In July 2004, friends of fRoots chipped in with a selection of anecdotes and quotes to mark the passing of our first 25 years. Why, it seemed like only yesterday…
In 1988 I was happy and content, living in London, the co-owner of a record shop. I went to Japan for a holiday. “Go and see these people” said your editor, thrusting a piece of paper into my hand with two Japanese subscribers’ names and addresses on. Little did he know that the small town in the countryside where they lived was precisely where I was going. My new Japanese friends, Mr Iwami and Mr Funatsu, were startled when I arrived on their doorsteps. I was like a vision, sent by the esteemed “Holk Loots” magazine from England. I couldn’t speak Japanese, they couldn’t speak much English. A fellow record shop owner, Mr Iwami played me some music from Japan and Okinawa, obviously eager to impress this incarnation of Ian Anderson. And boy, was I impressed.
I went back to London, sold my share in the shop and went back to Japan for “about a year” with some vague idea of promoting this great music. Mr Funatsu put me in touch with Okinawan musician Shokichi Kina who I interviewed for fRoots. A few years later, you even put Nenes on the front cover. Trouble is, no one outside Japan could buy the music they were reading about, so I worked out a deal with Mr Iwami and started selling CDs by mail order. Better still to get a CD or two into the UK record stores, so I helped put together some licensing deals, first with GlobeStyle who released a Shokichi Kina record. Next, a few festivals asked if these artists could come and play live, so by default I became an agent and tour manager as well.
Perhaps what was needed, I thought, was one of those east/west collaborations to popularise the music. Enter Bob Brozman and his record with Takashi Hirayasu for Respect Records, run by ex-Sony employee Mr Takahashi, who I had met arranging that Nenes interview for fRoots. That record got released by Riverboat in the UK under the title Jin Jin and became quite a success. Before I knew it, one year had turned into ten, and I was left wondering what had happened to my life. What if Ian Anderson hadn’t given me that piece of paper? What’s more, fRoots had encouraged my obsession all those years by printing my stories and reviewing the CDs we sold.
Now I’m back in London, suffering from reverse culture shock, a stranger in my own land, still struggling with all this Japanese and Asian music. Mr Iwami, Mr Funatsu and Mr Takahashi are friends for life. Every morning I wake up, not knowing whether to thank or curse the name of fRoots.
fRoots is my best guide to the wonderful world of folk and roots music. I can’t live without it. Congratulations!
Kiyoshi Funatsu, Tambourine, Japan
I have been reading fRoots in its various guises for all 25 years of its existence. Sometimes they pile up and I tackle four at one go and then wish I hadn’t been so lazy – tantalising gigs have come and gone. I have moaned about its shortcomings sometimes, but no magazine has such consistently interesting pieces about things you would never read anywhere else. When I arrived in Britain in the sixties, I was smitten by Melody Maker’s willingness to place jazz, pop, folk and blues effortlessly cheek by jowl. fRoots is the only British publication still carrying this ecumenical torch. Long may it reign!
A Sunday afternoon back in the damp December of 1998 and I’m in the foyer of a trendy West End club, trying to get in for my pre-arranged interview with Afro-salsero Ricardo Lemvo. Trouble is the jobsworth in the ticket booth doesn’t want to know. “I can’t let you in, they’re soundchecking,” she says flatly. So I stand around, listening to the rain and wondering what I’m doing here. It’s not as though I’ve even had the go ahead from anyone to write up the interview. I’ve sent off a letter to Ian Anderson at fRoots magazine but have yet to hear back. What made me think I could be a music journalist anyway? I lack both the fashionable friends and trendy trousers which I’m certain are essential for such an undertaking.
After an age and a half a lone figure emerges from the club itself, hunched into a big coat, a hat low over his eyes. “Excuse me,” I pipe up. “Are you with the band?” “Yeah,” he chuckles, “I’m Ricardo Lemvo.” We go into the club and with trembling hands clutching my new tape recorder, I manage something approaching an interview. A few days later Ian Anderson agrees to let me have a go at a Lemvo Root Salad and I’ve been writing for the magazine ever since; which may not mean much to anyone else, but means a hell of a lot to me.
I began working in the nascent UK world music business in the early 1980s. fRoots (in its earlier incarnations) was one of the few places one could visit and feel assured that you weren’t going slowly mad. fRoots knew what time it was. Over the years the magazine has become an invaluable asset to all who work for, and have an interest in, international roots, folk and traditional music. Always invigorating, often inspiring (and occasionally infuriating), it has excellent features, previews and reviews and used to boast some of the most luridly-tinted cover shots this side of Rave Weekly. fRoots has consistently shown that local music has a resonance and power “out there” but is often at its best and most relevant when it stays connected to its locality. When it comes to my work fRoots is a necessity, but I’ll always read it with pleasure. Congratulations on the first 25 years and here’s to the next quarter century.
Alan James, Head Of Contemporary Music, Arts Council England
Has it really been 25 years? Time really does fly when you’re doing something you love, and playing blues guitar and taking photographs are two of the things I most love doing. I had my first camera before I had my first guitar, but I met Ian A. through music when he signed my band Tight Like That to the Village Thing label and acted as producer on three consecutive albums. Much later, when he’d instigated Southern Rag, he began to use my photographs.
