I have been hooked on the Radio 2 Folk Awards since 2011. That year I watched a live television broadcast of the ceremony and was blown away by Chris Wood’s performance of his award winning song 'Hollowpoint'. Telling the story of the death of young Brazilian electrician Jean Charles Menezes, it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever listened to. If anyone ever tells you folk music is no longer relevant and only speaks to the past, this song alone should convince them otherwise.

I’ve followed the awards since then, partly out of my own appreciation of folk music in all its forms and partly because I have always hoped to come across a song or an artist who had the emotional impact of Chris Wood that night, so when the tickets came on sale, I took my chance to be a part of the occasion. This is the 20th anniversary of the awards and they were held as part of the Manchester Folk Festival. This included a Folk Expo event, a great opportunity for performers, promoters and fans to meet and network.

Emotions ran high in the Bridgewater Hall for these 2019 awards. This year it was all about excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation. There was a lot of love in the room.
The nominees were popular and all deserved to be winners. Mark Radcliffe ,host of the radio programme, did the honours and Julie Fowlis had recorded the nominations announcements. She usually co-hosts but is currently on tour in the States.

There was a lot of banter and some wild applause both on and off the live broadcast.
There was also a strong Northern flavour to the whole event and as someone who comes from Manchester, was born in Leeds and has lived both sides of the Pennines, I really appreciated seeing musicians I was familiar with performing on the night. I’ve seen the careers of some of the younger ones develop over recent years. Blair Dunlop, Bella Hardy and Ellie Lucas performed as members of the Folk Chorus. Kate Rusby took to the stage at short notice because Rioghnach Connolly of The Breath was unable to appear. Kate had already set off for Manchester when she got the call and had to go back for a guitar! Old favourites like Edward II (originally from Manchester’s Moss Side), O’Hooley and Tidow (from West Yorkshire) and Michael McGoldrick (also Manchester based) gave great live performances.

The evening’s awards and entertainment proceeded with fantastic good humour and efficiency. I was in awe of the stage crew, who set up for each act. They were well worth watching, especially when they carried a grand piano on (and later off) stage in silence and practically on tiptoe.

It was wonderful to see Seckou Keita receive the award for Musician of the Year. He and Catrin Finch also won best duo and it was no surprise as their work together and their album Soar has been so well received. Best traditional track was 'The Foggy Dew' by Ye Vagabonds, best album award went to the Trails of Cato for "Hide and Hair", the horizon award went to Brighde Chaimbeul and Maddie Morris won the Young Folk Award. There were two lifetime achievement awards: The first went to 'Wizz Jones', who has been a huge inspiration and influence for more than one generation of guitarists. He came on to perform with his son Cillian and his grandson Alfie. The second went to Irish band Dervish, who ended the evening with a terrific performance of "Down By The Sally Gardens".

Along the way there were many other treats and surprises. Thea Gilmore sang a beautiful version of 'Dance Me to the End Of Love', in praise of Leonard Cohen, who was inducted to the Hall of Fame. O’Hooley and Tidow performed their surprise hit, the theme tune from the recent TV series 'Gentleman Jack'. Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch gave us "Listen to the Grass Grow" from Soar.

It was the guests who presented the awards who also made the evening special for me. They included TV presenters Steph McGovern (who revealed she’d been an Irish dancing champion), and Ellie Harrison ('Countryfile'). More surprising was Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, comedian Rich Hall and Yorkshire based writer Joanne Harris. Ralph McTell stole the evening when he presented Mark Radcliffe with a special award to celebrate 40 years in broadcasting. For once he was speechless! I was especially thrilled to see Allan Clarke of the Hollies and Graham Gouldman of 10cc take the stage to present awards. I have very fond memories of seeing Graham Nash sing 'Bus Stop' (written by Gouldman) to his great friend Allan Clarke in the audience at Bridgewater Hall back in 2011.

It was wonderful to share an evening of great music and good humour. There was a real celebration of diversity, not just back and forth across the Pennines but up and down the country to Wales and Scotland and across the Irish Sea, Seckou Keita brought something new to the awards with his Senegalese griot tradition and his kora playing. The diversity was also celebrated and recognised across the generations, from Wizz Jones (who turned 80 this year) to the newest award winner Maddie Morris.

Folk music is flourishing and long may it continue to do so. Events like this really bring together the wide range of music that excites the fans and represents the performers and this 20th anniversary award evening was a great opportunity to celebrate together.

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Commenting On: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 16/10/2019 - BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards

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