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Jarlath Henderson, winner of the 2003 Radio 2 Young Folk Award
Jarlath Henderson
Jarlath Henderson, a 17 year old piper from Northern Ireland, scooped 2003's Radio 2 Young Folk Award. Eliza Carthy, no stranger to awards herself, presented the award to a clearly awestruck winner. Jarlath dazzled audience and judges alike with his piping prowess and easy stage presence, hopefully laying the foundations for a thriving career.

The judges' decision could not have been an easy one. This year's final was yet another astonishing display of youthful virtuosity, making the judges' work harder than ever. The unenviable task of kicking off the evening went to Tom Kitching, a 20 year old fiddle player from Macclesfield. If he was nervous, he didn't show it, playing a selection of tunes clearly owing a debt to his hero Dave Swarbrick.

Newcastle University's Folk degree continues to turn out some fine performers - the evening's next act, Hampshire duo Arlen, are both students on the course. Guitarist David Newey accompanied vocalist Lucy Rutherford. An evocative rendition of the The Unquiet Grave stilled the audience, marking Lucy out as a fine new talent with a distinctively beautiful voice.

Fiddle players were well represented this year - 17 year old Emma Sweeney, although visibly nervous, played some wonderful jigs and reels which got feet tapping around the Chapel. Also proficient on piano and tin whistle (she's currently All-Britain champion and studies under the wonderful Mike McGoldrick), she's definitely one to watch.

Sibling trio XYZ demonstrated that rare synergy unique to family bands, with twin brothers Matthew and David Jones, 15, accompanying their sister Sarah, 17. All three showed massive talent, with Matthew's driving rhythm guitar playing showing the influence of his tutor, Ian Stephenson of 422.

Jackie Oates, 20, changed the pace slightly with her fiddle-singing. Her rendition of Broadside ballad The Cruel Ship's Carpenter was particularly notable, with eerie plucked notes underpinning the dark lyric. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme eventually faded into a low drone, echoing in the blackness of the Union Chapel.

But the night belonged to Jarlath Henderson. Despite a late arrival, Jarlath strapped on his uilleann pipes and proceeded to astonish the audience with his skill and sensitivity on one of the most difficult traditional instruments to master. His second tune, Madame Bonaparte, had been learnt only two weeks previous to the final, but its novelty was not evident in his stunningly assured playing. Despite looking more like a young Ronnie Wood than your typical folkie, its plain to hear why Jarlath has already won the All-Ireland piping championships three times. Watch out for him at Cambridge and Sidmouth and prepare to be amazed.

Mick Fitzsimmons
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