In July 1985, issue 25 metamorphosed into Folk Roots, with the subheading The Son Of Southern Rag. Ian told me that he was changing the cover format to full colour and would I like to take the photograph, which would be of Richard Thompson. Boom, boom, say no more! Off we go to meet the ever genial RT and with a few clicks of the shutter we have the first cover. Well that first one was pretty easy…
A few thousand clicks later and I’m doing a session with Jim Moray for fR249. Now, how am I going get a new picture that will satisfy both the editor and the artiste, whose manager has already been on to me expressing Jim’s concern that the image should be representative of his current work. I’ve always tried to honestly depict the musician in the way they perform their music as well as to try and capture an element of their personality. It’s easier if you know the performer or their music. If not, as sometimes is the case, you hope you can build a quick rapport in the studio after trying to see any previous photos or getting hold of a current CD. I hadn’t met Jim Moray prior to the session but he arrived armed with an array of instruments, clothes and ideas. It was a fruitful session. (I hope Jim liked the result!)
In the early days all the covers were shot on location, until the vagaries of British weather forced the use of a studio. Barely Works (fR85) gamely looking bright while it drizzled rain, then Blowzabella (fR86) gallantly standing firm against a gale blowing up the Thames, helped fuel the move indoors. No longer would I have to drive up the A1 from London to the North Yorkshire moors through a blizzard to photograph the Watersons (fR33), or try to keep up with Shane MacGowan and Terry Woods (fR50) in a half-day long drinking session (self-inflicted I admit) waiting for the rain to clear.
So, if I’m permitted, and if you’ve got a complete set of magazines handy, here are a few more of this photographer’s recollections: being serenaded by Emmylou Harris (fR111) playing Gram Parsons’s old Gibson, and by Pop Staples (fR109). I had persuaded him that he would look more natural and relaxed if he was actually playing. At first he complained that he’d come to have his picture taken and not play music. He then forgot all about being photographed and played and sang, giving a mesmerising performance for the best part of an hour, witnessed by only myself, my assistant and publicist Richard Wootton (who’d accompanied Pops to the studio).
I’m used to photographing people singing, but it’s more hit and miss when it comes to dancing, as with Joe Arroyo (fR117) who insisted on jigging around to his latest CD, or the Mahotella Queens (fR218/219) whose energy was irrepressible. The opposite was in evidence as I waited midday for Mary Coughlan (fR48) to down a couple of steadying brandys. She had just got out of her hotel bed after a mighty session the previous night. Mary didn’t want to be photographed without her dark glasses. I empathised. Loudon Wainwright III (fR36), sober man that he is, spent much time telling me how he hated having his photograph taken, but he’d be happy if I could get a shot that included his brand new sofa that he’d taken possession of only the previous day.
I’ve had some interesting conversations along the way, as with Thomas Mapfumo (fR184) enthusing about the football team he runs back home in Zimbabwe, or with Robert Plant (fR206/207) about delta blues and how he and Jimmy Page tried to work them out without knowing about open tunings. Ali Farka Toure knows about open tunings. He also knows about car mechanics, as he demonstrated after mine broke down in an Islington street while we were driving around looking for a location to shoot the cover of issue fR56 (photos from this session were also used for Ali’s first World Circuit album). With steam and water pouring from the engine, Ali just pulled up the sleeves of his magnificent purple robes, got stuck in, and had the problem fixed in a matter of minutes. He told me that in Mali you have to be capable in all things…
There are so many other moments I could recall, but one of my favourite memories is of when the Blind Boys Of Alabama came for a cover session for fR121. I had selected a white backdrop and when they arrived they all had wet and muddy shoes as it was raining outside. So as not to mess up the backdrop, I asked their manager if the group could remove their shoes, which they dutifully did. I couldn’t believe I’d dared ask these legendary gospel singers to stand barefoot on a cold studio floor. George, the eldest of the group, did start to complain that his feet were getting cold so, with the aim of distraction, I summoned the ruse of asking them to sing and clap their hands. You don’t often have one of the greatest vocal groups of all time perform for you and you alone. I was truly happy snapping away. While changing a roll of film I glanced over at the pile of shoes at the edge of the backdrop. They were all of a similar style and I did wonder how each member would be able to find his own particular pair.
Thanks to fRoots I’ve certainly encountered a lot of interesting and very nice people, who it has been a privilege to have met and photographed. Thank you to all the musicians I’ve photographed over the years for your professionalism and co-operation, and for not giving me a hard time!
Your lay-out hasn’t changed since the Seventies (and looks even more ancient), you still have quaint, bizarre sections with titles like Rooting About and Come Write Me Down, but then you prove that you’re ahead of the game after all by sticking the likes of Lhasa and Amparanoia on the front cover. Indispensable! Happy birthday!
Robin Denselow, BBC/ The Guardian
This whole folk roots music business of ours has always had a few cornerstones, right from the ‘50s and ‘60s so-called revival: EFDSS perhaps, Sidmouth Festival, a national folk programme of some kind, some good solid record labels, and of course a national magazine. Thanks for keeping that tradition going. In my corner of the business, folk roots development would be in a sorry state without fRoots.
Steve Heap, Director, Mrs Casey Music
In what many perceive to be a closed world, the folk music community needed the doors and windows thrown open and some fresh air let in. That’s what fRoots has achieved and we should be grateful for it. You could say that folk music, as a result, has become part of the landscape again.
Malcolm Taylor, Librarian, EFDSS
The mid-eighties, somewhere in The Gambia: jali friends are telling me about an English journalist who was visiting the country. “He’s Ian Anderson, you have to meet him!” Ian Anderson, my God, that horrible one-legged flautist? Well, the guy I met was pretty much younger and friendly, checking out who I was – just another world music enthusiast, a fan like he was – and we got on easily. We found out that we shared the same ideas, loved the same bands (Youssou N’Dour, 3 Mustaphas 3). When I returned home from my trip, his magazine was waiting for me in my letterbox, and since then I haven’t missed a single issue.
