Wednesday, 29 May 2013

FOLK 21 (2of3)

FOLK21 (part two of three)

West Midlands Regional Day

Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street

The second part of the discussion kicked off with chairman Colin Grantham introducing the next three speakers Jim Barrow, Pam Bishop and Graham Langham.

Freelance journalist Jim Barrow has a great deal of experience, mainly in the print media, but he has also worked in local radio, television and for national magazines. He was the first to address the audience.
Jim Barrow, freelance journalist
"Just to start with the basics. The most effective marketing tool, when you talk to people who are in marketing, is still the spoken word, it's still speaking to people and telling people. So you tell your friends, you tell your work colleagues, people you meet socially, about what you are doing, about you having a really good night, we've got so-and-so folk singers on, we've got this really good artist coming, you'll like this sort of stuff.
"You are trying persuade them, if you want to put it in a theoretical context it's what the Italian Marxist, Gramsci called the 'permanent persuaders', people who are embedded in the population like you all are.
"You've all probably got jobs or retired or doing different things and your starting point is just talking to people. You can do leaflets, newsletters etc but always try and get your members, your organisers and the artists just to talk to people. Say what happens and what you do.
"It's a very basic point, so leaving that aside another area is very good quality printing material and graphics."
Jim then pointed to the publicity material which was being used by the arts centre for their recent events as an example of eye-catching and quality promotion.
"This is good quality material, it has high impact so that's something to think about. When you are putting out printed material to people, leaflets, posters, magazines etc, make sure it's good, make sure it's eye-catching, make sure it's colourful, make sure it has an impact on people and you are more likely to get ticket sales and people coming along.
Jim then went on to focus on the media generally, starting with the print media.
"Print media has been in decline, but there are still tens of millions of copies of newspapers being sold and more people read one copy of a newspaper than actually pay for it.
"So locally you still have tens of thousands of people you can reach by going through your local media. John touched on the way the media tend to 'poo poo' the folk scene. A lot of this is down to the editors, in general, but there are good exceptions. They tend to be middle-aged, menopausal men who think that they're still soul kiddies, still mods, they're still rockers or whatever.
"So as John said, the 'sandals' or the 'arran sweaters' brigade are not for them and not for the young audience they are trying to reach. So that's something you have to break down.
"A good way of doing that is to find out who these people are, ring them up, go and see them. There are still people in there producing these things and if they have the wrong idea it's a good idea to go down and tell them what the right idea is; what it is you do, show them the stuff that thousands of people are turning up for at these festivals, Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons are filling Symphony Hall, they are big news.


"If they [the editors] knock it off their news agenda then they are doing a disservice to their readers. So have a go and put them right.
"If you go to the Britfolk website there is a very good section under the help files which has information about promotion and marketing and which is a very good summary of ways in which you can market and produce a press release, because in a press release all you are saying is who, why, what, where and when.
"What you need to do is get the most eye-catching, most interesting thing in the first paragraph and then cover those five items, because it's useless not saying where you are doing it, when you are doing it, how much the tickets are etc. and make it attractive.
"So if you have a particular artist coming who is unusual, or is a recent award winner or something like that. Put it up front and send it out.
"A good idea is also to ring them up afterwards to make sure they received it. I don't know what your in boxes are like but you can imagine what newspaper and radio station in boxes are like, they just keep on filling up and filling up and stuff gets missed.
"Ringing them up will also give you the opportunity to speak to a real person and perhaps strike up a working relationship with them and get to know them. So instead of just ringing up out of the blue you are asking for someone specifically.
"Find out if they have someone who covers music or events, they are unlikely to have someone who is  a folk specialist but they might have someone who is interested in music and you can cultivate a relationship with them because that makes things a lot easier.
"Also offer the opportunity for a review as well, you can invite them to come along, they can get in free, see what it's like and do a review.
"It's a free night, buy them a drink when they come perhaps then they may come back again, perhaps then they may write something and perhaps it may go in the paper or they may talk about it on the radio station.
"Also most of them have listings sections, for these you just send in one paragraph; time, artist ticket price etc that's it and they are likely to be quite happy to put that in and it doesn't cost anything. The listings are free and you should make use of anything that's free.
"A lot of organisations are struggling, they have falling circulations, they have hacked the staff so they have fewer and fewer people but you can provide them with stuff that can help them fill the pages and airtime.
"Sometimes, even though they may be prejudiced towards folk music, if they are desperate to fill a hole they may use it and it will be printed or read out and you have some promotion.
"You also have to think visually, if you have a photograph of the artist you could send in or even just a link to an image you have on your website or the artist's site then use it.
"Increasingly, the other area you have to think about are the younger people."
Jim then outlined that many younger people do not read hard copies of newspapers, the majority got their information via tablets, phones etc. which is another reason to think visually and electronically.
He then went on to impress the importance of using social media and suggested that anyone who isn't aux fait with it should seek out local courses on how to use the new electronic mediums which in some cases, especially if you are unemployed or on benefits, are free.
"If you don't have websites get someone to make one for you or make one yourself there is a website called Weebly and you can go on there and build your own website for free. It's very basic, very simple and it's a place where you can post items and give people a picture of what it's like inside a club.


