(TW/CW: Abuse of power, nudes, predatory behaviour)
For a long time I have been disappointed in the folk music scene for the portions of underlying prejudices it possesses. Most female musicians I know have been introduced as a ‘pretty young thing’ or ‘bonny lass’ by MCs who go on to introduce male acts as ‘brimming with talent’ and ‘a spectacular musician’ (these are just examples that I have heard first hand). However, I feel it is time to unveil a more sinister element which I have only just been brave enough to acknowledge. Since I came out about my own experiences, I have had the privilege to hear the stories of other women who have been in similarly horrid experiences. But I want to begin with myself.
I have been interested in folk music for as long as I can remember. I was in love with stories and sound from birth so I guess it was a natural progression. I sang alongside talking and danced alongside crawling. I didn’t really get interested in my own musical role until I was 12, when I picked up my dad’s spare guitar and began to badly strum chords writing my own clichéd pop songs about never finding love. I progressed with singing and songwriting and at 14years old began playing the violin. This leads to the first ‘dodge-pot’ I’d like to talk about. At 16, after two years of playing I attended a summer camp to progress my fiddle playing. We had a very enthusiastic and engaging teacher ,who was a very popular world-class folk musician. I cried several times after his classes but that was a lot to do with imposter syndrome and the fact that my father had passed away only one year prior. He was around a decade older than us, which doesn’t mean much among folkies given the relaxed nature of the scene in general. He behaved like the cool substitute teacher all week leading a group of us to add him on a picture messaging app, against the firm instruction we were given at the beginning of the week stating that we should not add our teachers on any social media.
I felt rebellious chit-chatting with him even though we exchanged only pleasantries…to begin with. During my first week of Lower Sixth, (about 2 months after the summer course) I was walking through the school gates in the morning and was nonchalant to receive a message from him. If you don’t have a familiarity with the app, at the time I was using it, you receive a notification and upon pressing the senders name a picture will appear with writing on it. This particular morning, the picture was black but written on it was something along the lines of ~I’m bored. Send nudes?~. My heart began to palpate with shock. Someone who I saw as a friendly, professional, teacher figure had the audacity to message me like this. When I declined he told me it must have been one of his band mates messing around and pranking him. I believed the ‘banterous’ excuse and forgot about it. Until one night, he sent it again and I obliged…several times over a few months.
He was a sleaze and I will never forgive him for abusing the influence he had as a popular musician. My interactions with him only lasted a few months until he got bored and moved on to someone else. During this time I was also talking to another man. I became a fan of his when I was 13 and saw him at a festival as part of a duo. He was older than me but younger than the majority of other musicians you become accustomed to in the folk scene. He was also handsome and his immense skill had me infatuated with him. I spent a lot of my teenage pocket money on his CD’s convincing myself that I played a major role in his career. So when I found him on one social media app and discovered the link to a more private app (the same app used with the previous man) of course I had to add him. I was delighted when he added me back and we struck up conversation, dreaming of a successful age gap relationship (like the one I had seen in my parents. It soon descended into similar antics as the first case I mentioned, but this was worse.
There were weeks when he would ask for nude photos and videos daily and weeks when he would go without messaging at all. I assumed he had a girlfriend (I was right) but I felt had no other way to connect with anyone. I thought he was genuinely interested in me as a potential partner (I was wrong). He would lead with a simple ‘Hi, how are you?’, and I would answer that I’d had a rough day or was missing my dad then would finish with ‘how about you?’. He would reply that he was lonely and would, message by message, migrate the angle of the pictures down to his aroused genitalia. If I stopped replying or stopped showing my own naked body, he would either send a blacked out picture with a sad face on top or ignore me for days. I’m ashamed to say that this all went on from me being 15 to me being 19. How do I know? Because I distinctly remember sending him a ‘Happy Birthday’ message in front of my friends while we gladly gossiped about this older guy I was ‘seeing’. We were in a GCSE textiles class. I didn’t turn 16 until midway through my GCSE exams. At one point he even asked me ‘is it wrong that I find it sexier because it’s illegal?’. These are only 2 of many incidents I was victim to and there is significant overlap with other young female’s experiences too (some of which were with the same men).
I was vulnerable, lonely and hyper-sexual. Hyper-sexual meaning that I was depressed to the point of thinking my only worth and sole solution to loneliness was becoming sexual in my interactions with others, particularly men. It was obvious I was vulnerable to anyone around me. I posted publicly and regularly, on the same app I used to message both men, pictures of me crying with captions of ‘I don’t know how to go on anymore’ and ‘I don’t matter’. I didn’t know it at the time but my hyper-sexual behaviour was the early presentation of Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, both of which I neglected until I turned 18 and moved away. It peaked in February 2019 and I finally decided to get help. I had consented to all of the aforementioned interactions but that doesn’t mean these men were right to act like they did. It was overlooked because the relaxed nature of the folk music scene, which is one of the most enjoyable features of the scene, extended too far. There needs to be a closer eye kept on interactions between adult musician and child/young-adult interactions. Band members, duo partners, those who organise teaching and everyone else must be more observant to stop this kind of behaviour.
It’s strange but I think the thing that upsets me most is that neither ever had any interest in my music. I had released an EP and many singles throughout this time which neither of them have ever listened to. I am truly gutted that COVID-19 has affected the music scene in the way it has but I cannot ignore the fear I have of the music scene now. I get palpitations every time a male musician messages me, terrified that he’ll want more than friendship. I sit in the cross-section of amateur, academic and professional musician and I’m not sure I’d ever want to progress any further. I don’t anticipate many bookings in the future ,as I’m both subconsciously and consciously trying to retreat from an environment that left me so damaged and heartbroken, but if I did get booked anywhere I’d be watching over the younger me’s unrelentingly. If I see one more older musician asking for the social media details of a younger musician who is under or barely of consenting age, regardless of the intentions, I will be nipping it in the bud and I encourage you all to do the same. For a long time it was my dream to play Fairport’s Cropredy Convention but now my only dream is to see a change in the scene making it safer and more supportive of young women.