Welcome to the 2017 Folking Awards. Last year’s inaugural poll was such a success that we had to do it again. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with sweat, tears and not a little blood by the Folkmeister and the Editor.
There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have been featured in the pages of folking.com in 2016.
As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes. However, its not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.
Soloist Of The Year
Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby
Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater
O’Hooley & Tidow
Show Of Hands
Afro Celt Sound System
Harp And A Monkey
Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitor Band
Best Live Act
The James Brothers
Robb Johnson and the My Best Regards Band
Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Mad Dog Mcrea
Tall Tales & Rumours – Luke Jackson Ballads Of The Broken Few – Seth Lakeman/Wildwood Kin Preternatural – Moulettes Somewhere Between – Steve Pledger Dodgy Bastards – Steeleye Span
Rising Star Act
The Brewer’s Daughter
Said The Maiden
Emily Mae Winters
Best International Act
The public vote closed Midday Saturday 22 April 2017 and the winners have now been announced HERE
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The new album by singer-songwriter Mike Grogan, called Too Many Ghosts is released on the 10th February, 2017. This will be Mike’s third album and like the last one Make Me Strong, it is a conceptual work. This beautiful reflective album, with ten original songs, embraces the fragility of life and love (‘Let Me Feel The Rain’, ‘Show Them What Love Can Do’, ‘Wish You’, ‘Underground’, ‘The Way’), and it also reflects on the past whilst trying to look optimistically into the future (‘Too Many Ghosts’, ‘Heaven Is Here’). It delivers a karmic message (‘Hallelujah’), that we should strive to do the right thing, and that the superficialities of life won’t help in the long run.
As with the last album, this one has been recorded and produced by Devon based Mark Tucker, who has been responsible for many great albums of late for example Show Of Hands’ Wake The Union and The Long Way Home. Mike has enlisted the support of some great musicians on this album including John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (The Who, Free, Bob Marley, Crawler), Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes (Show Of Hands) along with James Eller (The The).
Mike will be playing stripped down and solo with just voice and guitars extensively across the country in 2017 and will also be playing many festivals during the summer of 2017 with full band.
Mike Grogan is singer-songwriter based in the south of England whose songs focus on the social, and the human spirit. His songs can be personal and written in the third person but all are weaved with a delicate sensitivity. Mike plays a variety of instruments including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, tenor guitar, mandolin, piano and harmonica. His current road and recording companions are his Patrick Eggle Skyland acoustic, Martin D-28 and Fylde tenor guitar.
Feast Of Fiddles was formed in 1994 as a one-off concert ensemble as Hugh Crabtree thought it would be a good idea and Mike Sanderson of Nettlebed Folk Club thought so too!
Their first live recording Live 01 was released in 2002 – quite a long wait for the increasing number of fans of the band. However it was only another two years before the next CD appeared – Nicely Wrong. Three more years before yet another live recording Still Live and then after another three years the first studio album Walk Before You Fly. You guessed it, another three years for the second studio album Rise Above It and with a slight break with tradition it’s taken four years to get to studio album number three. Fast forward and in 2017 their sixth album entitled Sleight Of Elbow will be released.
Feast Of Fiddles embarks on its 24th annual spring tour in 2017 to coincide with the release of their new album. The band that has been variously likened to a “group of geography teachers” or “Bellowhead with bus passes!” doesn’t seem to be slowing down any. A band of musical friends that puts on a show of huge dynamic range performed with passion, joy and a liberal dose of fun. It all started at a folk club but has become a folk-rock institution with seven CDs to their name, several festival appearances and sell out shows up and down the UK. Typically, fiddlers Peter Knight (Steeleye Span), Chris Leslie (Fairport Convention), Phil Beer (Show of Hands), Brian McNeill (Battlefield Band), Ian Cutler (Bully Wee), Tom Leary (Lindisfarne) and Garry Blakeley (Band of Two) add their extensive range of fiddle playing styles to the rock back-line of guitars, keyboards, sax and accordion – all held together by legendary drummer Dave Mattacks. A live music entertainment like no other which is guaranteed to be enjoyed by even the most doubting of friends dragged along!
Feast Of Fiddles at the New Forest Folk Festival:
The new album Sleight Of Elbow is something of a departure for the band as it features a lot of original compositions from within the band and only a single traditional tune. One well established feature of the band is well exposed however and that is Feast Of Fiddles arrangements of tunes from other genres, film or TV.
