Welcome to the 2019 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 collated into shape by the Folkmeister and the Editor over a pint or two, which also involved, a few arm-wrestles and a spot of beer-mat aerobics, in a convenient local watering hole.
There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2018.
As we said 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 about what we think, so once more, it’s down to you, our ever-growing readership, to make the final call.
To vote, choose and then ‘click on’ one of the five nominees in each of the category voting boxes below.
*The Public Vote for each category will close at 9.00pm on Sunday 31st March (GMT+1).
Soloist Of The Year
Gilmore & Roberts
Daria Kulesh and Jonny Dyer
Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Trials Of Cato
Best Live Act
The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
A Problem Of Our Kind – Gilmore & Roberts The Well Worn Path – Seth Lakeman The Joy Of Living – Jackie Oates Queer As Folk – Grace Petrie Hide And Hair – Trials Of Cato
Smith & Brewer
Best International Artist(s)
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Not, strictly speaking, the official follow-up to 2017’s BBC2 Folk Awards Best Album, Strangers, this essentially serves as a complement to the trio’s folk theatre tour of the same name, available both at next year’s shows and from the band’s website, the full package featuring a forty-page dossier with lyrics and commentary from the show, a copy of the Advance Newspaper, a facsimile of images from the show, a period leaflet and a poster.
The project came about following a Somerset concert in 2015 when one of the audience presented them with a picture of his late father, the titular Johnny Longstaff. Born in Stockton-On-Tees in 1919, as a teenager he walked 230 miles to London as part of the 1934 National Hunger March, subsequently fighting against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, bearing witness to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 between Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, the police and protestors and a chance meeting with Churchill in 1939.
Drawing on spoken word recordings of Longstaff housed in the Imperial War Museum as well as being given access to unpublished memoirs and Longstaff’s personal archives, the band put together a 90 minute audio-visual show featuring the 16 mostly a capella original songs on the album, including a re-recording of ‘Cable Street’ from the last album.
It opens with Longstaff introducing himself before launching into ‘Any Bread?’ a number recounting the poverty and atrocious working conditions rampant in the Teesside of his youth, stealing duck eggs to be cooked in a kettle as “Willie’s mam she were so poor she never had a pan.”
It leads into ‘Carrying The Coffin’ which, set to the tune of ‘John Brown’s Body’, links to Longstaff taking part in the aforementioned march in search of work and protest at Ramsay MacDonald’s government and from here to the amusing ‘Hostel Strike’, the words tumbling over one another as, through Sean Cooney, Longstaff recounts how, following an incident at the YMCA, he got involved in his first strike and discovered unionism.
Recorded in 1986, Longstaff’s own words bookend ‘Cable Street’ before the stage moves to the Spanish Civil War, first with ‘Robson’s Song’, a brief ditty sung as an exchange between Longstaff and recruiting officer Robbie Robson who reels off a list of all the reasons (no weapons, lice, no drugs for the wounded, etc) why he might not want to go. He did, of course, fighting with the 15th International Brigade, and, accompanied by piano and Longstaff’s reminiscences, the melancholic ‘Ta-ra To Tooting’ details his departure and a drink with his mates before he set off, inspired by the photo of himself and his friends he carried with him through Spain.
David Eagle takes over the lead vocals for both the 44-second ‘Noddy’, a music hall-style swayalong about having to strip off for medical inspection, to be followed by ‘The Great Tomorrow’, Cooney’s anthemic celebration of ‘The Internationale’ and the brotherhood of those from all over the world who went to fight Franco.
Spain remains the setting for ‘Ay Carmela’, which featuring piano, accordion, Spanish guitar and the sound of marching feet, sings of “the lost sons of Albion, the men of the British Battalion”, borrowing the tune from a popular song of the time, spoken passages detailing the tragic outcomes of the battles of Jarama, Brunete and Teruel that decimated their ranks.
The mood gets an uplift as Eagle returns for a 30 second flurry through ‘Paella’, introduced by Longstaff recalling his first Spanish meal, the theme of food spilling across into the rather less lighthearted No Hay Pan’, which, to a spare piano backing and vocal harmonies, recalls the hunger that afflicted the men, echoing the theme of the album’s opening number as it tells of being so desperate as to eat two candles found in a church.
Privation and abject conditions, especially in times of war, tend to produce camaraderie and, the verses shared between Cooney, Eagles and Michael Hughes, ‘Trench Tales’ is a lively evocation of this, reminiscent in many ways of the dark wit to be found in Oh! What A Lovely War. Eagle takes his final turn in the spotlight on ‘Lewis Clive’, an Oxford Blue Olympic medallist for whom Longstaff served as a runner, piano accompanying another music hall styled ballad with a tempo that swells and dips, the sting in the lyric about his death counterpointed by humorous sketch of him going for a swim in the seas of hell.
