The 19th BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards kicked off in style last night at the Belfast Waterfront on the River Lagan with Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band taking to the stage for an energetic performance of Devil In The Woman which included some Morris dance moves from band member Saul Rose.
Mark Radcliffe and Julie Fowlis were the hosts for the evening and were, as always entertaining and quick to fill any delays (inevitable with such a live event) with spontaneous humour. A delay in the sound team getting Lankum ready for one of the evening’s performance highlights of What Will We Do When We Have No Money? saw them come close to singing at the request of the audience; unfortunately, the delay wasn’t long enough. Despite the technical hitch, it was a great night for Lankum who picked up Best Original Track and Best Group.
There was a strong warm communal feel to the evening which had moments of joy – both laughter and tears. There were several incredibly moving moments, none more so than the audience joining in on the chorus of They Were Roses, a song by Tommy Sands (who was in the audience) which was beautifully delivered by Cara Dillon in honour of The Good Friday Agreement signed twenty years ago this month.
Other musical highlights included a fine performance from Paul Brady, sounding as fresh as ever as he performed a solo acoustic rendition of Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender which features on his latest album Unfinished Business.
Olivia Chaney also delivered a gorgeous rendition of Nick Drake’s River Man for the induction of Nick Drake into the Hall of Fame (her second solo album, Shelter, will be released in June 2018). Nick’s elder sister, Gabrielle Drake, gave a touching speech on the shy singer might have said, reeling off song phrases that may have fitted the moment.
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.’
Van Morrison certainly kept the production team on their toes as he went completely off script on his presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Dónal Lunny. He completely ignored the autocue on which his carefully prepared speech was rolling, that said, it did afford Dónal the chance to fill in the gaps during his acceptance speech before going on to perform on bouzouki with Zoë Conway on fiddle two great numbers.
As with previous years, there was an array of guest award presenters who gave their own spin on the significance of what they were presenting. These included Scottish singer and songwriter Rab Noakes, folk legend Ralph McTell and crime writer Val McDermid who presented the Best Traditional Track award to Siobhan Miller – in turned out that they both had a folk connection – they were taught murder ballads by their parents whilst out on a Sunday drive as children. However, whilst there was plenty of humour, one of the most emotional presentations of the evening was given by Irish folk singer Karan Casey to Karine Polwart for Folk Singer of the Year. There are not many speeches that use great poets such Seamus Heaney and Paula Meehan to convey the importance of someone’s songs and the influence they bring in being set free into the world. It was so moving that Karine had to steady herself to get through her own acceptance speech.
If there was going to be any anticipated humour it had to come from The Young’uns who picked up Best Album for Strangers. As they took to the stage to deliver a speech that thanked those that inspired the stories in the album David Eagle of the trio couldn’t resist a joke about how if they’d stalled their approach to the stage for longer they could have got royalties on the sound clip used from their album.
Another personal highlight of the evening was The Good Tradition Award being awarded to the Armagh Pipers Club to recognise their contribution to the preservation, dissemination and progression of traditional music over more than 50 years. The club was founded by Brian Vallely in 1966 with his wife Eithne, the uilleann pipes had long since fallen into decline as a popular instrument, with few pipe-makers still around to make them. The fact that UNESCO has given the Uilleann pipes the recognition of their importance as a unique cultural heritage symbol gives the work incredible weight to the work of Armagh Pipers Club who so deserved the Good Tradition Award. It was the perfect way for them to close the awards with three specially-composed new songs.
The Folk Awards will be broadcast on Sunday 8 April on BBC Four at 9 pm 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.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2018
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