"People do have these misapprehensions about folk clubs. You can give a different impression. You can do video on your phone or on a camera which you can post on to Youtube or your website or on Facebook, so that people without even stepping foot inside can get a different impression. Particularly if you have footage, with permission, of a good artist, singers or musicians and they will get an idea of what it's like in this weird world of folk.
"All these things are out there to help, Twitter, Facebook etc. There are about 30 options out there so you have to choose carefully and consider how you are going to communicate with the most people who are most likely to come to you.
"There are all these applications out there but on average people only use seven. So it's a matter of identifying which of those seven you want to be posting to. Blogs are very useful such as Blogspot or Wordpress which once you have posted an item, there are buttons which will post it on to all these other applications and you can do it as a one-stop-shop.
"So it's worth looking at but it isn't a magic bullet, it isn't going to change the world but it is just one of the things you can do and again you need to tailor that to fit in with your time and your commitments.
"Try and identify members of  your clubs who may help you so you can split off the jobs. If people have to an eye for good design or posters or are adept at using Facebook etc, then co-opt them, get them to help."
Jim then went on to outline the importance of using applications such as Facebook expeditiously and only really post information when you have something definite to say and don't be overzealous with your messaging to the point where you can just become an annoyance to people. He also warned about how time consuming using social media is and its need to be tailored to the individual criteria of the various clubs and venues.
Jim then handed over to Pam and Graham.
Pam Bishop of Folk Monthly
"Singers nights from time to time will contain material that is not good quality, that is understood and must be dealt with in different ways, it may be that you audition the acts or you only use people who have been recommended, but you certainly need to pay attention to it because if you have just one act after another which is not very good then no wonder people will not listen and go elsewhere," said Pam
"We can address this through training and workshops and encouraging people to improve the quality and that is something I would like to see more of. It's something where clubs can co-operate because if you have a guest coming along who has a lot to teach people then maybe two or three clubs can get together and run a workshop.
"Quality in publicity too, I have been looking at some of the leaflets which the festivals have been handing around and their quality is wonderful.
"I know they can afford to do it, but there are cheaper ways of doing it too."
Pam then showed the audience some examples of various festivals' promotional material.
"With Folk Monthly, I think we have brought it up to a really good quality, and I know it speaks to the converted but it also goes in every branch library in the East and West Midlands."
Pam then handed over to Graham Langley who essentially a story teller and is also involved in Folk Monthly and the Trad Arts Team.
"My main concern with promotions has been to find new people. Because even though we have quite good audiences, they are what we could call decaying, those audiences that are always getting lost along the line.
"We are always having to find new ways of finding that new ten or fifteen percent of audiences and the process has been many of the things Jim has mentioned."
Graham went on to tell of the success of some of his storytelling cafes in places such as Wednesbury Library which had attracted audiences as large as 120 people and that he had found funding to carry out research into what attracted people to such events.
"One thing we found was the key draw was word of mouth, just as Jim said.  We also found people came in small groups, so it seems people liked to come along for the sociability of the occasion.
"So we deliberately made Storytelling Cafe a social occasion with all the meeting and greeting and a little bit to eat. The social side of the event is clearly important to our audiences and we also discovered that it was middle-aged and older women who came to the cafe.
"So we do aim to give people a good time and a great experience from the moment they walk in because that is what leads to the word of mouth. As people are leaving and we are saying goodbye to them we are inviting them to come back.
"Another area of publicity, which has been very successful for us, has been posters. Because we are seeking audiences from the immediate area, although people have come from as far away as 20 miles, we find posters up in the venue and the area immediately around the venue has an affect on the audience. Because it's local and within walking distance and that's something that appealed to them."
"Then there is the idea of a brand in terms of our folk club or our cafe. If it's got that recognisable image and logo then it's part of building that image and keeping it in people's minds.
"There is a problem when your audience starts dropping off. You know the kind of thing, you have had a good audience for a while, you are on the crest of a wave and you think it's great but inevitably that peak starts to decline.
"If you are not careful it will keep on going into a trough, so then you say, what do we do, our audience is falling, what do we do? I say keep your nerve and make sure your product is really good. Then double your publicity budget, double your marketing budget. Someone said to me recently that they didn't have a marketing budget, which has got to be a clue to the drop off of an audience.
Graham Langham of Trad Arts Team
"However, remember the marketing budget is not just about the money, it's about the time to get that promotional material out there. Both myself and Pam spend a lot of time on promotion.
"People have said to me 'we don't have money for marketing, we are broke' and I have said to them stick a couple of pounds on the price of your tickets.
"We did that some years ago, we put two pound on the price of the tickets and we were really worried about it, debated it and discussed it a lot and it seemed to be a big bullet to bite, but when we did it, we didn't miss a beat. The audience continued to pay for it and gave us that extra resource to spend on marketing."
Then Graham changed tack slightly and went on to talk about gathering new and younger audiences.
"In terms of new audiences, and particular young audiences, this is a problem. What we did was initiated young people's events, activities and training and we found it easier to get funds for that than training adults.
"Eventually we set up Young Storyteller of the Year and now there is a pool of younger storytellers coming in which we never had before at our cafes.
"So maybe to attract new audiences you could run events, training with young people both in musicianship and singing.
"Another thing we do is the Trad Arts Team have a card which we use at all of our events and it's where people can leave their information and comments. We included mobile phone numbers and every now and again we will send out a mass text and that has proved quite successful. Even if it's only three or four extra people it can really make a difference to the nights," concluded Graham.
Chairman Colin then mentioned his surprise at how many clubs etc didn't keep a mailing list.
Chairman - Colin Grantham
"Sending out a mailing list electronically is very cost effective both in terms of time and money.
"Artists who have mailing lists of their own, who then mail their contacts can make a lot of difference to people who wouldn't normally come.
"If you haven't got a mailing list, and again it takes time and you have to start building it up, it's a worthwhile effort."
John Richards then mentioned the problems of the proliferation of channels of communication and the importance of keeping records and contacts up to date because people changed service providers, email addresses and sometimes neglected to update websites and so communication can be lost or, it seems, people are no longer interested or don't want to respond.
There were a wide range of ideas expressed from what was said by the speakers including websites and applications which can help maximise your time with mailing lists, getting feedback and there were several websites which could be used to advertise the events and concerts.
One suggestion from a Broseley candidate was adding a Paypal link which they found was very useful and a successful way for people to pay for tickets.
Another point raised was the clarity and accuracy of websites which sometimes is lacking.
Colin picked up on this point.
"There are websites that are well out of date, there are websites which don't carry accurate information in terms of who to contact for bookings. But often people are relying on the goodwill of others to maintain websites. It's a quite a big task for the people who are doing it, but it is important.
"For those of you who haven't got a website, through Folk21 East Midlands, there are links to people who can help and advise."


"The importance is that if you go on to a website and you are not getting the information you want, then you are less likely to want to follow that up and go to the club. I think it's absolutely crucial you find someone who can keep websites updated."
John Richards then outlined the dangers of posting contact details on websites and how some people were reluctant to include them because of the possibility of the information being abused. He also emphasised the importance of clearly posting conditions of booking artists etc.
At a later stage in the proceedings John also raised the point of improving the coverage of folk music in the media and how to address this when things go wrong.
Jim Barrow responded to this.
"The media landscape is changing, and I would say forget about the national press and start where you are locally and be aware the landscape at a local level is changing rapidly as well.
"You may have noticed that although the readership and papers may be in decline these advertorial magazines and freesheets are popping up all over the place. Now they need content and while some will expect you to buy an advert to have an article in them a lot of them are still desperate for material to fill, so think about these.
"Electronically there are a lot of hyper-local websites which can be used. So you can actually go around the national media and at grass roots level start to communicate with people through these other mediums."
"Another area to look at is internet radio and television stations which are in their infancy at the moment but watch this space because I think people are moving into those areas and they'll be looking for content.
"If  you can provide some good sound, good video and good material then these are areas to be looking in to, and you will find that young people who don't look at newspapers or don't buy magazines will be looking there as well."
Colin then added: "What some clubs are doing when they have an artist who is nationally known they will make an arrangement to put a feature on the local radio station."
He then summed up: "I am sure all of you have picked up some ideas from today that will work and might make a difference. The important thing is this is the start not the end, so can we encourage any of you who have got ideas, thoughts or any points you have made which you feel need to be looked at then let us know.
"Keep the conversation going, keep feeding in information," he added.

To read part one click on the link

To read part three click on the link

Saturday, 25 May 2013

FOLK 21 (1of3)

FOLK21 (Part one of three)

West Midlands Regional Day

Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton.

Folk21 was started on Facebook by West Midlands musician John Richards almost two years ago since then it has grown into a national movement which is dedicated to improving co-operation, communication and organisation between folk venues and small clubs which seek to keep the traditions of grass roots folk music alive.

John, aged 62, originally from Coseley in the Black Country and who now lives in Worfield, Bridgnorth, has been on the folk circuit for 40 years and is passionate about the tradition and even more so about the local clubs where new acts cut their teeth.
His pedigree both as a musician and a supporter of folk venues is well documented and should you want to know more the link is on here to his website.
John Richards who started the ball rolling on Folk21
The West Midlands Regional Day (WMRD) was held in the main studio of the arts centre and was broken into two distinct parts.
The first session was itself split into two parts of seminar-style meetings with speakers bringing their experience as part of a panel to the gathered delegates which were from all areas of the folk circuit and included organisers, promoters, musicians and club managers.
The evening session was then given over as a showcase of performers to not only provide the fledgling artists with an opportunity to perform and get their works noticed by a wider audience but also to show what local folk venues can do in terms of putting on varied and talented acts for local people to enjoy. This showcase was capped by headliner Jez Lowe and a review of the acts will follow.
Jez Lowe headlined the concert
John opened the proceedings introducing the first of two panels both of which were chaired by Colin Grantham the first speaker on the panel was Phil Preen followed by Julie Palmer, who together run The Poppy Folk Club in Nottingham, with the agenda of discussing how to attract new audiences while at the same time keeping the existing ones.
The second panel was led by Jim Barrow of Wolverhampton a highly experienced journalist who has been involved in the local arts scene, especially the arts centre, for many years. He was followed by Pam Bishop and Graham Langley who run the magazine Folk Monthly and Trad Arts Team, their collective remit was to discuss effective publicity with particular emphasis on the new electronic media and social networking.
John opened proceedings by introducing the itinerary of the day and then outlining the motivation, aims and purposes of the day.
He thanked everyone who had turned up and said that their very presence was an indication there were problems each of the venues represented were facing.
“The good news is that we are all here and want to explore those problems and address them. I hope that's the basis on which everyone has come today," said John.
John then explained that numbers would have been bigger but commitments got in the way and there apologies sent from about 20 other parties.
John continued: "The basis of Folk21 was that I was getting more and more depressed over a period of time as to the way the folk clubs were getting treated as compared to the festivals, the folk awards, the bigger concerts, radio and TV and I thought we were getting very much the wrong end of the stick and something needed to be done about it.
“I blogged this and a lot of like-minded people came forward and we decided that something needed to be done, but what could we do?
“What we decided was to become a catalyst for co-operation. The whole basis of this day is just that, so that we can co-operate and see how we can solve the problems the clubs and venues are facing.”