A whole world opened up: such a wide range of subjects in one magazine; an article about Sudanese music, when my sole source was just cassettes from there (which another friend of mine had lent to me). Since then, and until now, fRoots has been my prime source of info on global roots music, the starting point of many new musical adventures (thank you for bringing La Talvera to my ears!). I love the passion of the editor, the humour in some of the articles, and the authority of many of the writers – they never forget who they are: fans and propagandists of good music. Shine on crazy (world music) diamond.
Jean Trouillet, WeltBeat/ Network
I remember the first day that I saw a copy of Southern Rag (not an original, but a more expensive copy) in the sleeproom at the old Crazy Loquat nightclub. “Boys! – There is News upon this blanket!” – we read the bed-coverings – it was in English – strange stories. It reminded us of music that we were playing anyway. Country & Everywhere.
Some years later, now in UK, 1985, a food meeting with Anderson – younger, I think, wild-eyed, match-striker’s stubble pointing from chin, gibbering slightly, but still kind enough to pay the bill. Our first interview – when the ‘f’ meant folk. To us a folk club was a local weapon – so I took a lead-lined fez; straining to be polite, my guarded weighted head drooped throughout the chat, skimmed the custard. The days of Idiocy, Modesty, Osteopathy. The words (and fist) of our uncle pounding in our ear “just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean that it is not true”. We tried to tell him, Anderson, some verities, some of our little life landslides, our positive bents. Either way, he published and be damned, thus giving Mustapha a leg up in the business. For which we are greatly.
It is a curious thing how then the world music cascaded, and the ‘olk’ fell away from the ‘f’. [‘Olk’, in our country, is a pe(s)t name for a giant mosquito or buffalo, or the change that neither you nor the waiter really wants – translator’s note.] We had at this that point a slogan for best encapsulating, and that was “Forwards In All Directions”. I think maybe sometimes it was a mis-hearing, and could be to correctly misaligned listeners: “EffRoots In All Directions”. A Cheery Thought, as you English say, and a good motto and positive salute! With thanks for your friendliness & your frontier crashing,
[Used with permission. This came in from the Agence Pressed Szegerely: Tributary To fRoots, as told by H Mustapha, via translations at FezCo.co.tv]
There are tons of music magazines out there in the world – even a hefty chunk of music magazines devoted to the umbrella of folk and roots music or a single selection of its subgenres – but none that have so consistently inspired, educated and entertained as thoroughly as fRoots, Folk Roots, Southern Rag, or whatever else you’re deciding to call yourself these days. With 21 years editing Sing Out! under my own belt – which is celebrating its 54th anniversary this year, if you can believe it – I can tell you that it’s clear to me that the editor, staff, and writers of fRoots have the key ingredients to essential music journalism: passion and never abating wonder. I’m eternally jealous! My sincere congratulations, a deep bow, and a heartfelt thanks to you! I can’t even imagine where our music would be without your partnership over these last 25 years! More!
Mark D. Moss, Editor, Sing Out!
I only started writing features for fRoots (Folk Roots then) in 1986. I was living in Reading in those days but was soon to move to Rome. I had in fact just returned from playing in Rome when Ian asked me if I would interview Stella Chiweshe, the mbira player from Zimbabwe. I had never interviewed anyone in my life before and decided to adopt the method of letting the subject do most of the talking. Not a problem with Stella as it turned out. The problem that did arise was that when I arrived at her flat she had gone out. I had no idea what to do and just wandered up the Caledonian Road. At some point I went into a shop to buy something and found myself standing next to two African women. Not an unusual thing up the Caledonian Road. However, my intuition told me to turn and ask “Are you Stella Chiweshe?” Of course it was, much to the surprise of both of us.
We returned to her apartment and Stella talked. Listening to the tape on my way back to Reading, I realised that I had been on this amazing, riveting word journey with Stella, without actually understanding most of what she had said. My problem now was what to do with it. What I did was just transpose most of it word for word and trust that the reader would make their own sense of what Stella said. I just loved the poetry and images of her words and was sure it would transmit. I have never asked anyone if it did, but I have conducted most of my interviews since then in the same manner and hoped that the spirit shines through.
After the Stella interview I realised that this was a great way to meet and talk with people that I otherwise might not. I also felt my interest in the more obscure corners of the music world was bound to turn up some characters that most other people probably wouldn’t come across either and I wanted to share them. Kealoha Life was one of those people. He had been a member of the British dance band Felix Mendelssohn’s Hawaiian Serenaders in the 1940s and ‘50s. He was 73 when I found him living in the south of England and still playing. His stories were gems. He spoke 23 languages and although his main instrument was steel guitar, he in fact played virtually everything and sang as well. I was seriously into Hawaiian music at this point and this was an absolute treasure of a find.
Through this meeting I began to realise to what extent this exotic musical form had spread around the world and just how popular it had been and still was, although by now to a much lesser degree. Hawaiian records sold more than any others during the 1930s and Hawaiian bands were formed in places as far away from Hawaii as it was possible to get. Something else I discovered was that the same band (Felix Mendelssohn’s) had also hosted a steel guitarist named Sammy Mitchell, father of the British blues player with the same name with whom I had been friends since the early seventies.
Our editor, Ian Anderson, rarely challenged my choice of subjects and rarely failed to print whatever I sent in (and paid as well!). I like to think he trusted my judgement or at least enjoyed indulging me in my eccentric musical taste. A journalist’s press card is an entrance through many doors, and at this point I have to confess to having gained entrance to many events in those early days with a fake one. It never occurred to me to ask Ian for a real one (if they ever existed of course), and I simply made one with Folk Roots and the address and phone number and then my name, all made with letraset. I only had one which I had encased in plastic at my local photocopy shop. It got me into many concerts, especially in Rome of course. I saw Prince, Laurie Anderson, The Kronos Quartet, all on a Folk Roots Press pass. [Don’t try this at home… Ed.]
