Yes, it is that time of year again when the BBC announce the nominations for this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. So what is it looking like this year…anything unexpected? OK, there was one big surprise: Laura Marling in the “Best Original Song” category for Rambling Man. The surprise wasn’t that she’d been nominated, more that she was appearing in these awards which tradtionally have a very Trad-Folk focus. So does this mean there will be a greater breadth of folk represention on BBC Radio 2 in the future? It is afterall their awards ceremony.
Would Mike Harding’s listeners run from the house screaming if they heard some of what we play? It would be far to shallow to assume they would. In my own experience our listeners have a very broad taste in music and I imagine many enjoy both Trad and Alternative Folk. I’m happy to listen to both and there are some great progressive acts that still fall under the “Trad-Folk” umbrella that are on the nominee list this year such as Kris Drever, Bellowhead and Megson whom we do play nestled in amongst the more alternative indie folk acts we enjoy. I admit I like the majority of the artists in the nominee list, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be broader. Some folks have pondered on why Laura Marling was included. The growth in popularity of the likes of Mumford and Sons with whom she is well connected has clearly helped as well as greater exposure by a well-heeled label and PR. But this isn’t a unique instance. Big label artists also exist in the trad scene and have made it into the nominee list in the past: Seth Lakeman and The Unthanks were both signed to big labels and had advertising campaigns to get their music out there. Folk is a lot bigger than it was five or six years ago so you can expect some artists being swept up by the bigger labels.
So what does it all mean and is any of it actually significant? There is an argument that the BBC Radio 2 folk coverage should be giving greater exposure but you could also argue that BBC Radio 6 does this job.
There is certainly a shift or restlessness in the trad scene. I think it is a sign of the times we live in and not the popularity of Mumford and Sons which gets used as an excuse a bit too often by lazy journalists. Bellowhead are not your typical traditonal English folk band are they? I wrote today about Lau collaborating with Adem. We also wrote about the Burns unit, a cross collaboration including Karine Polwart and King Creosote. These are exciting crossover collaborations. There are also those alt-folk acts that have been around for a lot longer than Laura or Mumford and Sons who, for me at least, have played a big part in leading the way on the British alt-folk scene whose music is often traditionally rooted such as James Yorkston and Alasdair Roberts. There are many more that are following in their footsteps such as Inge Thomson, Mary Hampton, Sharron Kraus and many more who take traditional songs and give them a modern twist. Past music is there as a guide to many, not an anchor. These are, without doubt exciting times for the folk scene and I don’t think the glory can be laid at the feet of a torch bearer.
Most of the artists we play are on small independent labels or are self-signed who rely on folks like us to help expose their music. Many are also very innovative and prefer a DIY ethic approach to promotion by using social online networks as well as well rooted music networks in cities around the country to arrange their own gigs. The likes of The Magpies Nest, Communion and ourselves are working in the under-currents of this music and collectively we all do our bit in providing artists with exposure. It works!
Maybe this year’s surprise nominee is a token gesture of future change. I won’t hold my breath…but I really don’t think it is that big a deal as some may make it out to be. Things are good right now on the folk music scene and most of that is down to how the artists approach their music.
Rant over and just so I set the record straight, I do enjoy the artists in this year’s list and they have all worked bloody hard to get there…just be nice to see more variety from one year to the next ok?…anyway, here they are:
FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR
Chris While & Julie Matthews
Eliza Carthy & Norma Waterson
Nancy Kerr & James Fagan
Coope Boyes & Simpson
As If – Coope Boyes & Simpson
Gift – Eliza Carthy & Norma Waterson
Handmade Life – Chris Wood
Hedonism – Bellowhead
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Hollow Point – Chris Wood
Queen of Waters – Nancy Kerr (performed by Nancy Kerr & James Fagan)
Rambling Man – Laura Marling
Stick Stock – Emily Portman
BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK
New York Girls – Bellowhead
The Demon Lover – Andy Irvine
Poor Wayfaring Stranger – Eliza Carthy & Norma Waterson
Willie Taylor – Heidi Talbot
Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell
MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR
BEST LIVE ACT
The Demon Barbers