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YFA 2004/5
FIDDLER LAUREN MacCOLL TAKES THE TROPHY
 
Lauren MacColl
Lauren MacColl
18-year-old Lauren MacColl is the winner of the 2004/5 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. The young fiddle player from Ross-shire was too stunned to make a speech as she accepted the award from fellow Scot John McCusker, himself no mean fiddler and multi-award winner. She recovered sufficiently to say a graceful thanks and to play a stunning slow air which had the audience holding its breath until the last notes faded to the rafters of London's beautiful Union Chapel.

This year, two new prizes have been introduced for the winner of the Award. Traditionally the winner/s play concert spots at Cambridge Folk Festival and Sidmouth International Festival but since the demise of Sidmouth, next year's substitute will be the equally prestigious Towersey Festival. A recording session for the Mike Harding Show is also an excellent boost to the career of the winning act. Now included for the first time are a 12-month membership to the Musicians' Union and a spot at the next Association of Festival Organisers Conference and Concert, an annual event where acts are showcased to 150 festival organisers and other folk industry pundits. Compere Mike Harding also promised this year's winner a personal contribution of some fire irons and a cruet set but we think Lauren may well choose to decline this generous offer!

Each year draws young artists of great ability and this seventh Young Folk Award gave the judges cause for some heated debate before their decision was made. A great start to the evening was made by Chillum, a cool-looking trio of lads aged 17-20 from Newcastle and Leeds. Will Lang's slick and stylish bodhran playing provided a driving underscore for Tom Wright's percussive guitar and Matthew Dean's fluid whistle and flute melodies in a dynamic set of traditional and self-penned Irish material.

Next up was 19-year-old solo singer Kathryn Davidson from Northumberland. Not at all fazed by being alone on stage with no accompaniment, she topped-and-tailed her set with humorous, melodically-challenging, tongue-twisting songs from her native county and Scotland. In between, her slow, emotional rendition of the ballad Lovely Willie held everyone spellbound to its bitter end.

Derbyshire four-piece Kerfuffle have already been making a name for themselves since winning Derby's In The Tradition Award in December 2002. They quickly showed their virtuosity by playing two Swedish polskas given a decidedly eastern flavour by 15-year-old Sam Sweeney's djembe. When he took up his fiddle there was a slight sound problem - no sound! - which the band handled like professionals; all the more remarkable since their top age is 17. With Hannah James on vocal and accordion, Chris Thornton-Smith on guitar and Tom Sweeney on bass, they gave a varied set full of swing and finished up with a fine head of steam on a storming reel.

Twenty-year-old Bella Hardy is the second fiddle-singer to make the Young Folk Award final, and it's fascinating to see young musicians developing this not-so-common style of singing and playing fiddle simultaneously. Bella's arrangements of traditional ballads and a Castleton carol exhibited real originality. Her staccato fiddling and assured vocal on the eerie Through Lonesome Woods made the hairs rise on the back of the neck. Though nerves may have affected her vocal performance slightly, she made a strong impression and worked hard to communicate with the audience.

Finishing up the concert, fiddle duo Carly Blain and Rachel Cross, both 18 and from Kelso in the Scottish Borders, made a beautifully melodic and resonant sound together. They charmed the audience from their opening immaculately-timed piece of unison fiddling through intricately-harmonied tunes from the Borders, Shetlands and Finland, and ended by making the fiddles almost speak as they told the tale of Eilidh Shaw's Tam The Banjo.

While the judges deliberated, 2003 winner Jarlath Henderson took the stage. The 18-year-old uilleann piper from Dungannon gave a first-hand account of the effects of the award and made some thanks, before ably demonstrating why he lifted last year's trophy. Joined after two numbers by talented musical friends Sean O'Donnell (guitar) and Ross Ainslie (border pipes and whistle), he amused and delighted the audience with a wide range of tunes on pipes and low whistle.

Taking the stage to announce the winner, John McCusker pronounced he was "feeling very old and gonna go home and practice". As a judge as well as presenter, he was well placed to reiterate the difficulty of the decision. In the end, it was the pure passion of her musicality which won the day for Lauren MacColl. Proving that traditional music doesn't have to be played full-tilt to display virtuosity, she had conjured up the magical heart of Scotland with her beautifully controlled and intensely beautiful fiddling. Her set of jigs, slow air, march, strathspey and reels displayed a maturity and understanding that won pin-drop attention from the audience and brought her the 2004/5 award. Now we can all hope to see this talented young musician emerge from her native Scotland and reach a wider audience south of the border.

Mel McClellan

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  Young Folk Award 2003
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