When I finally got to the Pacific and in particular to Hawaii, my entrance into local musicians’ homes was not so assured. There was a protocol to be observed, but the fact of having an outlet such as Folk Roots did provide me with the motivation to pursue and investigate the local music scene, and feel legitimate in my intrusion into peoples’ lives. It was also a great thrill and privilege to sit in the house of Hawaiian slack-key guitar legends like Ray Kane and his wife Elodia and “talk story” all day, and then have Ray drive you a hundred yards down the road in his Cadillac to the Chinese restaurant. “Are you not going to eat something Ray?” “No I hate Chinese food!” he replied.
On the same trip I also interviewed Cyril Pahinui, but you might not remember ever seeing the interview and that is because I never wrote it. It took place in the foyer of the University Of Hawaii, and that foyer has an echo worse than the Albert Hall. Add to that the fact of a door which slams shut every time someone passes through it, plus Cyril’s rich and wonderful local accent, and the sound on the tape stands head and shoulders above some of the best of the world’s most incomprehensible railway station announcements. I still take it out from time to time and give it a listen, but it refuses to give up its secret and aurally buried dream message. Only I alone know that it is Cyril Pahinui and myself in conversation in 1995 in Hawaii.
There have been others that have got away as well of course. Some I just didn’t get around to doing afterwards to later regret. And others where technology failed. One such was an interview with Rainer Ptacek, an American slide guitarist and singer who was from Tucson, Arizona. For his gig at The Weavers in London, Time Out ran an ad which included “This is his first-ever show in the UK and in a few years’ time half of London will claim they were here.” Well I was there in 1992. So impressed was I that I arranged (through Spyke Hyde) to meet him. Rainer used a beat-up National guitar with an electric pick-up transplant and made creative use of an effects unit which made live loops as backing for him to play across. I met him up in Highgate where he was staying and we had breakfast and talked a lot about the Italian film director Rossellini. Rainer and I had both seen his film Germany Year Zero on television the night after his Weavers gig. He was totally stunned by the film. His father, then a Czechoslovakian soldier, had met his German mother in Berlin right at the end of WW2 at exactly the time when the film was set. Rainer had had no idea previously of the conditions under which they must have courted one another. It impressed him mightily. When I got home later that day I discovered that my tape machine had malfunctioned and erased our conversation. The moment was lost and Rainer died from a brain tumour a couple of years later.
As I said earlier, most of what I have ever sent into the fRoots office has been published, but there are two pieces which haven’t been and I wish had. The first is a piece I did on the New Zealander Richard Nunns. Richard makes and plays Maori traditional instruments. I discovered him when I randomly bought a tape in Auckland. It took me several years to get in touch with him after that. There were two musicians on that tape and the other name was Hirini Melbourne. My experience in the past with Polynesian musicians led me to seek out Richard first because he was a Pakeha (European) New Zealander and Hirini was a Maori. The path would be perhaps quicker and easier, with less protocol to negotiation. I just happened to mention his name in Nelson one day and someone told me that he lived there. This huge bear-like person welcomed me in and sat me before a wall lined with the complete works of both Samuel Beckett and John Coltrane. Richard had recently been tattooed as a keeper of the culture, by the Maori, involving a 3-inch wide band around his upper arm representing a stingray’s tail barb. A few days after he had been ceremoniously tattooed, he had gone to the beach in Golden Bay and stepped on a stingray. The ray slashed his calf muscle with its tail, giving him a real barb scar for the rest of his life. We became great friends and eventually ended up playing and recording together. Unfortunately Hirini Melbourne died two years ago, but not before recording a stunning CD and DVD for Rattle Records.
The other ‘lost’ story was not long back and involved a mob from the northwest of Australia from the ‘Port Of Pearls’, Broome. They are the Pigram Brothers. A family band of seven brothers of Aboriginal, Irish and Filipino descent. They are legendary in Australian folk and rock music. They took me for a picnic to the beach in Broome when I was there and a couple of their aunties turned up with a very large roasted lizard for our lunch. It was delicious. We played together this year at the Brunswick Music Festival in Melbourne. You will have to ask Ian for the rest of the story.
Anything which manages to delight some people and irritate others is probably getting it about right. There are people I would never have heard, or heard of, had I not met them in your pages; and having discovered them and read what they had to say, I have frequently had my interest aroused enough to make the effort to learn about the conditions/ causes/ movements/ cultures related. So it goes beyond just music.
To me, it is what a music magazine should be and so few are – interesting, informative, provocative and occasionally infuriating. I’m trying to think if I have any criticisms to make of it, but there are more than enough doing that already. I could live without the charts pages but that’s a very minor quibble, so I’ll stick to thanking you for the job you do and wish you all power to keep on doing it.
Sorry I wasn’t more controversial!
A quarter of a century is quite an accomplishment. Congratulations! Writing as someone who’s hit the third of a century mark (Rounder is now 33 1/3 years old – a number that used to mean something in the world of recorded sound), we know whereof we speak. Maybe it’s all been smooth sailing, and the readers have been shielded from knowing all the struggles to keep afloat. Chances are, there have been at least a few storms here and there along the way. I always particularly enjoy the editorial comments and the letters from readers, and much, much else as well. Keep on keeping on.
