So here they are: the Folking Award winners of 2017.
First of all, a big thank you to everyone who voted – more than 20,000 votes were cast. Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the runners-up, although all our nominees are winners to the writers who enjoyed their music, either live or on record, over the last year and placed them on the short list. Here are the public vote winners and now, may I have the first envelope please… no, not that one!
Soloist of the Year – Ralph McTell
Listen to the Darren Beech/ Paul Johnson interview with Ralph at Cropredy 2016 here
Best Duo – Show Of Hands
Read all about Show Of Hands’ Big Gig at the Royal Albert Hall here
Best Band – Harp And A Monkey
This was a very close vote but we’re delighted that Harp And A Monkey triumphed in the Best Band category even though they narrowly beat another of our favourites.
As before, there are no actual trophies to present (but if anyone would like to tender for making some in the future please let us know). However, everyone on the long lists and on the short lists as well as the winners can rejoice that they made an impression on a lot of people during 2016.
Have another great musical year!
The Folking team
If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl) of any of the artists featured here, download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above to be taken to that relevant page via 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.
What with the likes of Steve Pledger and Will Varley the last couple of years have seen quite a resurgence in the protest song album on the UK’s contemporary folk/Americana circuit, but some have been doing this for years. I’ve written about Trevor Midgley aka Beau on these pages before and it’s good to report that his latest album, When Butterflies Scream, ably keeps up the standard. Sounding more than ever like Jake Thackray in his vocal delivery, it is, as ever, a no frills musical affair, predominantly just him and acoustic guitar, that allows the comments and commentary to take front of stage.
It opens with ‘Who Pays The Ferryman?’ not, you’ll be relieved to hear, a Chris De Burgh cover but, set to a slow mazurka rhythm etched out on accordion (one of the most elaborate instrumentations on the album) and drawing on Greek mythology and the figure of Charon who ferried the dead across the River Styx if they had the coin to pay, his take on the refugee crisis and the traffickers who exploit it. It’s a theme to which he returns on the closing seven-minute lyrically harrowing ‘The Immigrant’ with its recounting of mass executions, genocide rapes and those consigned to risk their lives in taking flight to see, those who survive being herded into camps while the politicians debate their fate (“We’re not in the business of profit and loss!” “Sort out the doctors and leave out the dross!”).
If that’s about effect, then ‘Kill The Idea’ looks at cause and how military attempts to eradicate an idea in the name of freedom more often causes it to drift “into different shapes that were harder to shift.”
The album’s title comes from a disturbing image in ‘Gerrymander Street Blockade’, a story of murky political goings on and cover ups, followed by the waltzing ‘The Song of the Pox Doctor’s Clerk’, a surely cynical suggestion that some of the Honours List gongs are handed out to, a she puts it, those who know where the bodies are buried (“It would be remiss for me here to disclose all names and addresses, but yes, there were those with reasons to quaver and even to quail; My peerage, it seemed, had been lost in the mail!”).
Government politics resurface with ‘The Mandarin’, an observation on those who ensure ministers are all singing from the same hymn sheet in the service of doctrinal mandates (“Alas we can’t claim to be wholly immune from bribery, sleaze and the inopportune. So, best we desist from our scheduled schemes, toppling dictators from dishonest regimes”).
One of the most pointedly barbed numbers is ‘The Promise’, a timely reminder of how badly the country and the MoD in particular, often treats those injured in the service of their country once they return home as it tells of how a hero survivor of his unit suffers from PSTD and ends up a down and out committing suicide by walking into the sea because “somehow, the Military Covenant’s promise had simply gone out through the door; And all that remained was a shirt on his back and the ribbons he steadfastly wore.”
Elsewhere he turns his eye on the use of armed military drones with ‘The Fire’, calling on Newton’s law that for every action there’s an equal opposite action and, basically, if something can go wrong it will (“Missiles pack a punch, and this one didn’t mess around – The fireball arriving above the speed of sound. In the end, they called it an “unfortunate event”; chances of it happening? Around fifteen percent”).
Taking an aspiring Stravinsky as an example, ‘Ben & Jerry’s Coca-Cola Tarantella’ is about selling out your soul (or ideals) to the devil, or in this case the commercial imperative while both ‘The Nightmare’ and ‘It’s Only Just Begun’ both sound an apocalyptic note, the former a talking blues response to the election of Donald Trump and the latter, with references to Nero, Genghis Khan, the bombing of Dresden, the Falklands conflict, Bhopal and the morning after 10/11, a tale of the Devil fuelling man’s proclivity for death and mass destruction.
