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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Tom Bliss 'More pretentious than Bellowhead' (241* d) RE: 'More pretentious than Bellowhead' 07 Oct 10

Takes deep breath and holds nose...

Catherine, if you're reading this may I try to explain a little why some people are affronted by your remarks? This is partly because no-one has, I feel, forensically addressed the remarks you've made about friends who (as I'm sure you know yourself) are effectively denied a right to reply by the rules of the game, and partly because I think you may not be giving due attention to some key sub-texts to the folk music agenda - and market.

I hope you already appreciate that folk music (accepting the broadest use of the term) has at least three axes:

The first is the performance/participation axis. This, unlike the world of opera, is a continuum from extreme skill and expert presentation at one end, to cheerful self-expression (with its roots back into history) at the other. The latter is often more prized than the former, because this is 'Folk' (People) music - need I say more. And there is much more movement up and down this scale than you'll find in classical or opera, because different people are perceived to offer different strengths under different circumstances, according to the intersection of the other two axes. So technically poor musicians like me manage to get onto big festival stages, and even be admired there, because we're representing something other than technical excellence which is perceived to be of value.

The second axis is about style/repertoire. A 'poor' performer may also be lionised because he or she is able to present specific material or skill (such as the playing of a rare instrument or multi-instrumental abilities), or some other thing of beauty or interest. In this, authenticity (this comes in many guises) is prized over artifice - so the untrained voice is often perceived to have more beauty than the trained one. I'll be honest now (I rarely say things like this in public, but I think I must since you have been so frank yourself) - I actually have to leave the room if I hear bel canto. I'm not being personal - I genuinely can't stand the sound of trained vibrato, it grates on my ears something rotten and always has.

And the third is the historical/cultural one. Folk music taps back into and overlaps with an area of genuine academic concern - and because of this, many key people in the folk world have an academic interest which they champion or defend, which can look like 'out of touch historianism' if you're not paying proper attention.

Now, you named a few acts back there. I would put all of them at the top end of the scale of technical quality - in ANY arena. I doubt Nancy's style (she's worked just as hard on her instrument as you have on yours) would get her a chair in the LSO, but how many of them can play authentic fiddle, AND sing at the same time? And then, for heaven's sake start dancing as well!? And please understand that doesn't do this just to show off (though that's a perfectly adequate reason and we're happy to pay for it) but because there's whole traditions of this sort of thing which we'd pay to witness even if it was being done very badly indeed.

All of those acts also perform in theatres and venues well outside of the 'hallowed insular walls' of folk, and all of them win over newcomers with their honesty, authenticity, technical and creative ability (yes, indeedy) and charisma.

Others have asked you to name some folk artists who you do admire.

I'd also like to know how many folk festivals you've been to. Are you sure there was not technical problem that night which impacted on the performances? It happens, and without the luxury of a 58 piece orchestra and an army of fawning assistants you can wind up being pretty exposed up there.


I would have sent this message to you personally, but you have only provided emails for your agents on your website. You can find my mail and phone numbers on mine.

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