Radio 2’s annual folk awards came around again last week, the 16th year this event has taken place. By now the winners are known and it was particularly gratifying to see that Loudon Wainwright was given a Lifetime Achievement Award along with Yusuf Islam (previously known as Cat Stevens). Equally gratifying was the quality and the broad spectrum of the nominees, proof again that folk has been undergoing one of its periodic reawakenings over the past few years.
Blabber’n’Smoke has dipped its toes into the folk world on occasion but we’re grateful for the snapshot provided by Proper Records on this two disc collection of nominees. Well kent names such as Wainwright, Julie Fowlis, Cara Dillon, Peggy Seeger, Kathryn Tickell and Martin and Eliza Carthy are all present and are reason enough to give the set a listen. Dillon opens the album with a hop and a skip on the delightful Moorlough Mary while Loudon’s song God and Nature, from his latest album Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet) shows that he continues to go from strength to strength. Peggy Seeger belies her age with the Titanic tale of Swim To The Star and Julie Fowlis chills to the bone with the Gaelic lament Do Chalum. However it’s the Carthy’s who stand out here with the powerful and earthy Waking Dreams (Awake Awake) that once heard, should open doors into the folk world for anyone whose experience is limited to having heard a few Sandy Denny songs.
While the above names will be familiar to those with a fair-weather acquaintance of the folk world there’s a host of folk (sorry) here that are certainly new to us but who are capable of equalling the songs already mentioned. We have mentioned Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker before and their song It Would Not Be A Rose is a satisfyingly haunting combination of Clarke’s magnificent voice and Walker’s guitar skills. In a similar vein Chris While & Julie Matthews, The Furrow Collective, Naomi Bedford and O’Hooley & Tidow all offer fine compositions that are not traditional folk per se but nevertheless satisfy the ear. More traditional fare is delivered through the Celtic mists of Cruinn’s Manus Mo Ruin and 9Bach’s Pa le? while the work song tradition is upheld on Jez Lowe’s The Pitman Poets and Nancy Kerr’s Never Ever Lay Them Down. The future of folk (perhaps) is featured on Martin Green’s I Saw The Dead where he collaborates with Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Becky Unthank to produce an atmospheric ghost story while the past in the shape of The Great War is the inspiration for Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron’s Rose Howard taken from the album Made In The Great War.
The second disc ends with four live songs from Radio 2’s Young Folk Award Nominees (Talisk, Wildwood Kin, Roseanne Reid and Cup O’Joe) which all bode well for the future. Overall the album is a fine gateway into the sometimes daunting world of folk music and a fine way to while away a late night with a fine wee drink. No need to stick your finger in your ear here.
The winners and other information about the Radio 2 Folk Awards is here