Sunday, 3 December 2006

FolkCast - a brief history

I think it was in October 2005 that I first heard about podcasting, and was immediately thrilled by the prospect. "What? You can have your own radio show, and people all around the world can tune in? WOW!" I wasn't the remotest bit interested in doing what a lot of people were doing - a podcast in which their own personal thoughts about their life and the world were spewed out on to the Internet. No, if I was going to do a show it had to be about something, it had to be unique and it had to be worth listening to. What the show should be about was the easy bit. I'd been listening to, talking about and writing about folk music for years. I'd like access to more music than was being broadcast by the BBC (both nationally and locally), but it wasn't available - at least, not in a user-friendly format. There are ways round it, but both radio and streaming net stations ask that you sit down and listen when they want you to. But that was no use to me. Like most people, I'm busy, and my schedule and the broadcasters' schedules rarely coincided. But what if there was a show that I could grab off the net and play when and where I wanted? Fantastic! So I looked for such a thing, covering the music I was most interested in. Guess what? There wasn't one... And from that, FolkCast was born. Of course, there were several problems to overcome. Other than a computer (an Apple Mac G4 Quicksilver, tech fans!) I didn't have any kit. Also, I didn't have any music. What I did have was the ability to write and speak. I also had some good contacts in the UK folk world. What I needed was help - and I knew just the man for the job! I'd known Ken Nicol ever since, as a young local newspaper reporter, I went along to his home to interview him. He was living in Preston with his lovely Mum at the time, as he'd just moved back to Britain from the States, and as he'd played with the like of Al Stewart and was doing interesting things on the local music scene (which was my beat at the time) he made "good copy". And we got along. Over the years we became casual friends - Ken would ring me up with news of his latest projects, and I'd contact him for comments on other muso-connected items. When Ken joined The Albion Band his career entered a whole new phase, and I remember being pleased and impressed when, visiting his home for one reason or another (he'd by then moved out of the parental nest once again), I found Ashley Hutchings there, recording bits and pieces for the Albions' latest album in Ken's studio. And I'm enough of a fanboy to have got a buzz out of giving Ashley a lift to the railway station after he and Ken were done. So there I was, several years later, with the idea of a folk podcast and thinking "who do I know who has recording facilities and great connections in the music world.....?". The answer was obvious. Once I'd explained the concept and technicalities of podcasting to him, Ken could see the potential straight away and loved the idea. We figured out where to get music that we could play without having to pay for copyright clearance, we figured out ways of interviewing musicians remotely, via Skype - and we've almost figured out how to record such interviews properly, too! So, 12 months ago we set ourselves a deadline of the first Saturday in January, recorded the first FolkCast and prepared to release it on what we hoped would be a waiting world. Amazingly, it worked. The show started to be downloaded. We got subscribers from far and wide. As month followed month, we attracted more and more FolkCasters. Musicians willingly talked to us about their music, and we started to build up a catalogue of interviewees drawn from the biggest names on the UK folk scene. From a little studio in Preston we were reaching out around the world! Now we've got 12 shows under our belts. It has been a steep learning experience, wrestling with production techniques and technology. But it's getting a little easier now. An ever increasing number of people are finding out about podcasting - something that's still very new and exciting - and finding FolkCast. Other folk podcast have come ... and, largely, gone. We were the first in our particular niche, and we're still the best (if I do say so myself). From that first show we've developed. For instance, I was lucky enough to meet Mic-Master Merrick, who reckoned he'd be able to track down the elusive, possible-imaginary Babba to get his wise words on folk traditions. That sounded like a plan ... and it worked! And the reaction from our listeners all around the world have made all the time and, yes, money that Ken and I have invested into FolkCast worth it. Your encouraging comments have been an inspiration and added to the shows, because we don't want FolkCast to be a one-way broadcast, we want it to be a conversation between everyone who hears it. Building the FolkCast community through email and the Frappr map, and now this blog, is all important. And now FolkCast enters its second year. We have exciting plans for future shows and for further developing the podcast and the community. We'd like you, the listener, to be a part of it. But don't worry - people like the show as it is, and that's not going to change much. It'll still just be two blokes blathering on and playing some great music. Phil Widdows FolkCast

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