‘Live folk music is dead’

(June 11, 2008)

Well if it is then there’s a plague of zombies trundling round the UK playing at clubs and festivals, and doing great impressions of being alive. The problem is most of those (alive or undead) performing are reasonably well-known.

So perhaps it’s more accurate to state that ‘live performance is selectively unwell’ or maybe when applied to that great mass of relatively unknown folk artists it’s just ‘hard to resuscitate’. The statement should perhaps be that live folk is fit and well but finding live folk can be hard. And unless you’re at the peak of your career or about to ‘break’ then live performance opportunity is hard to find.

So why is it hard for many up-and-coming folk artists to get gigs? Perhaps there are not enough folk clubs. Perhaps it could be that unless (a). you’re already known on your local folk club circuit, or (b). you’re prepared to drive the length and breadth of the country for open mic spots, getting gigs is just hard work. That’s got nothing to do with live folk being dead, it’s because the artists concerned chose a genre that many pubs and most clubs often ignore.

Think about it. Without much effort you can find dozens of rock and blues pubs and clubs; jazz pubs by the cartload; and a hideous rash of disco / karaoke pubs and clubs. Apart from that, there ain’t a lot left. Now that may be because musical styles other than folk are more popular or it may be because there are few publicans and club managers interested in folk. Whatever the reason, it is hard to get gigs if no one knows who you are.

Now that brings up an intriguing point. If no one knows who you are, how do you get an audience? Of course, there will be the artists’ friends and family – that little close community that will always listen and happily buy your first poorly recorded, ‘home-made’ CD. But how do you reach a wider audience? Most certainly the Internet has opened doors in fact its opened doors that did not exist before the arrival of the Web. Everyone has heard about pop bands that have gone from nothing to overnight success simply by being a ‘web-based phenomenon’ – what a hideous phrase.

Then there is the opportunity presented by social networking. That is the ability for artists and audiences to communicate via specific Internet interaction sites. Typically, such sites were artists talking to artists, but increasingly promoters, independent record companies and e-zines are using them too. Prime among such sites is My Space. It has enabled even the most humble of bands, songwriters and singers to place their music into the public domain – albeit by the ether – and broadcast themselves. Mind you it doesn’t translate into live performance. Unless you consider You Tube, which also carries an increasing number of artists’ videos to be live.

Many artists that I know often bemoan the state of the open mic spot. It’s considered a stage you have to go through to get heard but many believe that stage goes on far too long. It seems to them that they should receive the recognition they deserve and not have to constantly ‘prove’ their worth as a folk artist. Many also state the reason they write and play music is to perform, to let other people hear what they have to say and to ‘feel’ the reaction. That of course, is something no ether-based vehicle can achieve.   

So is folk a style that makes it doubly hard to find gigs and perform your art? Not certain, but one thing is sure, there are an awful lot of extremely good folk artists apparently condemned to obscurity and that’s a damn shame. So the next time you find yourself needing a band to fill a gig, swing back through your open mic list (what do you mean you don’t keep such records?) and make a telephone call.

You could help to launch the next great folk artist, alternatively you could just help to keep music live. And that’s great.


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