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Tradfolk celebrates its first birthday with a cupcake

Tradfolk is 1: the highlights of our first year

Thank you so much for sticking with us.

This time last year we were readying the doors and spreading the word. Behind the scenes, a few people busied themselves, putting the final touches to something that had been a year in the planning. The idea for the site came from the folk artist David Abbott, journalist Em Kuntze, and myself. While David and Em worked mainly in an advisory role, practical, editorial assistance came from Rachel Wilkinson, whose involvement has become so essential and recognised that she has even taken on the moniker “Tradfolk Rach” – a nickname she (quite literally) wears with pride.

Scroll forward 12 months and you find us in our first birthday week. Over 100,000 of you have visited the site since it was launched, which is an incredible number for such a new and relatively niche website. And for anyone that assumes folk music and folk culture only attracts older people, around 40% of our readership were between 24 and 44 years old, with only 15% being over retirement age. Thanks so much for coming and getting along so nicely!

Given that you’re all such friendly types, we thought you might forgive us a little solipsism as we look back over some of the big moments that have shaped our first year.

The Ben Edge interview – November 24th, 2021

It was seeing the interest surrounding Ben Edge’s Ritual Britain exhibition that made me want to get back into folk journalism. I felt that there was an interesting gap between what Ben and his friends, Boss Morris and Nick Hayes were involved in, and what the more established folk music scene in England was doing. I was also amazed by the way in which Ben and Boss were attracting a vibrant young crowd. I simply wanted to explore that space further – that’s essentially where the idea for Tradfolk came from.

Not knowing Ben personally, I was delighted when he responded to my initial inquiries and agreed to be interviewed for a website that didn’t even exist yet. That conversation became the first of our lengthy Tradfolk interviews, and a kind of calling card when explaining the website to other people. It also provided an intro into the side of the folk/ritual world that Ben inhabits, and shaped the beginnings of a fond friendship that has since grown. I look forward to whatever Ben creates with great interest, and I know from our many Whatsapp conversations that he keeps up with what we’re doing, too.

‘Heavy metal Morris dancing’

Our Wassailing Directory seemed to catch the attention back in December/January. What started as a foolhardy conversation with Tradfolk Rach (“I wonder if we could list a handful of wassails so that people know where their nearest one is – there can’t be that many”) quickly turned into a major project that consumed our evenings. It soon became clear that there were more than 10 wassails around the country – who knew? – and that we’d committed ourselves to something much bigger than we’d imagined.

When the folk journalist, Jude Rogers, found out about our endeavours, things became a little ridiculous. An interview in The Guardian (“Fire, cider and ‘heavy metal Morris dancing“) focused a vast spotlight on what we were doing, and our work was cut out even further. The upside, of course, was that we ended up with a pretty decent Wassailing Directory, not to mention thousands of new readers overnight.

And for those of you wondering about this year’s Wassailing Directory, we’re updating it as we speak and it should be ready for you by the beginning of December. If you’d like to add your wassail to the list, you can do so by clicking here.

May Day Morris

Following on in the spirit of the Wassailing Directory, our “May Day Morris: Where to find Morris dancing near me” piece listed everything you’d expect from an article of that title. This time, however, it went international.

Inviting our readers to send in their May Day dance-outs, we were swiftly inundated with info from around the world, ending up with a list of 90 events that encompassed the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Nearly 5,000 people swarmed the site in the days surrounding May Day to find out where their nearest dances were, and we ran a May Day Morris article bringing together some of the best images we were sent or tagged in as the day continued.

As an aside, we’ve published around 20 Morris-related articles over the last 12 months, many of which have been written by the very wonderful James Merryclough. We love our Morris dancing, we do. Can’t get enough of it. Look out for James’ article on the best Morris performances of 2022 in the coming weeks.

Will we do the May Day directory again in 2023? Providing Tradfolk Rach still has the energy, youbetcha.

The Tradfolk Rachallenge

Speaking of Tradfolk Rach, her (highly successful) attempt to learn a Morris jig from scratch in a month, and then dance it solo on May Day morning outside Ely Cathedral, has to be one of our highlights of the year. Such commitment to the cause! Such dexterity! Such a ridiculous name for a challenge! Rachel, I can’t thank you enough.

It all began when she announced, around her birthday, that she wanted to achieve something new over the coming year, and that it might have something to do with Morris dancing. We await the announcement of the 2023 Tradfolk Rachallenge with bated breath. If you have any ideas, stick them in the comments below.

