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and fight its share for the leisure OK (for the time being), but down song show as a storytelling one outside the folk silo, so even the
pound in the 21st Century. Yes, on the road I’ve been travelling - and picked up thirty well-paid most successful club tourer is of
the amateur/semipro is good news things are getting tough. Very gigs this winter (though after costs little use to a festival booker if he’s
because he’s cheap (or may be tough - and I’ve watched the it’s about the same as a good club unknown outside the clubs.
- many, correctly, do charge pro decline over the past eight years. fee). But now I’m having trouble
rates), he’s numerous and he’s There are still plenty of us doing getting the punters in, because And that brings me to the nub of
good. Or is he? The Participation it, but no-one’s confident of their they don’t understand the ‘offer.’ the problem, The slow and painful
Cult (wherein everyone gets future, and very few new people This scheme is good though, and death of the good old British Folk
the same rapturous applause have managed to make a go of could be expanded massively Club - mainly though plain old
regardless of the quality of their it in the past decade. You can - as it needs to be now that so age.
performance) does have some certainly count the number of many folkies have cottoned on
drawbacks - one of the biggest Young Turks who have become and competition is so very fierce When I started out with Tom
being that the world is chock-a- successful Journeymen on the (with lots of acts who can fill Napper in 2001, an Old
block with performers who THINK fingers of two hands. theatres being very happy to enjoy Guardsman told me “You can
they’re the bees knees, but are a village welcome too). Most of make a living in the clubs, but
actually only impressive to other To explain what I mean I need my hall gigs this autumn have you’ll have to work bloody hard.”
folkies further down the food chain quickly to cover the types of been full and well worth the effort, So we did. Tom’s reputation got
(err, I may be one of those myself, gig available and the problems but making and selling my show us off to a flying start, and the
come to think of it)! But put associated therewith. cost me about £2,000 and six gigs began to come in. But we
them in front of paying, non-folk weeks preproduction time - and were still often required to drive
customers, with critical faculties There are four territories available last week I found myself playing for three hours to play for £120
tuned to mass media standards, for people who, like me, require a to seven old age pensioners and (or less). That’s £60 each or
and they fail to cut the mustard. quiet attentive paying audience; one hyperactive six-year-old in a perhaps £40 after fuel costs. But
And even when they are good theatres, village halls, folk village hall so cold I could see my by slipping slowly from a cup-
enough (and plenty Local Heroes festivals, and clubs (i.e. not bars, breath. I don’t think I’ll be relying half-full we convinced ourselves
are) - semipros are always going pubs, dances, ‘captive’ audiences on Rural Touring in future, thanks we were making a living, even
to find it hard to build up a reliable or any kind of busking). very much. though I for one wasn’t breaking
national reputation, and the even financially - or morally. Like
industry needs a strong phalanx Theatres (and arts centres) are Festivals continue to be another the folkie who won the lottery
of people who can draw a good the holy grail - but they’re only great source of work for every and decided to keep gigging till
crowd anywhere in the country. available to people who’ve broken type and level of artist, and these the money ran out, I’d primed my
through the glass ceiling, i.e. the are booming now, largely thanks (love?) pump, but the revenue just
Increasingly, artists are being top end of the Old Guard and to the brilliant Association of wasn’t enough to justify so much
expected to help to ensure that Young Turks. The problem is Festival Organisers. But even time away from my responsibilities
there will be a decent audience this: to get the gig, you have to here there are problems. There is as a husband and father. Hence
- in fact some clubs nowadays convince the arts director that some evidence that we may have the decision to do more solo
maintain that this is entirely the you’re very successful. They then reached saturation of the current work. This helped enormously
artist’s responsibility. The skills assume they won’t need to push marketplace - and that was before in that now I wasn’t splitting the
required to do this, specially in you too hard, and they don’t, not the credit crunch and carbon fees, but hindered in a way I
the current climate, are not easy least because they don’t really cool-off started to bite. Talking hadn’t expected. The folk circuit
to come by and include things know how to market folk music. to chums who run festivals at the is massively oversubscribed with
like mailing list-building, graphic You do, but you can’t market to AFO conference in November extremely talented MAMWIGs
design, finding and engaging with their catchment because you revealed that gates are down at a (middle aged men with guitars
remote media outlets, developing don’t have access to it. So no-one number of places, and of course - a great duo from Bromsgrove
web communication skills and so comes to the gig. (Even if you we’ve seen some failures with incidentally). But I wasn’t a duo
on. And to have even a chance of have thousands of folk fans in the good, long-standing mid-range any more, I was suddenly in the
reaching out over the shoulders area, who know you from club festivals closing. The solution hand-to-hand skirmish of the Solo
of your employers to potential bookings, the place will be empty here must be to grow the market Journeymen.
punters (specially if those punters because club folkies don’t like by reaching out to new audiences
happen not to be fans of clubs, theatres - specially their prices). - and as it’s the artists who bring There were two interconnected
and, especially, floor singing) Been there, done that, counted the punters in (festivals do offer problems, and both have become
takes time and massive tenacity. the tumbleweeds. You really need more than concerts of course, but more of an issue through the
Something part time musicians to have had media coverage or the acts are still the main draw), years: Lack of available Guest
are going to struggle to find. major record company backing that means developing more, Nights across the land (against
the number of acts chasing them),
“We need people who will play smaller venues – and we need them to
and problems - for an unknown
- filling them when booked.
go on doing it long enough to build up a national reputation. In other
The lack of guest nights is critical.
words we need a steady stream of successful Journeymen.”
I can’t tell you exactly how many
there are, but I estimate that there
are about 200 folk clubs who book
No this is the province of the (preferably both) at some point in genuine headline acts. But the guests. I’m including club-like
fourth group: the touring pros, and your career to be able to tour large current system only produces new gatherings who don’t use the
the industry needs plenty of them. venues safely, and very few new headliners very slowly, because words folk and/or club but who
We need people who will play artists are getting that these days. the festivals are still the primary do appear in the folk club listings
smaller venues - and all that goes I’m certainly not! engine of market development, - but I’m leaving out getting on
with that in terms of access and (it’s arguable that it’s they who for 100 clubs who only book Big
intimacy, and we need them to go Village Halls, booked through are driving the theatre circuit, Names (the top of the Old Guard
on doing it long enough to build the Arts Council-funded Rural when it should be the other way and Young Turk groups) who I’d
up a national reputation. In other Touring Network, are a great around). Surely, you might say, a lump in with the arts centres and
words we need a steady stream of source of work for folkies. But the successful career in the clubs can theatres because they do nothing
successful Journeymen. word went out last year that the make you a festival headliner - but to develop headliners (merely
schemes were booking too much I don’t think so. Smaller festivals maintain them), and 100+ clubs
So how are they doing? Well at music, and they should favour maybe (and I have headlined a who never book guests because
the upper level we’re nudging into theatrical shows instead. So on few in my time), but big festivals they don’t want to (and there’s no
Old Guard territory and therefore expert advice, I re-branded my need to bring punters from well reason why they should).
The Living Tradition - Page 17
Issue82.indd 17 24/2/09 13:55:14
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