Joe Boyd’s A-Z podcasts are back after a fortnight’s hiatus with “T”.

Joe Boyd's A-Z podcasts are back after a fortnight’s hiatus with “T”.

As a teenager, I was horrified by the idea of white blues singers, but modified that view when I heard my friend Geoff Muldaur successfully channelling Lonnie Johnson on a Boston coffee-house stage. I was also put off by middle-class singer-songwriters until I was bowled over by Bob Dylan in a tiny room at a Cambridge, MA party in 1963. These prejudices never evaporated entirely; for every Nick Drake or Joni Mitchell, there seem to be thousands of well-bred strummers whose cds I recycle to Oxfam. And don’t get me started on the Stevie Ray Vaughn and Johnny Winter cults! But I digress from the subject at hand…

When I arrived in London in 1964, I had already developed, then lost or modified a number of such prejudices. Before setting out for London, I had a very bad attitude about English folk music. (I know, some of you, my dear English readers, still have a bad attitude about your own folk music; if so, perhaps you’d better skip this newsletter and wait for the next one…) I have written elsewhere about having these views confounded by an encounter with the Ian Campbell Group and Dave Swarbrick, and then by Norma and the rest of the Watersons. (White Bicycles,Ch. 7). But when I went to the famous “Singers Club” in Farringdon, there was Ewan MacColl singing shanties with a finger in one ear, conforming to the humourless stereotype prevalent across The Pond. MacColl had notoriously barred Bob Dylan from singing at the club; only songs from whence you came were allowed! His rigid, snotty attitude was just as advertised and I never went back to The Singers’ Club.

Around the same time, producer Bill Leader took me to small basement flat just down the road from MacColl’s club to meet a man from the opposite end of the class and stylistic spectrum of British songwriters. Sydney Carter was eccentric, middle-class, donnish, kind, off-hand and idealistic (He had worked in an ambulance corps in WW2 rather than fight…). He wrote poetry and taught a bit, but his primary source of income seemed to be fees and royalties from writing songs with Donald Swann of the Flanders and Swann comic duo. (Economic guru Stephanie Flanders is the daughter of the other half of that team.) I was entranced by his odd, off-hand songs. When I returned to London a year and a half later to open the Elektra Records office, I took Sydney into the studio to make an EP “The Lord of the Dance”. The title song was to become his most famous, gleefully sung by happy-clappy liberal Christians the world over. But don’t hold that against him! Like Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”, which became a red-neck anthem despite the ironic lyrics, “Lord” is a secular sceptic’s attempt to portray Christ as the very human founder of a cult of joy and ecstasy (which is pretty close to how it actually was until killjoys like St Paul got ahold of it). I think my EP was the first recording of “Lord”, but I wish the God-botherers had been quicker off the mark with the title song; the EP might have sold better and not been a black mark against my track record with the Elektra bosses back in New York. (If anyone has a copy and wants to sell it or make me a digital version, I would be very grateful; it’s the only one of my productions not in my collection.)

A series of concerts last year took me back to Year Zero of my exposure to the London folk scene. In April, there was a tribute to Carter (who died in 2004) in a small, medieval theatre adjoining the Porter’s Lodge at Balliol College, Oxford. One driving force behind this event was Martin Carthy, a longtime supporter who accompanied Sydney on that 1966 Elektra EP (and who shared my dislike of MacColl). Martin led a great group of singers in the canon of Carter songs, including my personal favourite “Taking Out the Dustbin in the Gray’s Inn Road” as well as his anti-war song, “Crow on the Cradle”, for years a staple at Jackson Browne concerts.

The other instigator was Stephen Sedley, whom I met in my first years in London. He grew up a folksong buff; his lawyer father represented many folksingers as well as Topic Records. Sedley now teaches law at Oxford, having retired from the bench after a heroic career championing human rights as a Lord Justice of Appeal, a member of the European Court of Human Rights and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. (After I introduced a girlfriend to him at a Human Rights Lecture, she told me it was far more impressive and thrilling than the time I introduced her to Mick Jagger.)

