uk.music.folk - Frequentlyuk.music.folk - Frequently Asked Questions
Last updated 30th September 2010.
This document is the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document for the Usenet newsgroup uk.music.folk (umf). It is compiled and maintained by Steve Mansfield with the assistance of members of the umf newsgroup community. Individual contributions are credited where appropriate and available - if I have accidentally quoted your words without crediting you please email me and I shall set that right. Please also feel free to mail me if you think there is a question or topic that isn't in this FAQ and should be. Mail me at contact AT lesession DOT co DOT uk - please put 'umf FAQ:' as the start of your subject line ...
Please note that the uk.music.folk newsgroup, like most of Usenet, is now pretty much inactive - this FAQ is preserved as a reference resource. I will, however, continue to keep links updated if notified of changes.
>One does get *such* useful info on uk.music.folk - hardly any need to n A Anderson, writing in the thread 'West African "Scam"' on umf, 7th January 2002.
'Snobs, alemen and weird-beards' - traditional folk music fans according to Uncut magazine, January 2006
uk.music.folk - Frequently Asked Questions
The uk.music.folk Usenet newsgroup is for discussion of folk/roots/acoustic music in and from the UK.
Defining folk music has always been a precarious task and most of us who are into this kind of music have very catholic tastes which are reflected by the booking policies of most clubs. Therefore this group covers a broad range of tastes within that genre and embraces all those types of music that you would expect to hear at a folk - folk/blues club or festival in the UK.
The full charter of uk.music.folk is available on Dick
Gaughan's site, at
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations states that in the New York Times newspaper, 7th July 1971, Louis Armstrong is quoted as saying "All music is folk music, I ain't never heard no horse sing a song."
The significance of this quote is that is vastly and repetitively overused as a justification for including (or excluding) any particular artist, genre, or type of music in the remit of umf.
Regulars to umf have become so tired of seeing this quotation used as a justification for just about anything, that the mere possibility of its introduction into the discussion is greeted with Horse, Horse alert, or some such. It is umf's very own version of Godwin's Law. It also plays havoc with the viability of any threads concerning songs or tunes about horses.
Shockwave-equipped readers may like to take a detour at this point to http://svt.se/hogafflahage/hogafflaHage_site/Kor/hestekor.swf, where you can find ... some singing horses!
The horse quotation, or the threat of it, has indeed become umf shorthand for the next frequently asked question:
Folk music, to borrow from the CD reviewing policy of fRoots magazine, is music which has some roots in a tradition.
The word folk has acquired multiple connotations, from the use of the phrase by the American record companies to mean anyone playing an acoustic guitar, to the outsiders image of a form of music exclusively practiced by and listened to by old white bearded men in Arran sweaters singing with one or more fingers in one or more of their ears.
Recent attempts to replace the word folk with the word roots have gained some but not universal acceptance, and the word Celtic has probably suffered more abuse and stretch marks at the hands of the marketing types even than the word folk.
Anyone wishing for a definition of Celtic should at this point go and read the separate rec.music.celtic newsgroup for several months.
Use of acoustic instruments does not automatically mean that the resultant music is folk music, nor does the use of electronic instruments or amplification mean that the resultant music isnt. MTV presents Motorhead Unplugged will never ever be folk music, whilst electronics-dependent music as diverse as the Afro-Celt Sound System, bhangra, and the Cock and Bull Band all are well within the umf definition.
The question what is folk music has probably got at least as many answers as there are people who would say that they enjoy folk music. Everyone would agree on the core of what folk music is (by which I mean absolute certainties like Martin Carthy and Kate Rusby). But it is also crucial to appreciate that umf and folk is also a broader area in which elements of jazz, classical, and rock music are welcome and furthermore share common artistes, boundaries and genres.
The only answer we have ever agreed on is the one I started with :
Folk music, to borrow from the CD reviewing policy of fRoots magazine, is music which has some roots in a tradition.