Since Folk21 was started it has organised regional days all over the country; in Yorkshire, East Midlands, East Anglia, London and there is soon to be a Devon and South West meeting.
"This is just the start, and I am delighted that I have seen people who have not met before, shaking hands talking addressing issues, talking about how they can help each other with fliers, posters and whatever else, it's all about simple co-operation.
"It saddens me that local radio has been under attack, local newspapers have been under attack and from their editors because they have said, the folk columns that we used to do, the publicity we used to give all the folk clubs, which was necessary and essential have gone.
"We have gone over to working men's clubs, they will write a full page spread on the acts in working men's clubs but we won't do folk music. It's a minority interest.
"So we have been battered on a local level, worse for me is that on a national level we just get criticised and laughed at. I would like to read some brief quotes for you before we move on to the panel.
"The bigger organisations have coined the phrase 'The folk industry' to me this has never been an industry is have never been run by an industry, but they have decided it is a 'folk industry' and the bottom end gets cast off, I am not wishing to raise a conspiracy theory but that's the way this has gone.
"BBC Radio2 Folk Awards dropped the best folk club of the year award, they don't talk about it, if you read the articles I am about to quote from, folk clubs don't get a mention. Live music gets a mention but not folk clubs.
"They have cast us off referring to us as the old beards and sandals brigade that have got nothing to do with new, modern folk.
“Now that is stopping younger people from getting involved in what we do, and my passion for this after playing and running folk clubs for 40 years is I want there to be continuity so the ‘missing’ 30-somethings and younger have a ‘database’ of folk clubs which they can carry forward for the future, because the way things are going they won’t have, and that would be a tragic waste of a very important asset.”
"So what does the press say? 'Folk Music - a quiet revolution, folk music long derided for its beards and sandals image has become the coolest sound in town thanks to artists such as Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons.' (The Daily Telegraph)
"BBC Radio2, A Radio2 spokesperson told Aerial 'that the decision was taken to bring folk to a wider audience explaining that Mark Radcliffe has wider appeal. The spokesperson added that as part of the evolution of the station you have to make changes, and that folk had changed from a specialist genre to something more mainstream and popular which the network wanted to reflect. And that Radcliffe would be able to incorporate folk music more seamlessly into our mainstream programmes'.


"Does anyone recognise those sentiments?
"Performing Rights Society (PRS) I am a member and I am sure there are other people in the room who are members of PRS. PRS said this, 'one of the reasons folk music has been bolting through the stereotypical stable door is live music', I think we all agree with that. Then it says, 'folk festivals are a priceless part of the folk tradition and organisations like Folk Arts England (FAE) are at the forefront, a national development agency for folk, roots and traditional music.
" 'FAE is funded by the Arts Council and incorporates the Association of Festival Organisers as well as being publishers of Direct Roots a guide to folk roots and related music and arts the AFO lends support and advice and wisdom to literally hundreds of events, whatever the size or roots.'
"There are now 350 festivals in the UK and that's more than there is folk clubs and they have between 10 and 15,000 people going to them.
"Since I started playing 40 years ago, in Wolverhampton there was a choice of clubs every night of the week and some nights there was a multiple choice. Now, how many folk clubs are there in Wolverhampton and how well are they doing? Yet there are festivals all over the place attracting loads and loads of people.
Chairman for the day
Colin Grantham
"So why? Why would you stand in a field and get cold and wet and queue for the toilets when you can come and sit in a building like this and watch somebody magnificent for instance, Spiers and Boden and Martin Simpson and watch everything they do in total comfort and people won't turn up because...I don't know the reasons, that's what we're here to explore."
John then went on to introduce the first panel which include Julie Palmer and Phil Preen who run The Poppy Folk Club in Nottingham, the panel was chaired by Colin Grantham who runs the Scrag End Folk Club which is Leicestershire and Kelly Alcock, the national secretary for Folk21 took the minutes.
Before the panel started in earnest there was an opportunity for assembled delegates to mention specific problems they faced in running folk clubs and small music venues.
Some of the issues which were mentioned were singers attending singers nights at clubs but only staying for their own spot and then disappearing and it seemed other clubs shared this experience, another issue was low attendance and the problems of building a bigger audience, especially if you are a fledgling club. A further concern was the average age of people who attended folk clubs and how to attract younger audiences. The age of the audiences threw up another problem with venues in that as people get older then need to for disabled access can become a priority.
There was also some uncertainty about entrance and participation fees. Competition from nearby pubs who hold open mic nights which seem more attractive to younger singers than folk clubs was also raised as an issue.
Julie Palmer said: "Although we are a fairly new club, we have been going to folk clubs for many years and we have experienced different styles and different approaches of clubs and we have taken the best ideas we have seen around and tried to put them into practice."
She then introduced Phil Preen.
Phil Preen of the
Poppy Folk Club
 "We heard about the local brewery, Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham were opening a new pub just around the corner and we knew it would be a great pub with great beer and we thought there is no folk club in our area, there ought to be.
"So that's how we started. I emailed the chairman of the brewery and we met him in the pub and drank lots of beer with him and he said, yes, of course you can run a folk club so that was it.
"Our aim was to introduce local people to folk music and get them to come along to a folk club. We started off by contacting various people by email, we got a few responses and ended up with a team of four of us.
"When we started the club we had quite a bit of luck because it was a new pub that generated a lot of interest locally and at it turned out the pub opened on the same day we had booked for our first night. So that got us off to a really good start.
"We also had a lot of support on that night from family, friends and people that we knew from other clubs.
"Another thing which is lucky for is that we have a nice big room, so we can accommodate a large audience, we can get 100 seated. A lot of other club organisers are really envious of that space. But it also causes a lot  of problems in getting a nice friendly atmosphere in what is essentially a square box.
"Initially there were no curtains, no carpets, no soft furnishings but we have done various things. Julie has put fairy lights everywhere, red sashes and posters everywhere to try and make an atmosphere, so that's what we have tried to do."


