FOLK21 (Part one of three)
West Midlands Regional Day
Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton.
Folk21 was started on Facebook by West Midlands musician John Richards almost two years ago since then it has grown into a national movement which is dedicated to improving co-operation, communication and organisation between folk venues and small clubs which seek to keep the traditions of grass roots folk music alive.John, aged 62, originally from Coseley in the Black Country and who now lives in Worfield, Bridgnorth, has been on the folk circuit for 40 years and is passionate about the tradition and even more so about the local clubs where new acts cut their teeth.
His pedigree both as a musician and a supporter of folk venues is well documented and should you want to know more the link is on here to his website.
|John Richards who started the ball rolling on Folk21
The first session was itself split into two parts of seminar-style meetings with speakers bringing their experience as part of a panel to the gathered delegates which were from all areas of the folk circuit and included organisers, promoters, musicians and club managers.
The evening session was then given over as a showcase of performers to not only provide the fledgling artists with an opportunity to perform and get their works noticed by a wider audience but also to show what local folk venues can do in terms of putting on varied and talented acts for local people to enjoy. This showcase was capped by headliner Jez Lowe and a review of the acts will follow.
|Jez Lowe headlined the concert
The second panel was led by Jim Barrow of Wolverhampton a highly experienced journalist who has been involved in the local arts scene, especially the arts centre, for many years. He was followed by Pam Bishop and Graham Langley who run the magazine Folk Monthly and Trad Arts Team, their collective remit was to discuss effective publicity with particular emphasis on the new electronic media and social networking.
John opened proceedings by introducing the itinerary of the day and then outlining the motivation, aims and purposes of the day.
He thanked everyone who had turned up and said that their very presence was an indication there were problems each of the venues represented were facing.
“The good news is that we are all here and want to explore those problems and address them. I hope that's the basis on which everyone has come today," said John.
John then explained that numbers would have been bigger but commitments got in the way and there apologies sent from about 20 other parties.
John continued: "The basis of Folk21 was that I was getting more and more depressed over a period of time as to the way the folk clubs were getting treated as compared to the festivals, the folk awards, the bigger concerts, radio and TV and I thought we were getting very much the wrong end of the stick and something needed to be done about it.
“I blogged this and a lot of like-minded people came forward and we decided that something needed to be done, but what could we do?
“What we decided was to become a catalyst for co-operation. The whole basis of this day is just that, so that we can co-operate and see how we can solve the problems the clubs and venues are facing.”
DelightedSince Folk21 was started it has organised regional days all over the country; in Yorkshire, East Midlands, East Anglia, London and there is soon to be a Devon and South West meeting.
"This is just the start, and I am delighted that I have seen people who have not met before, shaking hands talking addressing issues, talking about how they can help each other with fliers, posters and whatever else, it's all about simple co-operation.
"It saddens me that local radio has been under attack, local newspapers have been under attack and from their editors because they have said, the folk columns that we used to do, the publicity we used to give all the folk clubs, which was necessary and essential have gone.
"We have gone over to working men's clubs, they will write a full page spread on the acts in working men's clubs but we won't do folk music. It's a minority interest.
"So we have been battered on a local level, worse for me is that on a national level we just get criticised and laughed at. I would like to read some brief quotes for you before we move on to the panel.
"The bigger organisations have coined the phrase 'The folk industry' to me this has never been an industry is have never been run by an industry, but they have decided it is a 'folk industry' and the bottom end gets cast off, I am not wishing to raise a conspiracy theory but that's the way this has gone.
"BBC Radio2 Folk Awards dropped the best folk club of the year award, they don't talk about it, if you read the articles I am about to quote from, folk clubs don't get a mention. Live music gets a mention but not folk clubs.
"They have cast us off referring to us as the old beards and sandals brigade that have got nothing to do with new, modern folk.
“Now that is stopping younger people from getting involved in what we do, and my passion for this after playing and running folk clubs for 40 years is I want there to be continuity so the ‘missing’ 30-somethings and younger have a ‘database’ of folk clubs which they can carry forward for the future, because the way things are going they won’t have, and that would be a tragic waste of a very important asset.”
