There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the folk world about the gradual demise of folk clubs. Organisers retire and there’s nobody to take their place, those starting out are more likely to go to open mic nights, audiences migrate to arts centres and so on and so forth. You would think therefore that those that still exist would be doing their utmost to attract audiences, not just for their gigs, but because from the ranks of those audiences come the organisers of the future.
But it’s not like that. Two examples.
I’m currently helping an American performer organise some dates for next year so I’m spending more time than usual seeking out venues, primarily folk clubs, online and an awful lot of them are truly dreadful. Websites that look like they were put together last century, non-existent contact details, contact details that are out-of-date, arcane arrangements and little or no information for artists or potential attenders. A better example of turkeys voting for Christmas you couldn’t find.
But even that pales into insignificance beside the approach of one club I wanted to go to as a paying audience member. The band I wanted to see did the right things. They put info on their website and Facebook page and had tour flyers printed and distributed, one of which I picked up at a related gig and decided to go to see them. The website of the club i was planning to attend (for the first time) listed the gig but had no ticket prices or online links to buy them. Strike 1. Admission was by being put on a list, and to get on it you had to complete an online form and submit it. The club met monthly though, and they didn’t start the list until after the previous month’s event, and as the gig I wanted to go to was a couple of months away the was no point in me submitting a form. Strike 2. And to put the tin hat on it the blurb on the form said that in the event of a sell-out preference would be given to regular attenders. So I could have got on the list, made arrangements to go and then been bumped at short notice because Fred and Doris from down the road had decided to come after all. Three strikes and I’m gone.
This is not incompetence, this is arrogance. Fit in with us or don’t bother. It’s undoubtedly an extreme case and there are many good clubs out there that don’t fall into the first category either. But next time you read a piece bemoaning the decline of folk clubs remember that there they are all different. Good ones that do the right things will survive. Bad ones won’t, and they don’t deserve to.