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My top ten albums of 2010

Mike Harding | 14:05 UK time, Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Well, 2010 is drawing to a close and, I'm sorry to say, so is this blog. We hope to replace it with some more folky content in the future, but in the meantime I want to say "thank you" thanks to all of you for reading, and thanks to the great many guest bloggers who dropped by to give us an insight into their musical worlds.

Before I wrap things up, I wanted to share with you my ten favourite albums of the past twelve months. Let me know yours!

Chumbawamba - ABCDEFG
All the notes in the musical scale are there in the title and this is an album all about singing and music, why we do it and how we do it, and the whole CD is chock full of great songs sung with absolute meaning and total craft.

Coope Boyes & Simpson - As If ...

Great voices in harmony with a brilliant collection of songs. A world-class album from the depths of the tradition. English folk music at its very, very best.

Danu - Seanchas
One of the greatest Irish bands ever with a brilliant collection of music and songs. Everything flows, nothing jars, there are no bulky seams. Yet there is also nothing slick or insincere about this album. A brilliant piece of work.

Emily Portman - The Glamoury

A terrific young English singer with a majestic voice and a skewed and compelling look at the ballad as a vehicle for magical and mysterious stories - a great CD.

Peter Carberry - Traditional Irish Music From Co. Longford

Manchester/Longford box and banjo player Pete Carberry has produced an album of deeply rooted, unhurried and glorious sets of Irish music. This will be a classic for ever. I've played it over and over and over again.

Lizzie Nunnery - Company of Ghosts

I was stunned by this album the first time I heard it and have gone back to it over and again. There's something riding under all the songs that, as in all great music, makes for more than the sum of its parts. Lizzie Nunnery is better known as a playwright but her songwriting and singing, wherever they have come from, seem to me to move in epic and mythic worlds that are as memorable as any great play.

Pete Coe - Backbone

One of the stalwarts of the folk scene and a man to stand up and be counted. His hard hitting songs, and versions of other writers' works and traditional songs are deeply rooted in the tradition and come deep from a well of dissent. Not for the fainthearted or those who think folk songs should be nice and comfy. Laughs and good music a-plenty, but loads of kick too.

Fisherman's Friends - Port Isaac's Fisherman's Friends

A cracking album of sea songs sung by blokes who do it for the greatest of all possible reasons: because they love the music. I know they won't mind me describing them as not quite packaged, polished and groomed for the Middle Way. They're about as pretty as I am but sing it and tell it like it is. They are having a great time riding the roller coaster of their success knowing that if it ends up back in Cornwall they'll have had a lot of fun along the way. One of the best albums of sea songs in years.

The Demon Barbers - The Adventures of Captain Ward

One of my favourite live bands ever - they sing with gusto and commitment and put on a great show too. They are doing a great job taking English folk music out to a really wide audience. This album captures the essence of the band.

Ewan McLennan - Rags and Robes
A great voice, a great guitar style and a total saturation in the music produce something really rare and valuable. I get lots of CDs from brilliant young women singers but most blokes seem to be more interested in becoming great instrumentalists. Now, with the advent of people like Ewan it looks as though young male folkies are digging deep into the tradition and coming up the better for it. I think great things will be heard from him in time to come.

Well, thanks for reading, have a great Christmas, take care if you're travelling and keep listening to the show or I might end up having to go on the X Factor, and you know what that will lead to.

To quote old Joe Gargery from Great Expectations,"Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together" So take care, and, as the Vuddha of Karrow said, "Gan canny marra"

Oh, I forgot to mention: I'm on the road from mid-February, doing my own bit to spread misery and discontent. See you around somewhere.

Fisherman's Friends' incredible year

Jon Lewis | 11:31 UK time, Friday, 17 December 2010

Our guest blogger this week is Jon Cleave from the Fisherman's Friends. Jon writes:

"Getting a telephone call one Sunday morning from a record producer must be the stuff of dreams for many an aspiring pop star, but not for me. I was trying to drink a mug of tea and take in the football results when Rupert Christie rang, and his promises of global stardom and riches beyond the dreams of avarice were greeted with a faintly dismissive grunt. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘you’d better come down and meet the boys then.’ Frankly, I didn’t fancy his chances too much.

