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    From early June, you will notice some changes to the BBC Folk & Acoustic website.

    A new weekly Folk blog, written by Mike Harding, will be launching featuring insider news and views from the Folk scene.

    The Mike Harding Show pages will continue to feature the show's weekly information and playlist along with the monthly Folk Vault.

    You will still be able to access the Virtual Session, check the UK Festivals listing and discuss music on the Folk & Acoustic message board, and the website will continue to provide in-depth coverage of folk and acoustic events such as Cambridge Folk Festival, The Young Folk Award and The Folk Awards.

    Artists' Tour Dates and Acoustic Links will no longer feature, as this information is now widely available at artists' own websites and elsewhere across the web.

    The News section will change to point to Folk News from across the wider web and new Folk, Roots and Acoustic releases will be reviewed on BBC Music Online.

    And don't forget, if you miss the Mike Harding Show, it's available for 7 days after broadcast on BBC iPlayer, and via podcast.

    Multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer has embarked on a challenge which could see him heading for the Baltic next summer. Exeter-based Beer, one-half of top acoustic roots duo Show of Hands with singer-songwriter Steve Knightley, has embarked on a 5-month sponsored slim with the goal of being fit enough to fulfil a lifelong ambition - to crew in the famous Tall Ships Race.

    Weighing in at 18st 9lbs at the first gig of the duo's spring tour, Phil announced his 'slimathon' along with the news that the proceeds will benefit charities. Knightley's young son is recovering from leukaemia and, last autumn, the band's fans raised thousands of pounds for the charity CLIC Sargent (Cancer & Leukaemia in Childhood).

    Says Phil: " I wanted to do something personally with this in mind, so half the money raised from the slim will go to the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, where young Jack is being treated." Phil, who has already lost 1 stone 5 lbs, says the remaining money raised will be split between the Alzheimer's Society and MS Research.

    Phil's hope is to help crew the Pegasus, a 74-foot rigged wooden cutter, in an expedition covering 4,500 nautical miles between June and August 2009. Up to 100 vessels, crewed by more than 5,000 people from some 30 countries, will take part in the challenging, high profile event. A folk connection already exists: Diggory Rose, the son of the late folk singer Tony Rose, will be skipper of Pegasus.

    Phil: "Obviously I will need to be slimmer and fitter to be accepted but it's a lifelong ambition of mine. Everyone has a dream - and that's mine. It would mean taking eight weeks out of Show of Hands' festival season but anyone who knows how much I enjoy performing live music will realise that only something very special would take me away from it."

    Phil has his own small boat which he sails around the River Exe and to Show of Hands' riverside studio.

    Visit Show of Hands' website for more details about the duo, and see Phil Beer performing Billy Joel's Downeaster 'Alexa' - about New England fishermen's struggle to retain their traditional way of life - on YouTube.

    Note: the BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

    Poet Les Barker has won an award for learning the Welsh language. The Inspire Adult Learner Awards are oganised by NIACE Dysgu Cymru and recognise the achievements of adult learners throughout Wales. At a prestigious, invitation-only celebration dinner at Swansea's Brangwyn Hall on May 15, Les received the Welsh Learner of the Year Award 2008.

    Les, 61, who relocated to Wrexham from his native Manchester a couple of years ago, was determined to learn the language and after only two years is able to write and translate poetry and hold performances in front of Welsh-speaking audiences.

    He began writing in Welsh by experimenting with the awdl (a long poem in strict meter), then translated Yr Odliadur, a book about rhyming, into English. He says: "I am delighted to have found a community where writing, singing, dancing and playing instruments are normal activities. Learning Welsh has been an enormous achievement for me and has really helped me to settle into the local culture."

    Les was nominated for the award by his Popeth Cymraeg (Welsh Unlimited) tutor, Frances Jones. Says Frances: "I was so impressed with Les's dedication and enthusiasm for learning a new language, and his ability to use both languages in his vocation as a poet and writer after so little time. His hunger to learn and embrace the Welsh language and culture is an inspiration to others."

    Les is now gigging again regularly after recovering from a heart attack in January and has become involved with the preparations for a new folk festival, the Tegeingl, in Mold. To learn more about his three decades as a "poet and professional idiot' on the folk scene and beyond, visit his website.

    Note: the BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

    Chicago-born singer Lucy Kaplansky returns to the UK for a series of dates in June to promote her latest album Over the Hills. While Lucy's last album The Red Thread tells of her journey to adopt her daughter Molly from China, Over the Hills is the story of how Lucy's family came to be in America and the struggles they endured.

    The album connects to universal themes of love, joy, loss and dreams for the future. Lucy says, "As a mother, I find myself thinking about what kind of life and what kind of world my daughter Molly will experience". Special guests include Eliza Gilkyson, Buddy Miller, Richard Shindell and Jonathan Brooke.

    See Lucy's website and our tour dates pages for more details.

    Note: the BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

  •   Folk & Acoustic
      Mike Harding
      Folk & Acoustic Blog
      Folk Vault
      Cambridge 2008
      BBC Young Folk Award 2009
      BBC Folk Awards 2009
      The Virtual Session
      Message Board
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