5. What is the name of that flute-like instrument on the soundtrack on Titanic / on the Riverdance CD / etc ?
Thats a low whistle, the larger version of the tin whistle. Bernard Overton and Finbar Furey may or may not have devised the first low whistle, but Bernard Overton was certainly the first maker to name and popularise the instrument. Originally made in D (eg the bottom note is D an octave below the tin whistle) or C, makers have diversified the range to include just about any key, including extraordinary 4-foot-long pieces of scaffolding pole that play low low G or F. We recently discussed various brands of low whistles, click here for the group's thoughts and recommendations.
Links to CD distributors, sellers, and individual labels, can be found on
Many UK folk labels are handled by Proper Distribution : http://www.proper.uk.com
Individual shops which have been recommended by umf contributors include :
In the UK:
Inclusion in or exclusion from this list is no guarantee of service, quality, reliability, etc etc.
7. Where can I buy the musical instruments most commonly used in the music loosely defined by the the answer to questions 2, 3 and 4?
8. I am in such-and-such-a-place next week, where can I find out what clubs / sessions / dances / etc. are happening?
Dance-related nation (indeed world) wide:
Sessions: have a look at http://www.pubsessions.co.uk, and/or the listing maintained on the Living Tradition site (which seems not to be maintained any more), and/or on FolkMap.
The fRoots site at http://www.frootsmag.com maintains an online listing of festivals worldwide.
This list is subject to constant change as new programmes start, old ones change time or are replaced, etc. If (as with all the rest of the FAQ) you find this is wrong, please email me with the correct information.
The first part of this section comprises radio available through your wireless aerial in the UK - click here to go straight to the Internet radio listing. Phil Myers compiled the first section, and Ian Winship the Internet section.
BBC Radio 2
BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio Scotland
Celtic Music Radio is an OFCOM-licensed community radio station, broadcasting on 1530kHz around the greater Glasgow area, and online at http://www.celticmusicradio.net. It focusses on traditional and contemporary folk, Scottish and Celtic-influenced music, and broadcasts 24x7.
A listing is maintained at http://www.folknorthwest.co.uk/Wireless_Waves.htm for programmes in the North and North West of England.
BBC Radio Berkshire
BBC Radio Cleveland
BBC Radio Cumbria
BBC Radio Derby
BBC GMR (Greater Manchester)
BBC Radio Gloucestershire
BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester
BBC Radio Kent
BBC Radio Lancashire
BBC Radio Lincolnshire
BBC Radio Merseyside
BBC Radio Newcastle
BBC Radio Oxford
BBC Radio Shropshire
BBC Radio Stoke
The web pages also offer background information, pictures, chat, archives and links, for those who want to carry out research, or contribute in some other way.'
Folk music now (http://www.rowatworks.com/Music/folk/)
Internet Folk Radio List Database (http://www.tcf.ua.edu:591/TIFRL/)
The Acoustic Stage (http://www.theacousticstage.net)
Radio Television Hong Kong
KUAR FM89 in Little Rock, Arkansas has recently begun live streaming so if
you are awake at 0200GMT on a Thursday morning Len Holton presents a programme
of folk music with an English focus. Links:
The Traditional Music Hour on Resonance 104.4FM in the London Area from 2.00-3.00
on Thursday afternoons but available to listen at
"Make it Folky", a monthly 1 hour long show of traditional songs & tunes from the British Isles www.209radio.co.uk (a community station based in Cambridge UK). You can listen to this in the archive at http://makeitfolky.209radio.co.uk. Playlists are available in the forums at: http://209radio.co.uk/forum/index.php?board=10.0
Apart from the obvious Late Junction, Andy Kershaw, and Mike Harding programmes, BBC radio every now and then broadcast other material of relevance to u.m.f. Someone will often spot it coming up in the schedule and forewarn everybody else - but if you missed the broadcast, or didn't see the post in time, the BBC make the majority of their programmes available online for (at least) a week after broadcast. You can find the index of archived shows at the following:
To listen to the shows you will need software to play Real Audio streamed media, which leads neatly on to ...
Jim Lawton has published an excellent how-to page on installing the free Real Audio player, which you'll need for listening to archived BBC programmes and other online streaming media - the instructions are primarily for Windows, but the article links to alternative packages for other operating systems. Click here to go to Jim's article.
