BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 Winners Announced

The winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 have been announced in a ceremony broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Now in their 18th year, the Awards are a key highlight of the folk music calendar and serve to raise the profile of folk music. Talent, new and old, received accolades including Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year, Young Folk Award and more. Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to Ry Cooder and Al Stewart.

American roots-rock musician and songwriter, Ry Cooder, took to the stage for a rare UK performance, singing Jesus On The Mainline. A career-long champion of folk music, he is renowned for his inspired slide guitar playing, and through his own work and collaborations with others, from The Rolling Stones to The Chieftains and Buena Vista Social Club.

British singer-songwriter Al Stewart also took to the stage for a performance of his 1977 song, On The Border. Al started his career on the 1960s London folk scene, and has worked alongside Bert Jansch, Jimmy Page, John Renbourn, Rick Wakeman, Tori Amos, Roy Harper and many more. Appearing at the first Glastonbury Festival in 1970, he became known for his brand of folk-rock, which he combined with tales of characters and events from history. He’s best known for his 1970s hits Year of the Cat and Time Passages.

Tony Blackburn presented Al Stewart with his award and regaled the audience with his own personal story of Al. He explained that in the early 1960s, he had in fact been the lead guitarist in Tony’s own group, ‘Tony Blackburn and the Swinging Bells’.

Tony said: “We used to practice at my parents’ house and, as good as he was, he always played his electric guitar far too loud as it always drowned out my vocals… The fact I’m here tonight will do Al’s credibility a lot of damage but I don’t care as I’ve enjoyed playing ‘Year of the Cat’ very much over the years and I haven’t seen him in a long time. It really is an honour to present this Lifetime Achievement Award to such a talented musician.”

The evening opened with a rousing performance by Afro Celt Sound System. And across the night there were spectacular performances from Shirley Collins MBE (performing Washed Ashore), Daoirí Farrell (Van Diemen’s Land), Jim Moray (Fair Margaret And Sweet William), Billy Bragg (I Ain’t Got No Home), and Fara (Three Fishers).

There was a powerful and moving performance taken from the Ballads of Child Migration, which tells the story of the enforced migration of over 100,000 children to Australia and Canada between 1863 and 1970. The specially-curated performance was narrated by Barbara Dickson with original songs performed by Kris Drever, Jez Lowe, While & Matthews, Boo Hewerdine, O’Hooley & Tidow, John McCusker, Andy Cutting and Michael McGoldrick.

Folk icon Woody Guthrie was inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame, to celebrate his lasting influence. Billy Bragg performed a special tribute with a rendition of Guthrie’s I Ain’t Got No Home. The celebration marked 50 years since Guthrie’s death in 1967, aged 55. The musician wrote some of the most enduring standards in the genre with his life and work dedicated to supporting and documenting the rights of workers and the downtrodden. His songs have been covered by countless singers from Bruce Springsteen to Lady Gaga and he was a mentor to a young Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2 said: “Huge congratulations to all the winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 – the calibre of all the nominees was outstanding. This annual event is a wonderful celebration of the vibrant folk music scene and tonight’s show was spectacular, featuring some of folk’s most long standing, biggest and newest stars which Radio 2 is committed to supporting throughout the year.”

The Folk Awards will be broadcast on BBC Four on Sunday 9 April at 10pm as an hour-long highlights programme which will include all the performances.

Alternatively, click on any of the links below to see the individual performances:










The full list of winners:

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR presented by Sharleen Spiteri
Kris Drever

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)
Daoirí Farrell

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR presented by Gus Unger-Hamilton from Alt-J
Rachel Newton

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
Al Stewart

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD presented by Nick Lowe
Ry Cooder

HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Woody Guthrie

Building up to the Awards, Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 Drivetime programme was broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall. In the show, Simon counted down the Top 10 Most Played Folk Songs on Radio 2. Compiled by PPL, the Number 1 track was Yusuf/Cat Stevens’ Wild World – released in 1970, which featured on his fourth album, Tea for the Tillerman. It wasn’t released as a single in the UK, but reached No 11 on the US Billboard chart. Jimmy Cliff released his recording of Wild World in 1970 – produced by Cat Stevens – reaching No 8 in the UK; with Maxi Priest hitting No 5 with his version in 1988. Cat was presented with the Lifetime Achievement honours at the Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2015. Number 2 of the Top 10 Most Played Folk Songs on Radio 2 was Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal; at No 3 was Bellowhead’s Roll the Woodpile Down; at No 4 was Meet Me On The Corner by Lindisfarne; No 5 was Underneath The Stars by Kate Rusby; at No 6 was River Man by Nick Drake; No 7 was Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys; No 8 was Thea Gilmore & Sandy Denny’s London; at No 9 was Streets of London by Ralph McTell and at No 10 was Roll Away Your Stone by Mumford and Sons.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens said: “I’m surprised that we actually pipped to the post all these great folk singers and that it’s still being played. That makes me feel very satisfied and it shows that the song and the meaning is still relevant. Of course it is relevant because wild world is exactly what it is and exactly what we’re living in right now and it’s getting wilder perhaps.”

