With Oscar fever rising to a climax it’s time to say “Welcome To The Folkies” – the 2016 Folking Awards. We’ve sifted through the albums and performances of 2015 – always a long and difficult task punctuated by bouts of thumb-wrestling to settle disputes. Adopting the pattern followed by everyone else, here, in no order of precedence, are our nominations. With the exception of one category we have restricted our choices to British acts.
All nominations are 2016 Folking Awards winners.
Soloist Of The Year
Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin
India Electric Co.
Show Of Hands
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Best Live Act
The Demon Barbers XL
Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Layers Of Ages – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Head Heart Hand – Megan Henwood The Girl I Left Behind Me – India Electric Co. It’s Not Your Gold Shall Me Entice – Elle Osborne Disco At The Tavern – The Demon Barbers
Folking’s Rising Star
India Electric Co.
Best International Artist
Gandalf Murphy And The Slambovian Circus Of Dreams
Justin Townes Earle
To give the awards a further edge, we opened the vote to our visitors and run a public poll in all of the 8 categories (as listed above).
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Although this is her third album, until now my only aural encounter with the Sussex-based folkie was her collaboration with James Yorkston, playing fiddle on a very brief a capella ‘My Doffing Mistress’ on the 2012 Daily Worker benefit album We’re All In It Together. However, my extended introduction fortuitously coincides with a new stage in her career. Working with such luminaries as Yorkston, Alasdair Roberts and, from Trembling Bells, Mike Hastings and Alex Neilson, the latter of whom has likened her voice to a cross between Lal Waterson and Nico, the album marks the first time she’s recorded her own rather than traditional material. Indeed, not only did she write it, she arranged and produced it too.
There is one traditional number here, a spare, plucked fiddle version of ‘Come Write Me Down’, taken from the Copper family songbook and from whence comes the album’s title. However, if you weren’t already aware, there’s several tracks that (were it not for some of the lyrics) you could be persuaded had been knocking round the folk archives for a century or so, particularly the fiddle-led relationships-themed ‘And Everything’, that almost imperceptibly gathers pace as it proceeds and the band join in, and the a capella ‘The Hired Hand’ (where she harmonises with herself under the name Dusty Springsteen).
Raised on the North Sea coast of Lincolnshire (which explains the accent), she’s perhaps inevitably drawn to songs of ships and the sea. Bearing a lilting melody reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘To Ramona’, featuring sax and melodeon, ‘This Ship Is On A List’ wittily uses a disintegrating ship as a metaphor for a collapsing relationship, launching into a full on trad-sounding shanty mid-way (though perhaps the line “Now the focsle is fucked”, isn’t perhaps one Fisherman’s Friends might include). Featuring Hastings on Jews harp, ‘Salt’, one of the albums many standout numbers, addresses the dangerous allure of fishing fleets, delivering a chorus of “In like a lion out like a lamb. Set sail a boy, came home a man” that fires up thoughts of classic Richard and Linda Thompson.
Again Jews harp and featuring Dan Quinn on melodeon, the same is true of ‘Toast (The Ballad Of Michael ‘Mini’ Cooper)’, a luminous fiddle waltzing number that tells the story of the titular 1970s child arsonist, a bright but troubled young 10-year-old from Co. Durham who set fire to his parents house, allegedly knowing his abusive father was asleep upstairs. The subject of two BBC documentaries, in 1974 (directed by Franc Roddam) and a decade later, after spending most of those years in psychiatric care at a series of high security special schools, he was sentenced to life in 1990 after setting fire to a bottling plant, Osborne cuts to the heart of his morally ambiguous story (the full details of which, including Cooper’s shattered dreams of a film and being a playwright, make powerful reading), seeing him as a victim as she sings “when you’re silenced with violence and you’re given no chance and no choice. And when you’re brilliant and bored and you’re beaten, fire is your vengeance and voice.” If this isn’t among next year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards Song of the Year nominees, then there’s no justice.
The album comes to a close with the traditional lyric styled ‘Undone’ (“Cut off my long yellow hair, dress in mans’ array, make myself unbeautiful, no more will I stay”), set to a backing of fiddle drone and Neilson’s unconventional percussion and drums with Osborne humming the playout coda, and, finally, ‘All One’, featuring just her and Hastings’ plangent acoustic guitar, which, her delivery of the ‘One small space and a letter between all one and alone’ refrain, putting me in mind of Sandy Denny.
