I still tend to think of Bella Hardy as one of the bright young things of folk music but she has already done more than enough to justify Postcards & Pocketbooks, a double-CD retrospective, all the tracks remastered by Ian Carter. Bella is an old-style fiddle-singer, a 21st century songwriter and just about everything between. She can bring power to traditional songs and weave old themes into new songs and you can never be sure where her muse will lead her next.
The first disc opens with ‘Learning To Let Go’ from her poppy album, Hey Sammy, built on the pounding drums of John Blease. It sounds like the song of someone still seeking a way forward and if it’s autobiographical then that might explain Bella’s frequent changes of approach. That’s followed by the almost traditional ‘Whisky You’re The Devil’ and her award-winning ‘The Herring Girl’. This could be a traditional song or, at least, a traditional story but there is not hiding its provenance. You might expect ‘Sylvie Sovay’ to be traditional but here again Bella just takes the names and the germ of the theme and works them into something very new.
‘Maying Song’ and ‘The Seventh Girl’ are largely old songs and the first half ends with the first of two unreleased tracks, the gorgeously pure ‘Sheep Crook & Black Dog’.
The second disc opens with a new version of ‘Three Black Feathers’, the song that first made her name. Here it’s pared back to a simple guitar accompaniment by Sam Carter and the experience of nine years is obvious in Bella’s voice. Sam is there again on a new version of ‘Time Wanders On’ and the second previously unreleased song, ‘Tequila Moon’. Other standout tracks in the half are ‘True Hearted Girl’ – a robust version of ‘When I Was On Horseback’ – ‘Walk It With You’ with vocals by Kris Drever and the marvellous ‘Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier’.
The set ends almost where it began with ‘Redemption’ from Hey Sammy followed by the closing ‘Tequila Moon’ based on a chunky guitar part. I’ve heard most of Bella’s albums but Postcards & Pocketbooks succeeds in giving a different overview of her career – a mix-tape that entertains and makes you think a little more deeply about what you’re hearing.
Peter Knight’s Gigspanner are a unique force in British folk music. Their virtuoso performances appeal equally to traditionalists and to those looking for something more experimental, and they have garnered praise from publications as varied as fRoots, The Telegraph and The Wire, where they were described as ‘melodically folk-rooted yet open and innovative beyond the constraints of genre.’
The trio was formed by legendary fiddle player Peter Knight, who as part of Steeleye Span’s classic lineup, helped invent a brand of folk rock that is still influential today, and it says much about the nature of his musical outlook and curiosity that, after half a century of innovation, he is still as willing as ever to move in bold new directions. His present touring and recording commitments find him working with BBC Folk Award winners Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin (Edgelarks) and John Spiers.
Peter Knight’s Gigspanner has gone on to establish a reputation for being one of the most genuinely inventive forces on the British folk scene, and it is noteworthy that Malcolm Taylor MBE, former Library Director of The English Folk Dance and Song Society, wrote that the trio belongs to the same group of ground-breaking musicians as Shirley and Dolly Collins, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Bellowhead…”keeping in touch with the root whilst developing a divergent and creative branch for themselves”
Characterised by riotous inventiveness, technically gifted individual playing and subtle collaborative interaction, Gigspanner take self-penned material along with music rooted in the British Isles and beyond, with the flick of a bow, a finely chosen chord or slip of a beat, produce richly atmospheric arrangements, with notes seemingly plucked from the stars and rhythms from the equator.
Leonard Cohen inducted into Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame
Dervish and Wizz Jones win Lifetime Achievement Awards
The winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2019 have been announced in a ceremony presented by Mark Radcliffe at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester as part of the Manchester Folk Festival. The ceremony was also broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Sounds.