The remaining number, ‘Smilin’ Billy Lye’, is less obvious, ostensibly the story of a dirt track rider who, envious of Motorcycle Show stunt champion Crash Donovan (the name a nod to the 1936 Highway Patrol movie) takes up his Tunnel of Fire challenge with enigmatic results, but there’s a cautionary string in its tale.
It’s sadly unlikely that this is going to attract the sort of attention and acclaim accorded the current crop of folk’s socio-political commentators or find an audience much beyond Midgley’s fanbase, but those who do seek it out will be well rewarded.
If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the BEAU –When Butterflies Scream link 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.
Co-produced by Josienne Clarke’s musical other half, Ben Walker, and Laura Marling knob-twiddler Lauren Deakin-Davies, following on from her Foreign Waters EP (which Walker also produced and which earned her a Folking Awards Rising Star nomination), Siren Serenade is the debut album from Cambridge-based singer-songwriter, poetry enthusiast and sometime theatre critic Emily Mae Winters.
Featuring musical contributions from, among others, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage as well as both producers, the twelve tracks highlight both her slightly vibrato vocals and the influences in her music, Gillian Welch, Kate Rusby, The Unthanks, Alison Krauss and Sarah Jarosz among them.
There’s a couple of folk chestnuts here, Jenny Lee Ridley’s flute introing a crowd swayalong version of John Connolly’s fisherman’s farewell shanty ‘Fiddler’s Green’ featuring Jack Pout on bodhran, a strummed guitar and fiddle providing the instrumental playout. The second nods to her love of poetry with a haunting drone setting of WB Yeats’ ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’.
The album opens with the ripplingly lovely self-penned reflective ballad ‘Blackberry Lane’ featuring Savage on dobro and nodding to the rootsy Americana in her musical DNA. Maya McCourt who played cello on the EP reprises duties on the gently circling acoustic guitar melody of Anchor, while Winters takes to the piano for ‘As If You Read My Mind’, a soaring vocal pop tinged ballad that, coloured by strings, draws on the classic 60s sound of Carole King but also suggests hints of Joan Baez.
If all these have been relatively sedate, ‘Hook, Line And Sinker’ ups the tempo for, with Savage again on dobro, a catchy slice of strummed rootsy pop, an equally live paced being set on the scurrying Irish-tinted, whistle backed story-song ‘The Ghost Of The Pirate Queen’ showing a more muscular side to her voice.
Mostly though, the mood is quietly bucolic, beautifully rendered on the lullaby-like ‘Miles To Go’ (which, like ‘Anchor’, appeared on the EP) and moody piano and cello ballad ‘The Star’, the former a nod to the poet Robert Frost, the latter to John Keats.
Although her vocals are mesmerising throughout, the remaining two numbers really see them come into the glory. ‘Reprise’, the album closer, is a piano accompanied almost chorale-like stentorian duet with Sanders. And, accompanied only by clicking fingers and hummed vocals, she sings a capella, the title track itself, for me the album stand out, which echoes the Appalachian revivalist feel of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ and ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. In Greek mythology, sirens lured sailors on to the rocks with their singing; Winters can wreck me any time.
If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the EMILY MAE WINTERS – Siren Serenade link 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.
Based around Worcestershire and Gloucestershire they may be, but with fiddle player Caitlin Barrett and guitarist Paul O’Neil sharing vocals, Loz Shaw on bass, keys vocals guitars, clarinet and banjolina and Tim Downes-Hall on a variety of ethnic hand percussion, Roving Crows are very much of a Celtic folk rock persuasion, with a pinch of prog to go with it. Case in point is the title track, ‘Bury Me Naked’, a song inspired by the book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, which opens akin to an orchestra tuning up, introduces a desert wind guitar and, over the course of the next five minutes scraped fiddle across a moody, atmospheric swirl conjuring Middle Eastern bazaar images. The colours are also evident in the background of the more acoustic ‘New York Love Song’, about a bittersweet relationship with the Big Apple, but, as it gathers pace, the Celtic winds blow more forcefully.
