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Exclusive interview with Matthew Bannister from Folk on Foot

Folk On Foot


Exclusive interview with Matthew Bannister from Folk on Foot

Since 2018, Folk on Foot has set itself apart with it’s mix of conversation, music and on-location ambience. Host Matthew Bannister goes walking with a leading folk musician in a landscape that has inspired them. In between their conversation, the musicians sing and play exclusive acoustic songs out in nature – the episodes are dotted with birds in bushes, water under bridges and on shorelines, and more.

The podcast now has over 150 episodes – or mini-gigs – in its back-catalogue. The unique sound of the show has won it awards such as the Lovie ‘Best Arts and Entertainment Podcast’, the ‘Best Lockdown podcast’ at the British Podcast Awards, and ‘Best Music Producer’ at the 2019 Audio Production Awards. We caught up with Matthew to learn more about how this winning combination came together.

POD BIBLE: I’m interested to know, when you started the podcast, how did you explain the idea to potential guests? Did it take a while to convince them to strike up a tune on a walk?

MATTHEW: The first musicians we approached were really up for the idea of recording in the great outdoors. I think folk artists instinctively understand the close relationship between their music and the places that inspired it. Many of them love and write about the natural world. So, it wasn’t difficult to persuade them to sign up. Of course then we faced all sorts of logistical challenges, with the wind and weather making it especially hard to record sometimes. It’s such a credit to our amazing producers that the sound quality of our episodes is always brilliant (One of them, Natalie Steed, won the gold award for Best Music Producer at the Audio Production Awards). And musicians quickly learned that they can trust us to make their singing and playing sound great – even on top of a breezy cliff or with the crashing waves and cries of sea birds behind them.

The podcast does a great job of sharing new artists, as well as big names from the folk scene. Do you think that the podcast has also helped introduce people to the folk music genre?

Folk on Foot listeners often tell us that they’ve discovered new artists through listening to our episodes. People usually start by listening to a musician they already love, but then go on a journey through our back catalogue, finding new inspiration as they go. During lockdown we staged four online festivals which raised an amazing £327,000 to support musicians who had lost their livelihoods as gigs and tours were cancelled. These events lasted for over seven hours each and we had line ups mixing established and emerging artists. All of them saw big increases in social media engagement as well as CD and merch sales after taking part. And the Official Folk Albums Chart Show from Folk on Foot which counts down the 40 best-selling and most streamed folk albums each month is a great way to discover new music.

Robert Macfarlane and Johnny Flynn at Wandlebury

Robert Macfarlane and Johnny Flynn at Wandlebury

And now the podcast is the official home of the Official Folk Albums Chart Show – how did that come about?

The Official Folk Albums Chart was commissioned by our friends at English Folk Expo, which is a not for profit organisation dedicated to raising the profile of folk music and artists. When I heard about it back in 2020, I thought it was a great idea and needed a show to bring the chart to life. So we launched the show which comes out on our podcast and on our YouTube channel on the first Tuesday of each calendar month. We’ve just celebrated the first anniversary of the chart with a Chart of the Year Show live streamed from Cecil Sharp House in London featuring live performances from some of the artists who made the chart in 2021, including the folk super group Spell Songs, Spiers and Boden, the Longest Johns sea shanty singers, the young singer/songwriter Katherine Priddy and the extraordinary guitarist Gwenifer Raymond. In the first year 113 of the 121 albums that made the chart were on independent or self-released labels, so it’s a place where you don’t need a major label deal to get noticed.

Why podcasting? What is it about the format that appeals to you?

I’ve worked in radio for over forty years and so seen a lot of change. But the arrival of podcasting is one of the most exciting developments. It makes the medium much more democratic – anyone can put out a podcast and see if they can attract an audience, no need to wait for a broadcaster to commission you. And unlike scheduled radio, there’s no rule about how long a podcast episode should be – we make our episodes the right length for the material, so they can be 43 minutes long or 55 minutes long or sometimes even over an hour (when Richard Thompson agrees to play six songs on the streets of London, you can hardly cut him short, can you?). You can also listen whenever and wherever you want – lots of Folk on Foot listeners put in their headphones and go for a walk themselves while listening to our journeys on foot. And the greatest thing about podcasting for me is that it is bringing big, new (and often younger) audiences to the magic of audio.

Which episode of your podcast means the most to you?

That’s like asking a parent to choose between their children. All the episodes are really special to me. I always have an amazing time listening to a private concert for one in spectacular landscapes and talking to fascinating people, so it’s hard to pick out a favourite. But perhaps one of the most memorable was walking four miles across the moors to Sandwood Bay on the very northern tip of Scotland with the fiddle player Duncan Chisholm who had been inspired by the white sand beach, rolling waves and craggy landscape to write a whole album of instrumental music. To stand alone on the beach and hear him play as the wind whistled around us was extraordinary.

Folk On Foot

Duncan Chishom and Matthew Bannister at Sandwood Bay

Who’s your dream guest for the podcast?

I have a long list of people I’d love to walk with in the future, but already some of my dreams have come true. When I started Folk on Foot the first list of artists had the Scottish singer, songwriter and storyteller Karine Polwart on it. She took me walking on Fala Moor near her home in Midlothian where the pink footed geese go to over winter. I also wanted to go into a Sussex wood in the middle of the night to record the Mercury Music Prize nominated singer Sam Lee performing a duet with a nightingale. And that amazing experience came true. Pretty high up the list was my hero, the guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson, so when he agreed to go back to his old school in North London with me, then play outside the house in Muswell Hill that gave his band Fairport Convention its name and sing my favourite song of his “Beeswing” in Highgate Woods, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Finally, what is your current favourite podcast you would recommend to readers?

I can’t get enough of Fortunately with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey. They’re so quick witted and spark off each other so brilliantly and they’re very naughty too. I had the pleasure of being a guest on the show and it was exhausting – but great fun – trying to keep up with them.

Folk on Foot

Listen to Folk on Foot on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Acast or your podcast player.

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