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June 2008

Nowt so queer as getting folk in the paper (3)

Never mind casualties or war. What about casualties of work?

That thing that pays the rent (a very high rent if you live in Abu Dhabi) is constantly delaying postings, and Salut! Live is one of the first corners of my cyberlife to suffer.

But I have had such a heartening response to my recent article in The National, and the discussions to which its contents have subsequently contributed that I really must make time to share some of it.

The first message I received was from a colleague, Philippa Kennedy, whom I knew to be Irish but not to be a fellow folkie, more specifically one who even remembers, as I do, the Johnstons (thanks to another colleague, Lauren Lancaster, for doing the photographic honours with my old admission ticket, and to YouTube folk for the rest).

First, this is what she wrote (I quote verbatim because the names are all so resonant):

Loved your folk club piece. Actually you are not alone. I spent most of my four years at Trinity College Dublin in dingy cellars around the city where the folk scene was vibrant. I still love it - mostly Irish - but I fully intend that the last voice I hear on this earth will Dolores Keane singing Never be the Sun. (not too soon I hope)
One of my best mates in those days was Mick Moloney, one of the world's most brilliant mandolin players and now professor of Celtic Music at Philadelphia university. He was in a group you'd never have heard of called The Johnson's (had a hit with the Curragh of Kildare). The Furies were just 'oul tinkers that came in from the cold to earn a few bob (most of which they drank) and I once sat on the knee of Luke Kelly of The Dubliners who sang Rocky Road to Dublin to me on a car journey from the city to Bray. Died young, poor soul.
I used to sing a bit too. Still do. I've expanded my very traditional Irish tastes these days to embrace Blue Grass, probably because one daughter loves it. Gillian Welch, Old Crow etc.
We'd get the odd English singer over in Dublin in those days. Sorry I never made it to your club.

To which I replied:

That is a lovely message, and brings back memories of almost all the people mentioned. Had the Johnstons at each of two clubs I ran (40 pounds plus petrol/beer money from memory; they stayed at our (co-organisers') homes. Lucy had left by the time of the second visit. And I recall that Adrienne died v young. Interviewed Luke once, at a grim night club in spennymoor , co durham and he was desperately hard work, but I adored his voice.

Continue reading "Nowt so queer as getting folk in the paper (3)" »

Nowt so queer as getting folk in the paper (2)


As promised in Nowt so queer as getting folk in the paper (1) - the first instalment in this little series of articles - here is the accompanying article describing some of the people who have given me most pleasure as a fan of folk music.

It is not a comprehensive list and regulars at Salut! Live are asked to remember that it was intended for a mainstream and cosmopolitan readership to whom such names as Kate Rusby and Leon Rosselson will mean nothing......

Continue reading "Nowt so queer as getting folk in the paper (2)" »

Nowt so queer as getting folk in the paper (1)


Over the years, I have become quite adept at twisting the arms of editors and getting them to run pieces on folk music.

It has worked in different ways at different times. I started writing about the music while a junior reporter on the Evening Despatch (Darlington, Co Durham). The column was called Folk Cellar and I kept it going when I moved to the Despatch's bigger sister, the Northern Echo, in return for £1.50 a week in "expenses". Sadly, the editor eventually decided this was more than he considered folk music coverage to be worth.

At the Daily Telegraph, there was a senior journalist by the name of Maurice Rosenbaum who wrote very occasionally about folk. It was not much more than the odd record or concert review, but Maurice was a knowledgeable and, by all accounts, quite delightful character adored by many on the folk scene, including Tom Paxton and Martin Carthy

When he died in the late 1980s, I was a reporter in the DT's Fleet Street offices. After a decent interval, I volunteered to fill the gap. The response was much as I expected and could be summed up as: "Yes please, but not too often, thanks."

But then the Independent launched, complete with a big listings section, and the rest of the broadsheets (we had them in those days) indulged in a game of catch-up. So "not too often" became every week, with folk previews at first lumped together with rock until the rock critic, Tim de Lisle, protested about his pitch being invaded. Folk acquired its own heading, and the expanding arts coverage led to more and more opportunities to write about it.

I also developed a knack for making successive arts editors believe this or that aspect of folk, or some artist of other, just had to be covered before the other papers beat us to it. More often than was strictly justified, these features concerned performers who were attractive, young and female; the phenomenon served a broader purpose, however, establishing the Telegraph as the national paper that devoted more space than any other to folk.

This continued until Sept 2007, about a year after I left the paper. Having been made redundant by the paper, I took some pleasure in reversing the process and telling them, on being offered a new job in Abu Dhabi, that I would be filing no more of the reviews I had continued to supply on a freelance basis.

And now, in that new job, I have just persuaded another editor, Burhan Wazir, to run a whole page of my musings on folk in The National. Abu Dhabi's recently created daily paper. It started as a question from Burhan: "So is Paul Simon folk?" And then it grew into a whole feature on what is or may attract that definition, plus some random recommendations on people I believe are worth listening too.

This article has drawn a great response, privately and to the Mudcat folk forum, and I will write about this in due course. For now, though you need to go to the newspaper site if you wish to see the accompanying photographs, I thought it would be a good idea to reproduce the articles in full, starting with the main piece..........

