TRAD TALK 2018 – Report


Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, 21 April, 2018



Laura Beth Salter

L.B’s grandfather ran a folk club in Lincoln, then her mum took it over and turned it into a session.

Upbringing all social, huge part of what folk music is about. Most of the people she teaches want to play socially.

The Shee: self-expression, but not always audience-friendly. Gigging to pay for an album, borrowed money but made a bad deal. £10k to make an album.

Started to tour, folk clubs and arts centres, but couldn’t be full-time, so no representation. Dialogue missing between band and venue, which an agent is not always best placed to carry out. Occasions when the agent would be asking for a disproportionate fee for a small venue. Do all their duo representation themselves.

‘It’s an open dialogue about everything. We know what’s being said to the venues, the venues know what’s being said to us and I feel much more comfortable about it. It’s a really tricky balance, because with The Shee we’ve been going so long that we really feel like when we go out to gig it’s such a huge expense before we’ve started to get people from Inverness and Newcastle and in between to a gig. It’s very difficult for us to go and do a folk club for £200 or whatever, to make it financially viable. But as musicians we would love to play those venues. But the only way we can really manage it is by slotting it in between arts centres for higher fees.’

Josie Duncan

Faced with ‘is that not a large fee for such a young person?’ But just because she is young doesn’t think that her work is worth less. Loves the fact that people of all ages mix together in audiences. Folk clubs are the ideal setting – people join in, interested audiences. But doesn’t like to have to book too far ahead. Finds the familiarity fostered by social media sometimes troubling. People assume they know you better than they do. Gets a lot of her gigs through her presence on social media. There are enough performing opportunities.

Mike Vass

First opportunity came through Edinburgh Folk Club. Necessity of a portfolio career, wider than just performing. Early career in folk clubs – earning the same in his duo with his sister and with Fiona Hunter as he did with Malinky (5-piece band). Malinky now part-time, but mostly festivals.

Newer clubs work their mailing lists better. Some clubs in the south of England and Wales which got subsidies so put less effort into promoting, resulting in tiny audiences. Clubs that are doing well generally don’t have that kind of support and flourish through the efforts of one or two dedicated people. Another bugbear is the lack of quality control with floor-spots – major turn-off for non- or marginally interested folkies. Too many can lead to over-long gigs.

Pete Coe

Folk clubs can become their own little community when the aim should be to make the club part of the community. Disappointing that so few of people who want to earn their living from gigging are reluctant to organise things (or even support their local club), especially when they’re not out on the road all the time. They can bring a professional approach to presentation and production, as well as putting something back in to what has afforded them part of their living.



Douglas Robertson

120 gigs a year. Musicians get 100% of the door at house concerts. Weekly gigs at the Traverse in Edinburgh, venue gets the bar, musicians get the door. Put on a good gig, with good sound and you shouldn’t have any problem with audiences. Competitive environment so things like sound are crucial (competing with your telly, cinemas, experience people expect in a big venue).

Fantastic musicians coming out of the degree courses – the potential is very exciting.

Mhairi Marwick

Giving something back, so started the Arc Sessions in Fochabers – didn’t want to call it a folk club in case they decided to diversify the kind of music. Complementary to an established festival in the village, 7 gigs a year, audiences between 200 and 400. Deliberately going for established, high-end acts in order to attract a wide audience. Young bands, young audience, especially for standing gigs – a buzz in the village, feels like it’s on the touring map. Acts are now approaching her, but careful about who to choose.

High risk. Some acts won’t take a split, and fee proposals can be unrealistic, given it’s a village hall at the end of the day. Ticket prices £15 to £20 plus concessions – dictated by fee, but a guide for the audience to quality.

Aware of the need to keep building an audience – trying new things, but also giving audiences what they want (e.g. instrumental acts go over better than singers).

Carolyn Paterson

Lucky with the circuit we have in Scotland. Good that venues keep in touch with each other: Eden Court, An Lanntair, Queen’s Hall.

Tolbooth 120 to 140 gigs per year, including the Albert Halls which programmes a lot of tribute bands. Interesting that they work mostly on splits. They are very organised, provide great marketing back-up and production.

Biggest problem on the trad side is that the venue is effectively competing with itself. Stirling is a relatively small place (pop. 42000). So much brilliant music that it’s hard to choose. If we put on too many trad gigs people will generally only come to one or two, and probably the more recognised names at that. It’s challenging to get audiences to take a risk on emerging artists. It would be good to be able to put on double bills if there was funding for that, give some exposure to new acts. World music is hard.