Bill Nowlin, Rounder Founder, along with Ken Irwin and Marian Leighton Levy
25 years; over 250 issues and I think that I have contributed something to virtually every issue! So many changes. Some of my early copy was even handwritten; now the words appear on paper for the first time at the printers. The world was much bigger in those days. People didn’t travel so much and so our boundaries, geographically and musically, were much narrower. We tended to know everyone in the small pond we lived in, so when Southern Rag was using its delightfully daft anagrammatic codes such as Elmer P. Bleaty and Yah! Such Thin Legs, we all knew who they were talking about.
One of the early articles I wrote was on the Festival Interceltique at Lorient and this was just at the time when the editor was thinking that he wanted to take the magazine out of the English folk scene ghetto. I think it was this that probably landed me the job of French album reviewer for the publication and if I know anything about French, Breton and French-minority language traditional music and song now, it’s largely through listening to the hundreds of review albums over the years. I’m also pretty sure that I’m not the only fRoots reviewer that has developed their ‘expertise’ in this manner. Many of us have been given their own particular area, usually on a geographical basis, but not always; Brian Peters fulfils the role of Squeezebox Correspondent. My friend and fellow-Sussex Pistol, Ian Kearey, clearly is very serious about his role in this magazine as the expert on “Guitar Freak and Seriously Weird” albums. We discuss the albums that we have received for review at gigs and this has led to some serious demarcation rows – who should be reviewing the surprisingly large number of albums that are both French and weird? My proudest moment in this ongoing dispute was when I was the one who was asked to review the album of duets between hurdy-gurdy and rotary printing press.
I was running a folk club before this magazine came along and I do still today. My first love was the ethnic traditional music of these islands and it remains so. Nevertheless, I am indebted to fRoots for helping to broaden my interests over the years. In particular, it was this magazine that first turned me on to the music of West Africa, which led indirectly to my becoming a regular visitor to The Gambia, thus considerably enriching my life.
The inspired misnaming of certain folk personages way back (and here I detect the fingerprints of IA as well as Lawrence Heath) proved longer lasting than may have been imagined. A recent discussion with an earnest folkie demonstrated all the old “it was better in my day” attitudes, but this time applied to fRoots magazine! The usual stuff about how today it was all about music they couldn’t understand etc. and how good the magazine used to be and what a hoot it was when in a celebrated issue and within an episode of Borfolk, Peter Bellamy was named ‘Elmer P. Bleaty’ and we were ‘The Rotters Of Coppingdean’. My, how we laughed as we indulged this chap in his admiration of your humour!
Jon Dudley, the Copper Family
I’ve known Ian since the 1960s, when we were both eager young blueshounds. We trod the same boards together: The National Blues Convention at Conway Hall; Jo-Ann Kelly’s club; the 100 Club. We sat in awe at the feet of Fred McDowell and Son House in the same rooms. We weren’t, at that time, close friends, but we knew each other to nod to, a “Hi, how’s it going?” kind of relationship. I don’t know about him, but I was always pleased to see Ian and also to read his published views in Blues Unlimited.
Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s we went our own ways, different paths. By coincidence, I ﬁrst sat in an editor’s chair at about the same time he did, and spent close to a decade editing three different blues magazines. Then, one day in the late 1980s, when I was living in San Francisco, my head was suddenly turned by the discovery of a batch of old Portuguese fado 78s. Amazed by what I heard, I plunged deep-end fashion into research, including the obligatory ﬁeld trip to Lisbon and Coimbra. When I had amassed enough to see some conclusions, I offered them to Ian for publication. He immediately said “yes” and published my ﬁrst article in February of 1992, bringing me on board the fRoots wagon about halfway through its current life. I had more, the results of wide-ranging research in the dusty archives of three countries. “Oi”, I proffered, “want erudite articles on the history of early global ethnic recording, then?” “Yes”, he said again, and so I began a series that lasted for most of the nineties, only grinding to a halt because I ran out of useable material. I’m still on the team, reviewing CDs, and I’m happy to be part of the fRoots experience. And why?
I’ll tell you why. Ian, and it is principally his drive, dedication and undimmed enthusiasm, has provided a platform for traditional world music to air itself to the global community through the latter part of the snivelling seventies, the greedy eighties, the angst-laden nineties and the scary new millennium – tumultuous times, socially, politically and economically. Yet through it all, his clear vision has steered our beloved old (Southern) rag through more changes than any of us could have imagined possible back in the loon-pants era of 1979. Do you realise how long ago that was? Jimmy Carter was president of the US, Jim Callaghan the departing PM of our sceptred isles and the Maggie Thatcher-Hopalong Reagan coalition were untested contenders. Through all that has occurred since, fRoots has been there, month after month, not just reﬂecting what goes on, but setting trends, pointing out emerging curves, supporting fresh talent and endeavour, offering options, taking stands, being actively involved at the very forefront of folk-related endeavour.
And what is folk music anyway? The answer can be found by leaﬁng through back issues of this magazine for a very wide and full response to that complex question. It’s my belief that the sum total of every published issue is far greater than the parts. Not only has fRoots assiduously chronicled, it has stoutly defended the music and the context in which it exists from the narrow oik that slings arrows full of outrageous fortune cookies, simply because his cage has been rattled by something unfamiliar. And bringing the unfamiliar to you is what fRoots has been good at for all these years. As an ex-editor myself, I know that all the world’s loonies beat a path to your door on a regular basis “Dear Sir, I was appalled to read, in your last scum-ﬁlled issue…” etc. etc. There must be days when Ian wonders why he gets out of bed. I know I did.
