As we celebrate our 30th issue of The Living Tradition, I am taking a slight break from trying to say something 'profound' in this editorial and instead taking a little space to reflect on some of the things we have done in the last five years!
I have often said that "if I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have had the guts to start a traditional music magazine, but having done it, I think that it has been worthwhile". It is easy with the benefit of hindsight to say that we could have done some things differently, but I suppose you have to make some mistakes and learn from them or else you would go through life convinced that you were always right and everybody else was off the mark. If there is a regret it is that in working full-time at something which is a hobby, it is easy to gain a job and lose a hobby.
Before we started The Living Tradition, my main musical contribution was in the role of an organiser. Like many people I started a folk club and I was one of the organisers of a festival, The Girvan Traditional Folk Festival, for many years. For various reasons I am no longer part of that festival and two years ago I had to make the decision not to run any more live events until we had got the magazine under control. I do have some regrets that the very act of trying to promote the thing which we enjoyed, live music, has for the time being at least taken us a step further away from it.
The phrase 'loved to death' has been in my mind for a few months now and that to some extent explains what I am trying to say. When we love something we can smother it with attention. The phrase came to mind after seeing two very entertaining musicians headlining a large concert at a festival. They were very good but they had little or nothing to do with folk music, their main attribute was that they could draw a large audience from the general public. (This is something which few or any folk musicians have managed to do whilst still playing folk music. If you don't believe this, go out into the street and ask a few people who they recognise from any list of folk musicians you care to choose.)
Because we are passionate about our music, we want to 'promote' it and by promoting it we inevitably change it. Even the very small step of having a guest do two half hour spots in a folk club, changes how traditional music is presented. Don't get me wrong, I am not against doing this and I actively encourage it, I just recognise some of the balances needed.
In wanting to promote traditional music, we have created a glossy magazine which I think has helped in some way to raise the profile of traditional music and helped to encourage more respect for its validity. For a lot of people the phrase 'it's only folk music' sums up their attitude. How else can you explain the fact that at most of our universities you can study all kinds of music but until recently would be unable to study traditional music as the core subject in a degree course. How else can you explain the fact that the Arts Council of England has a policy for the South Asian Arts but none for English traditional music?
As well as producing the magazine we have been working in the background in various ways. Sometimes our role has been limited to passing on information, sometimes we have just asked the seemingly obvious questions and at other times we have made a nuisance of ourselves and even ruffled a few feathers. We can't identify all the results of our efforts but we think they are worthwhile. We understand that the Arts Council of England now intend to publish a policy for English music based on their South Asian policy. Some months ago we asked them why there was no policy for English traditional music. They admitted to not having such a policy but told us how simple it would be to adopt the South Asian one with a few changes of words. We simply then asked the obvious question. "So how come you haven't done it yet?"
I have learned many lessons including what 'wandering aimlessly' means. In my case it meant doing lots of things which in themselves seemed worthwhile, but were not focussed enough on a clear aim. I was wearing myself out running in circles. I also learned a little about the power of the press. I hope that in our small way we have, and will continue to use this power, such as it is, in a responsible way.
So what of the next five
I would like to think that we have built a strong base on which to work from. There are five people working full-time in our offices with others contributing in the background.
Heather and I have been involved in an educational project which involved playing recorded examples of traditional singers to a group of students. Their enthusiasm has rubbed off on us and reminded us why we were first attracted by this music. I sincerely hope that we can retain that enthusiasm whilst still developing our work with The Living Tradition.
Our plan is to expand our commitment to publishing material with a firm relevance to the tradition. We have realised that we will not achieve that if we can't make a commercial success of our work. We will have to balance our judgements at times and work with our brains as well as our hearts.
Hopefully you will see more of us in the future at live music events - the place where our hearts lie. I hope that in the editorial for our 50th issue I am not still talking about escaping from behind the computer screen!