Like to try and pay a reasonable amount, and look after people, a welcome, some hospitality – uncomfortable about simply letting the market decide. Expectations have changed. Things have got more professional – performers expect more in terms of PA, for example, don’t expect to have to sleep on floors.

Celtic Connections has changed perceptions of trad music, given it a bit more respect.

Media is much harder now, but social media has been a game-changer. Some bands can sell the venue out without a poster, just on the strength of social media.



Tom Holmes (Star Folk Club, Glasgow)

45-46 gigs per year. Varied ticket prices. Taking Josie’s point about the fee reflecting the career stage of the performer – the criterion is drawing power, not age or stage. Some artists need to work their mailing lists harder. [Some of the panel agreed with that. Malinky had a procedure where people signed up via an iPad.] The Star doesn’t have floor singers but booked support acts. There is a demand from artists to play – could put on 3 or 4 gigs a week just from artist demand.

Want more young people, but they are more attracted to sessions. Would rather do a session than a floor spot. Folk clubs are a great learning experience, both from the point of view of performing and watching experienced professionals work an audience.

Laura Beth Salter

Would go to clubs more but tend to be teaching in the evenings.

Pete Coe

Career expectations – if you decide to be in a 6-piece band you can’t complain about the amount of money you’re earning.

Ciaran McGhee (Leith Folk Club)

Floor singers or residents can sometimes create an awkward feeling for the booked guest, who almost feels like they are breaking into a tight circle of people who know each other and each other’s repertoire. Support slot system is better in that respect.

Fraser Bruce

Folk singer’s life is a hard one. You should have a fall-back, have a trade or similar.

Martin Hadden

‘You’re saying that music is not a proper career. That’s crap!’

Mike Vass

I was told I should look for other jobs, but equally I was advised that if you put your time into learning your craft and then work hard at getting gigs you will succeed, and that’ what I’ve done.

David Foley

Working as a musician gives a lot of transferable skills. On a different point, the folk club environment is not the be-all and end-all for performers. The kind of skills you need to engage with folk club audiences are not necessarily appropriate for more formal concert or festival environments. However, ‘one environment does not trump another’.




Stuart Miller (Falkirk FC)

Paradox: televised award ceremonies, Celtic Connections, explosion of talent backgrounded a decline in folk club attendances. So how do we attract new people? Focus on what a new attender might experience – from first contact to leaving at the end of the gig, making that as positive as it could possibly be. ‘You get these great musicians from across the country coming to this intimate space, a small gathering of people’, you get to hear the music close up, meet the artist.

Crucial to creating the atmosphere is knowing how many people will be coming, so introduced ticketing. Capacity of 40 – when they all come (as they often do) the atmosphere is unbeatable, knocks on to the performers, which in turn feeds back to the audience, and everybody goes away happy. If it looks like a low turn out we can take action, work the mailing list, social media, and if necessary re-arrange the room to keep that intimate feel.

Aim to keep prices low in order to encourage weekly attendance.

Varied programme – deliberately don’t programme too far ahead, always gaps to give us flexibility. No re-bookings within three years. Strong commitment to Scottish acts.

A lot of musicians associated with the club – set up a mentoring project that encouraged people to perform, which has created a pool of people who can do floor spots at the club, play at community events.

The secret is enthusiasm, creative thinking and hard work!

David Foley (Folklub)

120 capacity venue, a 4-5 gig series in spring and autumn. Started up because wanted to see trad music performed outside of the session, pub environment and also as a platform for musicians doing interesting stuff, which might not have been feasible to take out on the road.

A bar in the venue is ‘a recipe for disaster’, encourages noise and inattention.

Same difficulty in getting people to come and see lesser known or new acts (even when the marketing effort is the same as for more established acts). Subsidy, even on a modest scale, is the answer to that.

