The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016 winners are…

Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016

The winners of this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards have been announced at a spectacular event held at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Now in their 17th year, this major event in the specialist music calendar saw accolades presented for Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year and many more, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards for songwriter Joan Armatrading and traditional folk legend Norma Waterson.

Also on the night some of the most exciting acts in the folk music scene took to the stage for magical performances to celebrate the vibrant folk music scene in the UK and beyond.

John McCusker Band

The evening kicked off with an electrifying performance by the John McCusker Band, and throughout the evening the audience were treated to performances by Grammy Award and BRIT Award nominee Joan Armatrading; British singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer and film score composer, Mark Knopfler; Mercury Award nominated Sam Lee, Dublin folk band Lynched; a special tribute to Sandy Denny by Rufus Wainwright and many more. The evening culminated in a rousing performance by acclaimed Northumbrian group The Unthanks.

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright performed a special tribute to Sandy Denny who was inducted into the Folk Awards Hall of Fame. For the rendition of Sandy’s classic ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, Rufus was backed by musicians including some who were members of Fairport Convention alongside Sandy in the 1960s and 1970s.

Awards were presented by a host of famous folk fans, including actors Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock, The Office) and Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, House of Fools), musicians Richard Hawley and Graham Coxon from Blur, War Horse author Michael Morpurgo and 1960s star Sandie Shaw.

The night also saw the presentation of the annual BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, which has been finding and championing young folk talent for 18 years. The four nominees in this category also performed live during a special interval programme presented by Radio 2’s Simon Mayo and top folk musician Kathryn Tickell.

Bob Shennan, Controller BBC Radio 2, 6Music and Asian Network and Director BBC Music, said:

“What better way to celebrate the thriving folk music scene than a wonderful night in the impressive surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall. It was a fitting way to recognise the huge wealth of talent and I’d like to congratulate the winners of these prestigious accolades. Here’s to next year!”

The awards will be available to watch on the BBC iPlayer from today and will be broadcast on the BBC Red Button from Saturday 30 April until Thursday 5 May.

The full list of winners:

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR
Rhiannon Giddens

BEST DUO
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

BEST GROUP
The Young’uns

BEST ALBUM
Mount The Air – The Unthanks

HORIZON AWARD
Sam Kelly

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR
Andy Cutting

BEST ORIGINAL TRACK 
‘Mackerel’ by The Rheingans Sisters

BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK 
‘Lovely Molly’ by Sam Lee

BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD
Brighde Chaimbeul

Gift Band 2016

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Norma Waterson

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Joan Armatrading

GOOD TRADITION AWARD
John McCusker

HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Sandy Denny

Well, if that was not exciting enough, then why not create your own Albert Hall replica out of those discarded food/ electrical cardboard boxes lying around the house, sit on your favourite cushion, grab a glass of something special and re-live it all again here at:

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – 2016: Full Show

THE UNTHANKS – Mount The Air (Rabble Rouser Music RRM013)

the-unthanks-Mount-The-AirNot exactly the sort of album to put to get the party going, the first new studio release by the quintet in four years carries with it the chill of a crisp winter’s day, hoar frost on the leaves and rime glittering on the ground, your breath curling like smoke wisps. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

Always pushing the boundaries, they boldly open with the glacial ten and a half minute title track, composed by pianist-producer Adrian McNally and co-written by Becky Unthank, based on a one-verse Dorset ditty, that marries folk with brass tempered jazz, featuring improv trumpeter Tom Arthurs to conjure echoes of Miles Davis and Gil Evans circa Sketches of Spain.

The musical mood is sustained on the more traditional-hued, piano-backed, Rachel’s huskily sung ‘Madam’ and the more strings-enrobed ‘Died For Love’, only a heartbeat of silence between stopping them from flowing as one, from courtship to tragedy. While the ambience remains, things stretch out a little more on ‘Flutter’ as a, well, fluttering of trip hop beats run across the lush strings before ‘Magpie’, Becky, Rachel and Niopha Keegan singing in harmony (virtually unaccompanied save for the minimalist drone backdrop), brings a medieval air to their adaptation of the dark nursery rhyme ‘One For Sorrow’ with its “Devil, Devil I defy thee” refrain.

Catching you off-guard, a sweeping cascade of piano and string introduces the mournful eleven-minute ‘Foundling’, sounding like some 1930s cinema score, trumpet and percussive cymbals adding to the pulsing textures of a number based on the 18th century story of Thomas Coran’s Foundling Hospital and sung, rather like an extract from a folk opera, in the persona of a young, luckless mother talking about having to abandon her daughter. This, in turn, inspired Rachel to make her songwriting debut, devising new verses for the evergreen ‘Golden Slumbers’ for what would become ‘Last Lullaby’, the lilting melody carried, primarily, by McNally’s tinkling piano and Keegan’s fiddle.

After its incipient warmth, the wintry atmosphere returns for the melancholic ‘Hawthorn’ (“why is my heart as light as lead?”) with the sibling harmonies against plaintive piano and forlorn trumpet, giving way to the first of the album’s two instrumentals, ‘For Dad’, a lament written by and spotlighting Keegan as a tribute to her late father and poignantly featuring his voice and her child-self at the start. The second, and album closer, the skittish, melody-circling ‘Waiting’, written by guitarist/bassist Chris Price, conjuring Penguin Café thoughts and featuring drummer Martin Douglas on tabla and McNally on a battered chord organ. Sandwiched between is the slow waltzing ‘Poor Stranger’, the album’s most straightforward and most obviously accessible number with 19th century musical hall hints to its warning about false-hearted lovers.

Recorded in their own makeshift Northumberland studio, and redolent with the sisters’ Northern accents, it’s had a long, and possibly difficult, gestation, but not only has the wait has been well worth it, in their inventive and inspired fusions and experiments around the folk genre, it offers a tantalising prospect of the horizons they may yet explore.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: http://www.the-unthanks.com/

‘Mount The Air’ – single version: