X Factor antidote? Folk is the answer!

This is the first time I’ve really written a considered piece on my blog; it’s been prompted by The X Factor (finally) ending last night, but I’ve had a few folk-related thoughts buzzing around my mind lately, so here goes…

The X Factor, then. I mean, no-one really expects it to produce any singers or groups of lasting worth – it’s frivolous Saturday night entertainment, Opportunity Knocks for the text generation – but, by hell, what a load of utterly depressing, cynically manufactured shite it has turned out to be. And the fact that the 2011 series was won by a group who were put together by the show’s producers says it all, really.

Much is made of the fact that many of the young people who audition for The X Factor do so because singing ‘is the only thing they ever want to do’, it’s their only way out of a life of 9-5 graft. It’s their fast track to a life of luxury and celebrity. Like winning the lottery with a few stage performances thrown in.

Many people criticise these youngsters for having such ambitions; they say that success takes hard work and determination, and that shows like The X Factor promote an unhealthy ‘quick fix’ ideal. I say: look around you. Can you blame them? Once upon a time, ‘working hard at school’ used to lead to ‘getting a good job’. This is clearly not the case now, as recession bites ever harder into our communities. Kids off council estates are seeing their mums, dads and often grandparents getting laid off left, right and centre despite the fact they worked hard all their lives and probably did well when they were at school. Fair enough, some kids don’t like the sound of hard work full stop, but even those that do have an entrepreneurial spirit must be feeling disillusioned and lost. Is there any wonder they think that becoming a famous singer might be the answer?

My problem isn’t with the ambition to sing, of course – it’s with the ambition to be famous. I can totally see why someone would want to perform every day of their lives – I love singing and would love to do it more often and be paid handsomely for it. But I would HATE to be famous. Just look at any tabloid or the despicable Mail Online any day of the week. Acres and acres of text about Z-listers and what they wearing (or not), how putting on a few pounds turns into a ‘weight battle’, and how DARE they pop out for a pint of milk without their make-up on and looking ‘dishevelled’?

So this is where folk comes in. It struck me earlier this year, when I saw Jon Boden out of Bellowhead wandering around the Beverley Folk Festival site, that he wasn’t getting mobbed, there were no paparazzi trailing him, just a few people acknowledging him and saying “all right mate”, that sort of thing. And this is a guy who belongs to one of the biggest bands in folk at the moment – they’ve been on Jools Holland, played Glastonbury and had sell-out tours.

Folk artists enjoy the rare privilege of being able to perform for audiences, large and small, and are then able to go home on the bus (except perhaps the tuba player in Bellowhead) and pop to Asda without a herd of crazed goons and story-hungry hacks following them everywhere. I’m not saying it’s the only musical genre which allows this privilege, but it surely must be one of the least fame-obsessed. It’s all about the music. And if X Factor wannabes really meant what they say when they talk about how much they love performing, then they wouldn’t be bothered about whether they become famous or not.

Here’s my dream: I would like to make a living out of producing music. That’s all. Just want to pay my mortgage and entertain a few people, without the worry of the Sun publishing pictures of me shuffling to the corner shop in my trackies.

Let the masses keep their X Factor crap; hell, let it pollute the charts for all I care. As long as we folkies know where the real talent is, that’s all that matters. There’ll be more tickets to go round for everyone.


Author: Sam

I'm Sam Martyn, a folk singer, musician and artist from Hull. I'm a member of Hull folk band Beggar's Bridge, and I'm also in the White Horse Ceilidh Band. I've been a regular at the The White Horse Folk Club in Beverley for a good few years now, too. I play piano, low and high whistle, and harmonium. Influences include June Tabor (quite simply a heroine of mine) and Eliza Carthy. In September 2012 I released my first album, Drifting on Out, while Land and Sea followed in February 2016 - both are available to buy on CD via PayPal in my website shop, or from iTunes.

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