Fraser Bruce

  • In the past more young people organising and running clubs – not enough people willing to put in the effort
  • not enough co-ordination between clubs (although now difficult to get a run of clubs over a week – early 70s you could put together a 30-night tour)
  • late 60s, early 70s – 31 folk clubs in Ayrshire alone
  • a lot of people more interesting in performing than listening (example of a club which mostly runs singers’ nights with occasional guests; none of the regular contributors come out for guest nights)
  • easier to get the word out in small communities – very difficult in larger towns and cities
  • easier to build a career from a semi-pro base
  • need to promote an attitude among audiences of going along no matter who is on
  • young people need to take the scene by the scruff of the neck – old hands will help out



Mark Pankhurst

Got hooked through seeing Duncan Chisholm and Fiddlers Bid. Now go to a lot of gigs and spend a lot of money. Whatever the gig the important thing is the interaction between the artist and the audience. If the audience don’t feel they are part of something the gig fails. The artist and the venue are responsible for creating the buzz for the event. Good music is at the heart of it all.

Jacky Pankhurst

Don’t go to that many folk clubs. Example of three gigs all featuring Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton – King’s Place in London, a gig upstairs in a pub, and an arts centre. It was the second of these that was a special night. It was very welcoming, both promoter and audience. Lots of information available about what to expect, venue staff were knowledgeable about what was going on, food and drink was available, there was space to circulate and talk before the gig started. It was clear that there was a lot of trust between audience and promoter, which is how you stimulate support for newer artists. The gigs I’ve enjoyed most are ones with a mix of ages in the audience.

Two challenges: persuading people who enjoy jumping about to upbeat music at festivals to sit and listen to related music in smaller spaces, persuading people to translate their online listening experiences to a live gig experience.

Ticket prices are reasonable and possibly slightly on the low side.



Tom Holmes

Picking up on Falkirk’s take on ticket prices. If prices are too low it doesn’t give the gig enough credibility, but it’s realistic to vary ticket prices when you’re looking for people to come every week.

David Foley (to Stuart Miller)

Would you consider moving to a larger venue?

Stuart Miller

Will occasionally but at the moment we like the room we are in.

Ciaran McGhee

Folk clubs now seem to be an intermediary between amateur musicians and bigger events like Celtic Connections. Rura could sell out the Queens Hall but wouldn’t play Leith Folk Club.

Marianne Doig (Leith Folk Club, to David Foley)

Would you play Leith Folk Club?

David Foley

Probably not. I would happily play there with another band. It would interesting as well if people with expertise in organising gigs (e.g. folk club organisers) would apply those skills in organising bigger gigs, a proper touring circuit.

Fraser Bruce

Folk clubs were bigger. What are now considered ‘arts centre’ level audiences were once folk club audiences.

John Barrow (Edinburgh Folk Club)

Going back to Rura and Leith. Leith holds 100 people. If Rura were offered 100% of the door at £10 a ticket would they take that?

David Foley

I would, but Rura wouldn’t. We can play a bigger venue for more money.

John Barrow

But it’s a two-way street. Clubs that supported you at the start maybe should get your support.

David Foley

Rura has certain requirements now in terms of production, and the kinds of venues that folk clubs use are just not suitable for the kind of show we want to present. It’s not just capacity either. The Tolbooth’s capacity is only 20 or 30 more than Leith Folk Club, but what it offers in terms of facilities is much more suited to what Rura is trying to do.

Christine Kydd

I remember as a musician in my 20s it seemed as if folk clubs were full of old people. Maybe we just all move up the line! Older people have time and money and maybe we should be marketing our gigs to that audience. How about more day time gigs?


Problem with the work ‘folk’. I wouldn’t go to a folk club, too many negative connotations, too closed.

John Barrow

Heard of former folk clubs in Kent which have rebranded themselves as open mic nights and have boosted audiences.


Laura Beth Salter

Day time events would suit under-18s and people with kids as well.

Tom Holmes

Lead in times are getting longer. Such is the demand for gigs that the Star is programmed up to 2020. There are always musicians wanting gigs, which will keep clubs going.

John Barrow

Trying to keep the need for longer lead times at bay. It’s important to keep the space to be flexible.

Fraser Bruce

For artists too. Your career might take off and you find that have to fulfil a folk club booking you’ve taken two years previously.

Pete Coe

There are too many artists chasing too few gigs. What are the conclusions we draw from today? Who is going to organise more venues, more opportunities to accommodate the number of artists looking for gigs?

Josie Duncan

More and more bands are putting on their own gigs. One problem is that the kind of venues that are affordable have accessibility issues, e.g. wheelchair access, for both audiences and performers.

Pete Coe

The value of grassroots venues at the end of the day: where new performers can cut their teeth, learn their trade, learn to perform with an audience, try out new material before taking it further afield.