Whilst the old Wednesday night BBC Radio 2 programme Folk On 2 was not without its faults, the umf and wider folk community only realised what it had lost when, after some dithering, the slot was replaced by Mike Hardings programme claiming to broadcast the best in folk, acoustic, and roots-based music.
The basic argument is that in a radio network funded by the entire population and claiming to be public service broadcasting, it is surely not too much to ask that one hour per week of the schedule be devoted to traditional and tradition-based music from the UK. Mike Hardings programme, by contrast, is far too likely to cover acts of dubious relevance and/or who receive generous airplay elsewhere in the Radio 2 schedule, whilst ignoring home-grown developments until they have been achieved prominence by other routes - too often the programme follows the UK folk circuit rather than influencing and encouraging it.
The programme and its production team do carry out valuable work for the folk community, such as the annual competition for young musicians and bands, the sponsorship of Cambridge and Sidmouth festivals, and the resources available on the Radio 2 Folk website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/folk). The more personal attacks on Mike Harding himself are also unjustified, as it is well known that it is the production company, rather than Mike himself, who dictate the programmes playlist.
However the fundamental argument remains - one hour a week is surely not too much to ask.
Try searching John Chambers' Tune Finder at http://trillian.mit.edu/~jc/music/abc/FindTune.html.
If you don't know the title of the tune or song you're looking for, but you can make a reasonable guess at when the tune goes up, when it goes down, and when it stays the same, try http://name-this-tune.com/. If you know a bit of the title and/or some of the notes of the tune, try http://www.folktunefinder.com/
12a: Is uk.music.folk superstitious?
abc is an ASCII (plain-text) music notation system: devised by Chris Walshaw, abc is widely used for the notating and distribution of tunes, particularly on the internet. Very popular in traditional music circles, and used by the Village Music Project, it is also gaining in popularity in early music. It looks like this :
X:1 T:Speed The Plough M:4/4 L:1/8 Z:Steve Mansfield 1/2/2000 K:G GABc dedB | dedB dedB | c2ec B2dB | A2A2 A2 BA| GABc dedB | dedB dedB | c2ec B2dB | A2A2 G4 :: g2g2 g4 | g2fe dBGB | c2ec B2dB | A2A2 A4 | g2g2 g4 | g2fe dBGB | c2ec B2dB | A2A2 G4 :|
The abc Home Page is at http://www.abcnotation.org.uk and (cue sound of own trumpet being blown) there is a comprehensive tutorial at http://www.lesession.co.uk/abc/abc_notation.htm. Along with the many excellent software packages (for just about any operating system you could possibly want to process abc on) which can be accessed via links on the abc home page, there's also a web page at http://www.concertina.net/tunes_convert.html which allows you to paste in an abc tune and generates a sheet music image online, and John Chambers' invaluable Tune Finder is a quick route to finding the tune you want if it's already available in abc somewhere.
There is currently a serious and viable proposal to 'upgrade' the official
abc specification, to include extra features and notation possibilities (without
breaking existing tune collections): the draft specification can be downloaded
Hamish Currie has archived and organised the valuable discussion on umf about the do-s and donts of floor singing at a folk club. This, along with other words of wisdom gleaned from the postings of practitioners on umf, can be found at Hamishs website, http://www.hamishcurrie.me.uk/tips/floorsinging/index.htm
BBC2 television celebrated May Day 2005 by having their a set of their station
'ident' animated 2 figures dancing a (Cotswold) morris dance - preserved for
The best way of finding a ceilidh (aka barn dance) band for your wedding, PTA, social event etc is almost certainly word of mouth - satisfied customers will happily recommend a band they found fitted the bill, and similarly dissatisfied customers will soon tell you if the band they booked for their event was not up to scratch.
Local ceilidh bands often also have links with local clubs, morris sides, etc. who will be able to point you in the right direction. Many halls and event venues will also have a list of bands they have previously had good dealings with. If there is a regular ceilidh event in your area, the organisers of that will be able to put you in contact with the local bands and callers.
Failing all that an excellent place to start would be Webfeet, http://www.webfeet.org.