The title track is one of two pieces by guitarist Martin Vincent which was first aired during the 2016 spring tour – the tour that Martin missed because he was in hospital getting a new valve for his heart. ‘McBrides’ is a tune from the band Moving Hearts and a real test piece for a big band. The Scottish band The McCalmans provide the first of only three songs on this recording – ‘Smugglers Song’, this rousing tale of smugglers going about their business complete with engaging chorus. The band’s arrangement of ‘String Of Pearls’ (best known through the Glen Miller Band) demonstrates perfectly the versatility of Feast Of Fiddles. Used as tour opener in 2016 it instigated immediate spontaneous applause at more than one venue. This is followed by the second song – a beautiful original from Alan Whetton who joined the band on sax and keyboards in 2012. ‘Butterfly’s Wing’ picks up the concept of chaos theory which suggests the brief flapping of a butterfly’s wing in England might result in a tornado in the mid-west of America. Another piece from Martin Vincent – ‘Paper Chase’ is probably the nearest the band has got to jazz. Written for a huge school band when Martin was teaching music the title reflects the frustration of most teachers these days dealing with increasing burden of paperwork. The next track, ‘Siamese Kashmir’, is a classic example of what Feast Of Fiddles is all about. A famous film tune segueing into classic rock. ‘The March Of The Siamese Princes And Princesses’ from the film The King And I somehow seemed to naturally lead to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’…or so thought bass player Dave Harding a frequent provider of left field material choices to open the show. A great band tune from Alan Whetton – ‘Three Legged Race’ comes next. Then a past top of show track which starts with the theme music of TV series Mission Impossible and joins with another tune from the pen of Alan Whetton ‘Mission Statement’, together almost inevitably entitled ‘Mission Improbable’. The final track on the album is the only traditional tune and one that has been a feature of the band’s repertoire ever since the very beginning. Frequently introduced as a French dance tune that morphs into a drum solo it is ‘Branle Des Chevaux’ or ‘Horses’ Brawl’ as it is better known in the UK.
This year marking their 36th anniversary and their 15th studio album (18th if you count three earlier cassette releases), Devon duo Steve Knightley and Phil Beer have long been an English folk institution, making regular appearances in many a folk awards lists. This latest release sees them returning to their early roots, revisiting staple folk themes across the course of five new Knightly numbers, traditional songs and a selection of covers.
As well as unofficial third member Miranda Sykes on double bass,, it featuring a clutch of collaborators that include Hannah Martin, Phillip Henry, Chris Hoban and, on cajon, Knightley’s teenage son. The album’s bookends also feature fiddler Jackie Oates and ascending star Ange Hardy on “vocal landscape”, opening with ‘Breme Fell At Hastings’, a steady martial beat stompalong Knightley wrote for the BBC TV series The Great British Story, which, presented by Michael Wood (who provides the spoken Saxon here), viewed the death of the titular freeborn farmer as epitomising the subjugation of Saxon culture and identity to the Viking conquerors.
The first of two Hoban-penned tracks arrives with ‘Hallows’ Eve’, the writer playing accordion on a song that, driven by a rousingly anthemic chorus featuring the Bridge Inn Shantymen, explores the British traditions of lantern lighting behind the more familiar Americanised trick or treat. As you’ll have gathered, England and its past loom large here, a theme continued on ‘Hambledon Fair’, an arrangement of a traditional tune and lyrical amalgamation of ‘Rambleaway’, ‘Derry Down Fair’ and ‘Brimbledon Fair’ that, featuring Oates on viola and sharing vocals with Sykes, is inspired by the young Knightley’s rambles over Portland Hill to Hambledon Village.
The title track follows, Knightley’s sprightly fiddle and mandolin-accompanied hymn to love the second time round, and then comes ‘Keep Hauling’, another outing for the massed chorus of drinkers at the Bridge Inn, Topsham where they recorded this concertina-coloured shanty by Andrew Cadie of German-based folk duo Broom Bezzums.
It’s back to trad. arr, and another appearance of folk ballad habitué lovely Nancy, for ‘Twas On One April’s Morning’, Beer taking lead vocal backed by an assemblage of cajon, accordion, fiddle, concertina, guitar, double bass and mouth organ with percussion design from Mark Tucker in an arrangement that flows into instrumental Knightley coda, ‘Isca Rose’.
From that number’s very traditional folk, things shift into 12 bar blues mode for Knightley’s ‘Sweet Bella’, a nod back to their pub playing days that features mandolin and Henry on mouth harp. The second Hoban contribution arrives in the form of ‘The Old Lynch Way’, an account of the pathway winding between the Dartmoor farms and hamlets along which funeral processions were expected to pass en route to St Petroc’s Church in Lydford. Introduced by birdsong and featuring Knightley on lead with Beer and Sykes’ voiced interlacing like monastic echoes, a trio, arrangement for cuatro, bass and mournful fiddle.
The mood lifts with ‘Walk With Me (When The Sun Goes Down)’, a strummed, self-referencing Knightley song that slips in sly lyrical nods to his ‘Country Life’ and ‘Arrogance Ignorance and Greed’, written to raise funds for a documentary about the Sidmouth Folk Festival to be titled ‘A Small, Quiet, English Town’. It’s back to the traditional and Beer on vocals for ‘Virginia’, providing a new tune to a familiar tale of transportation to the American colonies that marks the album’s sole duo recording.