The second number revisited from Strangers, introduced by Longstaff, ‘Bob Cooney’s Miracle’ recalls how the titular Aberdeen-born commissar fed the 57 men gathered on the banks of the Ebro with a loaf of bread and a tin of corned beef. The river is also the setting for the shanty-like ‘Over The Ebro’, a number about the 1938 battle that inflicted a crushing defeat on the Republicans and in which Longstaff was wounded and temporarily blinded, eventually resulting in victory for Franco and the repatriation of the volunteers.
The last of the original numbers is ‘David Guest’, a memory of the communist scientist and philosopher, the first Englishman to be imprisoned by the Nazis in 1931, who was killed in 1938, the song amusingly recalling how he could have a gob on him when he lost his temper before the poignant final verse.
Frontended by Longstaff recalling how the returning fighters never had a heroes welcome or acknowledgement of their efforts and sacrifices, it ends with the trio’s version of ‘The Valley of Jarmana’, a song popular among the volunteers (the tune borrowed from ‘Red River Valley’), punctuated by a impassioned spoken passage by Longstaff, the final two verses being a recording of him singing, his voice cracked with emotion on the line about the fallen comrades and glorious dead, before the final click of the tape recorder provides the full stop to an inspirational story, brilliantly told.
Three time BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners The Young’uns present a new and unique piece of modern folk theatre.
The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff is the story of one man’s adventure from begging on the streets in the north of England to fighting against fascism in the Spanish Civil War, taking in the Hunger Marches and the Battle of Cable Street. It’s a timely, touching and often hilarious musical adventure following the footsteps of one working class hero who witnessed some of the momentous events of the 1930s. With their trademark harmony, honesty and humour the Teesside trio bring together sixteen specially composed songs, spoken word, striking imagery and the real recorded voice of Johnny himself to tell a remarkable human story oozing with modern relevance.
To find out more about the story, watch the promo here:
To find out more about Johnny’s story, you can access a specially designed app called Johnny’s Journey. This can be accessed via the following link:
The winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards 2018 have been announced in a ceremony broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio Ulster, from Belfast Waterfront in Northern Ireland.
A key highlight of the music calendar – now in its 19th year – the awards produced by 7digital saw a host of music stars come together in Belfast for an evening of recognition and show-stopping performances. The ceremony was presented by Radio 2 Folk Show host Mark Radcliffe and world renowned Gaelic singer, Julie Fowlis. Talented artists received prizes including Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year, Young Folk Award and many more.
Music legend Van Morrison presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to musician and producer Dónal Lunny for his massive contribution to folk music.
The Good Tradition Award went to the Armagh Pipers Club to recognise their contribution to the preservation, dissemination and progression of traditional music over more than 50 years.
Folk Singer of the Year was awarded to Scottish singer-songwriter and musician, Karine Polwart, a talented artist who is also a theatre maker, storyteller, spoken-word performer and essayist.
Dónal Lunny took to the stage to perform with acclaimed musician Zoë Conway on the fiddle, and earlier in the evening Cara Dillon performed accompanied by Sam Lakeman on piano and John Smith on guitar.
Opening the show with a rousing performance of Devil In The Woman was Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, driven by brass and electric guitar. And across the night there were also fantastic performances from Lankum, with their song What Will We Do When We Have No Money?, Paul Brady with a solo acoustic rendition of the ballad Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender, and finally, a nine-piece from the Armagh Pipers Club brought the evening to a close with a performance of three specially composed new songs.
The evening included the presentation of the 20th annual BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, an educational contest that exists to discover the next generation of folk acts. Mera Royle, a young harpist from the Isle of Man, was the recipient.
Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2 said: ‘I’d like to congratulate all of tonight’s winners – the calibre of nominees was extremely high and the wealth of talent that was seen on stage across the evening in Belfast was spectacular. The Radio 2 Folk Awards is an annual celebration of the thriving folk music scene – supporting both established and burgeoning folk musicians – and part of our specialist music content that Radio 2 is proud to broadcast across the year.’
Influential singer-songwriter Nick Drake was inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame to celebrate the lasting impression he has had on folk music, despite passing away at the age of just 26 in 1974. Had he lived, he would have turned 70 this year.
Olivia Chaney performed a special tribute with a sublime piano-based interpretation of Drake’s essential song, River Man. Olivia is a great fan of Nick Drake and a multi-talented singer, musician and songwriter. Her collaboration with The Decemberists, called Offa Rex, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2017. Her second solo album, Shelter, will be released in June 2018.
Although Nick Drake’s music didn’t garner commercial success during his lifetime, decades after his early death, his music would find a wide and reverent audience. Featuring sublime and original guitar work which is heavy with meaning and mood, his work has been highly influential on singer-songwriters of all kinds. Actor Gabrielle Drake, Nick’s elder sister, was present at the Radio 2 Folk Awards to tell the audience how her famously shy brother might have felt about the occasion.
Later this evening (4 April) at 11pm on Radio 2, Lost Boy: In Search Of Nick Drake will be re-broadcast. In the documentary which originally went out in 2004, Hollywood film star Brad Pitt shines a light on the life and work of the cult singer-songwriter. Featured in the programme are contributions from producer Joe Boyd, engineer John Wood, Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, Gabrielle Drake and Nick’s late mother, Molly Drake.
