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BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards live from The Lowry, 8 Feb

Kevin Bourke with Mike Harding and performances from The Dubliners and Don McLean and The Unthanks

Published on February 4th 2012.


BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards live from The Lowry, 8 Feb

WHEN Mike Harding presents the twelfth BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards live from The Lowry on Wednesday (February 8th).

It will be the first time the awards shindig has come outside London, a significant and logical development for an idea he and some like-minded broadcasters cooked up, as is traditional, over a few convivial drinks.

As well as live performances from The Dubliners and Don McLean, other artists who will be performing on a Festival-worthy bill include the legendary Christy Moore, Martin Simpson, Seth Lakeman, Tim Edey & Brendan Power and June Tabor & Oysterband. 

"Shortly after I began presenting the folk programme for BBC Radio 2 some fourteen years ago," recalls the Crumpsall-born writer, broadcaster, raconteur and erstwhile pop star (remember Rochdale Cowboy on Top Of The Pops?), "I found myself out in Austin, Texas, to cover the South By South West festival. Nic Barraclough and Bob Harris were also out there for their programmes as was John Leonard from Delph-based Smooth Operations, who produce my show, as well as the Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie show and many others.

"One night, as we were sitting round the dinner table I said it was a pity that we didn’t have a Folk Music Hall of Fame similar to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. We came to the conclusion that getting a building would be difficult - Cecil Sharp House came close but wasn't quite right. But we could at least have an awards ceremony as a way of thanking people in the folk world, recognising and applauding all the good stuff that is happening on today's folk scene, and holding it up for the world to see."

These days something like 170 folk professionals vote for the various categories and there tends to be a Lifetime Achievement Award, going this year to Don McLean and The Dubliners.

The Unthanks Set Off Walking From The Hills To The Lowry AwardsThe Unthanks Set Off Walking From The Hills To The Lowry Awards

 

 "Of course, not everybody agrees with the result," Mike admits, "but look at the long list of people who’ve received awards over the years and tell me that people like The Copper Family, Christy Moore, Joan Baez, Spiers and Boden, Chris Wood, Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr and James Fagin, Martin Simpson, Ewan McLennan, Norma Waterson, Eliza Carthy, Jackie Oates, or Lucy Ward are not worthy of nomination!"

If those names aren't familiar, then you're just not as hip as you might think, kiddo. Not long ago, BBC Radio 2 announced that Mike's weekly folk, roots and acoustic music show had just achieved a record weekly audience of 920,000, while it's now a given on the live circuit that it's actually acts like the folk big band Bellowhead whose tour tickets fly out of the box-office, and not the 'read all about it' turns so beloved of a desperately out-of-touch media.

When it was revealed that the public would actually be able for the first time to buy tickets for Wednesday's show, they were snapped up faster than you could shout "Not another Take That reunion!"

"When I was growing up the folk scene was the punk of its day, political because it came directly from the people. The folk clubs might not be as important now as they were then but these days you'll see kids everywhere enjoying little acoustic sessions for the sheer pleasure of playing and singing," Mike points out. "The tradition is a living one and that means it's constantly evolving."

The LowryThe Lowry

As well as live performances from The Dubliners and Don McLean, other artists who will be performing on a Festival-worthy bill include the legendary Christy Moore, Martin Simpson, Seth Lakeman, Tim Edey & Brendan Power and June Tabor & Oysterband. The Unthanks, with a remarkable four nominations across the categories, will be playing live too, joined by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band.

The next night The Unthanks will be 'In Conversation' at The Band On The Wall before Friday's 'The Unthanks present…' at the BOTW, the culmination of their specially-commissioned Wall of Sound Artistic Directors residency which has seen the band working with 11 Manchester musicians on completely new work over an intensive 5-day period. Quite a hectic few days for them, you might say.

As Mike points out, the folk tradition is a living one and the Folk Awards also include the presentation of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, the network's annual search for the most promising young (aged 15-20) folk artists in the UK.

The four nominees, including third-year RNCM student Graham Mackenzie, were selected following an audition concert at Kendal's Brewery Arts Centre, with prizes for the eventual winner including a live session for Mike's radio show and slots on the bill at three of the UK’s most prestigious festivals - the Cambridge Folk Festival, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and the Towersey Festival in Oxfordshire.

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, hosted by Mike Harding and Julie Fowlis, are at The Lowry, Salford, on February 8th, broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 and online at bbc.co.uk/radio2. You can also watch it live via the BBC Red Button. You can get more information about ‘The Unthanks In Conversation’ and ‘The Unthanks present …’ at bandonthewall.org.

 

Mike And DonovanMike Harding And Donovan


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