Continue reading "Nowt so queer as getting folk in the paper (1)" »

Karine Polwart: Mama don't preach (2)


The thoughtful, animated responses of Karine Polwart in the first part of her interview with Salut! Live deservedly attracted warm praise at the Mudcat folk music forum. Before proceeding to the second part, let us point readers in the right direction should they want to learn still more about what makes this outstanding Scottish singer/songwriter tick. Salut! Live is more than satisfied with Karine's answers to our questions, but notes - without spoiling the fun with detail - that from her interview for the Rocket Launcher feature of fRoots magazine, we also know of the fashion pitfalls of combining black lace tights and salmon pink leggings; the fanciability of Joaquin Phoenix and the differing songwriting virtues of Roger Tallroth, Dolly Parton and a certain Robert Burns.

The format of this concluding section of Karine Polwart: Mama don't preach should be self-evident, but each question is set in the form of an opening phrase offered by Salut! Live, with Karine then completing the sentence....

* My strongest childhood memory is ... of the smell of a rose shaped and scented soap that my granny used to use. I couldn’t stand the smell of it and used to have very weird dreams indeed involving these little rose soaps with sinister magical powers!

* If I excelled at school, it was because... I was born lucky but worked hard.

* My name doesn't sound obviously Scottish ... but it comes from a village in Berwickshire in The Borders, near where I live. One of the earliest recorded Polwarts, Patrick, was a court poet in the seventeenth century. There’s a famous (and very very rude!) poem called The Flyting of Polwart and Montgomery, which is the contemporary equivalent of a rap face off!

* My most memorably good gig was
... my last show at The Queens Hall in Edinburgh. There’s something amazing and beautiful about hearing a whole room full of people singing my songs.

* And the one I'd rather forget
... I’ve already forgotten!*

* To me, the BBC folk awards were ... a massive surprise. But they changed my life. I sold more CDS in a week than I had in the previous year. And that kind of break has allowed me to continue doing what I do.

* The singer/writer/musician I most admire (after Midge Ure?) is
... Dick Gaughan. He opened up the world of folk music for me and I admire his wilful integrity and intensity.

* When I hear social workers criticised for this or that supposed failure, ... I think it’s a miracle that anyone chooses to do that vital but totally underrated work these days.

* What Scotland most needs is .. a visionary political approach to sustainable energy and community development. And a cure for the wee black midges!

* Ten years from now, I hope ... that my family is healthy and happy and that I’m still able to do what I want for a living.

* ...but for the sake of thoroughness, Karine's reply to a similar question put by fRoots (using "worst" as the test instead of the gig "I'd rather forget") takes readers close to Salut! Live's present home in the Middle East. She recalls the Muscat Festival in Oman as a "bizarre and stressful experience", in which she and her band felt musically out of place, although I am delighted to add that she also found the Omani capital a truly gorgeous place, as indeed it is.

** Salut! Live once again acknowledges the cooperation of Roger Tiptrot, whose generosity with his superb archive of photographs at so often enhance what appears here. Roger provides this description of the chosen image: "I first came across Karine as half of MacAlias and since then she's come on in leaps and bounds with her solo album 'Faultlines' scooping her three awards at Radio 2's Folk Awards. She's followed this up with 'Scribbled In Chalk' and this also deserves to grab a raft of awards. She's taken here at The Railway in Greenfield where she gave a stunning performance in the company of Inge Thompson."

Karine Polwart: Mama don't preach (1)


Back in the days when the Bay City Rollers were top of the charts, Ally McCoist played for Sunderland and I rose each morning to see not only the hills of the Var from my home but hair in the mirror, Karine Polwart agreed to be interviewed by Salut! Live.
At least, that is how it felt as time proceeded to fly by. A set of questions had duly been passed Karine's way (the first part of the above lie is that my life - these days - in Abu Dhabi makes interview by e-mail pretty much unavoidable), leading to periodic assurances that replies were imminent.
But the weeks rolled past. Just when we were beginning to resign ourselves to having to withdraw the promise under the Coming Soon heading, Karine - pictured courtesy of Roger Liptrot at - came good. And I mean good.
We learn from her answers that she believes in the powers of songwriting as a torch to highlight what is wrong with the world, but that she has no wish to set herself up as a tub-thumping preacher. And we hear her thoughts on motherhood, stagecraft, traditional versus contemporary, who is good on today's folk scene and life during and beyond Malinky.
Salut! Live thinks Karine has more than compensated for the delay caused by a hectic juxtaposition of domestic and professional demands.
Yet there is more to come. Return to this site in a day or so and you will find volume two of Karine Polwart: Mama don't preach: her quickfire responses to questions on schooldays, her greatest musical influence, good gigs/bad gigs, the demonisation of social workers and the roots of her name.
In keeping with this site's tradition, the interview is reproduced more or less verbatim..............

Continue reading "Karine Polwart: Mama don't preach (1)" »

Karine Polwart.......on her way

Karine - whose name I keep typing as Karen - has delivered.....not another child, but the long-promised answers to Salut! Live 's questions.

Come back this way in the next few days and you will find the full interview, plus our traditional quickfire 10 questionnaire.

The wait has been worthwhile. Karen Polwart has come up with some thought-provoking responses.