“That was a red light!” I squeaked from the back seat. Speeding along the narrow winding roads of Southern Italy, their traffic control signals were a blur as we flew past them in the deepening dusk. Our driver Flaminia Vulcano was keeping her foot down, chasing the car ahead. “I’d rather be lost,” I thought miserably, certain that any second now the back of Ian Anderson’s head would be the last thing I ever saw.
It was music PR goddess Sally Reeves who’d steered me towards the lanky bloke with black hair, dressed in black jeans, black T-shirt, black DMs – and probably black leather jacket – despite the sweaty heat in the WOMAD marquee. “You two should get on,” she said: “Elizabeth, meet Ian.”
It’s entirely possible that Sally was not as enthusiastic as I was about my word-for-word recitation of my just-finished dissertation (on the globalisation of the music business and it’s impact on musicians worldwide). It was also entirely possible that Ian wasn’t either, when I started again from the beginning. But surely that didn’t mean I deserved to die in Puglia?
By then there had been several occasions, travelling either with Ian A or on behalf of fRoots, when it seemed payback might be coming, though not always in the form of certain death. Apart perhaps from the time we were caught in an electrical storm in Sarawak on a small boat, put-putting up the Santubong River. Then, aside from finding a wealth of music at the Rainforest Festival, I discovered a new fear – that of death by lightning and crocodile.
Assignments have involved cockroaches, blood-spattered sinks, terrifying heights, stifling heat at 5am, being left in the lurch in the Rift Valley, and bitten by bugs in the South China Sea. Many musicians across the world would wish for such luxury: their daily risk of certain death for the simple act of making music is not just in their heads but a real and present danger.
Whereas working for fRoots, I’ve just had to get over myself. One mind-expanding trip was to Croatia’s EthnoAmbient Festival. For starters, on the plane to Split when Ben Mandelson realised that as the intricacies of cryptic crosswords could occupy my entire mental capacity, my fear of flying was forever eased.
At the Festival itself, the wonderful Alan James removed the shutter in my brain that barred interpretive dancing, with his hysterically funny performance during a marvelous set by Spiro. And we bonded over our shared adoration of Shirley Collins. It was she who cured me of my disinclination for British folk music as I was – until then – with Charlie Gillett (famously not a fan) on that one. It was Charlie who had, unbeknownst to me, suggested to Ian that he might see if I could write, for this magazine.
Our car skidded to a halt behind Anna Cinzia’s (Puglia’s pizzica queen) at her place near the sea. Here we heard sublime a cappella from her and her two friends, ate fresh burrata and drank red wine at midnight. Ian reckons that by then – 2013 – I’d been writing for fRoots for seven years. I think it was less. Not sure why he thinks it’s longer. But it’s thanks to him (and to Charlie who I’d met whilst writing my dissertation), that I’ve really been able to explore what music means to those who make it across the world.