Q&A. Dai Jeffries talks to Emily Smith

Emily Smith’s fifth solo album, Echoes, will be released on 24th February followed by a spring tour. While we wait, what else has been going on?

It’s pretty much all about the new album. To start off we have three dates at Celtic Connections and because they are before the album is officially released we’ll be launching an EP with two tracks from the album and two even newer tracks that people can’t get anywhere else. We recorded that at the end of December but I have an eight month old baby boy and he’s taking up most of my time!

The new record is more traditional than Traiveller’s Joy which featured your own song-writing. What prompted that move, if move it is?

We started recording this album in November and December 2012 so it’s been a long time and I just had lots of traditional songs that kept popping into my head – songs that I’d forgotten about – and I was thinking ‘I want to do something with that’. I seemed that my heart was leaning towards making a more traditional album. Traiveller’s Joy and the two before that were a 50:50 split of traditional and newly-written songs – my songs or other people’s songs. I’d written a few songs but I’ve never written every week or every day or every month – if I feel like writing a song it comes and I move on. But when I was starting to think about Echoes I had lots of traditional songs coming to the surface but I didn’t want to follow the stereotypical template in terms of instruments and arrangements. I still wanted to do something new and fresh.

Indeed. The record has a very rich sound produced by relatively few, albeit very talented, musicians. Is that down to the production, the arrangements, the playing?

I think it’s all of those. Jamie [McClennan] and I always start together. I choose the songs and have a rough idea of where we want to go and we’ll work on it a bit and gradually bring in other people. The first person to be brought in on this album was Matheu Watson, who mainly plays guitar but also fiddle and whistle. We took a lot more time to rehearse this album before we went into the studio so we rehearsed a lot with Matheu and also Signy Jakobsdottir, who we’ve worked with for several years, and the bass player Ross Hamilton.

So that’s the core band and we spent a fair bit of time playing together, going through the songs and recording live together as much as we could. In previous years we’ve had to layer things. There is still a bit of that and obviously the folks who have recorded over in the States were added on but the groundwork was done altogether.

Does working through the material before recording make a significant difference?

I think it does. The first album I made was done with a band I’d gigged with quite a lot and that came together quite quickly. You take time to settle into it and it gave time to change things. If you book someone to come in and record on a particular day and then go away that’s the part they’ve laid down. If you’ve played together you’ve got the time to change and adapt and the songs really did change. At the start I was thinking that it was going to be a more stripped-back album – I love the way it’s turned out but it’s so funny to think back to how I thought it was going to be.

There are non-Scottish instruments, like lap steel, on the album but they don’t detract from the essential Scottish feel.

That’s something I really wanted to hold on to. I do listen to a lot of American music and I’m influenced by a lot of American artists and the bluegrass scene – the Transatlantic Sessions guys; Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien and Aoife O’Donovan, who sings on the album – she’s one of my favourite singers – but I certainly didn’t want to make an album that sounded American. I wanted it to be a Scottish album with its own sound.

There is a kinship between Scottish music and some of the music of the Americas, simply because the Scots took their music with them, isn’t there?

Definitely. That’s really apparent in the songs that Aoife used to sing in Crooked Still. I could hear the Scottish versions in them. There’s a strong thread and it’s nice to be able to collaborate and we’re living in an age where you don’t even have to be on the same continent to be able to perform together.

Of the three covers on the album, Archie Fisher’s ‘The Final Trawl’ seems a natural choice but how did you come across Darrell Scott’s song, ‘The Open Door’?

It’s on an album of his called The Crooked Road and we bought that the year it came out. Jamie and I have always been big Darrell Scott fans. We came across him because we knew of Tim O’Brien and they did a duo album. After that Darrell was playing in Glasgow – that must be about seven years ago – we went to see him and were totally blown away by his voice and his songs.

And ‘John O’ Dreams’?

It wasn’t Bill’s version I heard first. It was a young Irish singer called Daoirí Farrell. It was on an album he put out a couple of years ago and it just reached out and touched me – I thought it was a really beautiful song. Then you go on to find other versions. When I come across a song I like to learn it and then go and listen to other people singing it, once I’ve made my own version. Then I don’t feel like I’ve been influenced in the way I sing it.

The covers seem to fit in with the other songs that I was choosing. Jamie and I have been gigging ‘The Open Door’ for a good few years and likewise ‘John O’ Dreams’.

Who will be with you on the tour?

The bulk of the tour will be myself, Jamie and Matheu playing as a trio with the exception of the Queen’s Hall date in Edinburgh and the London show at Cecil Sharp House where we’ll also have Signy and Ross – percussion and bass. At Celtic Connections, the first gig on 28th January will also have Jerry Douglas and Aoife O’Donovan and another backing vocalist, Rory Butler.

Emily’s tour opens in Inverness on March 6th. For more details visit http://emilysmith.org/

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Artist’s website: www.emilysmith.org