Strange isn’t it – many folk festivals show an increasing number of so-called headline and support bands that have about as much to do with folk as the government has with reality. Now why is that?
Possibly organisers want to widen the spread and increase the appeal of their event. Perhaps they feel that a folk-only folk festival will not appeal to a younger audience. Maybe they’re on a mission to bring modern (or different) music to the jaded ears of old (and young) folkies. There may even be a case for driving profits higher. Whatever the reason there’s a noticeable increase in the number of events that throw in the odd punk/rock/pop/swing/jazz band that are as incongruous at a folk festival as Tracy Emin’s in an art gallery.
This phenomenon seems to apply more to the larger three, four-day and more festivals than smaller one-day events. Does that mean that larger events are padding-out the playlist with any genre? Does this mean that folk-events are morphing into Glastonbury clones? Although event size and duration does not appear to dictate the inclusion of an anomaly band or two, what does apply is the focus. And it appears that this is the deciding factor. If the event is a ‘festival’ rather than a ‘folk festival’ then it’s more likely that anything will go. The focus can be whatever the organisers decide to include – as with Glastonbury – and good luck to them.
Many bands walk the line between folk and other styles (such as rock and punk) with considerable dexterity and success. Their idiosyncratic approach allows them to fit into many camps and their musical range is such that the most ardent folky can often find time for them. The Levellers are such an example – punky and rocky with a definite folk-influenced edge. Jethro Tull fit into a folky rock bracket and many a folk fan has a few Tull CDs in their collection. The list goes on and is far too long to include here. However, those that occupy it range from Oysterband to Green Day. That’s because in each case there’s something folky going on in there (even if not all the time) along with the band’s distinctive style.
So far so good ... but how do out-and-out new wave, rap, house, garage, alternative, punk, power pop, swing, jazz and indie rock bands without the slightest suspicion of folk fit into a folk event? They don't.
I’m sure those who feel they belong will raise the argument that we should maintain a wider and more eclectic musical appreciation. And as far as it goes that’s absolutely fine and good for musical health. There’s nothing whatever wrong with an eclectic taste. Be happy to listen to Beethoven, Gilbert and Sullivan, Led Zeppelin, The Levellers, Fairport Convention and Martin Carthy - and everything in between.
However, when it comes down to selling a folk event on the strength of a line-up that includes an incompatible headline band and a couple of additional ‘make-weights - that confuses the hell out of me.