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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A very chilly evening in Dunster, North Somerset was made glowingly warm by a lovely gig, courtesy of award winning singer songwriter Steve Pledger.
I had been looking forward to this event immensely, after attending his album launch at Dunster Castle itself in November, and was not disappointed. The room at the Dunster Castle Hotel had been set out bistro style with candles, and there was a very pleasant ambience about it. Very cosy and intimate.
Since our last meeting, Steve has won Folkwords Album of the Year by a male artist for Somewhere Between, and FATEA awarded Steve Best Album of the Year 2016 for the same album. Not bad for a rising star!
There were other avid fans in the audience who had come from far and wide. I saw a lady buy three albums which was great to see. As Steve had picked tracks to sing from all three albums, she didn’t want to miss anything!
Steve kicked off the gig with ‘If You Fall’, which is an unusual number for him to start with, but he had the audience hooked from the start. An introduction into the songs as he was about to sing them, told us how they came about, which was interesting. Very early on we had an audience participation tune – ‘This Land Is Poundland’ from his second album – Striking Matches In The Wind, Doing Well gave us a political swipe at Government v Benefits, ‘Quit Blubbin’ In The Cheap Seats’, again from Striking Matches, got us all singing again and before long it was time for the interval. More CDs flying out ensued in the break.
He returned with ‘I Spat Fire’ from his new album followed by Eva Cassidy’s fabulous track – ‘People Get Ready’. Further tunes were off all three albums and all were sung in the way they were written, the tune regarding depression – ‘Me And The Silence’ is particularly moving as is ‘Other’ which is about people expressing themselves whatever it may be.
And so it came to the end of the concert – much too soon. An encore was granted and ‘Hallelujah’ was giving the Pledger treatment. Goosebumps filled my entire spine and I might have had something in my eye. Just so love how he sings this amazing song.
The audience had thoroughly enjoyed it if the applause was to be believed, and afterwards Steve chatted to his public, signed albums sold by his very supportive and proud wife Becky, and was in no rush to get away. Steve is quietly political in his own way which shows in some of his lyrics, but also a very kind, generous, tremendously gifted soul, who deserves to soar up the ladder of success.
The Great Hall, Dunster Castle – Friday 4th November 2016
There are album launches and there are extra special ones. The Steve Pledger Somewhere Between album launch was extraordinary!
The exquisite setting for the launch was an outstanding National Trust property in North Somerset, not far from Minehead. The grand front door, which had steps up to, had a bell like Downton Abbey! I wasn’t prepared for the sheer grandeur of this huge lovely property. The Great Hall hosted a magnificent fireplace that had a fire burning, and the walls were furnished with beautiful paintings from days gone by, also beautiful old furniture was dotted around. I had arrived a little early and through the windows saw captivating views of the sea, and the rolling hills of Somerset. I had a chance to speak to David, the custodian of this amazing castle, who was very chuffed to be hosting this concert, and was a fan of Steve’s music.
Steve’s very supportive and lovely wife Becky was found to be setting up the bar, whilst Steve could be heard sound checking in the Hall next door. It sounded fabulous and I immediately knew I was in for a special evening. Brian Player from Blues and Roots Radio had just finished an interview with Steve, and the MC for the evening was Neil King from Fatea Magazine.
Steve kicked off the evening with the first track of the album, ‘To Change The World’, and although most of the songs were from the album, including ‘Doing Well’ which had a lot to say about benefit cuts, we heard a mix of songs from Steve’s second album Striking Matches In The Wind.
Just after the interval, Brian Player hosted a short questions and answers session, and various questions were asked. During these questions, someone asked why Steve came across as angry, he answered – tongue in cheek – “well I have three children” (who were sitting in the audience in front of me spellbound by their father!)
All Steve’s songs have attitude and encompass issues and the environment of our world today, which he feels strongly about. In his second set he included the Woody Guthrie song – ‘Deportee’ – which was very apt as was about refugees displaced in various parts of our troubled globe.
The end of the evening came far too soon, we had an encore of two songs, firstly ‘The Right To Be Wrong’ off the new album and then the amazing ‘Hallelujah’, giving the Steve Pledger treatment. A fantastic rendition delivered with passion and feeling.