Another matter: fRoots has also brought us from the analogue to the digital age. When issue 1 hit the newstands it was full of references to vinyl and print. Now it’s full of references to CDs, DVDs, websites, MP3s, satellite TV and all the other wonderful options we have available to us. As each new development has emerged and shaken the down from its feathers, fRoots has been there to both monitor and encourage the progress. I’m an old git who began with vinyl and 78s, and now sits in a room ﬁlled with electronic wonder at my ﬁngertips. I sometimes feel that if I could introduce my spotty 16-year-old self to this time and place, saying “Want to swap what you’ve got (about 60 LPs and three books) for all this?”, he’d say yes so fast his tongue would fall over itself.
And of live music? fRoots has been its staunch champion right from the get go; every month fRoots has said, in detail, “This is what’s happening, now get out there and boogie/ jota/ morris/ frug/ pogo till you drop”. And we do, because fRoots tells us where and when and how. It covers every conceivable style of roots-based music and it does it by letting people who know what they’re talking about have a platform. All of this is what makes fRoots unique, in the true and pure deﬁnition of that word.
I shouldn’t close without mentioning that Ian’s team seems to me to be as ﬁne a group of able-spirited people as I’ve ever encountered. Let’s take a moment to thank Soﬁ Mogensen, Sarah Coxson, Gina Jennings, Beverly Hill, Stella Washburn, Caroline Walker, Guitar Dave Peabody, Ken Hunt, the late and deeply missed Dave Harrison, BIFF, and everyone else who has ever made a contribution. A good magazine is a conduit through which a good editor feeds relevant information from a good team to its audience. That’s what fRoots is doing for you, the reader, ten times a year for about a quid a week, on average. So I don’t want to hear any complaints, or I’ll be round with the lads to wire your parts into the ring main circuit.
Paul “Sailor” Vernon
And from fRoots 400 (October 2016)
NOW WE ARE 400…
Untold midnight hours have been burned and carefully managed forests decimated to bring you 400 issues of fRoots. Some people appreciated it.
In case you didn’t notice, this is our 400th issue. We sent out a tentative circular email to a bunch of pals in our world asking – grovelling even – if they’d feel able to contribute some random thoughts, anecdotes or musings on such longevity and what, if anything, we may have done to improve or ruin their lives or careers. To our great pleasure, some actually replied…
Hooray for fRoots! Working with tireless enthusiasm to bring us the goods. Not fazed or distracted by disasters, trends or fashion, their unwavering dedication to music and musicians has brought enlightenment to so many. Thank you so much! Long live fRoots!
Nick Gold: World Circuit
I first came across fRoots at about the same time I discovered ‘the folk scene’ – aged 22 and hungry for musical adventures I remember seeing La Bottine Souriante on the front cover in Borders in Brighton and thinking that they looked like a pretty cool bunch. It was fantastically exciting to discover that not only was there a whole network of traditional music enthusiasts in Britain, but that this extended globally.
I have always disliked all forms of political nationalism as they nearly always boil down to being about excluding others. The great thing about taking cultural pride in your own area as an alternative to political nationalism is that it can be (and should be) inclusive of everyone regardless of nationality or race, since we are all able to enjoy music and song from wherever it happens to come from. It is this inclusivity at the heart of fRoots magazine – the ability to celebrate cultural specificity alongside multicultural cross-fertilisation and global unity – that makes it such a vital and life affirming publication.
By way of an explanation of how I came to fRoots here are my roots. I first came across Ian Anderson back in 1968 when I was twelve. At the time I was listening to mainly blue beat and ska, hanging out on South London council estates and hiding from rival skinhead gangs and the law. My dad was managing a psychedelic blues band called Screw with a rogue wheeler-dealer called Sam Cutler who taught me guitar, took me to all-dayer psychedelic happenings at the Middle Earth club in the Round House, Camden Town as well as introducing me to ‘The Blues’ (and the reds and possibly even the not-so-good green ones). Sam went on to tour manage the Rolling Stones and organise Altamont amongst other things. But before all this my dad and Sam were part of an organisation called Forest School Camps at which we would spend our summer with a crowd of hipsters and shakers sitting around camp fires singing songs from the transatlantic Civil Rights song book and jamming with legendary musicians like Chris Turner, the blues harmonica player who I still rate as one of the most inventive harp players in the world.
As well as being in Screw, Chris was in a band called Ian Anderson’s Country Blues Band and he gave me a signed copy of the album Stereo Death Breakdown that featured Ian on the cover in a ridiculously large floppy hippy hat, droopy moustache, Cuban heels and a very cool looking National steel. I’ve still got it. 36 years later in 2004 I was re-mixing Ian’s band Tiger Moth for the first Imagined Village record, Chris was in town and came along to the studio to play on the re-mix; Ian and Chris united again, not in person but at least via their music. Wheels within wheels.
It was Ian who I approached first when I had this mad, utterly uncommercial idea of getting musicians from Baaba Maal’s band together with a bunch of trad Irish players in an open mic sound system set up at Real World Studios. He said it was a laudably bonkers project but just might work. Around that time he sent me off to Madagascar to work on a Tarika album. Apart from a psychosis induced by the Larium malaria tablets it was an incredible experience and a great album was made under his stewardship. It was Ian who at the height of the Afro Celt Sound System ascent to megasales suggested I take a left turn and explore my own roots as a campfire folky and look at the English tradition. He was there on stage along with a cast of seventeen at Womud in 2007 when we launched the Imagined Village band. Like all good things the band was born out of chaos and Ian had been there at the very first meeting with Martin Carthy at my house in Hackney when a gang fight broke out in the street and myself, Ian and my Rasta neighbour had to break up a potential stabbing. Whilst all this was going on Martin Carthy was showing my wife the best method for delousing my young daughter’s hair. Heady days.
