Last Orders with John Tams

Northumbrian and Cumbrian four-piece Last Orders have been crowned winners of the ‘2007 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award’. The instrumental band claimed the title at the end of a jaw-dropping night of music in London’s Union Chapel, where once again six of the UK’s most promising young folk acts performed for the chance to win a host of prizes and kick start their careers.

  • The first act of the evening were brother-and-sister duo Ewen and Megan Henderson, all the way from Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Despite their long journey and the dubious honour of opening proceedings, the Hendersons looked comfortable and composed from the moment they stepped into the lights. Their professional patter and sense of humour charmed the audience before they’d even begun to play. And play they did, starting with beautiful Gaelic song ‘Am Buachaille Ban’, showcasing the grace and clarity of Megan’s voice and Ewen’s wonderful piano work. The duo drew their fiddles for piece number two, a set of Scottish and Irish tunes that began with great restraint, going from stately to soaring via some neat segues, and finishing with a foot-stamping ‘Donegal Barn Dance’.

    The staggeringly high standards of maturity and musicianship we are used to seeing at the YFA final had been set once again, and it was down to David Delarre to keep it up. The 20-year-old Essex guitarist had plenty of fans in the venue, not least his bandmates from Mawkin! His relative experience shows throughout his set of diverse, technically challenging instrumentals. From a jazzy and fluid version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ (to mark the 1st of December) and a stunning rendition of Eric Roche’s percussive showpiece ‘Roundabout’, it’s clear David has an amazing touch on guitar, and his lovely reworking of Phil Cunningham’s ‘The Pearl’ - adapted from the original for fiddle and accordion and transposed onto guitar - marks him out as a gifted arranger.

    Ryan Young from Loch Lomond - a full five years younger than David – was next on. The fiddler is a student at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, for which he won a music board scholarship. On the strength of his performance, it was clear why. He kicked off with a set consisting of two jig arrangements by his biggest influence, Aly Bain, and a tune called ‘Ryan’s Favourite’. The Bain tunes, ‘The Full Rigged Ship’ and ‘The New Rigged Ship’ built with a real sense of drama that gripped the audience. But Ryan’s second set was even better. Beginning with ‘finger exercise’ and Mike Harding Show signature tune ‘Catharsis’ and taking in Irish reel ‘Humours of Tulla’ and Earl Mitten’s ‘Mitten’s Breakdown’, his playing was faultlessly colourful, cheeky and intelligent, and the due audience reaction was massive.

    The next songs of the evening came from Nottinghamshire duo Ruth Notman and Bryony Bainbridge. The pair met in an orchestra pit, and their classical training showed on the night, particularly in Bryony’s strong, original violin phrases and cinematic recorder playing. After a minor false start, Ruth’s piano and guitar playing also shone, and her lead vocal captured plenty of hearts and minds throughout the course of their engaging set, which featured contemporary arrangements of traditional songs ‘Billy Don’t You Weep For Me’ and ‘Cruel Mother’. Again, the quality of their arrangements was way beyond their years, skilfully weaving instrumental and vocal harmonies to make the most of their rich and soulful sound.

    With a personality as big as his hairstyle, 15-year-old Oxfordshire guitarist Wilber hit the stage with a sense of humour and a gleaming resonator guitar to “tickle”. The closest thing to a bluesman in the event, young Wilber performed three pieces including Stefan Grossman’s ‘Vestapol’, a superbly evocative slide composition called ‘Nobody’s Grave’ and a set of tunes that featured nods to Grossman, Doc Watson and Big Bill Broonzy.

    While the judges retired to scratch their heads, last year’s winners Bodega arrived to entertain the crowd and show just what a positive effect winning the title can have. The Scottish sextet have certainly made good on the promise of their YFA-winning set last year, flourishing into a powerful and compelling live act, bursting with ideas.

    With six amazing acts and eleven future folk stars on show, there was much debate amongst the audience over who the judges would finally award the prize to. In the end it was Last Orders. The band’s intelligent, professional arrangements, including some vigorous Irish and Swedish polkas, were all perfectly realised by a group of musicians that seemed to relish every moment on stage. Matthew Jones’ guitar constantly drove the music forward, providing a strong rhythmic stage on which David Jones (fiddle), Kevin Lees (fiddle), and Joe O’Connor (melodeon) were able to musically duck and dive between each other. Presenting the award, singer-songwriter, actor and producer John Tams praised the talent and perseverance of the 17-18 olds and asked: “Who said youth is wasted on the young?”, before Last Orders took their positions for a remarkably mature encore of sweeping Scandinavian tunes, promising a diverse and exciting musical future.
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