Afterwards a very tired and happy Steve signed copies of his albums, chatted to his supporters without any hint of rushing them, and then became his own roadie to clear up his gear, while his adoring wife Becky and the family tidied up the bar and merchandise area. Acclaimed reviews are coming out now about the launch gig and the new album, everyone has great things to say about Steve and his music.
I felt so honoured and privileged to be able to attend this fantastic gig and to hear the new album first time live. I played the album all the way home to Plymouth and it has not been off my player since. Twelve amazing songs on the album, all great tracks and I can’t name a favourite! Thank you for the music Steve!
If you haven’t found Steve before, you have now! Check him out on www.stevepledger.co.uk and buy his albums, listen to his links, radio interviews and you can also find his tour dates on his website too. Go see him live, you will be glad you did!!
Following his breakthrough with 2015’s release of second album, Striking Matches In The Wind, the soft-voiced Somerset-based singer-songwriter returns with a full-on political collection of songs about “transience and change; doubt and assurance” that again features Lukas Drinkwater on double and electric bass while bolstering the sound with the addition of drums, keyboards and fiddle.
He kicks off by pondering the role of the singer-songwriter as social commentator on the shuffling drum beat and tumbling chords of ‘Change The World’, playfully questioning the gulf between the surface political affectations (“I’ve got a Che Guevara hat.. you can’t get more socialist than that”) and deeper beliefs and commitments.
‘Live & Learn’, the opening line of which provides the album title, has distinct musical hints of Cat Stevens to its theme about how the convictions which shape us can change over time and, more importantly, having the strength to accept that doubt is not “a dirty word” and the courage to admit if we were wrong. The same theme is explored in a more Martyn Joseph-like uptempo mode on the self-explanatorily titled ‘The Right To Be Wrong’ which talks of the need to admit our mistakes and to see the perspectives of others.
The sparsely strummed ‘Where’d You Get That Heart From?’ is a biting questioning of the cold implacability and cruelty, souls “as black as coal”, of those in power towards the defenceless, a topic that finds more direct expression in the sardonic lyrics of ‘Doing Well’ which is, essentially, a distillation in song of the main thrust of Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake, the way bureaucrats with no healthcare training asses the fitness to work or otherwise of those on or applying for benefits. It too will, likely be likened to Joseph, but I’m put more in mind of the early Transatlantic albums of Richard Digance.
‘I Spat Fire’ apparently had its genesis in the paradoxical nature of a poetry tent event in which he sang his angry songs while assorted ladies read sweet poems about gardens, an experience translated into a gentle acoustic contemplation on how, using imagery of rebirth, light and dark can go together, the one illuminating the other.
Quietly sad, ‘Other’ turns the spotlight on something more specific and (echoing the album title) is written from a transgender perspective to emerge as a reflection on identity, self-expression and the need to be true to yourself and “to be on the outside what I am within”, along with the acknowledgement that it’s never easy, either for the person in question or those they love.
Very much resonant of Joseph in terms of delivery and sound and probably my personal favourite, the rousing, ringing strummed guitar Wait Your Turn, with its rousing refrain of how “you don’t get much change out of the bottom of a ballot box”, chimes neatly with the ongoing arguments over Brexit in its observations on how democracy goes beyond the polling station and how change comes about through the stands people take and the commitment to progress.
The gaze becomes more intimate with the cry for help of ‘Me and The Silence’, a powerful song about suicidal depression and a call for empathy, while, another song about the individual lost in an uncaring and often cruel world, ‘The Louisa Miner’ draws on the story of a friend’s grandfather, a worker in the Co. Durham pits in the early part of the last century, who lost his life at 48 due to the conditions in the mine, something to which, of course, colliery and coroner refused to apportion blame, and extends to lament not just his death, but that of the industry to which he and many others gave “service and sacrifice”.
Somewhere Between closes on two positive notes. A lilting fingerpicked waltz, ‘Creation Is Laughing’ is about how corrupt empires eventually crumble but, Allen’s fiddle dancing in the background, more about standing in the sun or under the starts in the assurance of hope and faith restored. And, finally, ‘At The Last’, is a simple, fingerpicked, almost hymnal reverie that, drawing on searfaring imagery, is about our strength to weather the storm and the tides that batter us as we grow older and, when run aground, “to stand once more upon that shore and know at last that all I ever sought was how to be at peace where I am.”