If you are going to work off of other people's recommendations rather than your own knowledge, try to go and see the band at work at somebody else's event before you make a final booking confirmation, and/or get the band to send you a CD or tape. Ceilidh bands come in many different shapes sizes and sounds, so do not assume that the band you pick without any prior experience will necessarily sound like, or know the dances, that you have in your head as the image of the ceilidh you want for your event - so check first, rather than being unpleasantly (or, of course, pleasantly!) surprised on the night.
This excellent source of the dance music of (mainly) England is at http://www.village-music-project.org.uk/.
The Tudor Folk Club site contains lots of good advice, much of it collected from umf : and So You Want To Run A Folk Night at http://members.fortunecity.com/soyouwanttorunafolknight/ is also full of words of wisdom.
If your events then get bigger and you start running a festival you will also want to make use of the resources of, and consider joining, the Association of Festival Organisers, http://www.afouk.org.
The AFO published 'A Report into the Impact of Folk Festivals on Cultural Tourism' in January 2003. The report can be downloaded in Acrobat PDF format from the AFO website.
The not-for-profit development organisation run by performers for the benefit of performers can be found at http://www.folkwise.org
Regular bulletins are posted to http://www.folkicons.co.uk/swarbnew.htm, and messages can be sent through that site. Details of the series of events raising funds for Swarb can be found on the SwarbAid site.
The Doc Rowe collection is the fruits of over fourty years of collecting material on folklore, song, dance and cultural traditions, and Doc Rowe himself is a familiar figure at traditional events and traditions. The official website of the collection is at http://www.docrowe.org.uk/.
16: Who said "You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk-dancing"?
Arnold Bax, quoting 'a sympathetic Scot' in the book Farewell My Youth (1943). The sympathetic Scot in question was the composer and conductor Guy Warrack.
The new Licensing Act came into effect in November 2005.
After a long campaign by many individuals and organisations against the effects of the Licensing Act's restrictions on live music, some minor concessions were won, including a complete exemption for Morris dancing and associated music, and some reduction in the liability to prosecution of musicians in certain circumstances. It is sadly true that the basic starting point of licensing has moved from the old 'two-in-a-bar' PEL exemption, to a new default regime of 'none-in-a-bar'.
The effects on live music, particularly sessions and ceilidhs, remain to be seen, although many sessions and folk clubs have encountered difficulties in the early days of the new regime. It is crucial that any session organiser needs to make sure that their pub's licensee ticks the 'live music' box when their license renewal comes through.
The Musicians' Union Folk, Roots and Traditional Music section has provided a form on their website to report any PEL incidents as they relate to the performance of live music in licenced premises under the new law.
The intent is to collate any information information submitted and present it to the music forum and/or the governement's promised consultation on the operation of the new law. If the new law does have a negative effect on the performance of live music then a body of verifiable incidents will have more weight than uncorroborated, anecdotal accounts. Sadly it would seem that it is highly unlikely that any review would even be contemplated until at least 2010.
You can find the form on the web at http://www.mu-frtm.org/pel-form/.
The precise wording of the exemption for Morris, which is Schedule 1, Part 2, Clause 11, can be found here on the Morris Federation site. A summary of the lack of clarity around 'related' forms of traditional music and performance can be found on the Master Mummers FAQ here.
The comic song about the building site labourer who ends up on the wrong end of a rope and pulley attached to a barrel-load of bricks is variously known as The Sick Note, The Excuse Note, Murphy and the Bricks, and Why Paddy's Not At Work Today.
It is a centrepiece of concerts by Sean Cannon and The Dubliners, and has been recorded by them, Iain Mackintosh, Noel Murphy, and others.
The song was written by Pat Cooksey, who credits Gerard Hoffnung as the source. Hoffnung's version, which has thankfully been preserved for posterity by the BBC, was delivered in a speech to the Oxford Union in 1958. Hoffnung in turn claimed to have been inspired by a story in the Manchester Guardian.
The lyrics are on Mudcat : search for 'Excuse Note'.
A session is what happens when you get a group of people making music together primarily for their own, rather than any audience's, pleasure and edification.