Oh and did I mention he also edits a mag called fRoots that has always been the bible read for the British folk scene, embracing world music before the term was invented. If you ascribe to the Marxist view that history is made not by the timely intervention of a few great individuals but rather the collective struggle of the powerless to fight back and take control of what is rightfully theirs in the face of exploitation and oppression, then there is no place comrades for bourgeois self-promotion and the cult of the individual. But… but… Lets just face it there are some people who are always there at the active hub and praxis of all that is pioneering, progressive and challenging within the glorious fringes of roots music, helping nurture musicians into the mainstream whilst aggressively defending the core values and radicalism that existed back in the days when beatniks were considered social terrorists and had the power to put the fear of God into the good, decent Christian people of Cornwall – and oversized floppy hats were seen as a radical fashion statement.
Ian likes a good old argument; as they say “he’s not afraid to court controversy”; and fRoots likes to promote debate and discussion and what’s wrong with that? Great music and innovation comes from those that get their hands dirty digging the dirt. As a magazine editor he is a dying breed of ‘musician journalist’ or is that ‘journalist musician’ and from this fRoots happily embraces all the oddballs amongst us: the eccentrics and misfits and outcasts that will always be marginalised by the mainstream media but have in their own way gone on to make the British music scene one of the most progressive in the world. Musicians like Chris Turner and all the other unsung heroes who inspired me to become a musician as a kid sitting round campfires singing We Shall Overcome.
So that’s why us musicians love fRoots and will always love fRoots and that’s why Ian has so much respect from us lot because he is one of us.
I vividly remember my first interview with fRoots, or Southern Rag, as it was then (yes, I am that old!) It was at Farnham Folk Day and it was during that very interview that I decided to give ‘being a professional musician’ a shot. Until that point it had never even entered my head that it could be an option, but when the interviewer asked me if that was what I planned to do after leaving school I thought about it for a few seconds, said “yes”… and then spent the rest of the day, and the journey home, worrying about how to tell my parents!
Like all specialist music genres, the folk-world community is fuelled by shared passions and relies entirely on a network of the underpaid and overworked. 400 issues! To have been doing pretty much the same thing for 37 years is a remarkable achievement. Congratulations to Mr A and the whole fRoots team. Thanks for supporting Fledg’ling and Topic.
What would a young folk singer do these days if it were not for the pioneering, sound divining, scene defining, truffle sniffing skills and reportage of this very magazine? The musical bloodhound that is Ian Anderson is a human catalogue of the accounts, musical moments and rhizomatic interplays of this ever-growing community of disparate, wayfaring, fringe-dwelling musicians such as myself. fRoots is more than just a magazine but the fruiting body, that blossoms monthly to share the written forays of this fertile scene we trudge about in. And we would be a nutrient-deprived lot were it not for the voracious broadcasting that Ian and his team achieve. Hurrah for 400!
I grew up in the fecund 1960s, miles from anything that mattered in an unremarkable suburb of Chicago, Illinois. One summer vacation in a small town in an even more remote corner of northern Wisconsin, I stumbled upon Rolling Stone magazine and a window opened on a new world: a lifetime of discovering music from the printed page began.
Fast forward a few decades and I had made it to New York City, listening to, playing and writing about music. The punks had come and gone, exotic UK imports like NME had been indispensable and then indiscriminate. The Wire and later Uncut and Mojo were new and various shades of intriguing. And then I found Folk Roots.
What was and is remarkable about fRoots has been Ian Anderson and his band of merrie men and women’s utter devotion to music of the soul that knows no geographical boundaries and hews to no fashion. Yes, the bright lights have shone in fRoots’ direction on occasion: in the mid-’80s with Graceland, in the late-’90s with Buena Vista Social Club, in the mid-noughts with Dimanche a Bamako. But what is most important about what the fRoots crew has achieved is how they have stayed the course whether the lights were bright or soft.
In looking over fRoots covers of the past half-decade I see several that feature artists with whom we at Nonesuch are fortunate to work: Natalie Merchant, Rhiannon Giddens. That is always a point of pride, to have released music that fRoots deems worthy of a cover. But of even greater significance to me is seeing two covers featuring artists who we discovered and then signed to Nonesuch because they were brought to our attention by fRoots: Sam Amidon and Olivia Chaney. This, then, is a most unusual partnership. So I am delighted to tip my hat to Ian and all at fRoots for fighting the good fight for 400 issues and I wish them well in the decades to come. Who’s next, Ian?
David Bither: Co-President, Nonesuch Records
Music is great at creating empathy between individuals, communities, races and nations and this is especially true of world music. By spreading the word for 400 issues, fRoots has made a considerable contribution to this process. Long may you continue to do so.
Two years ago we got a phone call out of the blue offering us the front cover of fRoots as part of a feature on four new bands. One of the others was Lynched, so we started chatting to each other and found lots to talk about. Making musical connections is important to us, and through fRoots, we have begun friendships and collaborations which otherwise may not have happened. And certainly in a world where music is becoming more and more homogenised, or at best, a competition to see who can become the most famous, these connections are increasingly important. We hold on to these people with both hands. fRoots’ enthusiastic risk-taking has certainly paid off.
Nicola Kearey, Stick In The Wheel
fRoots has been on my radar ever since I started out broadcasting and knew squirrel-all about ‘world music’, or felt like it anyway. In a pre-internet world, starting out on a world music show – heavens, we didn’t even have pop music in the house when I was wee – and being in Scotland, away from the natural networks of London and other big urban centres, it actually felt like quite a vulnerable thing to be doing. I was also coming into this strange new world as a Gael, not generally considered a passport to the world music world at the time, at least not without a visa from the ‘Celtic’ marketing genre of the music industry back then.