A protest album burning with anger and compassion, on the opening track he sings how it’s people not songs that change the world, but how, sometimes, songs can change a heart. These are such songs and they demand to get stuck in the middle with you.
I can’t decide if I’m more impressed by the quantity or the quality of Ange Hardy’s work. The ink is barely dry on Esteesee, her 2015 exploration of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and she’s back with her fourth album formalising her work in partnership with Lukas Drinkwater. Findings is a term for the linking pieces in jewellery that join the settings and stones together – Ange knows about this stuff – and provides the theme of this album. And I do find it refreshing to find a themed album that sticks to its central idea all the way through without forcing it down your throat. For that alone Findings is a wonderful record.
In the opening track, ‘The Call/Daughters Of Watchet/Caturn’s Night’, the link is the railway that linked Watchet to the mines of the Brendon Hills but it is also four love stories. The final track, ‘Fall Away’ returns to Watchet and the four daughters of the town now that the mines and the railway and the fishing are gone. Findings mixes original and traditional material, often in one song. So ‘The Pleading Sister’ builds a song around the single verse of ‘Little Boy Blue’ and ‘Bonny Lighter-Boy’ sets a new tune to a traditional set of words.
The (more or less) traditional pieces are ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’, ‘The Berkshire Tragedy’ and ‘The Parting Lullaby’ and I can tell that you’re working out the findings each of these songs. The original songs cover a multitude of relationships but I will single out ‘Invisible Child’ as a masterful example of Ange and Lukas’ songwriting – simple and direct but powerful and moving.
Sometimes Ange and Lukas perform alone but there is a small band of Archie Churchill-Moss, Ciaran Algar and Evan Carson with additional vocals from Nancy Kerr, Kathryn Roberts and Steve Pledger. Even so, the accompaniments are restrained and the songs are out front where they should be. Not to belittle its predecessors but Findings could be Ange’s best album.
Some copies of Findings carry a sticker which can be matched with another to win a (possibly) fabulous prize. Mine reads PHMOI. If you have the matching half, please let me know and we can split the loot.
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“Why Esteesee” asks Ange Hardy in her notes and it was a question I had asked myself in anticipation. The explanation is actually very simple. Esteesee or S.T.C. is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the subject of Ange’s fourth album.
That Coleridge was what we might now call “a character” quickly becomes apparent as Ange picks out incidents from his life. ‘William Frend’ tells of Coleridge applauding during the trial of one of his college tutors who published a pamphlet condemning the Church liturgy. STC got away with it by blaming a one-armed man standing near him! His friendship with William and Dorothy Wordsworth is recounted in ‘Friends Of Three’; his relationship with his brother is explored in ‘George’ and a failed attempt to found a better life in America is examined in ‘Pantisocracy’.
Of course, Coleridge’s own writing plays a large part. The opening song, ‘The Foster-Mother’s Tale’, comes from a play and then we’re into The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner with two songs. The first, ‘My Captain’, is based on one of the few happy bits of the poem and will be claimed as traditional before long. It’s a song full of optimism and enthusiasm – complete with spoons by Jo May – and is in stark contrast to ‘The Curse Of A Dead Man’s Eye’. This is clever programming; the poem would be the elephant in room otherwise as would ‘Kubla Khan’ which is read by Tamsin Rosewell with accompaniment by Ange on guitar and whistle and Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer.
Other musical support comes from Steve Knightley, who takes lead vocals on ‘Mother You Will Rue Me’, Patsy Reid, Archie Churchill-Moss (of Moore Moss Rutter), Lukas Drinkwater (of Three Daft Monkeys), Jonny Dyer, Andrew Pearce and Steve Pledger. In her music Ange cleverly employs the rhythms and cadences of English traditional music, particularly apparent in ‘Along The Coleridge Way’ and the final ‘Elegy For Coleridge’. The packaging is equally good with excerpts from STC’s writing alongside Ange’s words. I’m not sure that every copy goes out with a greetings card, bookmark and “quill” pen but there have to be some perks in this job.
This is an excellent album. It’s rare that I’ll play a CD twice through without a break even for the purposes of a review. Esteesee is an exception.
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