are young too, either actually (under thirty) or relatively (under forty). Which is fantastic because it means they’ll be making great music for many years to come.
But will there be an audience for them? While the performers get younger the audiences seem to be getting older. There are a few cross-over exceptions like Bellowhead, and there are always a smattering of younger people at festivals and gigs but in the main the audiences can best be described as “mature”.
Whether folk music is something you come to later in life after the mosh pit gets too much like hard work, whether with the increasingly tribal nature of music (and indeed the world in general) there’s just too much other stuff going on for those under twenty-five to spend any time on folk, or whether it was always this way (with the possible exception of the Sixties folk revival) I don’t know. But it is worrying.
Increasingly, on forums, op-ed pieces, Facebook and in conversations, male music fans of a certain age (and they are always male) bemoan the mountain of music stuff that they’ve accumulated and filled every available wall, cupboard, book and cranny with. LPs, CDs, limited editions, books, programmes, it’s a pile that just keeps on growing.
Ian Anderson of fRoots wrote a piece on it recently, the gist of which was that, even though he’d got rid of all his vinyl, masses of books and loads of CDs, he still had too much. He was undoubtedly right, and I’m in the same boat.
Part of the problem is breaking the chain. I just might want to listen to that album I haven’t listened to for twenty years. I just might want to know who played bass on track three of the album I’ve never listened to. I won’t of course, but I might.
The other, larger, part is overcoming the fear. If we are the sum of our experiences then every gig programme, every album, every book is a small part of me and if I get rid of it then I lose part of me too. Objectively of course it’s the experience of seeing, hearing and reading that’s part of me so the physical reminders aren’t necessary. But I’m not ready to embrace that yet.
It seems appropriate that the first post here should be about gig promotion, given that it was the spur to creating this blog in the first place. On the face of it it’s a miracle why anyone does it, particularly at the amateur level that sustains so many venues and events up and down the country.
It’s stressful. Will anybody come, will enough people come, will the weather/the football/the TV prove a bigger attraction? It’s financially insane. A fair few gigs lose money, losses can be large while any profits are small and immediately ploughed back into the next event, and if you calculated the hourly rate for the work involved you’d weep. You take in much less of the music than if you were a paying customer. Getting people on and off stage, answering queries, sorting out the money, making sure evertything runs smoothly and people are enjoying themselves, these and more are what you’re focussed on. It’s exhausting. You arrive at the venue at 5, leave at midnight or later plus there’s loads of pre-work on the day.
But I love it. Sure it would be nice to make a bit of money but if music is all about money then you’re in the wrong job. To have musicians you respect playing music you love in your venue (it’s yours for the night even if you don’t own it), to have an appreciative and enthusiastic audience (no matter how small) enjoying every moment, to know that you made it all happen and, most of all, for it to have been a great night, well, you can’t ask for anything more.