The full list of winners
The Horizon Award for best emerging act – presented by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester Brìghde Chaimbeul
Musician of the Year – presented by Blue Peter’s Lindsey Russell Seckou Keita
Best Original Track – presented by comedian, writer and musician Rich Hall
‘I Burn But I Am Not Consumed’, written by Karine Polwart and Steven Polwart
Best Duo or Group – presented by Countryfile’s Ellie Harrison Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita
Best Traditional Track – presented by award winning author, Joanne Harris
‘The Foggy Dew’ by Ye Vagabonds
Life Achievement Awards were given to: Wizz Jones – presented by singer and founding member of The Hollies, Allan Clarke Dervish – presented by journalist and BBC Breakfast presenter, Steph McGovern
Best Album – presented by musician and songwriter Graham Gouldman, of 10cc Hide And Hair by The Trials of Cato
Folk Singer of the Year – presented by actor and comedian, Miranda Richardson Ríoghnach Connolly
Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame Leonard Cohen
During the evening, contemporary folk musician and singer Maddie Morris, who is based in Leeds, was presented with the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. It was presented to her by folk duo and former winners of the award, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar.
The Radio 2 Young Folk Award is an educational talent contest, open to musicians from the UK aged 16-21, that exists to discover the next generation of folk and acoustic acts. Eight shortlisted acts performed at a public concert at the HOME venue in Manchester on Tuesday 15th October and from those acts, Maddie was chosen as the winner by a panel of judges. This year marks the 21st annual Young Folk Award.
Leonard Cohen was inducted to the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame, joining such past greats like Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Woody Guthrie, Ewan MacColl and Cecil Sharp. Leonard (1934 –2016) was a Canadian singer best known for his seminal song, Hallelujah (1984) which has been covered by over 300 vocalists including John Cale, Jeff Buckley, k.d. Lang and Alexandra Burke. He embarked on a world tour in 2008-2010, which saw him perform on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival (2008) and in 2018, he won a Grammy Award for best rock performance for You Want It Darker, joining the likes of David Bowie and Ray Charles who have also received awards posthumously. The BBC Two documentary Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love, which tells the beautiful yet tragic love story of Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
As a tribute, singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore performed Cohen’s 1984 song, ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’, during the ceremony at Bridgewater Hall this evening. Thea, who has just released her 16th studio album at 39 years old, has gathered a host of high-profile advocates from likes of Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez to Neil Gaiman. Her latest album, Small World Turning, is an entirely independent album that echoes the changing political and social landscape of 2019 Britain.
Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2 said: “A huge congratulations to all of the winners at the Radio 2 Folk Awards tonight. I am delighted that at Radio 2, we can keep celebrating the very best of folk music every year, and we’re honoured to have witnessed such an array of sensational performances on stage this evening in Manchester.”
Lifetime Achievement Award winners Dervish, who performed at the ceremony this evening, have been bringing Irish traditional music to the world for 30 years, and have played at festivals across the globe – from Rock In Rio to Glastonbury. The band features some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians, and is fronted by one of the country’s best known singers, Cathy Jordan.
Shane Mitchell from Dervish says: “We are thrilled and so delighted to be receiving this very special honour at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, particularly as this is the 30th anniversary of the band.”
Influential folk and blues guitarist Wizz Jones, also a winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award this year, is admired and emulated by some of folk and rock’s greatest players. On the 1960s club scene, he was an early influence on the likes of Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart. Bruce Springsteen is among the artists to have covered Wizz’s songs. At 80 years old, he still tours the country, regularly performing live with his son, Simeon Jones, and fellow guitarist Pete Berryman. Wizz also performed at the Radio 2 Folk Awards this evening.
Wizz Jones says: “I am so surprised to get this award so thanks a million to whoever suggested it!”
Opening the show was Manchester band Edward II, who fuse English and Jamaican influences. Young English voice Kitty Macfarlane joined the band on stage. There were also fantastic performances from Welsh-Senegalese duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, English folk singer-songwriter Kate Rusby and O’Hooley & Tidow, who performed their song Gentleman Jack, which featured in the BBC One TV show of the same name. Dervish were also joined on stage during their performance by Kate Rusby, for a version of Down By The Salley Gardens, which then exploded into thrilling Irish tunes.
Mark Radcliffe was also presented with a special Folk Award during the ceremony this evening by Ralph McTell, to celebrate his 40 years in radio. Mark started at Piccadilly Radio in 1979 as an assistant producer of drama and classical music, then in 1981 presented his first show, titled Transmission. In 1983 he become a producer at BBC Radio 1 and went on to present the Breakfast Show and Afternoon Show with Marc Riley, before joining Radio 2 in 2004 where, in 2007, he began co-hosting The Radcliffe & Maconie Show with Stuart. And in 2011 they joined the BBC Radio 6 Music family. Mark presents The Folk Show on Radio 2 on Wednesday evenings, 9pm-10pm.