The article above details the conclusion, but Rach blogged her way through the experience of learning how to Morris dance in the month preceding. (You can read all the articles by clicking here.) Those of us that were in the Cobbold Arms at FolkEast to witness the reprise, with accompaniment from John Spiers, will long remember the occasion, even though the dancer insisted that no video be taken.

The relaunch of the Old Songs Podcast

The Old Songs Podcast returned for a second series in August, wonderfully supported by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, who have not only provided financial help but have also made their vast expertise available to us. For this, I cannot thank them enough. (Special thanks go to Peter Craik and Katy Spicer for their enthusiasm for all things Tradfolk. It really puts a spring in my step.)

It is also extraordinary to me that it has become so popular. In our recent readers’ survey, 73% said that they are regular listeners, and the feedback we’ve received is nothing short of soul nourishment. Here’s something from a listener that came in only this morning…

“This podcast has been such an education for me. Not only does it get me through my walk to work but it’s opened up an entire world of singers, songs and music I wouldn’t know otherwise, and for that I am endlessly grateful.”

Old Songs Podcast listener

Massive thanks to all the guests that have taken part, and to those of you that tune in. It’s an absolute joy to make.

FolkEast x Tradfolk

Becky and John, the organisers of FolkEast, are much-loved by many in the folk community, mainly for their encouragement of new artists and (it seems) new websites. I was introduced to them in late spring and their enthusiasm for Tradfolk was infectious. I immediately felt excited by what we could do together.

Turning up at FolkEast in August of this year with videographer and musician, Jon Nice, we were immediately given carte blanche and access-all-areas passes to try things out. Setting up camp in a dilapidated Victorian squash court, we started inviting some of the festival performers in to perform tunes and songs for the cameras. Working like an absolute maniac, Jon would then edit them together and upload them, often having them online within the hour so that people at the festival and beyond could enjoy something a little extra.

Incredibly, the organisers told us afterwards that a whole wave of festival first-timers arrived on the back of the Tradfolk coverage. It seems we’ve found ourselves a community way out East. Stay tuned for some exciting FolkEast x Tradfolk news for 2023. It’s going to be an absolute blast.

Discovering new artists

It has been hugely exciting to hear from the up-and-coming musicians on the traditional folk scene, and I know you think so, too. Our recent article on “Young folk musicians you need to hear” was put together with the help of some of our older musician friends, people we speak to regularly to get their opinion, and the feedback was immense.

In our recent readers’ poll, we asked you which artists you’d discovered via Tradfolk artists. The most common names you mentioned were:

We’re very much looking forward to keeping our ears to the ground and reporting on more newcomers to the traditional folk world over the next 12 months. Keep an eye on Alex Hurr’s reviews to find out about the latest albums.

Launch of the Tradfolk Events Calendar

We launched the Tradfolk Events Calendar on August 5th, and it has since become a popular part of the site, amassing around 7,000 page visits in a few months, emerging as one of the most clicked-on part of our weekly newsletters, and attracting a huge amount of interest from the artists themselves. Couldn’t have been done without help from Kai Wilks (it’s a family affair), the tireless chap who keeps that part of the site going.

Friends and supporters

Of course, Tradfolk would not exist without those of you that offer your continued support. To the professional folk musicians, artists, dancers and creators who offer insight and advice on a daily basis – you know who you are and your input is invaluable.

Massive thanks to Tradfolk Rach, Alex Hurr, James Merryclough, Jon Nice, Eleanor Flowerday, Abbey Thomas, Victoria Spooner, Piers Cawley, James Hadfield and all the writers and content creators who have donated their time to helping Tradfolk find its feet.

To those of you that support the website and podcast in a financial way, it’s truly appreciated. I’m incredibly grateful. Your help allows me to spend a couple of days a month away from the day job, concentrating on writing, editing and growing the website. What a lucky position to be in.

Huge thanks goes to Katy Spicer, Peter Craik, Jennie Higgins and the rest of the team at the English Folk Dance and Song Society, not just for becoming sponsors of the Old Songs Podcast, but also for being so enthusiastic and encouraging. Also to Becky and John at FolkEast for recognising the website’s potential and helping to give it a larger platform than it might have expected at that time in its progression. Can’t wait to do more.

Lastly, to all the readers who have dropped by in their many thousands, subscribed to our newsletter, followed us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Mastodon and Discord – thanks for lending us your eyes, ears and attention over the last 12 months. It has been a joy to spend time with you.