So to Cardiff. Which is in Wales. That’s the one where they didn’t get to vote for independence. Yet. The Millennium Centre. Lovely place. Lovely people. Lovely music. Lovely ambience. Lovely BBC Folk Awards. A right good do it turned out to be too. An exceedingly warm welcome greets us in the hillsides – and beyond – and Cardiff seems genuinely thrilled to host the motley assortment of troubadours, misfits, musos and folk degree course graduates who descend from who knows where, while grabbing every opportunity to promote its own cultural wares.
With one exception (the sainted Nessa from Gavin & Stacey) those giving out the awards this year are a pretty sorry bunch but the winners all turn up and are generally deemed to be worthy recipients and the music paraded on stage is perfectly acceptable. The sort you can sit your uncles, aunts and prodigal cousins down to watch without fear of being ridiculed for the rest of your days with taunts of “do you actually like this stuff?” Some of them were even Welsh…
And, without further ado, and back by popular demand we present The BBC Folk Awards Awards!
Catrin Finch The harp playing Welsh fashionista was a nominee last year in company with the magnificent Seckou Keita. No cigar, then, but this year’s bright, summery flowery frock lit up Cardiff to become a runaway winner.
O’Hooley & Tidow Folkies have perennially disappointed in the tattoo department, so hats off to Belinda and Heidi for their full-armed response to the lack-of-tattoo-in-folk-song crisis. None of those dainty butterflies on buttocks jobs, these are proper dockers tattoos. A travesty they didn’t got nominated for best original song, of course, but better than nowt.
Loudon Wainwright III Sod the lifetime achievement award, it was Loudon’s tie that was the talk of Cardiff. Like the man himself – brazen, colourful, mischievious, entertaining, loud…a mesmerising miasma of multi-coloured stripes, believed to have been crafted in Wales. Loudon himself is almost Welsh. “I thought I should say something in Welsh,” he said at the outset. “So…what’s new pussycat?”
NOT ENOUGH HOURS IN THE DAY AWARD
Nancy Kerr & Julie Fowlis Fate planted them in competition for Singer of the Year, but neither stopped throughout the evening. Besides being elegant hostest with the moistest, bantering gently with Mark Radcliffe, La Fowlis sang tenderly and smiled beatifically when she was overlooked for the big prize. Nancy didn’t stop either, chatting on the wireless, presenting Talisk with their Young Folk Award gong and making an eloquent acceptance speech. “I’m not the best folk singer around…I don’t even know what that means.”
SELFIE OF THE YEAR
Nessa from Gavin & Stacey In a dull year for celeb presenters, Nessa was manna from heaven. “What’s wrong with Barry?” she said, scowling at the grand Millennium Centre before giving Nancy Kerr her gong. She beat all-comers into a cocked hat in the demand for selfies at the after-show, happily accommodating anyone and everyone’s request for a picture with her, even Derek Schofield. Nessa is from Wales.
SERVICES TO MILLINERY AWARD
Cerys Matthews Foregone conclusion really. That trademark trilby is now surgically attached to the Matthews head. Cerys is Welsh apparently.
James Walbourne No question about the coolest guy in Cardiff…The Rails’ James Walbourne, strutting around like a proper rock star, black leather jacket, menacing snarl, electric guitar slung low making a splendid racket with the rest of the band on ‘Drunken Sailor’. He looked so cool he could almost have been Welsh.
‘BLIMEY, WHERE DID THEY DIG HIM UP FROM?’ AWARD
Andy Fairweather Low Andy Fairweather Low? You know…Amen Corner a million years ago. Haven’t heard of him for years util Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson covered ‘If Paradise Was Half As Nice’ a couple of years ago. Bet Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker had no idea who he was when he presented them with their best gong. But the important thing is…he’s Welsh!
BEST GONG GIVER
Tom Robinson Tom knew he’d have to come up trumps giving Loudon Wainwright his lifetime achievement award and, the supreme pro, he came up trumps, full of flowing humour and unsentimental respect and not a glance at the wretched autocue. Bravo, Sir Tom, honorary Welshman. Shame he didn’t tell his Eddy Grant story, though –it’s a corker.
WORST GONG GIVER
Dear, dear, dear. David Gray? David Gray? He had a lifetime ago with ‘Babylon’ and used to live in Wales. Good enough grounds to get to present The Artist Formerly Known As Cat Stevens with his Lifetime Achievement Award? Seemingly more perplexed than anyone, Gray went 50 Shades of Purple, giggling self-consciously reading a bland citation which appeared to be cut and pasted from Wikipedia.
SPECIAL AWARD FOR SERVICES TO CULOTTES
Julie Fowlis More culottes in folk music. It’s the future. Praise be to Julie Fowlis, hostesss, performer and singer of the year nominee for taking such a pioneering role for culottes in folk. At least we think they’re called culottes. Or were they just long shorts? One for Susannah and Trinny to work out.
SHOW-STOPPING MOMENT AWARD
Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker There was a crashing sound of jaws colliding violently with floors as Josienne started to sing ‘Banks Of The Sweet Primroses’. Had there been a merch table in the lobby, copies of the duo’s brilliant album ‘Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour’ would have flown out of the building at a furious rate…though people may have been disappointed to discover ‘Banks Of The Sweet Primroses’ isn’t on it.
FAIR PLAY AWARD
Yusuf Islam Widely expected to walk off with the Best Beard Award (in which his disappointingly modest effort lost out to Guy Garvey’s ruggedly trim homage to Ewan MacColl), Yusuf’s Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech happily avoided any Donovan-esque ‘How I Invented Folk Music and Taught The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Bellowhead Everything They Know’. Instead Yusuf paid touching tribute to his early inspirations, including Leadbelly, Bert Jansch, Davy Graham and John Renbourn.
UNTHANKS’ ‘HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN WE GET ON THE STAGE?’ AWARD
9 Bach The award set up in honour of The Unthanks’ sensational performance of ‘King Of Rome’ with the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band in Salford a couple of years ago was won hands down by local heroes 9Bach who, apart from their regular line-up, fielded 50 members of the Penrhyn Male Voice Choir. Breathtaking stuff.
SURPRISE SURPRISE AWARD
Young ‘Uns The law is that every year the Best Group Award should be a private battle between Bellowhead and Lau. No Lau this year so the assumption was that Bellowhead would be punching it out with The Gloaming. So the big surprise of the night – but a pleasant one – was the sight of the Young ‘Uns receiving the award with a confession that the main reason they’d started going to folk because it afforded them under-age drinking. Well done judges. Some of whom may be Welsh.
MOST ENLIGHTENING PERFORMANCE AWARD
10 Mewn Bws Or 10 On A Bus for any of you philistine non-Welsh speakers. The young group assembled as part of a project by Welsh folk development organisation Trac opened with a recording of the singing of the legendary Merêd Evans, seguing into their exhilaratingly modern take on the same song. Living tradition right there. Oddly enough, a few of the 10 members seemed to have fallen off the bus on the way to the show.
LIFETIME DESCRIPTION AWARD
Loudon Wainwright III Incorrigible as ever, Loudon’s concise acceptance summary of an “entire lifetime of loneliness, drunkenness, infidelity, dysfunction, death and decay” was a joy. But it was still overshadowed by his tie.