The Folk Awards will be broadcast on Sunday 8 April on BBC Four at 9pm and on BBC Two Northern Ireland at 5.30pm, plus selected highlights will be available to watch at bbc.co.uk/radio2 after the show.
The full list of winners:
HORIZON AWARD presented by Jamie Lawson
BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK presented by Val McDermid
Banks of Newfoundland by Siobhan Miller
BEST DUO presented by Rab Noakes
Chris Stout & Catriona McKay
MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR presented by Leo Green
BEST ORIGINAL TRACK presented by Ralph McTell
The Granite Gaze by Lankum
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD presented by Van Morrison
BEST GROUP presented by Finbar Furey
HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
YOUNG FOLK AWARD presented by Lynette Fay of BBC Radio Ulster
Strangers by The Young’uns
GOOD TRADITION AWARD presented by Tommy Sands
Armagh Pipers Club
FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR presented by Karan Casey
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Here they are, the results of the 2018 Folking awards. Thanks to all our writers who submitted nominations and to everyone who participated – almost 17,000 votes were cast. Every one of the nominees made an impression on our writers either on record or on stage during 2017. Without further ado, here are the top choices with percentage of the votes cast.
Soloist of the year – Richard Thompson (31.3%)
Read a short bio here (as if you really need to!).
Tom Paxton once remarked about one of his songs that it originally sounded as if it had been written a century ago, but that he no longer considered that a virtue. Fortunately, Peter Bellamy had no problem with “telling it like it was”. His ballad opera The Transports was, in the opinion of many, the best example of how effectively he could write songs that sounded as if they had been written around the time of the events they describe, which happened in the late 18th century. The Transports – A Tale Of Exile And Migration, released on January 12th 2018, is not, of course, the first recorded version of the opera.
The first recording was released in 1977, and included some enormously influential artists, including some whose influence has survived long after they themselves left the stage. (For example Bert Lloyd, Cyril Tawney, Dave Swarbrick, and Peter Bellamy himself.) The ‘silver edition’ released in 2004 included not only the (remastered) original recording, but also a collection of newer recordings by other artists, including members of Fairport Convention; Coope, Boyes & Simpson; Steve Tilston; and Damien Barber and John Kirkpatrick. This latest CD, produced by Andy Bell, features a younger generation of singers and musicians, including members of The Young ‘Uns, Bellowhead, Faustus, Waterson: Carthy, Whapweasel, and Belshazzar’s Feast, as well as Nancy Kerr, Matthew Crampton and Greg Russell.
This live CD isn’t just a reproduction of the original recording with different musicians, however: it mirrors the touring revival from 2017 (which at the time of writing is just beginning another 14-date tour that ends in Norwich on the 24th January: see the website linked below for details). While it’s still based on the true story that captured Peter Bellamy’s imagination all those years ago, it uses spoken narrative between songs rather than the four sections of ‘The Ballad Of Henry And Susannah’ from the original recording. The narration, by Matthew Crampton, also draws parallels with the plight of 21st century forced migration. Perhaps the only reservation that I have about the CD is that while the narration is very capable, even a new listener might not want to hear it every time after they’ve become acquainted with the story. But in this age of iGadgets and personal playlists, I suppose people are much less likely to simply put on a CD and play it all the way through.
The production also includes Sean Cooney’s own recent song ‘Dark Water’, about Hesham Modamani, who swam from Turkey to Greece in his bid to escape from Syria. Live performances include stories of migration researched by the Parallel Lives project. While the song doesn’t have the ‘traditional’ quality of Peter Bellamy’s songs, it doesn’t jar – on me, at any rate – and it’s an excellent performance.
For comparison with previous recordings, here’s a listing of the songs: there are 28 tracks altogether, including the spoken tracks.
‘Us Poor Fellows’
‘The Robber’s Song’
‘The Leaves In The Woodland’
‘The Ballad of Norwich Gaol’
‘I Once Lived In Service’
‘Sweet Loving Friendship’
‘The Black and Bitter Night’
‘The Humane Turnkey 1’
‘The Plymouth Mail’
‘The Humane Turnkey 2’
‘The Green Fields of England’
‘The Still and Silent Ocean’
For reasons of space, I won’t go through the performances individually: the songs are of a uniform high quality (and, happily, the booklet includes the lyrics). The vocals (both solo and ensemble) and instrumental work are never less than very good, though Nancy Kerr’s bravura performance on ‘The Leaves In The Woodland’ deserves a special mention.
If you already have an earlier version, it’s still worth taking a look at this for its change of focus (and, of course, some excellent performances). If you’re not acquainted with The Transports but like the sound of songs that are very much in a traditional vein and tell a fascinating historical story with 21st century resonances, you should definitely take a look. And if you tend to prefer more contemporary renditions of contemporary material, take a look anyway. You might just surprise yourself.
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