Welcome to the 2018 Folking Awards and thank you again to everyone who participated last year. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with considered argument and arm-wrestling by the Folkmeister and the Editor.
There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2017.
As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes, as are quite a few who didn’t make the short list. However, it’s not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.
*The Public Vote for each category will close at 9.00pm on Sunday 1st April (GMT+1).
Soloist Of The Year
Originally conceived as the musical accompaniment to her theatrical debut production of the same name in collaboration with sound designer Pippa Murphy, this now takes on independent life as an album in its own right. Inspired by watching the migration of some two thousand geese to Fara Flow, a peat bog near her Edinburgh home, and the way they took turns to create pockets of wind resistance to assist each other’s flight, Polwart embarked on a project concerning how we depend upon and help one another, not a little reinforced by having become a mother. It also serves as a warning of the dangers of isolating ourselves from others.
It opens with ‘All On A Summer’s Evening’, a sparse rendering of the traditional ‘Skippin’ Barfit Through the Heather’ accompanied by minimal glacial glockenspiel and thumb piano notes giving a drone effect that gives way to a spoken word passage describing the area around Fara Flow and introducing the narrative’s central characters, farmer and ex-soldier Will Sime and his wife, Roberta.
It flows seamlessly into the atmospheric ‘The Moor Speaks’ which, arranged for harp, drums, bass and a dense skein of backing vocals, offers a list of the many different mosses that grow here and, an indication of Roberta’s pregnancy, a refrain about “my little one” interwoven into a web of Gaelic hymn and field recordings.
Next up comes a carefree, buoyant treatment of ‘The Lark In The Clear Air’ framed with harp and rippling marimba that underscores the notion of open spaces and, from thence, to the drone-backed ‘Labouring And Resting’ with Murphy’s ambient score and Polwart’s description of the geese migration from whence comes the album title, the accompaniment capturing the sense of the wind and the sound of wings.
Backed by bass and a circling acoustic guitar psattern, the seven-minute ‘Tyrannic Man’s Dominion’ is a slight melodic reworking of ‘Now Westlin’ Winds’, Robert Burns’ ecological tract about bird shoots with their “slaughtering guns”. Whispering the introduction, backdropped by sanusula chimes, the spoken ‘Place To Rest And Mend’ builds to a military tattoo march beat and wordless chant as she pays tribute to Soutra Hospital, a charitable medieval Augustinian hospital that once stood on the edge of moor and, providing sanctuary and protection, served as a prototype of today’s NHS.
Opening with a sung lyric about motherhood against a single repeated piano note, ‘A Benediction’ gives way to a spoken narrative that describes Roberta watching Will who, in transpires, is carpeting a crib for the impending baby, Another spoken introduction about Roberta discovering a smashed swallow’s nest and the dead or dying fledglings sets the scene for the six-minute plus ‘Small Consolation’, focuses her thoughts on her own upcoming birthing, a meditation on the fragility of life giving way to the revisiting from her 2004’s Faultlines album with its echoes of Sandy Denny.
The sound of a barn owl both gives rise to the title and heralds the musically dramatic, dissonantly percussive ‘White Old Woman Of The Night’ as the contractions begin with lyrics that intermingle with Polwart’s recollections of her own troubled childbirth as it flows in the wheezing drone of medieval ballad ‘Sphagnum Mass For A Dead Queen’ (itself previously on 2007’s Fairest Floo’er as ‘The Death of Queen Jane’) about Jane Seymour’s tragic childbirth with its disorienting Latin chants and list of cures
The glacial 90-second foreshadowing of ‘Lullaby For A Lost Mother’ picks up the medieval notes with harp and birdsong counterpointing the tragedy in the voice of a child recounting the scene around Fara Flow to her departed mother, but then ‘Remember The Geese’ strikes an optimistic, uplifting not as she returns to the opening setting, drawing together and linking the threads of the metaphor and imagery as, in the spoken mid-section she warns of the weather growing darker daily and a fierce wind, reminding that we are “a human skein and we’re not going to make it on our own.”
In ‘Molly Sime’s Welcome To Salter’s Road’ the spoken narrative brings the pregnancy to a bittersweet end with Roberta’s daughter, Molly, born and the image of Will tending his wife only for her to bleed to death, she taken away by her family for burial, he taking an axe to their bed and the back room floor and throwing the wood and bloody linen on a pyre to “let the world burn.” Midway through, the final chapter of the story is interrupted with a revisiting of ‘Salter’s Road’ from 2012’s Traces, its line about the horseman’s only daughter suddenly bringing home that, for those unaware of the background, this isn’t some fiction, but the true story of one of Polwart’s former neighbours as she relates visiting the elderly Molly in hospital, on the last day of her life, with her own son. At once the project’s theme of thread that connects us is brought into heartbreaking focus and the album ends as it began, at dusk, with the moor cock calling and the sound of a heartbeat, its final words the song’s title and the album’s overarching message, ‘We Are All Bog Born’. Quite magnificent.
Karine Polwart – five-time winner of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – will release her new album A Pocket Of Wind Resistance via Hudson Records on November 17, 2017. Written in collaboration with the Scottish sound designer Pippa Murphy, ‘A Pocket Of Wind Resistance’ is the musical accompaniment to Polwart’s critically acclaimed theatrical debut (“Poignant, unflinching and beautiful” ***** – The Telegraph). The production, which debuted at the Edinburgh Festival in 2016, was written, musically directed and performed by Polwart, winning her the Best Music and Sound Award at the 2017 CATS. Alongside three other nominations, it also placed Polwart on the shortlist for the Best Actor ‘Scottish Oscar’ in the Sunday Herald Culture Awards. In-line with the album’s announcement, Polwart is streaming the first single to emerge from the album, ‘Labouring and Resting’.
For Karine, the ‘Wind Resistance’ project took seed from a close hand view of the annual migration of over two thousand pink-footed geese to Fala Flow, a tiny peat bog close to Polwart’s home just south of Edinburgh. Watching the geese’s constantly shifting skeins – in which the birds take turns to create pockets of wind resistance to aid each other’s flight – prompted Karine to consider the ways in which humans depend upon each other, whether or not we form skeins of our own. The airborne phenomena & its role in Fala Flow’s delicate ecology – explored in beautiful detail by Polwart on ‘Labouring and Resting’ – resonated particularly with Polwart’s own recent experience of becoming a mother and protecting a family of her own.
Speaking about the album, Karine says;
“It’s a meditation on the ways in which we, as humans, protect and care for one another, and for all life, by stepping up, falling back, labouring and resting in our own fashion. In particular, it’s a hymn to mothers and birthing, to the proffering of sanctuary, to the miracle of medicine, and a reminder, a warning, about the consequences of isolating and forgetting.”
‘A Pocket Of Wind Resistance’ – the follow-up to her 2012 Scottish Album of The Year-nominated ‘Traces’, produced by Chvrches’ Iain Cook – is the latest in a series of collaborative projects from Polwart which combine music and art with science, environment and politics. Following her BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning 2005 debut ‘Faultlines’, Polwart collaborated on the naturalist-inspired ‘The Darwin Song Project’ in 2009 and last year’s all-female ‘Songs Of Separation’ release with Eliza Carthy, alongside ‘Sea Change’ in 2013, written as a response to climate change. Karine has also collaborated with indie composer RM Hubbert, co-written with members of Portishead for Martin Green’s EIF/Barbican production ‘Flit’, and co-directed and worked on life novelist James Robertson’s ‘Pilgrimer’ production.