Earlier last year, I impulsively purchased a train ticket to Glasgow to hear some of my favourite singers pay tribute to one of my least favourite songwriters. Celtic Connections had brought together Norma Waterson, Chaim Tannenbaum, Martin Carthy (who knows a good song when he hears it, regardless of who wrote it), Jarvis Cocker, Eliza Carthy, Dick Gaughan, Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile) and Karine Polwart to honour the long-deceased (1989) MacColl’s memory. One attraction for me was that the evening was curated by Ewan’s sons Neil and Calum and Neil’s wife Kate St John. Working with those three in various combinations on my own live tributes to Nick Drake and Kate McGarrigle has been an unalloyed pleasure. And there was in the back of my mind the nagging thought that if he had such great kids, maybe it was time for a reassessment…

The concert was terrific. Chaim and Norma stole the show with their renditions of “My Old Man”, “Go Down You Murderers” and “Shoals of Herring” (Tannenbaum) and “The Moving On Song” (Waterson). Sitting in the audience, I was forced to admit the old crank wrote a lot of great songs, full of anger and passion and wonderful folk-based melody. Even the often-corny “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” sounded pretty good in Buchanan’s hands.

But another reassessment was also slowly dawning in my prejudiced mind. Researching my world music book, I’ve discovered a hero-figure in Dimitri Pokrovsky, the man who defied Soviet ideologues to revive regional Russian folk music. Cultural specifics are anathema to authoritarian regimes; they prefer broad generalities and the music that expresses them (the Soviet Moiseyev Ensemble being the archetype). The Right-Left divide in politics these days often comes down to denial vs acceptance of facts. Local music is the equivalent of factual research. Pokrovsky was not only opposed to Soviet kitsch, but he peered into the future and recognized the dangers of post-Soviet Russian nationalism; he refused to call any folk song “Russian”. They were ‘from Voronezh’ or ‘Irkutsk Oblast’, never “Russian”.

At a time when cultural battles are being waged over what it means to be “British”, or “English”, MacColl’s strictures that you should sing songs from your home territory begins to seem like a good idea, an antidote to the kitsch clichés of UKIP and the Tories. And when I went to give a talk at the English Folk Expo last year, I found many wonderful musicians fully committed to the notion of local music, usually their own. It was inspiring, and yet another reason to give the old finger-in-his-ear crank a respectful reappraisal: he might have been right after all!

The Glasgow concert was such a success that they took the show on the road in November and the London show was, again, terrific. I hope a few of you got to see it. And I am so glad I bought that train ticket last January; Norma Waterson’s health has taken a turn for the worse and it’s hard to say when we’ll hear her sing like that again.

It was nice to see Jarvis Cocker and Norma bonding backstage. I remember the 1996 Mercury Prize awards, when the jury announced a deadlock between Pulp’s “Different Class” and Norma’s solo record for Hannibal. They gave it to Pulp in the end, but Oasis had also been nominated, and I’ve saved the Daily Mail headline “Grandmother beats Oasis in Mercury Prize Vote”.

Tribute concerts have sprouted like toadstools in recent years, but for me, 2015 was a vintage year because of those celebrations of two eccentrically British songwriters. They were based only a few hundred yards from each other along Roseberry Avenue, but between them there was a chasm of class, attitude, style and personality. Somehow, last year, they seemed quite nicely balanced, resonating beautifully across the decades, never to be forgotten.

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Easy as pie at www.joeboyd.co.uk – click on a letter and the ten-minute podcast plays.
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On-line reviews of the A-Z podcasts…

“Digestible wisdom for all”
by electrophreek
Joe Boyd is one of the titans of music production and his hard fought insights into the nature and scope of global music are among the finest you will ever encounter. This is the bench mark of music podcasts and the standard by which all should be judged.
“Brilliant”
by modal d
Exhilarating, mesmerizing, poignant. That such a pivotal figure, responsible for so much music I love, would take the time to put together this series is just an incredible gift. Listen!

The Winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 Announced

At this years 2015 Radio 2 Folk Awards, Lifetime Achievements went to the legendary “Peace Trained” musician Yusuf / Cat Stevens and Grammy Award-winning “double lifetime” artist Loudon Wainwright III.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner YUSUF / CAT STEVENS with David Gray who presented the awarded earlier that night at the Cardiff Millenium Centre. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner YUSUF / CAT STEVENS with David Gray who presented the awarded earlier that night at the Cardiff Millennium Centre. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Tom Robinson presents BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement to LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Tom Robinson presents BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement to LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner "Mr Moonshadow" Yusuf / Cat Stevens performing at the Cardiff Millennium Centre on the 22/04/15. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner “Mr Moonshadow” Yusuf / Cat Stevens performing at the Cardiff Millennium Centre on the 22/04/15. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III performing on the night. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III performing on the night. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Ewan MacColl was inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame exists to recognise the special contribution of an individual to the world of folk music; someone whose impact and influence has had a lasting impression.

