Folk Music gets Bad
A series of 'bad news' stories related to folk music have hit the national press over the last month or so. The break up of Wolfstone as a full time touring band was picked up by the newspapers and national radio. The Wolfstone situation was portrayed in a particularly negative way and to the casual reader may have led to the impression that the wider interest in traditional music was in decline. Many people were annoyed by the coverage. Some felt that Wolfstone had blamed the failure on a general malaise rather than any mistakes made by the band, others mused on the role of the press themselves in supporting this area of music.
The attitude of the press is difficult to understand. At one end of the spectrum they are always willing to give coverage of the wilder antics of the rock and pop scene, at the other end classical music is well catered for but as for the broad spectrum of traditional music activity, it is largely ignored.
Other news coverage included a story on the failure of the Glasgow International Folk Festival, the Herald headline being 'Folk groups to sue festival director over unpaid fees'; 'Festival owes £30,000', and an article in The Observer headlined with 'Folk musicians sue record boss over 'blighted careers'.
Both of these stories are not simple and leave unanswered questions. Hopefully the Herald will pursue some of the wider issues related to the Glasgow Festival and ask why an event with such obvious potential benefit to Glasgow was allowed to fail. The Observer article contained some errors which lessened its credibility - does the fact that they couldn't spell the name of 'famous folk singer' Dick Gaughan indicate the folk scene's lack of publicity or The Observer's lack of interest?!
The Observer article left the impression that somehow only one side of the case had been presented and we understand that Celtic Music are considering suing The Observer. We know Dave Bulmer both as a musician and a businessman. We are aware of criticisms of his company from several sources but also of his contribution to the folk scene as an active musician, a publisher of music books and of releasing albums for many artists at a time when the costs of releasing an album were substantially more than they are today. We have offered space in the Living Tradition to Dave and hope to publish a feature soon.
Organisers Feel the Strain
Organisers are understandably reluctant to air their difficulties in public, preferring to 'talk-up' the success of their events. Talking privately and 'off the record' many admit to being under severe strain. Several editorials in The Living Tradition have sounded warning bells and we take no pleasure out of saying 'we told you so'.
The promise of recognition and support from public bodies can be a trap. The Tourism and the Arts strategy has failed to make any significant impact despite a few years of producing impressive documents saying how important a function it had. Against this background the plans put forward by the SAC for a National Development Agency for Traditional Music are moving closer to implementation.
Some people may argue that this is a bad example but 'development' of the Glasgow Folk Festival has led to its collapse - not for the first time in Glasgow's case - with the result that what was originally there has been lost. There have already been knock on effects. Bankers talk to each other and seeing the outcome of the Glasgow Festival and the poor financial outcome of this year's Edinburgh Folk Festival, has led to pressure on banking facilities for at least one other major Scottish folk festival. Football is a good analogy, as most of us can appreciate the conflicts of interest between the Premier Clubs, the lower leagues and the amateur game.
Football as a business is booming yet at the same time we see reserve and youth teams being disbanded and a lack of home grown talent on the big stage. Does this sound familiar?