Radio 2 Folk Awards, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews
Radio 2 Folk Awards, Royal Albert Hall
Radio 2 Folk Awards, Royal Albert Hall
A grand celebration of the folk music continuum
One thing was very clear at Wednesday night’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, held at the Royal Albert Hall – at the moment at least, Scotland has something of a monopoly when it comes to folk music talent. While Desert Island Discs suggests the current First Minister’s tastes are rather more commercial than those of her predecessor in the post, if push comes to shove, maybe folk music will be a bargaining chip in the discussions over independence.
That’s not to say there wasn’t talent also from south of the border, or from across the Irish Sea (Daoirí Farrell picked up two baubles), or from America (Ry Cooder, pictured below, received an award for Lifetime Achievement), or indeed Africa (the thunderous and exhilarating sound of Afro Celt Sound System opened the evening). Just that the Scottish talent on show was prodigious.
Folk royalty, including Martin Carthy, Tom Paley and Sam Lee, was in the audience for these, the 18th Folk Awards, presented by Mark Radcliffe, the voice behind the Radio 2 Folk Show, and Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis. It was a very special evening: music played and sung from the heart by musicians from across the age spectrum; musicians for whom folk music is their life, a calling followed with passion and commitment, come what may, singing songs whose lyrics may tell age-old myths or contemporary truths.
And, importantly, they tell also of the folk music continuum. Ry Cooder, who had flown in specially from Santa Monica, recalled how, growing up in 1960s West Hollywood, he’d seen the New Lost City Ramblers – “vests, bow ties, sad faces” – on TV and been struck by their sound. So he sought out Paley, from whom he learned banjo and guitar, discovering the excitement of open tunings. The song he chose to sing was “Jesus on the Mainline”, collected in Mississippi by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins (pictured below). Cooder bade the audience applaud the 89-year-old Paley – who has long lived in North London – enjoying his moment in the spotlight. He had been preceded on stage by Collins, who last year marked her own eightieth year with a new album, Lodestar, nominated for Best Album.
Paley had also known Woody Guthrie, inducted into the Hall of Fame in this the fiftieth anniversary year of his death from Huntingdon’s Chorea, a brutal disease which had silenced him years earlier. Naturally, it was Billy Bragg who stepped up to accept the honour, and his speech set Guthrie in his musical and social context as “arguably the first punk rocker” and “the father of the topical song tradition”. Only last year a Guthrie song came to light protesting about the rapacious conduct of one Fred Trump, the Donald’s late father and for a time Woody’s landlord. Bragg, punk turned folkie, chosen by Nora Guthrie to comb through her father’s archives and to set to music his unrecorded lyrics, sang “I Aint Got No Home (In This World Anymore)”.
It was impossible to remain unmoved, just as it was by two songs from the Ballads of Child Migration, commissioned by the V&A Museum of Childhood to commemorate the 100,000 children who, between 1869 and 1970, were forcibly dispatched to Australia and Canada, their “small cases full of big dreams”. As with Guthrie, the link to the present was heartbreakingly clear and the songs, with narration, were exquisitely performed by children from Queensbridge School Chamber Choir from Hackney, East London, with musicians including Kris Drever (Folk Singer of the Year), Jez Lowe, Heidi Tidow and Barbara Dickson.Almost every moment seemed a highlight: Daoirí Farrell singing “Van Diemen’s Land”. Fara, four childhood friends from Orkney – three fiddlers and a keyboard player – with “Three Fishers”, written in 1851 by Charles Kingsley way down in Clovelly, Cornwall. Shirley Collins (below), her evocative voice silenced for so many years, in similar territory, with the poignant “Washed Ashore”…
It was a wonderful evening which threw up several items of trivia: Tony Blackburn, presenting Al Stewart with his Lifetime Achievement Award, revealed that the two men had briefly played in a band together, the Swinging Bells. Pauline Black, who emerged from the ‘80s ska scene, recalled growing up with Furies’ music and playing her first professional gig supporting Bert Jansch. Mark Kermode was hooked on skiffle and still plays upright bass in a rockabilly group called the Dodge Brothers.
As the saying goes, “the music goes round and round”.
- Highlights of the Radio 2 Folk Awards are on BBC Four on Sunday 9 April at 10pm
- Listen to the entire concert on the BBC iPlayer
The full list of winners
FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR presented by Sharleen Spiteri
BEST DUO presented by Peter Lord of Aardman Animations
Ross Ainslie & Ali Hutton
BEST GROUP presented by Sir Ray Davies
The Furrow Collective
BEST ALBUM presented by Mark Kermode
Songs of Separation – Songs of Separation
HORIZON AWARD presented by Rachel and Becky Unthank (of The Unthanks)
MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR presented by Gus Unger-Hamilton from Alt-J
BEST ORIGINAL TRACK presented by Susie Dent
If Wishes Were Horses by Kris Drever
BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK presented by Pauline Black of The Selecter
Van Diemen’s Land by Daoirí Farrell
BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD presented by Simon Nicol of Fairport Convention
Josie Duncan & Pablo Lafuente
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD presented by Tony Blackburn
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD presented by Nick Lowe
HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
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