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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

I was recently sent an email about a concert the BBC are staging aimed at getting children interested in jazz. Children don’t need to be interested in jazz. Leave them alone.

The concert hopes to show that jazz is already a part of their lives without them realising it. But discovering that jazz was surreptitiously ubiquitous would not have turned my tiny tastes away from synthesisers and singers your dad couldn’t tell the sex of. As if the realisation that the Bod theme tune was Derek Griffiths doing a bebop scat would’ve seen me demanding Blue Note before bedtime. Freely forming my own musical bonds was an important part of my upbringing. I like jazz now. But I also like port, blue cheese and owl sanctuaries. Some things are wasted on kids.

“Actually, we’ve been dosing little Elsa and Bulbasaur with pure fusion for three months and their violent spitting has almost stopped.” Hey, if it works for you and your child prefers Herbie Hancock to Horrible Henry then who am I to argue? But jazz isn’t meant for children. It’s for grownups to pretend they live in a downtown New York apartment with a fire escape they sleep on when it gets hot. Jazz is for people old enough to have heard all the notes in every harmonically acceptable order, who now crave the surprise of not knowing which one will come next.

Folk music, at least in its festival-friendly form is a more suitable music for children with its sing-a-long melodies, gentle acoustic accompaniment and the performers’ colourful clown trousers. I still don’t think they need to ‘get folk’, yet it sometimes seems like the scene is driving itself mad with the mantra: “How do we attract more young people?” And short of promoting the opportunities for underage drinking, no one seems to have stumbled upon any lasting answer. As with the BBC’s jazz-for-juveniles endeavour, I suspect the folk scene’s obsession with introducing young people to its delights has much to do with the creeping dread of empty marquees. The future for folk festivals will be incredibly bleak if we don’t start breeding audience members fast.

Children are fickle though. One minute they’ll be cantering to the jaunty apocalypticism of Jon Boden, the next they’d rather be in their room laughing at a YouTube video of farts. I say forget ’em. If your child wants to be involved in folk music then they’ll find their own way here. But they probably won’t.

We need to focus our evangelical efforts on a different kind of young person: the over-30s. They’ve still got at least 40 years of potential festival attendance left in them. And while it’s true they don’t have the disposable income of retirees, they spend it as if they do; consenting to six quid pints of beer as long as they’re brewed in a converted abattoir by a man with a topknot and a trust fund.

And all that’s needed is a simple re-marketing of what we already offer. Not folk clubs but pop-up, all-ability music experiences. Not records but artisan, hand-crafted vinyl pieces. Festivals are fine, thirty-somethings already love festivals. Just make sure there’s a haloumi stall, offer more flexible ticket options, put on better artists during the day in accessible, child-friendly venues and yes I’ve stopped doing the joke.

Tim Chipping


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