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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 10:50 GMT
Howells 'regrets' comments on folk
Kim Howells
Kim Howells: "A great champion of live music"
Junior culture minister Kim Howells has written of his "regret" over remarks he made about folk music.

During a parliamentary debate in early December the minister described listening to folk singers as his idea of hell.

Now Dr Howells, who is Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has written a letter to a number of musicians who complained about the remarks.

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

Kim Howells MP

The letter says that Dr Howells "regrets any offence his remarks may have caused".

"They were intended merely as a light-hearted observation during typically boisterous exchanges in the Commons," it goes on.

'Urban boy'

"I have always been a great champion of live music, and I am determined to help in whatever way he can to ensure that proper venues for music are in place," the letter concludes.

Dr Howells made the comments during 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 in the debate.

Dr Howells' comments angered musicians.

"If it's a joke it's not a very funny one," said Ian Smith, organiser of the Musicians' 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."

Somerset folk music was not just about "men in jumpers in the local pub", Mr Smith said, but had a distinguished history.

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."

At the time the DCMS dismissed Dr Howells's comments as "throwaway remarks", and declined to 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.

See also:

05 Dec 01 | Music
Folk fans furious at minister
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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