Sessions may be public, eg held in a public place such as a bar, where there will be a core of 'regulars' but newcomers are welcome, or they may be private, eg held in a private place such as someone's house and participants are invited. Any event in which admission is charged for the pleasure of being a member of the audience is a performance, not a session, and similarly any event in which a succession of solo or group performers take it in pre-organised turns to perform pre-rehearsed pieces is also a performance, not a session. Sessions may be all-instrumental, all-singing, or a varyingly proportioned mixture of both.
The question of session etiquette has been addressed in several documents available online, notably the humorous-but-valuable 'Ten Commandments of Jamming' at http://www.geocities.com/flyinfiddler/jam.html (and several other URLs), and 'Oiling The Wheels', the thoughts of members of the UK CCE collected by Ian Beddow, at http://www.g8ina.enta.net/NewsMarApr2001.pdf
Basically the advice boils down to
The winners of the 2008 awards were:
FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR Julie Fowlis
BEST DUO John Tams and Barry Coope
BEST GROUP Lau
BEST ALBUM Prodigal Son (Martin Simpson)
BEST ORIGINAL SONG Never Any Good (Martin Simpson)
BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK Cold Haily Rainy Night (The Imagined Village)
HORIZON AWARD Rachel Unthank & The Winterset
MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR Andy Cutting
BEST LIVE ACT Bellowhead
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD John Martyn (
GOOD TRADITION AWARD (for an exceptional contribution to folk music) Shirley Collins
The winners of the 2007 awards were:
The winners of the 2005 awards were:
The winners of the 2004 awards were:
The winners of the 2003 awards were:
The winners of the 2002 awards were:
The winners of the 2001 awards were:
The winners of the 2000 awards were:
The search engine Google maintains an ongoing archive of Usenet postings, and, having also put back online the archive previously maintained by DejaNews, Google now offers the collected wit and wisdom of most of Usenet for the past twenty years. The Google Groups front page, pre-loaded with pointers to umf, can be accessed through the following link :
There is no specific separate archive of uk.music.folk (unless, of course, you know different), although particularly fruitful threads have occasionally been collected into web pages (Hamish Currie's compilations of the Floor Singer's FAQ and the discussion on breathing techniques for singers for example), or made into articles in fRoots magazine.
22: What is the situation regarding Dave
Bulmer and the Celtic Music record label?
|2009||Megan and Joe Henwood|
|2008||Jeana Leslie and Siobhan Miller|
|2000||The Black Cat Theory|
|1998||Tim Van Eycken|
There is no magic formula, but generally the best way is getting on the phone and calling club and festival organisers. Their preferred contact numbers will be printed in the local folk magazines and in the Direct Roots directory. Have a good promotional pack (a reasonable quality CD, photographs, etc.) ready to post to interested organisers, present yourself well during the call, and of course don't assume that it is the organiser's *duty* to give you a gig. While some organisers dislike cold calling and would prefer to be initially approached by post, this should be borne in mind during the call - and equally some organisers dislike unsolicited promotional packages! Doing floorspots is of course also good, but equally obviously impractical for venues at great distances from your base. The general consensus is that the festival circuit is now the proving ground for booking artists into clubs, rather than the other way round.
The title of this section is not intended to exclude singing by the way!
No. Paul Simon learnt the song from Martin Carthy, and went on to have a massive worldwide hit with it - but Paul Simon has never claimed authorship, nor collected a writer's royalty on the song. The source for this is Martin Carthy himself, in a letter to fRoots (no. 254/255, August/September 2004).
The two bodies you need to contact are the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS). Both addresses actually point to their joint page here. To quote the websites, the PRS collects licence fees for the public performance and broadcast of musical works. The MCPS collects and distributes 'mechanical' royalties generated from the recording of music onto many different formats.
In other words, for live performances it's the PRS you need to contact, whereas if you're releasing a CD / DVD etc it's the MCPS. This information obviously only applies to the UK.
Diligent research over several years by the umf community suggests that the particular frequencies generated by free reed instruments have a strong effect on animal psyches, causing them to howl, yowl, purr, tickle or lick the musician's toes, or just run like hell, whenever music is played. Dogs and cats are particularly affected, with harmonicas and concertinas the most-often reported instrument (although flutes, whistles, recorders, melodeons, bagpipes, rauschpfeifes, fiddles, clarinets and guitars have all also been mentioned).