Meredydd Evans is the 2015 recipient of The Good Tradition Award. The award is given to a person, group or organisation for their contribution to the preservation, dissemination and continuance/progression of traditional music over a number of years.

BEST DUO WINNERSJosienne Clarke & Ben Walker
Nominations:
Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
O’Hooley & Tidow
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar
Chris While & Julie Matthews

Congratulations to BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Best Duo Winners Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Congratulations to BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Best Duo Winners Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK WINNERSamhradh Samhradh – The Gloaming
Nominations:
Bedlam – Stick In The Wheel
Handsome Molly – The Furrow Collective
Manus Mo Rùin – Cruinn
Samhradh Samhradh – The Gloaming

Congratulations to Iarla Ó Lionáird & THE GLOAMING on winning the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 "Best Traditional Track" for their composition "Samhradh Samhradh".
Congratulations to Iarla Ó Lionáird & THE GLOAMING on winning the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 “Best Traditional Track” for their composition “Samhradh Samhradh”.

HORIZON AWARD WINNERSThe Rails
Nominations:
Ange Hardy
Maz O’Connor
Stick In The Wheel
The Rails

Charlie Dale presenting R2 Horizon Award to James Walbourne & Kami Thompson from THE RAILS. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Charlie Dale presenting R2 Horizon Award to James Walbourne & Kami Thompson from THE RAILS. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG WINNERSSwim To The Star – Peggy Seeger/Calum MacColl (performed by Peggy Seeger)
Nominations:
Swim To The Star – Peggy Seeger/Calum MacColl (performed by Peggy Seeger)
The Necklace Of Wrens – Michael Hartnett (performed by The Gloaming)
The Pitmen Poets – Jez Lowe
The Spider And The Wolf – Paul Simmonds (performed by Naomi Bedford)

BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD WINNERSTalisk
Nominations:
Cup O’Joe
Roseanne Reid
Talisk
Wildwood Kin

BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners TALISK with Nancy Kerr. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners TALISK with Nancy Kerr. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR WINNERSam Sweeney
Nominations:
Martin Green
Will Pound
Sam Sweeney
Kathryn Tickell

A huge folking well done to BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Musician Of The Year winner, SAM SWEENEY. The boy wonder has done good! Photo courtesy of the BBC.
A huge folking well done to BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Musician Of The Year winner, SAM SWEENEY. The boy wonder has done good! Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BEST ALBUM WINNERTincian by 9Bach
Nominations:
Fair Warning – The Rails
Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour – Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
Sweet Visitor – Nancy Kerr
The Moral Of The Elephant – Martin & Eliza Carthy
Tincian – 9Bach

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Best Album winners 9Bach performing with the Penrhyn Male Voice Choir. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Best Album winners 9Bach performing with the Penrhyn Male Voice Choir. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BEST GROUP WINNERSThe Young ‘Uns
Nominations:
Bellowhead
The Furrow Collective
The Gloaming
The Young ‘Uns

THE YOUNG'UNS, winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 - Best Group with Tim Dowling of The Guardian. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
THE YOUNG’UNS, winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 – Best Group with Tim Dowling of The Guardian. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR WINNERNancy Kerr
Nominations:
Cara Dillon
Julie Fowlis
Nancy Kerr
Jez Lowe

Ruth "Nessa Jenkins" Jones parachutes in from Barry Island to present Folk Singer Of The Year award, to winner Nancy Kerr. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Ruth “Nessa Jenkins” Jones parachutes in from Barry Island to present Folk Singer Of The Year award, to winner Nancy Kerr. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Live footage of the night is available from http://bbc.in/1DgKsI9

It’s also on tonight from 7pm via http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p02p7539/bbc-radio-2-folk-awards-2015-folk-awards-2015-highlights then highlights on in May.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 Lifetime Achievement and Good Tradition Awards Announced

Folk Awards 2015BBC Radio 2 has announced the recipients of this year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement Awards.

