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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 16:40 GMT
Folk fans furious at minister
Kim Howells:
Kim Howells: "Did not mean to cause any offence"
Folk musicians have called on a government minister to apologise after he described listening to folk singers as his idea of hell.

Junior culture minister Kim Howells's remarks during a parliamentary debate have angered some folk fans who accuse him of insulting traditional English culture.

The idea of listening to three Somerset folk singers sounds like hell

Kim Howells MP
Mr Howells was taking part in a House of Commons debate on the number of musicians permitted to play together on licensed premises, which is currently restricted to two.

"For a simple urban boy such as me, the idea of listening to three Somerset folk singers sounds like hell," he said.

Liberal Democrat MP David Heath had asked what the difference would be between Michael Jackson teaming up with Madonna down the local pub and a group of Somerset folk singers performing.

"If it's a joke it's not a very funny one," said Ian Smith, organiser of the Musician's Union's new folk, roots and traditional music section.

'Very angry'

"For the minister responsible for culture to make an off-the-cuff statement like that shows that he does not have the first idea of the wide variety of music we have in the UK.

"This kind of remark makes me very angry and it deserves the kind of reaction it will get."

He is talking about the roots of English music - the least we would expect is a formal apology

Tim Walker
English Folk, Dance and Song Society
Somerset folk music was not just about "men in jumpers in the local pub", Mr Smith said - but it had a distinguished history stretching back to the early 1900s.

Tim Walker, chief executive of the English Folk, Dance and Song Society, described Mr Howells's remarks as "totally outrageous".

"For somebody like Kim Howells to make derogatory remarks about traditional English culture is out of order," he said.

'Throwaway remarks'

"He is talking about the roots of English music. The least we would expect is a formal apology."

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport dismissed Mr Howells's comments as "throwaway remarks", but did not say whether a formal apology would be made.

"Mr Howells is a music fan and he did not mean to cause any offence," a spokeswoman said.

Earlier this year, Mr Howells was lambasted for describing all members of the royal family as "a bit bonkers" and saying he prefers guest houses in Berlin to UK hotels at the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

See also:

06 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Folk heroine Waterson is a winner
12 Dec 00 | Education
Folk music degree launched
08 Apr 01 | Wales
Royals are 'bonkers' says MP
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