"We have various problems with air conditioning which is a bit loud and coolers behind the bar which are loud so all these things have to taken into consideration.
"These are all the little things you have to think of just to try and get through.
"The stage is a nightmare, it's a box in the end wall, it sound great when you are singing there but if you are in the back of the room you can't hear a thing. It's fine you've got a PA.
"We borrowed temporary staging from a local school and set it up lengthways and that seems to work and gives us a nice atmosphere, everyone is a little bit closer sideways on and it works for us. So it's about adapting to the venue.
"We meet monthly and it's a lot of work. We alternate with a sing-around and concert night or guest night. With the sing-around we bill it as a music session because we very much want to encourage musicians as well as the singers.
"We made the decision at the start that we would try and book people who were instrumentalists and could accompany themselves rather than just unaccompanied singers. We thought that might be a bit more accessible to get the local people in." At this point he handed over to Julie.
Julie Palmer of the
Poppy Folk Club
"When it comes to putting on acts, it's no good if you love it and you think it's the roots of good folk music, if it's not what people want to see then you are not going to be a successful club.
"So putting on what people want to see and what you think will draw people in and tell them it's happening, so that's all the publicity. 
"We went mega on the publicity side, especially at the beginning. If you don't tell people where you are, who you and what you're doing they aren't going to know about you and they aren't going to come.
"Also be nice to them when they get there, we've been to clubs where you are welcomed, you're made to feel welcome, you're asked what your name is and if you go again your name's remembered.
"Be positive and cheerful about what you are doing, if people turn up to see what you're putting on and you're glum it doesn't create a welcoming atmosphere, so we try and be cheerful and positive about what we are doing.
"So how do we reach a new audience? John mentioned how many reports of folk clubs have been dropped and so it can be really hard to find a new audience.
"I think the internet is brilliant and people who are already 'folkies' use the internet to search for stuff they already know exists, so what you have to try and do is get to the people who don't know it exists."


Julie then went on to talk about how they use any and every opportunity to publicise what they do, when they first started the club they plastered the pub with posters etc so that the people using the room for other functions saw them.
She also mentioned putting up posters locally, in shops, post offices etc. This includes local council noticeboards. They produced their own beermats which they use in the pub.
"We make sure the Poppy Folk Club stuff is out at festivals so people can see our presence, maybe look at our listings. We really went overboard on the publicity, in terms of visual stuff to start with."
Julie also mentioned getting involved in other local events providing something different or having a presence so people who are there for one reason can see you are there and will maybe show more interest in coming to the club.
"We have also tried to 'break the mould', we have started to publicise the concert, get them into the concert, then tell them about the folk club. So rather than advertising Poppy Folk Club let's advertise the artists, do it that way round. This is something we are trying, we have no idea if it is going to work but it's just something to think about.
"The other thing we have tried to do is be professional and slick but stay friendly and approachable."
Julie addressed the issue of the missing 30-40-year-olds, where she said these people are raising families so they are running them to various events and they are involved in their own social activities, whereas festivals are events to which the whole family can go so she emphasised that it wasn't necessarily something to concerned about but certainly use festivals to reach people so they know the folk clubs are there.
"We also think there is a responsibility on the part of the artists, there was one concert where we thought the artists could have pulled in a much bigger crowd and when looked the gig wasn't even listed on the artist's website.
"We prefer to do a deal with the artist to give them a lower flat fee and a percentage of the door, so they then have a vested interest in it being a successful gig as well."
Phil then took over to emphasise the importance of websites and the internet especially Facebook which is a great medium for getting news of gigs and artists to potential audiences. Twitter is also a good way of getting messages about your activities across.
Chairman Colin then opened the discussion to the floor and the first issue addressed was the start times of concerts and he asked why for many venues they started 'late' at 8pm or 8.30pm.
One reason put forward was that it was a practical move to allow people to get home from work, have something to eat etc before coming out again. This threw up concerns about late finishes and the connection with public transport where people were anxious about getting home especially in midweek concerts.
What also came up was clubs not adhering to scheduled times and this led to audience members thinking that times were flexible and so they could turn up when it suited them.

To read part two click on the link
To read part three click on the link

Friday, 24 May 2013


Live Review

Glee Club, Birmingham

Chris Wood is one of those performers who has reached the age where grumpiness is obligatory, cynicism is acceptable - as long as it's the healthy variety and yet has still managed to keep a touch of the endearing naughty schoolboy about his persona.