The Radio 2 Folk Awards will be available to listen to for 30 days after the live broadcast on BBC Sounds. Plus, selected highlights can be heard the following week on BBC Radio 2’s The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe (Wednesday 23rd October, 9pm-10pm).
The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards are produced by 7digital.
As soon as I started to play Hurry The Jug I was struck by an indefinable warmth in the music that immediately made me feel at home. The trio are based in Sligo where Declan Folan and Shane McGowan grew up – Leonard Barry is from Kerry, which is the other end of the country but not to worry – and their repertoire reflects not just the traditions of South Sligo but their familiarity with those traditions.
The second striking thing, right from the opening track ‘Hurry The Jug/The Pullet Wants The Cock’, was the richness and smoothness of Leonard’s piping. The Uilleann pipes, in expert hands, can do things that neither the Scottish pipes nor the Northumbrian small pipes can do and here we have something of a masterclass. Most of the tunes are traditional but hidden away are the names of Joe Liddy and Tommy Peoples. Leonard and Declan swap lead roles and sometimes take a solo or near-solo. I would have liked to hear Shane have a bigger share of the spotlight but the guitar isn’t a major player in Irish traditional music. I thought that it might happen with ‘The Garavogue/Graf Spey/The Hare’s Paw’ but the fiddle rushes in before he really got under way. The same happens with Declan’s lovely composition, ‘The Carousel’, but this time it’s Leonard’s whistle that jumps in.
The only piece that I’m sort of familiar with is ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ played here as a set dance but there are some really jolly tunes here, notably a couple of barndances, ‘Kitty Shand’s/Bill O’Malley’s’, and the jigs, ‘Father Quinn’s Favourite/The Humours Of Rahey/The Shoemaker’s Fancy’, but the whole set is a splendid affair.
Glasgow’s Doghouse Roses’ album We Are Made Of Light oozes Americana, but it still lingers with the taste of a great Old Chub Scottish ale.
‘All My Days’ rides on a simple guitar as Iona Macdonald’s voice echoes the beauty and swaddling cloth comfort of Linda Thompson and Natalie Merchant. The tune gently strolls a tightrope for a while, and then makes a soft landing on just about any moon. It’s a lovely lullaby of a song.
Paul Tasker enters with harmony vocals and an always clever guitar. The up-tempo ‘Arsenic’ adds that deeper dimension. Oh—a banjo plucks the melody of ‘Elegy For A Seaside Town’ while the voices harmonize an irresistible chorus. This is just simple charm.
Things stay with an acoustic vibe. Of course, ‘The Fermi Paradox’ gazes at the stars in our Milky Way. As Hamlet sort of asked, “To be, or not to be (an Extra-Terrestrial), that is the question”. This tune is downhome perfection with banjo and Neil Allan’s percussion. And then, the song (with an effortless blues stride) morphs into Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ from their brilliant Then Play On album. And it’s a really nice musical dance step that ties this record to all the great British and Scottish players who have revered American roots. The Beatles mirrored Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and The Everly Brothers. And then greats like John Martyn, Michael Chapman, Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell, and John Renbourn all touched folky blues. Really, We Are Made Of Light just foxtrots next to The Pentangle’s Reflection.
Then ‘Low’ recalls the folk yearning of Richard and Linda Thompson in their Bright Lights heyday. That’s great company to keep.
Now, ‘First Of April’ bleeds with acoustic soul. Iona’s vocals step gently between graveyard memories. And Paul’s acoustic guitar etches names on those stones. Ditto for “One More For The Road’, with is four-square acoustic tip in any waitress’ good mid-America service jar. Odd, in Scotland’s North Berwick, I once ordered an egg role, thinking the obvious Chinese take-a-way, but was served an egg between two buns. It was a lovely meal. This record is something like that: It’s an unsuspected bonny lunch.
