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BBC RADIO 2 FOLK AWARDS - Royal Albert Hall, London - 5 April 2017

There is, I suspect, some debate on the need for and value of folk awards, but nevertheless they are now a regular part of the scene. There is likely more debate on what sort of music constitutes folk. The Radio 2 Awards take a broad approach to this as was evinced by opening act, the Afro Celt Sound System, who muddied things further with the neither Afro nor Celtic Dohl drum of Johnny Kalsi prominent on stage.

The event used to be a bit exclusive: the ‘great’, ‘good’ and ‘hangers on’ would convene at a London venue. Recently they have been more open with a large public attendance and one year the awards even left London. There is also a settled format: a series of presentations interspersed with performances, this time including Fara, Jim Moray and double award winner, Daoirí Farrell. Surprises are not uncommon and not just with the announcement of winners: who knew that Tony Blackburn used to play in a band with Al Stewart?

Billy Bragg gave an impassioned speech inducting Woody Guthrie into the Hall of Fame and then sang Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore; as relevant today as it was when written. There were echoes of an earlier period in a performance by Shirley Collins. Ry Cooder, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award, played Jesus On The Mainline, a song first collected, he informed us, by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins in the 1950s. This choice and his additional verses, bringing the song up to date, highlighted both the enduring nature and the transience of the tradition.

A welcome departure this time was a relay during the interval break of pieces by all the contenders for this year’s Young Folk Award introduced by Kathryn Tickell. Although I miss the previous format which climaxed in a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I think the current one in which 10 applicants are invited to attend a residential weekend in Kendal during January is better for the development of young musicians. Over the weekend they work with mentors and finally perform in a public concert. Based on this concert, four nominees are shortlisted for the award.

A full list of winners, photos of the event and videos of the performances can be found at: bbc.co.uk/events/e5qgwh.

Iain Campbell