However, perhaps because of the time of year and the fact that the cascading tubular bells recall Jethro Tull’s festive ‘Ring Out, Solstice Bells’, I have to say that my personal favourite is the album opener, ‘I Don’t Like Sundays’, a song that sets the theme of survivors and survival with the protagonist encouraging a friend to fight against their depression ( “I saw the cloud come like a shroud, stealing all your joy”) and reminding that “Sometimes all you can do is put one foot before the other and heed the conversation tween the future and the past.”
The album cover is a 1960’s picture of Osborne’s grandmother, Katharine Compton, in a Sidmouth Festival drinking competition. Having given The Watersons and Peter Bellamy their first club gigs, Compton is something of a legend in folk circles; with this album her granddaughter should become one too.
John Peel was a fan of Peter Bellamy’s album of Kipling songs Oak, Ash And Thorn. ‘I hope Oak, Ash and Thorn will not be the sole venture of this kind you undertake and I look forward to featuring more of Kipling’s poetry and your music on the radio,’ he was supposed to have said. Of course, he wasn’t the only fan of this curious record, which first came out forty years ago on the Argo label, followed by a sister album, the equally strange and beguiling Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye. It is fitting that the first contributor to this present-day homage is none other than Jon Boden: a leading light on the current scene and a musician and singer who has always been eager to cite his admiration for Bellamy. The other fifteen tracks have been put forward by a range of different musicians, emphasising Bellamy’s influence on a whole new generation. From traditional singers, (Fay Hield, Sam Lee), to alt.folk innovators, (Trembling Bells, The Owl Service), this celebration of Bellamy’s Puck settings will undoubtedly cast a new light on his classic interpretations. There are names from the current young British folk scene that you will undoubtedly recognise – from The Unthanks to Emily Portman to the award winning Jackie Oates – to newer artists you may well not, like Rapunzel and Sedayne, Elle Osborne and Olivia Chaney. Peter Bellamy was a maverick, a musician that refused to follow fashion. Though famously referring to himself as a ‘boring, bleating old traddy’, he was as happy listening to the latest offering from Frank Zappa as he was extolling the virtues of traditional singers such as Walter Pardon. In tribute, there are artists here that perhaps wouldn’t always be neatly slotted into genre pigeonholes. And their take on these now-canonical songs will need room to breathe and grow before they intrigue and enchant, just like Bellamy did all those years ago.
A new Manchester-based record label, Folk Police Recordings, releases its first offerings in January 2011. The ‘purveyors of folk brut and other rough music’ will be putting out an homage to Peter Bellamy, withOak, Ash And Thorn, a collection of his songs contributed by some of the most innovative voices associated with the current folk scene, and Lincolnshire-born, Sussex-based folk singer Elle Osborne‘s new EP, Good Grief. Elle’s full-length album, AndSlowly Slowly Got She Up, will follow in spring 2011. Though hugely inspired by the traditional music of the British Isles, it is music that blends the traditional with the new that captivates Folk Police Recordings‘ founder, Nigel Spencer: “We chose the name Folk Police because it’s a longstanding term of abuse bandied around the UK folk scene. We though it was about time someone reclaimed it and turned it into a badge of honour. It’s a badge we’re proud to wear. And we like the image it brings to mind: of small, extremely cross men with pointy beards beating offenders over the head with battered copies of the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. “More seriously, the artists we represent tend to know their traditional stuff, but are very much of the 21st century. Folk lovers will recognise some of the names of the artists we put out, but there will also be some new, unfamiliar musicians, too.” Folk Police Recordings has a busy year ahead, seeing releases from storyteller and musician, Bob Pegg, probably best known for his work with Mr. Fox in the 1970s, as well as introductory records from Fleetwood’s foremost dark trad duo, Rapunzel and Sedayne, a collection of traditional songs reinterpreted by some of the best players on the Manchester alt-folk scene with guest vocals from Nancy Wallace, Jackie Oates and a host of other wonderful singer in The Woodbine and Ivy Band, and Kitchen Cynics, Aberdeen psych-folk troubadour Alan Davidson, who will be the subject of an extensive series of download-only reissues. The label will also be looking closer to home with its Northwestern series, a series of short run CDs featuring folk and alt-folk artists and performers primarily from the Northwest of England. Christine Johnson, a folk-inspired songwriter who has more than a touch of Lal Waterson about her lyrical themes, will be the first Northwestern act to make her debut.