"So what does the press say? 'Folk Music - a quiet revolution, folk music long derided for its beards and sandals image has become the coolest sound in town thanks to artists such as Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons.' (The Daily Telegraph)
"BBC Radio2, A Radio2 spokesperson told Aerial 'that the decision was taken to bring folk to a wider audience explaining that Mark Radcliffe has wider appeal. The spokesperson added that as part of the evolution of the station you have to make changes, and that folk had changed from a specialist genre to something more mainstream and popular which the network wanted to reflect. And that Radcliffe would be able to incorporate folk music more seamlessly into our mainstream programmes'.
Stereotypical"Does anyone recognise those sentiments?
"Performing Rights Society (PRS) I am a member and I am sure there are other people in the room who are members of PRS. PRS said this, 'one of the reasons folk music has been bolting through the stereotypical stable door is live music', I think we all agree with that. Then it says, 'folk festivals are a priceless part of the folk tradition and organisations like Folk Arts England (FAE) are at the forefront, a national development agency for folk, roots and traditional music.
" 'FAE is funded by the Arts Council and incorporates the Association of Festival Organisers as well as being publishers of Direct Roots a guide to folk roots and related music and arts the AFO lends support and advice and wisdom to literally hundreds of events, whatever the size or roots.'
"There are now 350 festivals in the UK and that's more than there is folk clubs and they have between 10 and 15,000 people going to them.
"Since I started playing 40 years ago, in Wolverhampton there was a choice of clubs every night of the week and some nights there was a multiple choice. Now, how many folk clubs are there in Wolverhampton and how well are they doing? Yet there are festivals all over the place attracting loads and loads of people.
|Chairman for the day
John then went on to introduce the first panel which include Julie Palmer and Phil Preen who run The Poppy Folk Club in Nottingham, the panel was chaired by Colin Grantham who runs the Scrag End Folk Club which is Leicestershire and Kelly Alcock, the national secretary for Folk21 took the minutes.
Before the panel started in earnest there was an opportunity for assembled delegates to mention specific problems they faced in running folk clubs and small music venues.
Some of the issues which were mentioned were singers attending singers nights at clubs but only staying for their own spot and then disappearing and it seemed other clubs shared this experience, another issue was low attendance and the problems of building a bigger audience, especially if you are a fledgling club. A further concern was the average age of people who attended folk clubs and how to attract younger audiences. The age of the audiences threw up another problem with venues in that as people get older then need to for disabled access can become a priority.
There was also some uncertainty about entrance and participation fees. Competition from nearby pubs who hold open mic nights which seem more attractive to younger singers than folk clubs was also raised as an issue.
Julie Palmer said: "Although we are a fairly new club, we have been going to folk clubs for many years and we have experienced different styles and different approaches of clubs and we have taken the best ideas we have seen around and tried to put them into practice."
She then introduced Phil Preen.
|Phil Preen of the
Poppy Folk Club
"So that's how we started. I emailed the chairman of the brewery and we met him in the pub and drank lots of beer with him and he said, yes, of course you can run a folk club so that was it.
"Our aim was to introduce local people to folk music and get them to come along to a folk club. We started off by contacting various people by email, we got a few responses and ended up with a team of four of us.
"When we started the club we had quite a bit of luck because it was a new pub that generated a lot of interest locally and at it turned out the pub opened on the same day we had booked for our first night. So that got us off to a really good start.
"We also had a lot of support on that night from family, friends and people that we knew from other clubs.
"Another thing which is lucky for is that we have a nice big room, so we can accommodate a large audience, we can get 100 seated. A lot of other club organisers are really envious of that space. But it also causes a lot of problems in getting a nice friendly atmosphere in what is essentially a square box.
"Initially there were no curtains, no carpets, no soft furnishings but we have done various things. Julie has put fairy lights everywhere, red sashes and posters everywhere to try and make an atmosphere, so that's what we have tried to do."
