In his Republic, Plato considers three forms of government, and finds fault with them all. Tyranny is cruel and barbaric. Oligarchy, where power rests with a rich elite, is corrupt and unjust. And democracy? Nothing more than a fancy name for mob rule.
If Plato were to visit a folk club, he might encounter any of these systems of government. He might run up against a dictatorial Ewan MacColl figure. He might find himself ignored for not playing a guitar with a five-figure price tag.
But, most likely, he’d encounter a place where the floor was open to anyone who wanted to get up and have a go. Because most folk clubs pride themselves on being democratic, and despite Plato’s reservations, democracy is a Good Thing.
With power, however, comes responsibility, and when the power belongs to everyone the responsibility has to be shared too. Live music is a wonderful thing, but there’s not much point in playing it if no one is listening. So, in part, that responsibility means getting stuck into the legwork that comes with running a folk club.
If we want to enjoy our share of the limelight, we need to muck in by putting up posters, finding venues, taking money on the door, working the sound and lighting, and so on.
But that’s not all. Musicians also have a responsibility to their audience, and there’s always a couple of folk club regulars who don’t quite understand this. There’s the fellow who refuses to learn his songs properly, and mumbles to his music stand. There’s the lady who has played the same two tunes for the last eighteen years. There’s the anarchist who believes that the term ‘folk music’ encompasses improvised punk poetry.
Most of us were rubbish once. Many of us probably are still. That’s not the point. What’s important is that we try to improve, for our sake and for our audience’s.
It’s great that democracy give us the opportunity to fail, because the best way to learn is by taking on board what the crowd is telling us. But it’s our responsibility as musicians to do that. If we want people to come to folk clubs to listen to us, we have to be prepared to listen to them.
Or, as Plato said: “Make music. And work at it.”
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9 – MILKMAID FOLK CLUB. Constitutional Club. 8pm. £8 members. £10 non mems. Real ale. Chris Sherburn and Findlay Napier.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14 – ELY FOLK CLUB. The Old Dispensary, St Mary’s Street.
ELY ROYAL FOLK CLUB. The Kings Arms St Mary’s Street. 7.30pm–11pm. Contact Liam.
WOOLPIT, THE BULL P.H. Free. 8pm–11pm. Sing around in back room. First timers welcome as are old timers. Ask for John or Peter. Managed by Dave Cooper.
GUITAR CLUB. Constitutional Club, Bury. 8pm. Free. Real Ale.
All comers welcome. Contact Kevin Causer.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15 – HORNINGSEA FOLK CLUB. Plough and Fleece. 8pm–11pm. Contact Tony 01638 741 743. Check before going.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16 – LONG MELFORD. Melford folk. Cock and Bell. 8.30pm. Free. Everyone welcome, ‘anything goes’. Stage format. Recommended. ( (Please note there will be NO club until November 13, when Pauline O’Brien will be the MC)