Howells Hasn't Got a Clue, Say Folk Singers; POLITICS: Culture Minister Condemned over 'Out-of-Date Cliche Image'

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CULTURE Minister Kim Howells might have thought his comment about Somerset folk singers was fairly innocuous but he has single-handedly alienated the whole folk industry.

It's been a long time since Cecil Sharp and AL Lloyd sat with a hand over one ear in reverent rooms singing ballads and shanties to bearded blokes in Arran jumpers.

Everyone agreed that Mr Howells should get out more.

"It is quite funny, but it's infuriating, " said Kate Ronconi-Woollard, fiddle player and vocalist with the Swansea band Rag Foundation, whose lead singer Neil Woollard has been described as the Elvis of modern traditional music.

"I don't know what he would think if he saw Neil with his tattoos and his eyebrow ring - that might knock him down the stairs. But it's so frustrating when we in the modern folk scene try so hard to throw off this image of jumpers and tankards and all that and in one fell swoop someone like that can put a spoke in it.

"He should come along and check us out and some of the other groups in Wales - we can be quite cool."

Andy Jones, lead singer and rhythm guitarist with Boys from the Hill, the group from Swansea's notorious Townhill estate, also found it funny but sad.

"When I heard him say that I thought of all the bands I know that would rock him off the stage, " he said. "He obviously hasn't got a clue about modern folk music and was just making a joke about an out-of-date cliche image."

Andy Jones was more concerned about the issue that prompted the remark - that it is illegal for more than two musicians to play together in a pub that does not hold an entertainments licence. That means that his three-piece band cannot legally play together - even for nothing - in most pubs.

"It's a ridiculous and pointless law and they should change it as soon as possible, " he said.

Julie Murphy, Wales's top traditional female singer, who fronts the band Fernhill, said Mr Howells's remarks showed him to be an idiot.

"I think this kind of thing is one reason why Wales has such a bad image abroad, " she said.

"Our politicians just aren't up to the job. To attack any genre of music is unacceptable because music across the board is a huge export industry for this country and that includes folk music. …