Consideration"We have various problems with air conditioning which is a bit loud and coolers behind the bar which are loud so all these things have to taken into consideration.
"These are all the little things you have to think of just to try and get through.
"The stage is a nightmare, it's a box in the end wall, it sound great when you are singing there but if you are in the back of the room you can't hear a thing. It's fine you've got a PA.
"We borrowed temporary staging from a local school and set it up lengthways and that seems to work and gives us a nice atmosphere, everyone is a little bit closer sideways on and it works for us. So it's about adapting to the venue.
"We meet monthly and it's a lot of work. We alternate with a sing-around and concert night or guest night. With the sing-around we bill it as a music session because we very much want to encourage musicians as well as the singers.
"We made the decision at the start that we would try and book people who were instrumentalists and could accompany themselves rather than just unaccompanied singers. We thought that might be a bit more accessible to get the local people in." At this point he handed over to Julie.
|Julie Palmer of the
Poppy Folk Club
"So putting on what people want to see and what you think will draw people in and tell them it's happening, so that's all the publicity.
"We went mega on the publicity side, especially at the beginning. If you don't tell people where you are, who you and what you're doing they aren't going to know about you and they aren't going to come.
"Also be nice to them when they get there, we've been to clubs where you are welcomed, you're made to feel welcome, you're asked what your name is and if you go again your name's remembered.
"Be positive and cheerful about what you are doing, if people turn up to see what you're putting on and you're glum it doesn't create a welcoming atmosphere, so we try and be cheerful and positive about what we are doing.
"So how do we reach a new audience? John mentioned how many reports of folk clubs have been dropped and so it can be really hard to find a new audience.
"I think the internet is brilliant and people who are already 'folkies' use the internet to search for stuff they already know exists, so what you have to try and do is get to the people who don't know it exists."
OverboardJulie then went on to talk about how they use any and every opportunity to publicise what they do, when they first started the club they plastered the pub with posters etc so that the people using the room for other functions saw them.
She also mentioned putting up posters locally, in shops, post offices etc. This includes local council noticeboards. They produced their own beermats which they use in the pub.
"We make sure the Poppy Folk Club stuff is out at festivals so people can see our presence, maybe look at our listings. We really went overboard on the publicity, in terms of visual stuff to start with."
Julie also mentioned getting involved in other local events providing something different or having a presence so people who are there for one reason can see you are there and will maybe show more interest in coming to the club.
"We have also tried to 'break the mould', we have started to publicise the concert, get them into the concert, then tell them about the folk club. So rather than advertising Poppy Folk Club let's advertise the artists, do it that way round. This is something we are trying, we have no idea if it is going to work but it's just something to think about.
"The other thing we have tried to do is be professional and slick but stay friendly and approachable."
Julie addressed the issue of the missing 30-40-year-olds, where she said these people are raising families so they are running them to various events and they are involved in their own social activities, whereas festivals are events to which the whole family can go so she emphasised that it wasn't necessarily something to concerned about but certainly use festivals to reach people so they know the folk clubs are there.
"We also think there is a responsibility on the part of the artists, there was one concert where we thought the artists could have pulled in a much bigger crowd and when looked the gig wasn't even listed on the artist's website.
"We prefer to do a deal with the artist to give them a lower flat fee and a percentage of the door, so they then have a vested interest in it being a successful gig as well."
Phil then took over to emphasise the importance of websites and the internet especially Facebook which is a great medium for getting news of gigs and artists to potential audiences. Twitter is also a good way of getting messages about your activities across.
Chairman Colin then opened the discussion to the floor and the first issue addressed was the start times of concerts and he asked why for many venues they started 'late' at 8pm or 8.30pm.
One reason put forward was that it was a practical move to allow people to get home from work, have something to eat etc before coming out again. This threw up concerns about late finishes and the connection with public transport where people were anxious about getting home especially in midweek concerts.
What also came up was clubs not adhering to scheduled times and this led to audience members thinking that times were flexible and so they could turn up when it suited them.
To read part two click on the link http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/folk-21.html
To read part three click on the link http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/folk-21.html