Chris Wood  - picture courtesy of
Wood is also one of those old folk tradition troubadours where the lyrics reign supreme. His biting, insightful and witty words often don't need his guitar and it wouldn't be too far a speculation to say that had he not learned to play he could have made his name as a poet.
The Kentish lad was flanked on the double bass by Neil Harland and keyboard player Justin Mitchell as they opened with John Barleycorn where Wood's deep voice executed the traditional tale perfectly, accentuated by the bass sound of his guitar.
Refreshingly he then moved on to a political song, something which is sadly lacking on the folk circuit at the moment. Caesar is about greed, and like a lot of Wood's songs they were introduced with his soft humming voice, a little like a mellower version of the blues holler which announces they have something to say. The track had a soft funk undertone from the gospel organ sound of Mitchell which added to the colour of the music rather than intruded on it.
Neil Harland - picture courtesy of  Jim McAdam
The title track of his album None the Wiser lets his cynicism out for while as he turns a road song with cutting lyrics into an indictment of modern life and the recession affecting us all. And let's face it's not many people can fit a term such as "quantitative easing" into a song and get away with it.
One of his staple songs, which he performed at the Symphony Hall as part of the Joan Armatrading tour, is Jerusalem. Yes the famous and rousing British hymn synonymous with the last night of the proms.
Although there is definite feeling in his voice and he genuinely respects the song and the lyrics you can't help but ask why? Redoing Jerusalem is a bit like trying to reinvent the wheel and his version is not entirely convincing


He pulled out what he called a couple of grown up love songs which according to the amiable raconteur are identified by an element of grumpiness, which may well be true but all the same Henrietta has the clever lyrics which are Wood's signature trait. The other, The Sweetness Game was another soft ballad to which his velvety voice is so well-suited and is even highlighted by the odd touch of grittiness.
There was a distinct touch of Pearl & Dean about the opening of  A Whole Life Lived which is a song about differing generations and the realisation that age is catching up on you.
He followed this up with The Little Carpenter and then Young Randall which is a traditional folk song with a gentle opening which gives way to the deep bass.
Although Thou Shalt is about a mid-life crisis it was more upbeat with Harland's slapping bass keeping the rhythm. There were the same clever lyrics and there seemed to be real pathos in his voice.
Wood is fascinated by the stories behind the songs and if you go to his concerts you must be prepared to take on board the potted histories he has accrued, such as with I Am which was written in a lunatic asylum, not by Wood it should be noted. Wood's lone voice simply accented by the keyboard had a real depth of feeling to it.
Things went more upbeat for his poaching song which had something of the feel of Midnight Cowboy sound about it, that sort of contradictory urban country feel. His other offerings included Tally of Salt with Hugh Lupton's lyrics which was a soft ballad telling the story of marriage which just had a hint of jazz.
Chris Wood
 picture courtesy of
Towards the end he went for a more traditional sounding folk song in Let Me In which had a slight bluegrass mountain feel.
He pulled one of Martin Simpson's out of the bag with Come Down Jehovah which he describes as an atheist spiritual.
Wood moved towards the end of the set with Sofia a love story from the Crusades which more than any showed his penchant for storytelling.
The last one of the night was again from his None the Wiser album, The Wolfless Years, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It's a song about the return of the wolf to parts of North America which had the unexpected benefit of bringing with it a blossoming of wild flowers, although he didn't render an explanation of this. However, from the Procol Harum-style opening to the end, the gentle ballad was a wonderful tale of nature and the surprises it can spring on us.
For more information visit

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


Live Review

Glee Club, Birmingham

Valerie June from Tennessee professes to an eclectic mix of influences from Billie Holiday to Van Morrison and from Dolly Parton to The Beatles and it comes out in her music and singing, so much so it’s often difficult to know what to make of her as a performer.

Valerie June has a great range
You have to give her admiration for the fact she is a self-taught musician, undoubtedly naturally talented and her voice does have an incredible range with which she hit the sold out audience at the Glee right from her first blues number, Trouble.
When she sings at the bottom end of her range her voice, is deep, soulful, velvety, emotive and a real pleasure to hear, however when she hits the top end the power overtakes the quality and the screechy high frequency becomes almost white noise which no doubt has the ability to bring down aeroplanes.
She slowed down to the ballad Twined and Twisted but again at the high end filled the room with ease but it was most of the time unintelligible.
Love Told a Lie, was the best song which really gave a better indication of how good her voice can be. She filled the torch song with emotion and her clear tones carried over the audience in waves. For Shotgun June pulled out the slide guitar and with the unusual addition of a female drummer went into a frenzy of crazy blues which sounded more like the grizzled Seasick Steve than the demure songstress on the stage.
Throughout the set she incorporated good ‘ol country, heavy blues and funk and even a smattering of gospel sound and when she brought her voice down to the level of human hearing she was awesome but when she took it up into the rafters it was time to make sure you weren’t near anything which frightened easily.


Live Review

Glee Club, Birmingham

There may only be three members to the award-winning Lau but you certainly get a full sound from the trio once they get going, which they did right from the first number.

Martin Green, Chris Drever and Aidan O'Rourke who are Lau
photo by Dougie Coulter
They opened with The Burrian, from their album Race the Loser, which had all the hallmarks of a traditional instrumental with East Anglian, Martin Green on piano accordion, and Scots, Chris Drever on guitars and Aidan O’Rourke on fiddle.
The track then slid into what was nearly a jamming session with the occasional jazz undertone.
Saint Monday, another track from the album, followed and was a much softer piece where Drever introduced his distinctively mellow, slightly melancholic voice into the proceedings.
His composition Horizontigo then began with a nice mellow acoustic opening which had a slow, sombre sound balanced perfectly between the accordion and fiddle and there was almost a spaghetti western/Spanish-style undertone about it.
Once again though it allowed them to play with the sounds they created and they picked it up midway with a stronger beat that gradually built to a crescendo.
Throwing Pennies brought Drever back into the proceedings and he sang to a clopping backing track which gave it an emotive and evocative quality.
Aidan O'Rourke
It was O'Rourke who brought the soft fiddle sound in for Torsa but it wasn’t long before the picture of music was played with wider brushstrokes building up to move in to a more traditional jig sound which took it to a new level before peaking and the musicians bringing it back down for a gentler finish.
The audience was also treated to Far From Portland, The Bird that Winds the Spring and Save the Bees heading towards the end of the concert with Midnight Feast.

