Seth Lakeman
The BBC Folk Awards 2007

Love them or hate them (purists: discuss!), there's no doubt that the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards does what it says on the tin. Year on year – now in its eighth - the ceremony attracts high-profile presenters and guests from across the arts, media and political worlds, raising the genre’s profile and helping to de-ghettoize folk music. This year’s annual beanfeast of musical treats and surprises took place on Monday 5th February for the fourth consecutive year at The Brewery in London.

The first award of the night went to old cohorts Martin Carthy MBE and Dave Swarbrick for Best Duo. Aardman animator Nick Park called them ‘national treasures’ and cheekily compared the likeness of the trophy’s bronze figures to Aardman characters Morph and Chas. “I said to Martin in 1962, if we carried on long enough we’d get an award!” said the irrepressible Swarb, while Carthy declared his pride in the fiddler’s comeback after his long illness. The duo took the stage a few minutes later, playing as magically and companiably together as the young blades of yesteryear.

“Tradition is the past and future feeding each other”, were the apposite words of Poet Laureate Andrew Motion as he presented Tim van Eyken with the Best Traditional Track award for his fresh reworking of the ubiquitous (John) Barleycorn.
Orcadian singer/guitarist Kris Drever received the Horizon Award for best newcomer from veteran singer and broadcaster Archie Fisher MBE, and Vin Garbutt praised the exceptionally high standards of The Ram Club in Surrey as he presented organisers Bob and Maggie Wood with the trophy for Best Folk Club.

Best Original Song was a tough call this year but Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart beat strong competition to receive the trophy from a special American star. Roseanne Cash, daughter of the late Johnny Cash and a Grammy Award-winning songsmith herself, praised Karine’s “songs of beauty, intelligence and passion”. Both women went on to perform, Karine with her band on her award-winning song Daisy, and Roseanne with Chris Thile, Kris Drever, John McCusker and Kevin McGuire – just a small scratch band worked up for the occasion with available talent!

Young mandolin wizard Chris Thile has recently been making a big impression in this country. His performance of a slow air followed by some genre-crossing, finger-plaiting fretboard work with fiddler John McCusker demonstrated just why he’s lauded as an innovator. Later awarded the Musician Of The Year trophy, he endearingly apologised for being American and expressed his appreciation of the friendly British folk community. Louis de Bernières, author of the international best-seller Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, wasn’t a whimsical choice for award-giver. Himself an accomplished musician, De Bernières displayed an extensive knowledge of folk guitarists and was a funny and self-deprecating presenter.

Raising a laugh with a comment about his “recent keen interest in musicians from Romania” (his new partner, Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia was present), Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik presented innovative folk big-band Bellowhead with the trophy for Best Live Act. All 11 members had to weave their way laboriously onto the stage – and do it all again later when they were named Best Group by Radiohead’s Phil Selway.

At Award shows where there are multiple nominees but only one winner, deserving talent sometimes loses out – an effect experienced by Seth Lakeman in recent Folk Awards. 2007 redressed the balance by bringing him the coveted Singer Of The Year gong, presented by Clannad’s Moya Brennan, as well as Best Album for Freedom Fields, the release which has won much mainstream attention. Fellow Devonian Jennifer Saunders called both Devon and Seth ‘cool’ and commented on folk music’s “inclusive and open-minded sense of itself”. Between receiving his awards, Seth gave a great demo of his crossover, contemporary but trad-based style along with guitarist brother Seth and double bassist Ben Nicholls.

Since 2005, Radio 2 listeners and BBC Folk & Acoustic website users have been invited to participate in the Awards with an Audience vote. This year’s category was Favourite Folk Track Of All Time and winner by a mile was Who Knows Where The Time Goes by the late Sandy Denny with Fairport Convention. Accepting the statue on her behalf from comedian and conservationist Bill Oddie, Fairport’s Simon Nicol spoke movingly of Sandy as a “very special woman”.

The BBC Folk Awards annually makes special presentations for outstanding contributions to folk music and this year Danny Thompson provided a common link in both Lifetime Achievement Awards. The double bass ace received one of the awards from Genesis founder and world music promoter Peter Gabriel who, along with countless A-list musicians, has gladly “entrusted his bottom end” to Danny over his 50-year professional career. The second award went to folk legends Pentangle, whose original line-up of Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox had reconvened especially for this occasion. Presenter Sir David Attenborough received a standing ovation and spoke in his trademark impassioned way about folk music and his early broadcasting days at Alexander Palace when he knew Ewan MacColl, Bert Lloyd, Shirley Collins and other folk pioneers.

That the recipient of this year’s Good Tradition award would get a standing ovation was a foregone conclusion. Folk icon Nic Jones received his trophy from an excited Kate Rusby, who had postponed her holiday to honour her hero. Nic paid tribute to folk record label owners Bill and Helen Leader and Tony Engle as well as to his wife Julia, for masterminding his transition from “subhuman to paranormal” – a typically philosophical and humorous take on the results of the tragic accident which cut short his career in 1982.

It was a night for big line-ups as the stage was filled with teeming talent. The irresistable percussive rhythms of Salsa Celtica with Eliza Carthy made the room hop at the night’s outset and the glorious, unfettered sound of Bellowhead did the honours at the back end of the proceedings. In between, Show Of Hands with John Tams, Barry Coope, Jim Boyes, Miranda Sykes and the ten-strong Cornish choir Fishermen’s Friends did full justice to Steve Knightley’s emotive song Roots and, for the first time on stage together in thirty years, the original line-up of the legendary Pentangle reprised their unique folk-jazz fusion sound with two numbers including their hypnotic 1969 hit Light Flight.

The Folk Awards 2007 once again honoured the legends and icons of folk music and its rising stars, in a night designed to celebrate the folk scene’s huge talent and pass on the good word. It’s become a theme at the Awards that presenting celebrities note the inclusiveness and friendliness of the folk community and many of them ask to come to the Awards again as guests. Enjoying the music and increasing the ambit this year were film and TV actors Bob Hoskins, Charles Dance and Brenda Blethyn, politicians such as MPs Alan Keen and Peter Wishart, faces from the creative arts including all the directors of Aardman Animations, and more. Folk? Ghetto? Not any longer!

You can listen to highlights of the 2007 Folk Awards on Wednesday 7th February in an extended two-hour Mike Harding Show from 7-9pm on Radio 2 and for the following week on Listen Again.

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