How the UK Folk Music Scene Is Quietly Making Ends Meet

Bellowhead, one of the UK's more successful folk groups which sold 60,000 copies of their 2012 album "Hedonism."

From Billboard Magazine:

This year’s U.K. BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards showed one thing about the U.K’s folk music scene: With increased coverage on the station and on digital TV, the awards proved what we’d all been suspecting; that folk is thriving.

Says Jeff Smith, Head of Music at BBC Radio 2, “the latest RAJAR [Radio Joint Audience Research] figures show that Mike Harding’s weekly folk show attracts an audience of 890,000. Performances from the likes of Don McLean and The Dubliners resulted in 710,000 people watching the show on the Red Button (digital TV) and online via the Radio 2 website.”

There has been a renewed interest in recorded folk as evidenced by British Phonographic Industry (BPI) figures, which show that sales increased by a whopping 20% during 2011,the highest amount sold in a century, accounting for 1.6% of all album sales in 2011.

Acts such as Mumford & Sons (Island), Johnny Flynn (Transgressive) and Laura Marling (EMI) whose last album “A Creature I Don’t Know” sold 75,000 copies in 2011 according to Official Chart Company figures) are leading a revival which draws on and feeds back to the more “traditional” acts.

So how is folk surviving where others might be flagging? One answer might be that folk artists have never expected to make a packet in the first place.

Jon Boden is a solo musician and member of 11-piece band Bellowhead signed to Navigator and probably the U.K’s most popular live folk act. He says, simply, “Nobody’s raking it in on the folk scene. We are probably one of the most successful live acts and we sold 60,000 copies of our 2010 album ‘Hedonism.'”

Eliza Carthy is daughter of Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, British folk’s most illustrious family. She was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 1998 and 2003, her 1998 solo album “Red Rice” (Topic) has sold 40,000 so far, 2003’s “Anglicana” (Topic) 30,000 and “Neptune” (released last year on her own label HemHem) around 15,000. Yet, she jokes, “I’m living with my parents!”

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