Research published by the University of London suggests that over the past 20 years, British teenagers have become increasingly exposed to restricted playlists on radio, tv and websites, leading them to listen only to their preferred genres of pop, rock and rap. They warn that this means brass bands and folk music could become a thing of the past.
However, the English Folk Dance and Song Society has found quite the opposite. In fact, evidence from festivals, ceilidhs, sessions and music classes up and down the country suggests that there are more young people engaging with folk music now than there have been for decades.
Research carried out for the Association of Festival Organisers found 45% of folk festival attendees are under 35, and 20% are 19 or under. 48% of festivals report a recent increase in the number of young attendees.
Joan Crump, Artistic Director of Sidmouth FolkWeek, says “Our young audiences are very robust – the audience for our most youth-specific venue, the Bulverton, is thriving and growing year on year, and our youth development work with Folk-a-Cola is oversubscribed. What’s more, there are huge numbers of talented young musicians now performing, and they’re not just interested in crossover music like Mumford and Sons or Laura Marling, but in getting back to where the music comes from – they want to learn from the source singers and musicians recorded before the 60s folk boom. I can understand the fear that folk music might disappear, but it seems to be striking a real chord at the moment, and the folk scene is healthier than it has been for decades.”
Sam Lee, founder of the award-winning Magpie’s Nest folk club, says “ Young people are not just discovering new music through a mass media ever more sympathetic to alternative music but services like last.fm, Spotify, MySpace and podcasts are changing the landscape for musical discovery and genre surfing. As a folk club with a mostly young audience, The Magpie’s Nest has a burgeoning pool of young folk talent to book from – young people are now turning more readily to folk and acoustic music, both as audience and performers, because they see it as being more welcoming to new musicians and characteristically removed from the fame-seeking attitude of rock and pop. Folk music is also rapidly evolving due to the diversity of listening its makers are growing up with.”
Malcolm Taylor, Library Director of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House, says “The past four or five years has seen the age profile of people using the library plummet. A new revival with a new generation are not only seeking out this wonderful music but are looking to the traditional sources of it to be inspired and informed – and then to evolve it. From Jim Moray, Paul Sartin, Tim van Eyken, Sam Lee, Jackie Oates and many others, looking out the collections of Grainger, Hammond, Mike Yates and of course Cecil Sharp, it’s exciting and gratifying to be part of that.”
However, the English Folk Dance and Song Societ does agree with the research finding that exposure to a variety of genres of music at a young age is crucial. Part of the Society’s work includes running events for children and families, ideal for people who are new to folk music.