Notes Ahead of The Folk Awards

As usual I’m pretending not to care about tonight’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards but I do really. Here are my picks and thoughts about this year’s nominees and the Folk Awards themselves (repeat until it’s a mantra: music’s not a competition, music’s not a competition)…

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR

Daoiri Farrell, Jim Causley, Kris Drever, Shirley Collins

For me it’s clearly Shirley, for the occasion and the value of ‘returning well’ and partly because it’s an exceptional vocal performance on that record. Grace and gravity. I was DJ for a Jim Causley concert last month and he sang beautifully, a fantastic set that took me aback it was so good (and kind of vintage). But ultimately I do want the Collins juggernaut to keep rolling.

BEST DUO

Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Megson, O’Hooley & Tidow, Ross Ainslie & Ali Hutton

My heart says O’Hooley & Tidow, my head says Josienne & Ben, perhaps because they signed the big deal. Though I wonder if Ross and Ali are a clever pick because of sheer trad musicianship and the judges sidestepping the slight politics of the list. Basically, I love Josienne & Ben but they feel increasingly more like a ‘classic acoustic duo’ than the other nominees. Ross and Ali = old-school; Megson = punks of the list and O&T = standout songwriting (could prove a disadvantage!). Anyway, it’s a fascinating category and all great nominations in my opinion.

BEST GROUP

9Bach, Breabach, The Furrow Collective, The Gloaming

I haven’t seen any of these live but in terms of recent records, The Furrow Collective have it for me, both heart and head. I love all these groups but Wild Hog was last year’s folk masterpiece — a winner in any genre (and by the way, absolutely should’ve been nommed in Best Album as well, that’s a poor omission). The other three nominees feel more like great jam bands who’ve crafted strong records out of their usual formula plus a bit.

By the way, what’s happened to Best Live Group? Was that not a thing? If it was, why’d it get canned? — People choosing nominees unable to reach every show? I liked having a live category because the folk scene is so chock full of wonderful groups who don’t shine on record as they do live. But fair play given how hard / expensive it’d be to get to a lot of shows.

BEST ALBUM

Jarlath Henderson — Hearts Broken, Heads Turned

Jim Moray — Upcetera

Martin Green — Flit

Shirley Collins — Lodestar

Songs of Separation — Songs of Separation

For me this is a tough one between Collins again, Jim’s Upcetera and Martin Green’s Flit project, although that didn’t feel to me like a folk album at all — Green’s well cheeky to have parlayed his established clout to get nommed here. It’s less folk than the Kate Tempest record! And yeah, no Furrow Collective. Sickos.

Perhaps it’s time the Folk Awards added a Best Producer category, especially now so many more risks are being taken production-wise; such incendiary work and different flavours are now welcomed by the establishment. At the moment I sometimes think a visionary producer can win a Best Album nomination it wouldn’t have scored otherwise (and perhaps lock out cheaper records that deserved inclusion for their rich content but didn’t sound as innovative).

Another thought: now that we’re in a fertile period for one-off project based albums, often put together by collectives, perhaps they ought to add a category for those, where you’d put Songs Of Separation next to other great projects/collaborations from last year, instead of it slightly (for me) confusing the Best Album category?

HORIZON AWARD

Daoiri Farrell, Fara, Ninebarrow, Talisk

My heart says Talisk but my head says Daoiri.

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR

John McCusker, John McSherry, Mohsen Amini, Rachel Newton

I’d give this to Rachel, such fiercesome playing! Although I’ll admit a little part of that is wanting a woman to win Musician Of The Year — a particularly male-dominated category.

BEST ORIGINAL TRACK

Nancy Kerr — ‘Fragile Water’

Kris Drever — ‘If Wishes Were Horses’

Martin Green feat. Adam Holmes — ‘Roll Away’

Jim Moray — ‘Sounds of Earth’

Yeah yeah, all good but I wrote ‘The Border Crossing’ and ‘Love Me, I’m A Liberal’ last year both easily as quality as any of these warbles (especially ‘Border Crossing’). Yada yada yada, BS category, and where the hell is O’Hooley & Tidow? To be serious: Best Original Track does, I think, undermine itself by nomming firmly within the genre establishment, where the elephant in the room is that many excellent folk musicians are not particularly strong or pioneering songwriters. Rather they’re solid (occasionally impactful) crafters of long-hewn structure and content archetypes. To me (and not just via professional envy!) this is the category that ought to open its arms outwards to wider associated genres; this should be where some great acoustic pop, or Americana artists or alternative-folk people get a look in. And no, that doesn’t mean Ed Sheeran gets nommed in 2018 for Galway Girl!

BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK

Jarlath Henderson — ‘Courting Is a Pleasure’

Songs Of Separation — ‘Echo Mocks The Corncrake’

Daoiri Farrell — ‘Van Diemen’s Land’

Julie Murphy — ‘Willie Taylor’

I’d give this to Daoiri again, oh or maybe Jarlath. The Songs of Separation isn’t quite amazing enough (though a lovely song choice).

BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD

Amelia Coburn

Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach

Eryn Rae

Josie Duncan & Pablo Lafuente

Not commenting (as usual); I haven’t listened to all of these — certainly not enough to say which one I think is best.

A hat-tip to end on: after problems with transparency in past years, the Folk Awards producers Smooth Operations do seem to be working quite hard to make it a more open process, albeit a complex, slightly laboured one. This year I spotted the email address where you can apply to be on the tracking team, which gives you a small amount of voice. I think I’ll leave it til dust clears from 2017, then apply (with the Midnight Campfire as my grounds for inclusion). See what happens.

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