Where to go? fRoots came into its own for me then – a window on a whole new world of musical possibility. The richness and diversity of global sounds began to open up before me, with resources like fRoots an invaluable compass as I learned my trade and evolved my own tastes and knowledge bases.
I became what I consider to be a Jack-of-all-trades, and my role as broadcaster – and musician – became and remains that of passionate conduit for audiences to discover new, gorgeous, heart-on-sleeve, bonkers, exquisite and exciting sounds. And to be able still to do this with the individual passions of the various members of the highly knowledgeable and equally passionate fRoots family to learn from is ‘a good thing’.
The world has moved on, of course, and us Celts have been granted world music citizenship as borders continue to fall and new connectivity and mobility allow for myriad crossings of musical paths. It’s genuinely a cool thing to feel like part of that global family. So, as well as general joy for great music from all over, if anyone’s after the key to the intricacies of Gaelic puirt-a-beul, you’ll find me in the corner there, reading me fRoots.
Co-ghàirdeas dhuibh, a chàirdean – guma fada beò sibh is ceò às ur taigh!
Mary Ann Kennedy
fRoots is ultimately the product of one person’s passion for the music which we all care about so very greatly. It has been with us for a very long time now – contentious, encouraging, occasionally downright infuriating but always in favour of the music. There are many people involved in the writing of the magazine but it would be long gone like a turkey through the fucking corn without Captain Grumpy at the helm!
Congratulations fRoots! 400 issues and 37 years old. We turned 23 this year and even that’s a pretty long time, so respect! When we were starting out (as The Famous Five), Folk Roots was our bible. We shamelessly hassled every festival mentioned in it in order to turn up and play uncompromisingly minimalist music for an hour. We’re definitely a bit like Marmite and our longevity is in no small part due to fRoots’ tremendous support over the years – from a wonderfully in-depth interview with Elizabeth Kinder by a Croatian beach to a fantastically athletic photoshoot in Clifton with Judith Burrows, highlights of which were Jane balancing halfway up a wall in high heels and Judith coaxing Jase out of a kind of Blair Witch moment in a shed (a tricky task). We love you fRoots!
Jane, Jon, Alex and Jase: Spiro
It was warm and sunny the day my life was ruined. I’d just gained my Masters in Ethnomusicology and was considering taking up an offer from a firm of family solicitors to take a law conversion course and a subsequent job with them: “Great,” said my mum at the time “a steady, stimulating and worthwhile job!” “Oh no!” said my husband, much later, “why didn’t you take it?!”
In a WOMAD field I met a tall, smiling bloke dressed head to toe in black, his feet encased in Doc Martens, despite the heat. Fired up on cheap champagne and finishing my dissertation I regurgitated it (the dissertation not the champagne) without even taking the basic and polite precaution of finding out if the man was remotely interested in the “globalisation of the music industry and its impact on musician practices worldwide”. What were the odds? Turned out he was. On top of that he edited a magazine dedicated to world and folk music. And taking a punt he asked if I’d like to interview Salif Keita. I did.
I swiftly discovered I also liked talking to Amira Mejunanin in Sarajevo, Jun Lin Yeoh and the Peatbog Faeries in Sarawak. I liked taking tea with Tinariwen and Andy Morgan on the bus to Newcastle. And tea too in my kitchen with Rhiannon Giddens and Toto La Momposina and lunch with The Tashi Lunpho Monks. There was honey wine with the Arbore Tribe in Ethiopia and coffee with Lucy Duran in London. There was wine with Charlie Gillett in Seville and more with Antonia Kavas and Mojmir Novakovic in Salona and even more with Spiro and the spectacular interpretative dancer with ‘shaky egg’ at the same place. There was beer with Telling the Bees in Somerset and cryptic crosswords on the plane to Zagreb with Ben Mandelson. Death defying car chases involved Anna Cinzia Villani and amazing women singing in Southern Italy.
I liked to interview every single one of the amazing musicians, writers, filmmakers, producers, promoters and all manner of inspirational people who get the music this magazine covers out there. Music wherever it’s from that connects us all and reminds us of our common humanity, that’s worthwhile and stimulating and something to be celebrated. Though writing for fRoots has wrecked my chances of ever getting a proper job, it’s a real privilege. I thank the man in black.
When I was first asked to write for fRoots I was delighted. This was a magazine I’d grown up with. I’d cut out pictures of my favourite singers to decorate my locker at school, pore over news about the latest bands and spend my lunch hour learning the lyrics to hit songs. Ah wait no. That was Smash Hits. But I was still pretty thrilled to become a writer for the publication formerly and less confusingly known as Folk Roots. Importantly it was somewhere that valued writers and paid them for features. The opportunities to receive an income writing about music are getting scarcer by the day. And the more specialist your subject the more publishers expect you to contribute your words as a labour of love. Unfortunately my landlord doesn’t view her profession quite the same way and insists on asking me for money on a monthly basis. It’s like an obsession with her. But thanks in part to fRoots I don’t have to switch off all the lights and hide silently behind the futon every four weeks. Of course I don’t really like any of the music; it’s mostly just dreadful moaning. But I don’t think that matters. I have it on good authority that David Attenborough detests gorillas but you’d never guess that from the way he lets them maul him about and pick at his hair. I have much the same relationship with folk musicians. Right, that’s 250 words. How much am I getting for this?
Tim Chipping, from fRoots 253 (July 2004)