Friday, 10 May 2013


Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

Thea Gilmore - back on tour

The prolific singer songwriter Thea Gilmore is back on the circuit after taking an enforced time out for the birth of her second son and she came back in style at the Town Hall complete with string quartet and grand piano.

The statuesque Gilmore opened with a track from Regardless, her latest and 14th album, This Is How You Find Me which came with a beautiful and full sound from her nine-piece backing group.
Gilmore slowed things down for an old song on acoustic guitar with cello and fiddle backing the slow ballad before moving into Beautiful and Hopeful which had a deeper rockier beat where she even managed to sound a little like Joan Armatrading.
Another track from her album followed, Start As We Mean To Go On, which again had more of rock sound than folk.
With This road, Gilmore started solo - her clear voice filling the hall before the backing of the group and string quartet slowly built up to a much fuller sound.
She then pulled a really interesting one out of the bag - an acoustic version of the old depression anthem Brother Can You Spare A Dime?
Gilmore then kept the folksy feel with an A Capella offering called The Amazing Floating Man about the banking crisis and her powerful and clear voice didn’t even strain to fill the hall.
Her connection with the songs of the legendary Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention fame is well known and she paid tribute to the late songstress with a soft ballad The Pain On My Heart which was backed beautifully with just the quartet and grand piano.
Another track from Regardless, Spit and Shine, followed which had an African sound reminiscent of the music from Paul Simon’s Graceland but it had a toe tapping beat which was followed by the title track of her album Regardless.
Towards the end of the set she moved back to the rockier sound of You’re The Radio, which had a feel of the MOR rock the US produces in such abundance.

CD Review


Thea Gilmore

Thea Gilmore - new album 

If Oxfordshire singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore is looking to move away from her folk persona then she is doing it in fine style with her new album Regardless. If you asked the average Joe in the street which genre to place her 14th album into it would be surprising to hear anyone say folk.

It is very commercial sounding, very rock and strangely enough very retro with certain tracks having a flavour of the 80s –early 90s.
This said even with Gilmore being out of the mainstream for a while she has lost none of her talent for sharp lyrics and catchy beats. Opening with Something To Sing About Gilmore’s rapid fire lyrics keep up a pretty sharp tempo on what is an MOR sounding track which has a slight rock undertone and brings about memories of Belinda Carlisle and Pat Benatar.
The track is followed by a classical-style opening sound of This Is How You Find Me which is one of another of those songs that seems to evoke memories of the 80s and Gilmore’s clear voice is not best showcased here.
Title track of the album is a pretty good ballad with a strong under-beat but again it sounds like something The Corrs recorded in the early 90s when the Irish became the Riverdance people.
One of the more interesting tracks on the album is Spit and Shine which wouldn’t be out of place on Paul Simon’s Graceland, it has the African undertone and Gilmore does what she does best with sharp lyrics and precise singing.
I Will Not Disappoint You is one of several soft ballads along with Punctuation and This Road. I Will Not … is probably as close to a folk song any of the tracks get on the album but it is a pleasant and thoughtful piece beautifully accentuated by the backing of the strings section.
In between there are the heavier beat sounds of Start As You Mean To Go On which has a very American MOR rock feel to it and stands a good chance of being successful across the pond, this also applies to Love Came Looking for me which had more than a little resemblance to several Pat Benatar songs, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Perhaps the most thoughtful of the tracks is Let It Be Known a racier ballad which has the clever lyrics so associated with Gilmore.
The final track My Friend Goodbye is arguably the best track on the album in which you can really get to grips with the quality of Gilmore’s voice. It’s an emotional ballad with just a smidgeon of country in it but her breathy lyrics make it a possible hit with romantics.
Regardless has already been picked up by Radio 2 as it’s album of the week and is destined for big things, Gilmore is a consummate performer with a really rich voice but as a folk album it’s probably not going to be a great hit.
Regardless is out now on the Fullfill label and for more information visit

Thursday, 9 May 2013



Folk instrumental band Whalebone have a new album Runes nearing completion and are embarking on their promotional tour.

Whalebone have a new album, Runes,
 due out very soon
This Saturday, May 11, You can see them at Hartshill Community Centre, Warwickshire for more information contact 02476 382856 or 07582 378099.
The following Saturday on May 18 you can catch them at Wrockwardine Village Hall, Shropshire. Tel: 01952 255309
On Saturday June 1 they will be playing Malvern Wells Village Hall, Malvern. Tel: 01684 574920 and the following Friday, June 7 they will be at Wenlock Pottery, Shropshire. Tel: 01952 727600

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Moseley Folk Festival

Moseley Folk Festival which runs from August 30 to September 1 at Moseley Park, Birmingham has announced its final line up. Ocean Colour Scene will be playing their Moseley Shoals album in full on Friday August 30. Edwyn Collins will be headlining the next day and the following day on the Sunday will feature Lucy Rose. The full line up includes The Dublin Legends, Kate Rusby, British Sea Power, The Be Good Tanyas, The Staves, The Leisure Society, Katherine Priddy, Tir Na Nog and many more.


Live Review

Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton

This popular folk duo were making their third appearance to the snug venue of the upstairs room at the Newhampton Inn, Whitmore Reans and were welcomed by a pretty full house.