Opinion is still divided as to whether the animals want to join in, are getting in touch with their primaeval pack instinct, or are just criticising the standard of musicianship.
You've sat on the edges of a room full of musicians playing through what sounds like an endless stream of tunes they all know. You've read the section of this FAQ about 'What is a session'; you're confident enough on your chosen instrument to play a few tunes, and you fancy giving it a go. Good stuff.
It would be nice to go to that first session reasonably confident that there'll be at least a few tunes that you'll know and be able to join in with. Every session is different, and the appearance of any of the following tunes cannot be guaranteed - but ...
For an English music session, the following have been suggested:
Enrico, Speed The Plough, Michael Turner's Waltz, Soldiers Joy, Walter Bulwer's polkas, New Rigged Ship, Harpers Frolic / Bonny Kate, Bacup Coconut Dance, Sweets of May, Captain Leno's, Steamboat hornpipe, Nutting Girl, Maggie in the Wood, Three Around Three, Jimmy Allen, The Keel Row, Captain Pugwash (aka Trumpet Hornpipe), Morpeth Rant, Oyster Girl, Hunt the Squirrel, Queen's Jig, Haste to the Wedding, Smash the Windows, The Man in the Moon, Orange in Bloom (aka Sherbourne Waltz).
For an Irish session, some suggestions were :
Kesh Jig, Morrisons, Tripping Upstairs, Banish Misfortune, Lark in the Morning, Merry Blacksmith, Maid Behind The Bar, Silver Spear, Rakish Paddy, Wise Maid.
In 1960 the Ballads and Blues club instigated a rule that, purely as a policy for performers at that one club, if you were singing from the stage, you sang in a language that you could speak and understand. The policy was not 'made' or unilaterally imposed by Ewan MacColl, but he was involved in that he was one of the residents and regulars who took part in the discussions that eventually arrived at that policy. The Ballads and Blues Club later became the Singers Club and kept the same policy. Peggy Seeger's letter to Living Tradition magazine about this can be found here.
For a summary of some of the other opt-repeated stories about Ewan MacColl (He used a stage name as an actor and then kept using it! Not everyone liked him all the time!) see Dick Gaughan's post on the subject at UseNet Message ID <email@example.com> or this Google Groups link.
In absolutely no order other than that in which their emails/postings arrived, information in this FAQ has been contributed by :
Hamish Currie, Dick Gaughan, Nancy Arvay, Cliff Furnald, Jeri Corlew, Martin Kiff, Marjorie Clarke, Ian A Anderson, Richard Robinson, Jim Lawton, Jack Campin, Mark Bluemel, Martin Nail, George Hawes, David Harris, Andy Seagroatt, Roger Gall, Phil Myers, John Wild, Ken Bradburn, Peter Chadbund, Rainer Typke, Paul Docherty, Jon Hall, Graham Dixon, Ian Winship, Wendy Grossman, Anahata, Martin Banks, Molly, Susanne Kalweit, Neil Murray, Pete Coe, Neil from Hobgoblin, Temprance, Derek Schofield, Steve Wozniak, Len Holton, Elmo Eldridge, Jon Freeman, Nick Wagg. Many of the above deserve to appear in this list more than once.
Their contributions, along with others uncredited either by their request or through my incompetence, have been invaluable and much appreciated, and all errors and mistakes are down to the compiler of the FAQ, Steve Mansfield (contact AT lesession DOT co DOT uk, with 'umf FAQ:' as the start of your subject line).
An extra special thank you to Richard Robinson, who devised and runs the automated regular reminder to the newsgroup of where to find this FAQ.
This FAQ is powered by DreamWeaver, TextPad, an i-Duck, an eclectic array of flutes, whistles, windcap instruments, and an English concertina.
Version 0.0.1 was posted to umf on the 25th November 2001, answering a mere 7 questions, and it's just kept on growing ever since ... and the history of the growth and evolution of this FAQ, if you're really that interested, can be found here.