Recently a friend said, “I bet your next column is going to be about how you’ve started a record label called River Lea and the first release by Dublin-based singer Lisa O’Neill has received a five-star review from the Guardian and done very well in the fRoots Critics Poll.”
And I said, “No, Tony,” because it was my friend Tony who’d said it. “I won’t be doing that because it would be a blatant abuse of my position.”
And he said, “What are you going to write about, if it’s not your new label that’ll also release albums by Brìghde Chaimbeul and Ye Vagabonds?”
And I said, “I’m going to write about how we can no longer assume there’s a common knowledge between us, and how the internet has inadvertently destroyed the shared cultural touchstones we once took for granted, leading to the widest generation gap since the 1950s.”
There was a time when you could be sure your dad knew the name of your favourite singer (while casting doubt on their gender.) Today I’m unable to tell a YouTube star from a minor witch in the Harry Potter prequels. If I’d had children we’d be alien to one another. The world wide web has ensured we see only what our algorithms pick for us to see, and venturing beyond that finds an indiscernible ball of confusion. The information superhighway is now a rat king.
Take for example the line-up for 2019’s Celtic Connections, where all three of the artists on my new record label will be performing. Despite my vast knowledge of traditional Scotch music, many of the names appearing this year are completely unknown to me. And yet I imagine younger fans will be thrilled to see new trad fourpiece Brioscaí, while shrugging their shoulders at the news of a concert by legendary Gaelic singer Briana MacKenzie, or a 35th-anniversary ceilidh night with Sporan Sporan.
I fear the same will happen at Sidmouth FolkWeek (newly renamed The Sidmouth Folk Festival’s Week Of Folk In Sidmouth). Every generation of festival goer once spoke reverentially of song collector turned singer Janis Pastry, and never missed a show by the legendary Maids & Men (despite only one Maid remaining from the line-up that recorded the classic, if dated, Devon Help Us LP). Recent conversations with twenty-something singers who’ve emerged on the scene with their hair and guitars has revealed most have never even heard Robin Stanner’s game-changing third record Robin’s Day, even though earlier releases Robin The Rich and Dis-Robin now command triple figures on internet auction sites.
And why should they care? New music comes so thick and fast out of their internet phones that they’ve no time to investigate what older fans might venture to call the canon. This week alone has seen new albums by Merkin, Alfonse & the Wolf Ghosts and Davina McCall. I must confess to have only heard one of those, and an acquaintance of mine described them as “Talented but lacking any knowledge of the source material; appearing baffled when asked if they’d heard the version of the ballad they were singing that was collected by Jim ‘Feathers’ Peacock in the 1940s.”
And when I told Tony this he replied, “You should probably just talk about your new record label. I’m pretty sure you’ve done this joke before.”