Events and tours
The massed finale of the English Roots Against Apartheid ceilidh at London’s Town & Country Club in 1987 — a big band including all of Oysterband and Tiger Moth plus various Mustaphas and Boothills, Richard Thompson, Billy Bragg, Rory McLeod, Michelle Shocked, Hank Wangford and more. Photo by Jak Kilby.
This is where my lengthy experience and wide overview of many areas of roots music and its business side — as an artist, promoter, writer, broadcaster, record producer and compiler and much more — has often come together in enjoying creative challenges. If there is nobody putting on the sort of events that I like to see – and I think that others might enjoy them too — it has often spurred me on to do it myself and try to do it well. I seem to have been cursed with good organisational skills and attention to detail, which luckily has been recognised by others over the years when I’ve been asked to produce events for them.
I started running clubs at the age of 20 and went on to produce numerous concerts, ceilidhs, festivals and events over the following decades. Picking just a few of those down the years: Folk Blues Bristol & West began as a monthly night at the Bristol Troubadour. It rapidly had to move to bigger pub premises and eventually to larger ones again. It was always packed, and gave birth to the compilation LP Blues Like Showers Of Rain which kick-started the country blues boom in 1968 and in turn resulted in most of the artists getting major label record deals. Not bad for a start!
I founded and ran Farnham Folk Day at Farnham Maltings from 1982 until 1988 when I left the area. In those days it was one of the first events of the festival calendar, the Sunday after Easter, and it sold out every year.
In 1987 I was headhunted to take over the artistic direction of the then ailing Bracknell Folk & Roots Festival, which I did for 3 years (again, until I left the area), greatly increasing the annual attendance.
Also in 1987, I co-organised the massive and very successful English Roots Against Apartheid ceilidh at London’s Town & Country Club.
Another massed finale, this one at 2010’s Roots @ The Roundhouse and also including Oysterband, Billy Bragg and various Mustaphas, plus Sam Lee, Kristi Stassinopoulou & Stathis Kalyviotis, Laurel Swift, Will Pound, Pamela Wyn Shannon, Zuzana Novak, Ian Anderson, Paul Curreri, Devon Sproule and June Tabor. Photo: Judith Burrows.
“The annual Awards For World Music were adopted by BBC Radio 3 and ran for seven years.”
In the ’90s I was more involved with managing the Malagasy band Tarika and developing fRoots magazine but got back to event organisation again after 2001. I began by developing a detailed proposal for the annual Awards For World Music which was adopted virtually as conceived by BBC Radio 3 and ran for 7 years until budgets were slashed.
Over winter 2003/2004 I produced a series of monthly concerts titled Europe In Union at London’s Union Chapel, also in partnership with BBC Radio 3 and with Arts Council England funding. This project brought excellent European bands to the UK, where they were supported by locally based artists from different cultures.
In 2005 we revisited the big 1987 fundraising ceilidh idea at the same venue, now known as the Forum, as an Asian tsunami benefit called Ceilidh Aid. In 2006/2007 I co-produced a series of world folk/roots music gigs at London’s prestigious Pizza On The Park under the title Half The World. In early 2010 we belatedly celebrated the 30th anniversary of fRoots magazine with a huge multi-artist evening called Roots @ The Roundhouse.
There are lots of videos from that night linked from here.
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In autumn 2010, I produced two major events at London’s Cecil Sharp House. Ghosts From The Basement was a one-day multi-artist celebration of the 40th anniversary of Village Thing Records, mixing up veterans of that era with younger artists inspired and influenced by them. And Looking For A New England was a live presentation of artists from the second of two CDs I’d compiled with Arts Council support, this one of English-based artists with backgrounds in diverse immigrant cultures.
At the other extreme of venue sizes, from 2009 to 2012 (and irregularly since) I curated a series of folk gigs under the fRoots banner at London’s small but wonderful Green Note Café, featuring everything from legendary American veterans to up-and-coming UK artists.
Weirdlore should have been a fabulous one day festival in Bristol in 2012 mixing up diverse artists from the fringes of English traditions and psych folk, but it came unstuck due to the economic climate and had to be cancelled at the last minute.
The CD of the same name was released and sold out rapidly, though, and it now seems to be an event that many people regret didn’t happen. Well, you can’t win ’em all, and no experience is wasted!
Indeed, since 2012, I’ve produced an annual series of five double bill
concerts of mostly new or lesser known folk artists as part of Sidmouth Folk Week, under the title A Cellar Full Of Folkadelia, booking many of the artists originally planned for Weirdlore … and most have had full houses. The series continues, now programmed by others with my blessing.
Spiro with Mojmir Novakovic at 2014’s Bridges at the QEH, in front of Judith Burrows’ specially-commissioned back projection film. Photo: Judith Burrows.
“An antidote to the predictability of many festival bills.”
In March 2014, once again with Arts Council support, I produced an ambitious concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall titled Bridges, which brought together six pairs of cross-cultural, cross-genre or cross-generation folk/ roots artists in unique collaborations specially created for the event. It was partly an antidote to the predictability of many festival bills whose organisers say they can’t take risks. It was packed …
In January 2015 I produced Ten Thousand Times Adieu, a sold-out day long celebration of the centenary of Bob Copper at Cecil Sharp House, London with a wide selection of veteran and current English folk artists performing songs from the Copper repertoire. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and the Guardian was very kind to it.
Finally, in 2016, apart from the 5th annual Cellarful Of Folkadelia concerts held during Sidmouth Folk Week, I put together a very successful mini-festival of new, traditionally-influenced instrumental music titled No Voices, at London’s Kings Place and my last ever event production, the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Bristol Troubadour Club which took place at St Georges, Bristol on Saturday October 8th. Debt to society now served – Dun Promotin’.
However, if anybody would like to hire me to produce and programme events of inspiring music that I like for them, just use the Contact page.
I’ve also booked numerous tours for other artists ranging from Mississippi Fred McDowell in 1969, The Watersons, Brass Monkey, The Old Swan Band and Italy’s La Ciapa Rusa in the ’80s and my old hero Spider John Koerner as recently as 2010.
I’ve also generally co-ordinated the touring and recording careers of a number of artists including kora masters Dembo Konte & Kausu Kuyateh in the ’80s, Madagascar’s top band Tarika through the ’90s, Greek songwriter Athena in the mid-’00s and others. But successful and enjoyable though these latter things sometimes were, I’m not interested in taking on agency and artist management again. Please don’t ask …!
Madagascar’s Tarika, who I managed through the 1990s.