The two prestigious lifetime achievement accolades will be presented to legendary musicians Yusuf / Cat Stevens and Loudon Wainwright III at the ceremony which is being held at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff on 22 April. The Good Tradition Award, for an outstanding contribution to the upkeep of a musical tradition, is being presented posthumously to the late Meredydd Evans. Continue reading BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 Lifetime Achievement and Good Tradition Awards Announced

Folk icon teams up with dance producer to produce genre-defying album…

American folk music legend and a British experimental dance music producer may be highly improbable, but folk grande dame Peggy Seeger and Broadcaster have pulled off a genre-defying album full of hypnotic and hook laden delights, creating the video ‘First Time Ever’ from the album Folksploitation which is now available via Red Grape Music.

The song was originally written by Ewan MacColl for the 20 year-old Peggy in the early days of their courtship. Broadcaster works his studio magic on Peggy’s heart-rending vocals and lays them against dub, groove and techno beats. With the added poignancy of a woman in later years remembering a lost love, the results are nothing short of stunning.

The track is taken from new album ‘Folksploitation’ which is both a musical collaboration and a concept. The unlikely juxtaposition of Seeger’s delicate vocals and Broadcaster’s dub, hip hop, funk and techno beats, turns the improbable into the possible, the traditional into the experimental and a conundrum into artistry.

Broadcaster has never been afraid to break musical boundaries or cross genres, as witnessed by his remarkable 2008 debut ‘Primary Transmission’, in which he took samples from the legendary 1960s BBC Radio Ballads series and gave them a radical dance makeover. Played on BBC Radios 1,2,3,4 and 6Music the album received universal praise across the media:

“Among the list of 100 things you never expected to happen in this or any other lifetime is Ewan MacColl turning up as a Radio 1 Record of the Week” -fRoots

Other tracks on the album include traditional songs from early last century that tackle the still contemporary topics of inner city violence and drugs. Still others are just great danceable tracks that make one smile. All are given the Broadcaster treatment that takes them into a different realm.

“refreshing and vibrant” – Folking.com

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

PEGGY SEEGER – Live

Many years ago I remember seeing Peggy Seeger & Ewan MacColl ‘live’ at the Croydon Folk Club in the austere surroundings of the Arnhem Gallery at the Fairfield Halls. The reason I mention this is that the performance had me spellbound and many of today’s younger folk artists could do worse than study this CD for an appreciation in the art of ‘communicating and engaging’ with your audience. There are no pregnant pauses or ‘umming and erring’ just a homely approach that makes you feel as if you’ve known Peggy all your life. Of course it also helps if you are comfortable with your voice (which she is) with excellent diction and a reasonable musician to boot. With a varied selection of tracks of which there are fifteen (an additional 8 tracks if you count the spoken word) featured here she seamlessly moves from her own self-written songs (the pithy “Everyone Knows” and “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are”) to the traditional “Loving Hannah” and an acapella rendition of “I Been A Bad Bad Girl”. This is a lady who lives life to the full as is obvious from the Sky-Diving photo in the accompanying booklet and although some may find the recording lacking a little in bite I personally find it charming harking back to the good old days (?) when we used to (be able) to sit cross-legged on the floor of The Ship in Croydon. Ah…such memories.

PETE FYFE

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

CYRIL TAWNEY – In Port (Talking Elephant Records TECD 187)

The mere mention of the name Cyril Tawney brings pleasure to many Shanty singers around the world. Therefore this re-release of his “In Port” album (originally released on the Argo record label) by those very nice chaps at Talking Elephant Records (Barry & Malcolm) comes at a time when all songs sea-based are at something of a zenith due in part to the success of Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends, The Pirates Of The Caribbean movies and even ‘The Choir’s’ Gareth Malone taking an interest. Several of Tawney’s songs have become an established part of ‘folk’ history (and rightly so) among them “Sally Free And Easy”, “Chicken On A Raft” and “The Grey Funnel Line” all of which appear here. Whether acapella or with minimal backing from Dennis McCallum (accordion) and The Yetties it’s Cyril’s vocals (in my view not dissimilar to a lesser ‘mannered’ Ewan MacColl) that holds everything together like the use of resorcinol glue binding the timbers of boats together. For good measure there are extensive notes by the man himself on how the songs came about and provide an insightful and interesting ‘read’. On another subject with Cyril sadly having passed away in 2005 it’s interesting to note that the tradition of sea-faring ‘slang’ and ‘terms’ are now becoming lost (even on today’s youthful Navy recruits) so let’s savour the memories while we can and indulge ourselves in company with this wonderful ex-sub mariner. PETE FYFE

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.