Dan Cassidy at the Newhampton Folk Club, Wolverhampton
Hickman from Shrewsbury has a slightly manic style of playing guitar while Cassidy, brother of tragic singer Eva, although he didn't play on or even mention it, from Maryland US is as laid back as it's possible to be without falling over.
They kicked off with Nothing but Dreams a blue grass number with Hickman on vocals and, strangely enough for an English folk vocalist started singing in an American accent, as he frantically strummed his guitar and flicked around the stage Cassidy provided the smooth harmonies on his fiddle.
Their next offering was a transportation song Jim Jones with Hickman reverting to native English with his soft nasal tones highlighted by the equally soft and precise playing of Cassidy.
This was followed by the Cajun sound of The Lovers' Waltz with Cassidy's superb tones this time taking the lead and Hickman filling in the harmonies.
Inspired by James Taylor and written by Hickman, I'm Beside You, tested his singing ability and the fast-paced ballad proved somewhat difficult as he tried to hit the top end of his range and Cassidy added a jazz slant for a little colour.
At the risk of sounding harsh this more than any other track from the evening highlighted the imbalance in the partnership in that, while Hickman is an impressive musician, Cassidy is in a different league and even though they have known each other for years, their personalities seem mismatched which doesn't really give any chemistry on stage.
Hickman does all the singing and most of the talking, sometimes too much engaging with the "hecklers" in the audience who were obviously familiar with them from past gigs. Cassidy has this sort of impassive staring quality speaking rarely and when he does it is with a laconic US drawl which seems to take an age for anything to be said.
James Hickman at the Newhampton Folk Club
Cassidy drew on his Celtic roots for the slip jig The Stray Away Child from the Boffy Band. He executed it with superb clarity and precision and even blended in a little swing.
Hickman turned his hand a Capella with Van Diemen’s Land and although he doesn't have the strongest of voices he does make the most of it and managed to pull it off.
When they mesh together they are good but there is no getting away from the fact that Cassidy is the more accomplished of the two musicians and this makes for a noticeable imbalance on tracks such as The Teetotallers which is a fast Scottish jig played superbly by Cassidy and again accented by Hickman.
His striking pizzicato style on the fiddle was the perfect highlight for Little Maggie which had a honky tonk feel and was once again a display of his incredible talent.
Unfortunately on the ballad The Shipyard Apprentice Hickman overstretched his vocal range at times but it didn't really detract from the overall performance.
The pair mixed it up throughout the show with perhaps one of the highlights being the lovely sound of Inisheer and Cassidy's slick and precise fiddle playing filling the room.
He then moved on to My Dearest Fling which was a swing/jazz number which is the other side of Cassidy's repertoire. He again brought this out with his own compositions Painter's Jig and The Tempest.
Towards the end of their set they pulled out a rather unique version of Scarborough Fair which didn't actually mention the title and brought things to an end with The Walls of Time a harder sounding bluegrass backwoods-style tune.

Friday, 3 May 2013



Durham singer Jez Lowe will be playing at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton as part of the Folk 21 day at the Dunkley Street venue on May 11.

Jez Lowe is part of Folk21 at
the Newhampton Arts Centre
The evening will be filled with music from artists such as  Roger Davies from Huddersfield, Alun Parry from Liverpool, duo The Raven, from London and three piece band Long Lankin. The concert starts at 7pm with doors opening 6.30pm. Tickets are £12.50.
The daytime portion of the Folk21 event will be a gathering of like-minded people and organisations who are all passionate about playing, promoting and prolonging folk music especially at the local level. The intention is to get together exchange ideas, look at the local situation in regards to folk music, promotion, collaboration, co-operation and survival for small folk venues to keep the scene vibrant at a local level and of course through to a national level.

Kate Rusby will be at the Moseley Folk Festival
  in Birmingham
Although the Moseley Folk Festival in Birmingham, which is on from August 30 to September 1, has yet to announce its full line up you can whet your appetite on names such as Kate Rusby who will play on September 1, she is also appearing at the Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury on September 20, at the Warwick Arts Centre on December 6 and Wolverhampton's Civic Hall on December 7. The festival will also include The Dublin Legends, who are essentially the remaining members of the legendary Dubliners and The Begood Tanyas from Vancouver, who are also in Shrewsbury for the local folk festival on August 26, also confirmed is Katherine Priddy and the Cadbury Sisters.

Instrumentalists Whalebone will be playing Hartshill Community Centre, Warwickshire on May 11 and Wrockwardine Village Hall, Shropshire on May 18. The band members will also be running a music workshop at Wenlock Pottery on June 2. The day runs from 10.30am to 5pm, and the cost, inclusive of music book containing all the tunes and food throughout the day is £60. For more information call 01746 765268.

Seth Lakeman

Lisbee Stainton will be bringing out her new album called Word Games later in the year and she will be in the Midlands at the,  Artrix Theatre Bromsgrove on November 7. She will also be busy as the special guest with Seth Lakeman's tour this month where she will be playing Oxford Town Hall on May 17 she will also be in the city of dreaming spires on July 7 for the Cornbury Festival which runs from July 5 to 7 at the Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire. Lakeman will be playing the Robin2, Bilston, Wolverhampton on October 15.

Gemma Hayes, who is currently touring Ireland, is working on songs ready to go into the studio for another album so watch this space for more news.

The Oyster Band who were last year enjoyed the successful Ragged Kingdom tour with June Tabor are looking to get a new album ready for release in January 2014, if you can't wait until then you can catch them on two dates at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival which runs from August 23 to 26. On August 24 the band will be playing a set as themselves and next day they will be the Oyster Ceilidh Band with friends.