Girls with Guitars

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Finding yourself wandering round any town or city nowadays, you are likely to stumble into a bar where there is a small room at the back with quiet adoring listeners gazing at a female in possession of a guitar. You know these nights, you’ve been to them before, but did you ever think how it all started? Boys with guitars have been around for light years, but the girls have always been somewhat trailing behind, until now. Powerful yet delicate stars like Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading seem to have melded into the ice queen that is Björk or other foreign fems with crazy headwear on who dominate the popular music scene by stamping all over it. And it is true, we seem to owe much of the folk revolution that is proving so popular to our bearded friends from overseas like Fleet Foxes.

But it’s ok, there seems to be some kind of re-revival going on, and the girls are shaking it up a bit. It’s acoustic/pop/americana/songwritery melds of stuff from all over the globe thanks mainly to emotionally lyrical people like Lisa Hannigan, Angus and Julia Stone, and Laura Marling wandering into the mainstream for a bit from their folky/rootsy backgrounds. Walk past a practice room at your College of Music and I’ll bet you a few bob there’ll be more folks practising their three-part harmonies and guitar picking style. Folk festivals, of course, have boomed in popularity since people realised they make a cheap and boozy holiday. Acoustic stages are springing up all over festivals without folk in their name, and don’t we love those grey haired stalwarts telling people to “sshhh” in the quiet bits. But actually, young people are beginning to listen.

Why rant on about this? Ladies are writing songs about empowerment, politics and other serious things, making people stop in their tracks, because we’re not used to girls telling us how they feel without shouting into a microphone with a plastic ice cream on their heads (exception of Adele, perhaps). To list a few local names, Rosie Doonan, Karine Polwart, Patsy Matheson, Katriona Gilmore and Nancy Kerr are just a few of the girls bashing about all over the country.

Somewhere else in the City is the folk club that’s been going on since the dark ages, with a grey-haired audience and probably a grey haired singer, more likely to be male. The main act has probably played there millions of times before and is getting a nice wad of cash, not undeservedly, of course.  It seems absolutely barmy that these two acoustic worlds of music are separated by the two very out of date words “folk club”. There is a problem with both – the one in the bar is where no one gets paid (generally), but new people are given a chance and the young people come to watch because it’s free or cheap to get in. The one in the folk club is a professional venue that pays musicians well yet puts on the same acts time and time again due to the fact that if they put on someone new no one will come, and the punch line – they’ll lose money.

Why not take your mate who can play really well to one of the local folk clubs to show these oldies what girls have got, and that young musicians really do deserve to be paid respectably.  The folk club is a British institution that will be sorely missed if things don’t get a groove on, as there’ll be fewer places willing to hand out the cash. Girls need to be the change and evolve the clientele of these clubs, arts centres, and halls, and be prepared to pay a few quid extra for quality music. Is money really the issue here? We spend so much on so much crap because we think we don’t want to do things like sit quietly in rooms full of grey people listening to average wailing. As I said, it’s just a matter of making friends with that other world. I’ll get back to you in a few years.

Sarah Smout

I have a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from UEA. When I'm not writing articles or poetry, I'm writing songs or cello-ing it up in my band. I tend to have the odd glass of rose when I write for creative purposes only. I bake good cakes, too.

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