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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

“Right mum, I need a portable chair, a travel pillow, a really warm and soft sleeping bag, Timberland boots, thick socks…” The list went on. The eighteen-year old is taking a trip to BoomTown. She who refused to have anything further to do with the Duke of Edinburgh and his award scheme after one night under canvas, has forked out £200.00 to camp for four nights at the festival.

She rang from the queue to get in. “Mum we’ve been standing for six hours, with all our bags. We’ve moved about three feet. They say it’s going to be another four hours ’til we get to the gate.” Then much, much later that night: “Mum, my chair’s been stolen, and my boots… and my sleeping bag! But got to go, am meeting O in the Psych Forest now.”

It wasn’t like that at Womad even before it pitched up in the Earl of Suffolk’s garden. And certainly not at Cornbury, where riding high on the recording of our ‘double B-side’ single, West London’s The Love Trousers kicked-off the festival one Saturday morning.

10.30 am was a bit early even for those of us who had children. But my mum was there and she enjoyed it. I’m sure David Cameron would have done too if he’d got off his arse and pitched up for the whole show rather than just wandering about after lunch, basically presaging his approach to the Brexit referendum.

It’s Cornbury that spawns column inches on the middle class appropriation of festival culture. It’s the inauthentic heart of (not) getting down and dirty in a field with music. My friend thinks it’s not just festivals that are being sanitised by the bourgeoisie, but music itself. “Take folk,” he says, “it’s just servicing the agrarian fantasies of the urban rich. It’s become middle class. It’s got its own university course!”

“Aside from Stick In The Wheel,” he said, “name me one truly working class folk artist! And as for ‘nu folk’, or ‘alt folk’ – all Emperors ‘Nu’ Clothes. And not even new! More Laura Ashley running around in meadows.”

Blimey. I look on line, only to find a branch of folk where if there’s any running round it’ll be in a car park. Here’s Isarnos, belting out a subtle blend of “Melodic Death and traditional folk”. Plus, oh, joy! They’re appearing at the authentic sounding ‘Beermageddon’. For 40 quid you get three days camping, “parking and all facilities, including stalls, cheap beers, real ales, hot food and proper toilets.”

Billed as a family festival (“small children should have ear defenders”) it features a themed fancy dress competition “Christmas-geddon”. The line up includes: “Your mum’s favourite: Deep Throat Trauma!! earning two exclamation marks, whilst ‘Bring on the bastards, Wolf Bastard!!!” get three. Isarnos, with their bagpipes and hurdy gurdy provide the “folk-metal power-ballads”. Who knew? I bet you won’t find David Cameron wandering about here. Nor Nigel Farage even with his propensity for a pint.

Meanwhile, back home, my daughter’s miserable. “Don’t worry, it’s not your fault everything was stolen.” “It’s not that mum. It was the best four days of my life. Nothing will be that good again.” But she doesn’t yet know about Beermaggedon.

Elizabeth Kinder


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