For a four piece they create rich and diverse musical textures, often very much percussive driven, with ‘Refugee’ introducing a lurching bass driven rhythm that has its roots as much in African townships as it does reggae before the folksier Barrett-penned, impermanence themed ‘Riverside’, the first on which she sings lead, lazes through a dappled melody line, the instrumentation again gradually building as the song progresses. She’s also responsible for two-thirds of the tunes that make up the frenzied instrumental ‘Fire Sky’, that and ‘Tiger’s Eye’ sandwiching ‘Farewell To Chernobyl’, an Irish reel learned from Sharon Shannon.
Set to an initial tick tocking rhythm, ‘If I Had To Choose’ brings O’Neil back to the mic for a musing on the meaning and values of love, the slight reggaed lurch here considerably more pronounced on the ensuing very Marleyesque true story ‘Passing On The Love’.
‘The Last Breath’ is different again, Barrett’s fiddle providing the accompaniment to O’Neill’s spoken word ecological lyrics about taking better care of the planet which, in turn, gives way to the heavy drumming salvos of the discordant fiddle and guitars of ‘Revolution Is Now’, a number that conjures thoughts of the 60s psychedelic jams of The Chamber Brothers had they had Celtic rather than African blood in their veins.
Then, heralded by cymbal shimmers and a circling guitar line before percussion and fiddle enter the weave, comes the ten minute brooding prog folk-rock epic that is ‘Glory Bound’, a gatheringly urgent number that sounds nothing like its description of being written in a lonely moment, in a quiet house in a sleepy valley, but more like in the eye of a storm.
They end with a cover, Barrett again taking lead on their rumbling widescreen arrangement of Jimmy MacCarthy’s much covered ‘Ride On’. It doesn’t displace Christy Moore’s as the seminal version, but it’s certainly up there with the best.
An adventurous and inspired heady cocktail of Celtic and world music with a social conscience and a beating heart, you’re well advised to cast a roving eye and ear in its direction.
If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the ROVING CROWS – Bury Me Naked link 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.
Without a label and not having not made a studio album since 1979’s Honest Lullaby, in 1987 Joan Baez got back into the ring, signing with Danny Goldberg’s new Gold Castle with whom, over the next two years, she would release three albums (along with the Brothers In Arms compilation) before inking with Virgin.
These are now gathered together in this 3CD set, along with various bonus cuts, the first up being her ‘comeback’, ‘Recently’, the title track concerning the break up of her marriage to David Harris, the track ‘James and the Gang’ being about the kid who, with Baez away on frequent tours, led their then teenage son Gabe to drop out of school and get mixed up with drink and drugs. They’re the only two Baez originals here, the other tracks including her brooding interpretations of Mark Knopfler’s ‘Brothers In Arms’ and, backed by just a stormclouds drone, U2’s ‘MLK’, Jimmy Webb’s ‘The Moon Is Harsh Mistress’, Peter Gabriel’s ‘Biko’, a gospel infused version of Moman and Penn classic ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ and, sung in the original Zulu, Johnny Clegg’s ‘Asimbonanga’, for which she earned a Grammy nomination. The album was rounded out with a live recording of the traditional ‘Let Us Break Bread Together/Oh Freedom’, the reissue now adding the previously unreleased ‘Lebanon’ from early Steely Dan member David Palmer, recorded during the same sessions.
Her second studio set, Speaking Of Dreams, followed in 1989 and followed the same mix of material, opening with the politically charged ‘China’, inspired by the Tiananmen Square protests, followed by the reggae rhythms of the equally political ‘Warriors of the Sun’. The piano ballad title track was the only other self-penned number while the traditional quota was filled by an harp backed ‘Carrickfergus’ and, produced by and featuring Paul Simon, his South African inspired ‘Rambler Gambler/Whispering Bells’ interpolation.
A second duet teams her with Jackson Browne for Greg Copeland’s slow waltzing protest number ‘El Salvador’, with the original album completed by David Massengill’s folksy ‘Fairfax County’, a percussive third person rework of ‘Hand To Mouth’, the B-side of George Michael’s solo debut, and, backed by the Gypsy Kings, ‘A Mi Manera’, Paul Anka’s ‘My Way’ sung in Spanish (initially omitted by added to subsequent releases).
The reissue adds the two numbers left off the album (and featured on the 1991 compilation), her cover of Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’ and the full seven minute version of ‘Warriors of the Sun’ which segued into Tracy Chapman’s ‘She’s Got A Ticket’.