The album’s plot thickens with the final songs. ‘The Reckoning’ is epic stuff with an urgent vocal, dramatic percussion, a webbed acoustic guitar, and dynamic strings. The song really does cut through menacing clouds. But, thankfully, ‘Rise & Fall’ floats with a quiet reprieve just before the storm. Ah, but ‘Why We Fight’ makes that rain fall. And it falls with a heavy melodic deluge, with the violin sawing through the dense damp air. Then, thankfully, ‘Years’ is a reprieve. It’s a life jacket. It’s a buoyant and melodic finale (with sweeping violin) of a quick acoustic moment caught in a sepia melody.
Doghouse Roses, all the way from Glasgow, have touched the music of the great American Redwood trees, and just like those trees who tangle their roots, this music fuses two traditions, with simple melodies, homey instruments, blest vocals, and the shared taste of that (American-brewed and my favorite) Old Chub Scottish ale.
John Richards is credited on his new CD Bring Back The Spring as “John Richards, Songwriter”. And it is indeed quite possible that you have never heard John himself or the many bands with which he has been associated. But there is a good chance you know songs of his through versions recorded by Robin Dransfield, Downes and Beer, Mike Silver, Fairport Convention and other luminaries. Nevertheless, he seems to work tirelessly around the West Midlands despite his intention, announced some years ago, to concentrate on songwriting rather than continuing to gig with the full John Richards Band. Bring Back The Spring reflects his intention to leave behind as few uncompleted songs as possible, and a good thing too. His own vocals, guitar and bouzouki are augmented by a galaxy of fine musicians and singers, including daughter Emma Jones, Mike Silver, Phil Beer, and Paul Downes, and other longstanding collaborators such as Jim Sutton.
Here’s the track list:
‘Tutchen The Jed’ (touching the dead) is a bizarre murder ballad based on superstitions of murderers who were identified by a corpse that bled in their presence (cruentation).
‘Hallsands’ tells the story of a Devon village virtually destroyed by excessive dredging in order to provide sand and gravel for the naval dockyard at Keyham. Very effectively sung by Emma Jones.
‘Look In Their Eyes’ was co-written with Mike Silver, and is an excellent song about immigration and false promises. “They came when invited to make a new start / and find a new life for their children.“
‘Yellows & Blues’ includes the line that gives the CD its title: it’s a contemplative song with a typically singworthy chorus.
‘Young Thomas’ is an absorbing story song about an instance of therianthropy – people who can change into animals (or vice versa). Phil Beer’s fiddle solo towards the end of the song is particularly effective.
‘Never Trouble Trouble’ is a rather classy number with a blues feel.
‘Threadbare Coats’ was also co-written with Mike Silver and contemplates chilling issues of trial by the media and exploitation of the victim.
‘No Blacks, No Irish & No Dogs’ is the final song in this collection co-written with Mike Silver, and addresses the issue of ongoing prejudice with individual stories. I imagine the man from Arkansas in the first verse was Bill Broonzy.
‘Mary Stone’s Waltz’ / ‘The Marigolds’ Waltz’. The waltz that follows this story song was written by Jim Sutton.
‘Cats Eyes & Stars’ is a story song with a distinctive acoustic rock and roll feel.
Despite its funereal subject ‘The Ballad Of An Ordinary Man’ actually has a rather uplifting chorus. I like it a lot.
‘Mrs. Allcock’s Millionaire’ has an attractive melody and makes a good point about not being a “would-be millionaire“.
The lengthy ‘The Unknown Soldier’ / ‘Cedars Of Lebanon’ strays into Eric Bogle/Bill Caddick country with its reflections on the Great War, and is a creditable addition to that body of work.
It doesn’t seem to be John’s way to name names, but ‘A Bitter Thing’ is clearly about Alan Turing and “the prejudice of fools“. A very effective song.
‘Billy Shaw’ makes a trenchant political point about war and how people with good intentions are exploited for military purposes – “we went to war on a lie” – and makes a fine end to the album.
Bill Caddick regarded John Richards as “One of our finest writers and singers.” The vocals here by John and Emma are never less than pleasant, and there is indeed quality song-writing here, in some ways reminiscent of Caddick himself, with stories old and new. I can only hope that John has enough songs in him not yet written to lure him back into the studio at some point. But if not, Bring Back The Spring is still a creditable end to his recording career. Certainly I’m glad to have finally become acquainted with his music.