Trad/roots: Folk music's full of wonderment – no matter who wins
Being a member of the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards voting panel is obviously going to be a tough job, what with all that listening to my favourite music and deciding what bits I like best... but somebody's got to do it
YEEHAW is exactly what I said when I received the email asking me to be on the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards voting panel.
Yeehaw because it was recognition of The Irish News's commitment to folk, traditional and roots music and yeehaw because, brushing aside any thoughts of false modesity, an appreciation that this column takes a holistic look at traditional music and musicians, whether it's Josie Nugent's work in helping young people with autism or older people who have suffered brain injuries by encouraging them create music to self-heal or Cara Dillon's attempt at giving voice to the spirit of Christmas in this materialistic world or Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh talking about that magical relationship between a musician and his or her audience or Dónal Lunny's memories of a Donegal Gaeltacht seanchaí who would tell a single story that would last over five nights or the stunning achievement of the Armagh Piper's Club in encouraging young people to excel in traditional music.
The world of traditional and folk music is full of wonderment and has a spiritual and a healing element that is beyond description.
Yesterday I got the voting form for the awards asking me to nominate three artists in the following categories:
Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo. Best Group, Best Album, the Horizon Award (awarded to the best emerging artist or artists on the scene during the Award year); Musician of the Year, Best Original Track, and Best Traditional Track.
The choices have to be made by January 31.
Then on February 9, Round 2 begins and I will be asked to choose a winner in the Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Group, the Horizon Award and Musician of the Year.
So far so mind-boggling, so many questions. How can you judge which singer is better than another or if that fiddler is better than that piper?
Can I shake of the chauvinism that will make me want to champion the cream of Irish talent or will I recognise the work of, say the legendary English singer and song collector Shirley Collins who last year released Lodestar, her first album in 30 years, at the age of 81 and earning her the Album of the Year accolade in fRoots magazine?
Or Geordie lasses the Unthanks who gave one of the best gigs I was ever at when they played at St George's Church in Belfast as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival last May?
On the other hand, do I wrap the green flag round me, boys, and go for the megastars of The Gloaming or up and coming bands like Réalta?
Decisions, decisions. Still, I'm up for the task!
As for the awards themselves, the organisers – the BBC and Smooth Operations – have reviewed the Folk Awards voting process and have decided to refresh the Folk Awards panel, to ensure that it "continues to be as representative, informed and relevant as possible".
"In the Folk Awards' 18-year history, there has never been a root-and-branch overhaul of the panel, though the Folk Awards Committee's panel review system has enabled new names to be added (or removed) where appropriate and necessary," says Al Booth, editor of Specialist Music at the BBC.
"As the folk genre continues to evolve and grow, we need to make sure the panel reflects today's scene as accurately as possible, as well as ensuring its regional, national and cultural diversity."
The 2017 Folk Awards panel comprises 150 people, all of whom are working in folk music in a professional or semi-professional capacity and are reliably exposed to a wide variety of folk, roots and acoustic music.
So it's time to get the thinking cap and the CD player on. As Captain Scott said, "I might be some time."
If you have any thoughts on who might be deserving of an award, you can let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
:: Things are going very well for trad musos who have appeared on this column over the past three months. The Beoga quest for world domination is moving on apace as the band announce they have recorded two tracks with pop superstar Ed Sheeran. The songs, Galway Girl (no, not that one) and another about the birthplace of Ed's granny in Wexford, will appear on his new album, intriguingly entitled ÷ !
:: Another interviewee, piper John McSherry, was named Male Musician of the Year at the liveIreland Music Awards ceremony last week. John, of course, is a member of Ulaid who will be joined by Duke Special at the Out to Lunch festival on Sunday January 15 for a sold-out gig.
The following week, the intriguing combination are hoping to make a Kickstarter-funded live recording of The Belfast Suite. Having performed the music throughout Ireland and the UK in the autumn of 2016 and having received a hugely enthusiastic response, the lads have decided to put this incredible music to tape.
You can check out the details on the Kickstarter website.