"A recording contract with Universal and a couple of recording sessions later, suddenly on one surreal and freezing morning in Port Isaac we were unleashed onto an unsuspecting public. TV and radio crews and telephone interviews from as far afield as Australia, Hong Kong and the States seemed to be taking an interest in our ‘million pound recording deal’ (clue here – none of us have given up our day jobs yet!).

"But, what a year we’ve had! Our album, Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends, went straight into the top 10, and not long ago went gold (my disc is hanging on the kitchen wall). We’ve performed on TV and radio and in front of vast audiences at festivals all over the country, and our bawdy, brawny blend of shanties, seaside salaciousness and nautical naughtiness seemed to hit the spot with people. And we still managed to fulfil our regular spots by the harbour in Port Isaac on Fridays, and raised around £10,000 for charity to boot.

"I think the most emotional moments of our incredible year were walking out on stages at Glastonbury and Cambridge and seeing the St. Piran’s flags waving in front of us – for Cornishmen, that was priceless. Our brand of harmony singing has never died out in Cornwall, where ‘the voice’ has always held sway, and we undertake our role as Cornish cultural attaches with pride!

Fisherman's Friends on stage at the Beautiful Days festival

Fisherman's Friends at the Beautiful Days festival. That's me, far left.

"And, if our nerves can take it, what exciting prospects lie ahead of us. A book, a documentary, a movie (!*?*!), an ad campaign, another album, the Celtic Connections Festival, more TV, several gigs before Christmas, and then another summer of festivals...

"We’d love to see you at our shows, we know you’d have a good time, and we’d love you to join in with some of the songs... only not too loud, we wouldn’t want you to spoil them after all!"

Georgina Boyes - A Challenge To Be Merry!

Mike Harding | 07:58 UK time, Thursday, 9 December 2010

Georgina Boyes writes:


"I love a carol" said Vaughan Williams - and if you enjoy singing, you'll probably agree with him. For me there's something extra special about joining in with a song in season. But not just any carol. I'll admit it, I'm choosy, I'm a sucker for the powerful, open-throated Yorkshire/Derbyshire approach to carol performance. Piping choristers or glacier-paced tunes intoned in all too obviously; voices just aren't for me. "Sing lustily", John Wesley told the earliest performers of Christmas hymns, proving that giving it some welly is a well-established and honorable tradition.

So how did we get stuck with sweet and slow singing in the choir backed by a far from merry organ accompaniment? As with many things, you can thank the Victorians for it. Old church and chapel choirs, the people who sang Christmas hymns and carols in the eighteenth century and later, took pride in singing vigorously and being heard. Sometimes this enthusiasm could mean they were more shouty than musical. They were also uninclined to take instructions from parish clergy in the way that vicars thought they ought to. Predictably, ecclesiastical argybargy followed. "Church music is at a standstill" wrote a contributor to the magazine, The Parish Choir, blaming an absence of "proper singers" in church. What was needed, he claimed, were "persons who had the proper devotional spirit" who would "evince and diffuse a devotional style of singing" And this, he assured his readers, could never be obtained from "the odds and ends of fiddlers, music-masters and ballad-singers making up church bands and choirs at present.". On top of this, other voices then demanded music written by "proper"; - classically trained musicians ; not the blacksmiths, shoemakers and glovers who wrote so many of the tunes parish choirs enjoyed.

That we have so much very "proper" singing of carols now is the result of all this nineteenth century agitation. But fortunately, a few rebels like Vaughan Williams were also on hand to collect and publish carols that were in direct opposition to those who were "professionally afraid of gaiety". What's more there were carollers in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cornwall and other places still keeping up the older traditions and doing it lustily! They're what I'd call "proper" carol singers!

Carols are "a challenge to be merry" says The Oxford Book of Carols and quotes a Wassail Song to prove it - "Love and joy come to you". For me, singing a carol is one of the best ways to ensure that they do.

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