The third CD, released in 1988, is the live recording Diamonds and Rust in the Bullring (her first official live release in the US) , recorded in Bilbao, Spain, with five of the 12 songs sung in Spanish (‘El Preso Numero Nueve’ revisiting her 1960 debut while ‘Ellas Danzan Solas is Sting’s ‘They Dance Alone’) and one (‘Txoria Txori’) in Basque. The English language numbers include gospel staples ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ and, with Mavis Staples, ‘Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around’ alongside Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’, ‘Let It Be’ (a gospel reading surely influenced by Billy Preston’s version) and, of course the definitive version of classic title track itself.
For a variety of reasons, the albums never found their audience at the time, the label declaring bankruptcy in 1992, but three decades after they were recorded, and following Baez’s recent 75th birthday celebrations, they’re due to some serious long overdue attention.
If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the JOAN BAEZ – The Complete Gold Castle Masters link 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.
Originally a schools-based music education project by the University of the Highlands and Islands in collaboration with Soundstorm Music Education Agency exploring the similarities and differences, past and present, between the cultural and physical landscapes of South West England and the Scottish Outer Hebrides, this evolved into Far Flung Corners, a fully-fledged artistic collaboration between the musicians involved. Uist-based Anna-Wendy Stevenson and Simon Bradley on fiddle and viola, respectively, were joined by music students Mabel Duncan, Tom Campbell, Jordan Neil and Joseph Peach from Lews Castle College and, from Dorset, singer-songwriter Alex Roberts and pianist Dan Somogyi, the ensemble launching the collaboration with a performance at this year’s Celtic Connections.
Now comes the album, a collection of songs, tunes and spoken word, seven of which form ‘Suite Uist’, a homage to the islands to celebrate 15 years of music education at Lews Castle College, inspired by traditional Gaelic music and song and composed by Stevenson, the University’s Programme Leader.
Interspersed throughout the album, the first part comes with ‘Caismeachd Bho Bhlàr Chàirinis’, a fiddle and flute led melancholic slow march named for the a clans battle in North Uist, the last to be fought with bows and arrows on British soil. Again built around fiddle and a trilling flute ‘Baleshare Rowing Song’ is a relatively jaunty tune recalling what was once the main means of transport between the islands. This is followed by ‘Se Saoghal Beag A Th’Ann (It’s A Small Word)’, Somogyi’s minimal piano accompanying Stevenson spoken poetic portrait of the people and places of Uist, its mention of birdlife leading on to ‘Ruidhle Do Steàrnan Beag,’ a gradually gathering reel in celebration of the Little Tern, one of the many species that nest on Uist during the breeding season.
A second slow march comes with ‘A’ Fàgail Na Dachaigh (Leaving Home)’, a tune in memory of the many Uist residents how were forced to leave the island during the Highland clearances, many relocating to Canada, the USA and Australia, the melody both melancholic and hopeful. Featuring Stevenson’s percussive scat vocal, fiddle, accordion and Campbell’s flute, picking up the tempo as it goes, ‘Udal Waulking Song’ captures the process of shrinking tweed cloth at Udal in North Uist. The final track from the Suite is ‘Failte’, a rousing fiddle, flute and guitar driven number that, translating as Welcome, celebrates Hebridean hospitality.
Save for the closing piano and viola instrumental, Somogyi and Bradley’s ‘Road To Eriskay’ and, with Roberts harmonizing and accompanied by guitar, flute, fiddle and accordion, Stevenson’s lovely reading of Matt McGinn’s lilting ‘The Rolling Hills O’The Borders’, the other numbers are penned and sung by Roberts. Backdropped by sparse piano and fiddle, he opens the album with another small world poem, the spoken ‘I’ll Carry Your Song In My Heart’ and follows with his dreamily nostalgic rippling guitar setting of ‘Linden Lea’, William Barnes’s poem about his Dorset childhood.
The vocals gathering power midway, ‘The Jolly Boat’ is a lazing single fingerpicked guitar and fiddle ballad that captures the warmth of the fire and whisky that fuelled its writing on his first visit to Uist. A more robust piece, his final contribution is ‘Hacking Back To The Wild’, an urgent bluesy folk number that, featuring flute and bouzouki, draws on the relationship between man and the peregrine falcon in a call for the preservation and protection of nature.
Projects such as this can sometimes have a rather niche audience, but this, as the name suggests, deserves to be heard and celebrated far and wide.
If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the THE FAR FLUNG COLLECTIVE – Far Flung Corners link 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.