"It’s nice to be nice", a thoroughly British call for mutual respect, is the motto of TalkAwhile, the acoustic music forum. This friendly online discussion board was originally brought together to discuss Fairport Convention and Fairport’s annual Cropredy Festival but nowadays it’s much expanded to take in other artists and the festival scene as a whole. Steeleye Span, Ralph McTell and Pentangle get sections of their own, along with Fairport. But, with over 3,000 members, discussions roam widely across music and popular culture in general. Few things are off-limits, except personal abuse.
Visitors can read all the threads, but to post you need to register. Easily done – and well worth doing – although with the site hit by up to thirty spammers "and other low life" each day, the moderators have needed to put sensible precautions in place.
Here I’ve met some seriously well-informed people – music fans and practitioners, united by a passion. The new joiner (or "newbie") who starts a thread about Fairport’s work in 1967 may be surprised to find past or present members of the band chipping into the discussion. Past threads are archived and searchable once you’ve joined and logged on, so that the whole Forum doubles up as a sizeable database of knowledge.
Although the Forum is international, I detect a vein of very British humour running through it. Irony abounds (albeit flagged up with emoticons); old hands demonstrate The Importance of Not Being Earnest (well, not too earnest). Some threads have made me laugh out loud: a discussion of "gay folk" brought out the comedians while, I think, making clear that homophobes were not welcome. (Yes, "The Imagined Village People" really is a great name for a band..!)
There are other features. "YouTube Clips of Interest" is an early-warning system for must-see videos. Rest assured, if lost treasure ever turns up on film, someone from TalkAwhile will be first on the case. "Musician Talk" is a place for practising musos to swap tips about amps and tablature and guitar tunings. Other sections allow members to publicise upcoming gigs and album releases. The "Hancocks", named after one of the Board’s founding fathers, is an alternative to the BBC Folk Awards, taking in such categories as "All Round Good Egg Folkie". At intervals, noted musicians guest on the Forum for a month, answering questions from members online. Recent guests have included Dave Swarbrick and Kevin Dempsey.
And the sense of community is palpable. Some lovelorn swain who’d met a girl at Cropredy but failed to get her phone number started a "lonely hearts" thread. The communal search for "Emma from Brighton" went on for weeks. I wonder if Emma ever knew all these nice people were looking for her?
First published in R2 (Rock’n’Reel)