Can we do better?
I have been to North America twice this year(1999), in the summer Heather and I were at The Old Songs Festival and Common Ground, and I have just returned from the Celtic Colours Festival in Cape Breton. I returned from both trips full of enthusiasm, anybody that has spoken to me since could hardly fail to notice that I have been to America!
I can't avoid the conclusion that perhaps in many ways 'they do it better' over there. OK, so perhaps we were privileged, the Old Songs Festival is one of the most respected in the whole of America and Celtic Colours as a new festival took the chance to model themselves on a few of the better European festivals, but talking to others who had been over drew the same general conclusions. Taffy Thomas has just returned from a trip to America where he was telling stories to audiences of over a thousand people. Dick Dixon, organiser of Warwick and Bromyard festivals and a leading light in the AFO, was at Celtic Colours and saw many things that even as an organiser of his experience, he felt that we could learn from. I am not saying that they get it all right or that we get it all wrong, but they do have some different approaches and attitudes that may be worth taking on board.
Some of our festivals - and I stress, only some - are not as good as they could be. It is as if the organisers have blinkers on. What is the purpose of a festival? In my opinion one of their functions is to take the opportunity to present something better than you could normally expect to be able to stage on a week by week basis. There should be real inspirational highpoints but what I call 'the wow factor' is missing in far too many of them. At some point each of us was turned on to this music and often it was not the technically polished performer who did it but somebody who had captured the real soul of the music. I see poor venues as a major problem. As venues have changed, pubs becoming more open plan with soft furnishings changing the acoustics etc., we have not always adapted well. A poor quality sound system only makes matters worse. It should be a pleasure to perform at a concert and a pleasure to listen. We also need to remember that the inspirational high points do not always come from the latest band behind a stack of PA gear on a high stage, they can and should come for all points of the compass at a well-balanced festival.
They say that travel broadens the mind. It does!
Who would dare to judge?
In the last issue we ran a piece on 'Who will review the reviewers?'. In our opinion page we carry a response from Alex Monaghan to a comment about one of his reviews. Alex puts various points over from the perspective of a reviewer much better than I could. I agree wholeheartedly with his comments. Who would be a judge or a referee! Some people are brave enough to do it and most of the time they seem to get it right. Dealing with reviews is one of the least satisfying aspects of my job. We are genuinely trying our best and will continue to do so. To explain some of the pressures, we are getting on average about four albums each day. That takes over four hours just to listen to them once! Some of them are what might be better described as demo tapes and some, including some very good ones, let themselves down by missing out on some very necessarily things to include these days such as a bar code. If artists are only going to sell the albums at their gigs, then their live performance will speak louder than a review in a magazine. Ian Green of Greentrax told me a tale the other day of somebody wanted to make a CD of a band. Ian asked him if they were doing many concerts as he considered this essential for the success of a commercial album. It turned out that not only were they not doing many gigs, but that the band had not even been formed yet! Cart before the horse or what?
We will continue to do our best. Send in your albums for review, after all the effort this is the least that you should do to promote it, but please do not invent all sorts of conspiracy theories if it either doesn't make it to our pages or the review is not to your liking. Please don't presume that if it isn't published that we don't like you work. We all quite like folk music actually and as most of what we receive is considerably better than my modest talents, we are more often than not impressed with the results. We will listen to ideas and criticisms and try to take them on board. We will also try to explain our policies as best we can.
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