The Cultural Boycott

Editor’s Box from fRoots 298 (April 2008)
Some years ago now, the comment was made that as far as the general public is concerned, if you’re not on TV then you don’t exist. It shows just how far removed from general consciousness our areas of music are that most of the time people complain more about the scandalous lack of radio coverage than they ever do about the TV situation, which is far worse. Getting our music onto TV is so far beyond our normal communal expectations that most of us don’t get that exercised about it. Maybe we should.

There have been periods when, looking back, there were little mini golden ages. In the early days of enthusiasm for world music there were regular good series like Rhythms Of The World and Jeremy Marre’s excellent films cropping up. When BBC 4 cranked into action we were spoiled for choice — special live concerts by artists as diverse as June Tabor or Baaba Maal, documentaries on everything from Bob Copper to the music of Madagascar and Folk Britannia, and we began to take it as read that every year there would be good coverage of Womad, Cambridge, the Awards For World Music, the Folk Awards and one year even Sidmouth Folk Festival. Now, most of these events don’t get broadcast any more — quite an eyebrow raising situation really, given how much festivals (as demonstrated this issue) are a major part of our national cultural experience and really shouldn’t be left undocumented.

‘Undocumented’ is the pertinent word. Straightforward concert performances can still leave something to be desired on TV, and in these days of YouTube, MySpace, promo videos and extra DVDs in CD packages, perhaps there is more than enough straight footage available of people banging away on stages to keep everybody sated. But BBC4’s recent Euro Roots and the previews of Channel 5’s My Music series — see page 28 — brought home just how much value is added by a good documentary that gets under the skin of the subject. And clearly such programming can haul in the viewers: the Channel 5 series almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if the producer’s previous Kathryn Tickell’s Northumbria hadn’t pulled in excess of 750,000 viewers. Which makes it very odd that 5 have scheduled these follow-ups for 11am on Sunday mornings …

One good development is the democratisation of film making because of technological advances parallel to those in music recording, and the prospects held out by full-length video distribution via the web through iTunes, Apple TV etc. As more people get stuck into projects driven by knowledge, love and enthusiasm — Screen Station’s As Old As My Tongue (Bi Kidude), Patrick Ferryn’s The Man With The Banjo (Derroll Adams) or Todd Kwait’s Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost (Gus Cannon and the jug bands), to mention just a few — perhaps these vital documentaries currently only being seen by the few at independent film festivals and small-scale screenings will start finding their way into our homes more readily, and we’ll all be the richer for it.

Ian Anderson


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