Heading to curtain fall, the penultimate tracks is another cover, this time of Dick Gaughan and Brian McNeill’s ‘John Harrison’s Hands’, a slow-swaying tribute to the 18th century Lincolnshire watchmaker who devised a clock to determine maritime longitude, saving countless lives in the doing. And so, marking the return of Oates and Hardy, the album ends with ‘Mesopotamia’, a sombre, forlorn mandolin and guitar based father’s lament about his young daughter who’s slipped away to follow her lover to war, a song that sounds clear contemporary relevance in today’s turbulent world and, given the land of the title corresponds to modern-day Iraq, Syria and Kuwait, cannot but help evoke thoughts, and perhaps a controversial emotional understanding, of those women leaving England to join their men on whatever side they may be fighting. It may have been a long way home, but the journey was well worth the taking.
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There can be few acts in any genre that would opt to open a concert with a song that their audience had never heard them perform. Yet this is precisely what Show of Hands did on Thursday evening amidst the art deco opulence of the Forum; then proceeded to showcase a succession of beguiling new compositions throughout their entire first set! It is of course Show of Hands’ confidence in the calibre of their own material as well as the staunch support they enjoy amongst audiences that underpinned this decision.
The duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, abetted once again by the atmospheric double-bass playing and plaintive vocals of Miranda Sykes, presented their audience with music that took its inspiration from the songs they heard as teenagers in the folk clubs of Devon. Their new music marks something of a departure from recent material that has made increasingly more explicit reference to American folk idioms. Knightley’s facility as a songwriter able to vividly capture time, place and narrative in song was amply displayed in the new songs, which will appear on new album The Long Way Home in January 2016. Amongst the most memorable was ‘Breme Fell At Hastings’, written for the BBC series The Great British Story. Opening in arresting fashion with Anglo-Saxon words intoned by Knightley, the song focuses on Breme, a local farmer caught up in the Battle of Hastings. The song presents his death at the battle as emblematic of a lost Saxon cultural identity. Contrastingly, the spirited ‘Walk With Me (When The Sun Goes Down)’ conveyed a life-affirming zeal that will surely make it a favourite with audiences for years to come.
Following a short interval during which ale was hastily consumed and albums briskly snapped up by an appreciative crowd, Show of Hands returned to the stage for a set comprising some of their best loved material. Many of the songs were introduced with Knightly and Beer’s wry anecdotes about the circumstances in which the songs were written. The audience was also treated to an entertaining tale of how during a 2006 tour Show of Hands encouraged audiences to vote for them in a Devon County Council competition to determine history’s greatest Devonians. The pair duly outvoted the likes of Agatha Christie, Sir Francis Drake and Charles Babbage to scoop the award, to the apparent bewilderment of the competitions sponsors.
Amongst the highlights of the second set was the wistful ‘Santiago’, a song originally performed in collaboration with exiled Chilean musicians. This was one of several occasions in the evening when the massed voices of the audience combined with those of Knightley, Beer and Sykes to poignant effect. Trenchant social commentary was to the fore in the enduringly popular ‘Country Life’ and the banker-baiting ‘AIG’; an acronym that in Knightley’s hand was redefined as arrogance, ignorance and greed. One of the most affecting moments of the evening came with the first encore in which, without amplification, Knightly sang Ralph McTell’s ‘The Setting’, a pensive tale of a man accompanying his departing sister to a train stations as she sets off for an uncertain future. This was intermingled with Beer’s rendition of the traditional ‘Mary From Dungloe’. The two songs were so sensitively combined that the audience appeared mesmerised. For many there remains only one way to conclude a Show of Hands concert and the band did not disappoint. A rousing performance of ‘Cousin Jack’ filled the Forum and saw audience members still singing Knightley’s celebrated song of exiled Cornish miners as they departed into the streets of Bath.
West Country-based Show of Hands, one of the leading forces in British folk, are to receive Honorary Doctorates in Music from the University of Plymouth.
Devon’s multi award-winning band – singer songwriter and frontman Steve Knightley, multi-instrumental wizard Phil Beer and double bassist Miranda Sykes – will be honoured with the accolades on Wednesday, September 23 at the Plymouth University graduations ceremony at Plymouth Hoe.
Recognised as leading ambassadors for roots music, the band has become one of Devon’s most successful music stories. Formed by Knightley and Beer in 1991 they have been joined by Miranda Sykes for the last decade. With a highly impressive back catalogue of nearly 30 album releases they have sold out the Royal Albert Hall four times and are also triple winners at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards where they have won the coveted categories Best Original Song, Best Duo and Best Live Act.
Professor David Coslett, Interim Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University said the band were receiving the doctorates to mark “great distinction in your professional lives”.
“My colleagues and I are unanimous in wishing to recognise your musicianship, considerable national reputation and, through your music, celebration of place and use of narrative”.
Steve Knightley said: “Being rooted in Devon and the West Country has provided us with a wealth of inspiration for songs and tunes over more than two decades. It is part of the very fabric of this band and our material is closely entwined with its social history and geography. We have been able to take those regional trademarks around the UK and all over the world and find connections with people everywhere. We are all delighted to be honoured in this way.”
Also to be honoured at the ceremony will be author and decorated former SAS soldier Andy McNab who will be recognised for his contribution to literature, receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Arts and other Devon luminaries including endurance swimmer and ocean environmentalist Lewis Pugh, acclaimed poet Alice Oswald and Rear Admiral Ben Key.