The Folk Club
John removed his guitar
from its case and propped the instrument against
his table. He looked around the room where others
were unpacking and tuning their instruments in
preparation for that evenings folk club.
John had been playing
guitar for a year and had finally summoned all
his courage to perform in public. He had thus
come along to his first folk club singaround
When most people had
settled, Sally, the MC, turned to the performer
on her left. Do you want to start us off,
Eric? she said.
Eric began the evening with
what seemed to John a virtuoso guitar performance
with outstanding vocals. John was particularly
impressed by Erics ability to
simultaneously play an accordion with his toes.
I hope theyre not
all that brilliant,
thought John, mentally comparing the performance
to his intended version of Streets of London,
feeling his anxiety increase and making a mental
note of the fastest route to the exit.
good, said the person sitting next to John,
as Eric finished. Im George, by the
way. Youre new, arent you?
John replied. My names John. I only
started playing last year.
John's companion picked up
a guitar and commenced a rendition of Blowing
in the Wind. This, by contrast to the
previous turn, was some way less than perfect. It
seemed to John that George's guitar was not
totally in tune, and his singing did not appear
to fully conform to any western musical scale.
A polite round of applause
followed. George consulted an electronic device
on the table in front of him. At first John had
taken this to be a tuner, but on closer
inspection it simply and enigmatically displayed
the number 1.
Sally, welcome to the club. Could you go
John was greatly relieved.
Not only did this give him the chance to perform
early, and hence get his first song out of the
way, but he was also following a performance that
was less than virtuoso. Georges doubtful
rendering of Bob Dylan indicated that anything
was acceptable at the club, and he could hardly
follow with something worse. Johns anxiety
faded away as he got into his song.
After he had played, John
reflected that his rendition of Ralph
Mctells classic was probably the best he
had ever done of it. He even got the bum note in
the right place that Ralph had fluffed on Spiral
Staircase. Had the great man, himself,
been present, thought John, he could
probably have been coaxed from the brink of
Following the round of
applause, George consulted the electronic gadget,
which now displayed the number 7.
What is that thing?
Its a digital
clapometer, George replied. You
seldom get any feedback on your performance at
folk clubs, he continued.
Everyones too kind. Research has
shown, however, that there are certain
characteristics in the applause which indicate
appreciation, or otherwise. Factors like volume,
duration, how soon applause starts after the end
of the song, and so on. This machine takes all
those factors into account and gives a score out
of 10. Sometimes, someone shouts Yes
after a good performance. It gives extra points
for that. George held the display screen in
front of John. You got 7. Thats
What score do you
usually get? John asked tactfully, aware of
the 1 displayed following George's earlier song.
Between 5 and 9,
John looked puzzled,
wondering how to politely phrase the question of
how George got such high scores if his
performances were typically as unrehearsed as
this evenings Dylan.
about my song tonight, said George, as if
reading his thoughts. If someone new is
here, Sally gets me to do a rubbish performance
before they play, just to give them confidence.
interrupted Sally, cuing the next song.
its a depressing, traditional song,
Janet apologised, before beautifully singing, a
cappella, a tale of a poor nineteen century
In the first verse the
father and his brothers were killed in a mining
disaster. In the second verse everyone else
except the wife starved to death in the Irish
potato famine, and in the final verse she was
drowned when the prison ship transporting her to
Australia for stealing a loaf, sank with the loss
of all on board while rounding "the wild
Cape Horn O".
Weve got to do
something about the lyrics of those songs,
said George to John, after the applause had faded.
Theyve got such beautiful tunes that
people keep singing them, but even the performers
now feel they have to apologise for the
unremitting carnage and misery theyre
What can be done?
resisting any change, replied George,
but others are tweaking or rewriting the
songs to keep the mortality rates down. Some
progressive clubs even ban songs in which ships
The evening continued with
a variety of songs executed with varying degrees
of competence, from amazing to less amazing.
Did Henry and Mary
sing like that to help me feel confident?
John asked George after one duet to rival
Georges earlier contribution.
Sadly not, he
replied. Im afraid they always sound
rather like that. But,' he concluded, 'this is
an English folk club. Everyones welcome