AFO conference

I'd never been to the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) conference before, but I'd been intrigued. So when Hannah and Pete at Haystack Music asked if I could go along to set up their stall and give them a bit of a hand, I was delighted.

Festival organisers gather in Eastwood each year to discuss a range of different subjects - ticket fraud, are artists demanding too much? are there too many festivals? wet weather planning, etc - and network with agents, artists, insurers, development agencies, aided with much booze.

Haystack were there to get the eight artists on their roster in the eyeline of festival bookers and it worked - the buzz after one of their bands, Tyde, showcased on one of the main stages was really exciting.

And thank god for those heavenly devices: lanyards. OK, they look awful slung round your neck - especially if you've a large bosom - but I found that I could finally put faces to the names that I've seen at the end of reviews or press releases. I find the whole concept of 'networking' (read: schmoozing) really difficult: I stutter and stumble, go red in the face, undersell myself (if I manage to sell myself at all!) and get rather sweaty. But when I recognised the name and could instantly place where/when/who, at least it gave me a head start.

By the end of the weekend, I don't know why I had worried: I met some fantastically interesting and friendly people from all corners of the music industry, heard some great music and came back with my head filled with ideas. Oh, and a pounding headache.

Lau-ving it

I was looking forward to last night immensely: it was the first time Lau would be promoted by excellent local promoters, Hey! Manchester, and the first time they'd play in the Deaf Institute.

The music I am particularly passionate about - the music usually erring on the side of British folk - has taken to being programmed in seated venues, namely arts centres, where performances start on the dot of the advertised time, performers are clapped politely at the end of each song and feet are occasionally drummed to encourage the musician back on for an encore. It's a quiet, reverential atmosphere where musicians are silently worshipped and eagerly congratulated after the gig when they come out to sell their CDs to their fans.

This sounds like I'm knocking it: I am and I'm not. I understand that typically 'folk' audiences tend to be older and as my mum told me, the thought of standing at a gig doesn't always appeal. (In fact, she and my dad - regular gig goers - recently decided not to go to particular gig when they discovered it was standing) I understand that arts centres, operating within strict staffing hours and often in quieter, sometimes residential areas, can't allow curfews to broken and noise to billow out of the building. I realise that arts centres aren't the sticky-floored, dingy pubs and bars hosting bands in city centres and so choose to carefully look after their parquet floors by using the rake seating their local authority funding allowed them to buy.

But much of the music I love is also music written for, adapted for and adapted from, dance. And it's extremely difficult to watch energetic, fiddle-driven tunes when you are seated.

So last night, watching Lau at The Deaf Institute, was a revelation. That younger, more mixed audience that I so desperately craved - knew was out there - suddenly appeared because they knew this venue and felt comfortable in it. They knew it was one where you were unlikely to be shushed (more on that later) and could drink and dance and stamp and heckle. The whoops and cheers from the crowd weren't just timely, polite song and tune closers; they broke out when the tune accelerated, willing the band members on.

Packed together under the enormous mirrorball, I felt that this is how it should be: that standing so tightly together, with the woman-in-front's hair catching in my bag, my feet mistakenly grazing the man-in-front's heels, the energy of the room was propelled by the music, and we, in turn, helped push Martin, Kris and Aidan further. (OK, so woman-in-front did shush a man in front of her, his tongue loosened by booze and what he thought was a whisper was actually much louder, but then she was a sit-down kind of girl; she didn't move or sway, except to sweep her hair out of the magnetic path of my bag and turn round to look at her companion beseechingly when the man in front of her dared open his mouth.)

But I'd never heard such a rapturous, thunderous reception for a band which incorporates traditional music. It looked like a second encore might be a possibility, until the house stereo came on amid groans. A quick Twitter search after the gig revealed plenty of enthusiastic audience members, many of which claimed to be first time listeners. It didn't just work; it was perfect.

It reminded me of when I saw The Unthanks at Night and Day cafe: again, another venue associated with less specialist music which attracted a younger audience (though their recent Mercury nomination had a hand in there, too).

I don't want to deride what arts centres and specialist music venues do. After all, they're programming bands and artists - and paying them a decent wage, I presume - that other venues are not, and their knowledge and up-to-date-ness must be applauded. I love visiting these venues.

But I just wish we could transport the atmospheres from the other venues to give the musicians the reception they truly deserve.


I've been getting back on the fiction writing wagon of late, but I haven't been neglecting my folk writing duties. I was fortunate enough to witness the first Homegrown Festival at The Met in Bury, which will grow into a fully fledged English Folk Expo next year. I also reviewed it for Spiral Earth.

I've also just had the privilege of reviewing Lauren McCormick's debut album, On Bluestockings, for the forthcoming issue of EDS, and I've just interviewed Hugh Crabtree from Feast of Fiddles about their 20th anniversary album and tour in 2013.