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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Absinthe and iPhones at the BBC folk awards

If there's anything gloomier than a bunch of musicians who've been nominated for an award and not won, or a bunch of musicians who haven't been nominated for an award surrounded by their peers, it's a bunch of musicians who won and then got drunk. At the BBC folk awards on Monday the consensus afterwards seemed to be that if anyone else ever wanted to win an award again then every single member of Bellowhead would have to die...

Here are the results. As you can see Chris Wood and Bellowhead got two apiece: both have recently had new albums out. But the ubiquity of the 11-piece wall-of-sound band was such that when I ventured the opinion that Jon Boden, Bellowhead's main vocalist, was robbed in the Best Singer category after producing 365 solo podcasts this year, what I got three times in reply was a weary shrug and the response that he won it last year. Oh. Right.

In other news: Steve Knightley of Show of Hands had his brand, spanking, uninsured iPhone nicked at the bar afterwards, Mike Harding was hotly anticipating an article in the Manchester Evening News towards the end of this week, Jackie Oates wasn't drinking, Damien Barber's lucky lace - given to him by an old gypsy woman (if you say so, Damien ;-)) - didn't do the trick and a member of Bellowhead who shall remain nameless had a hip flask the size of a hot water bottle containing absinthe. "I've got big hips," he offered by way of an explanation.

Auntie had outdone herself. True, there used to be a sit-down meal attached to the ceremony but with its rotary, rubber chicken overtones those things are often just a cumbersome brake on the main event. So with all the usual caveats about the economic climate, there was pink fizz and canapes beforehand, a very glamorous venue in The Brewery, City of London, and a slew of celebrity prize-givers. Also true, most of them - Tamsin Grieg, Frank Skinner, Mark Radcliffe and Jeremy Vine - are on contract to the Beeb, keeping appearance fees to the minimum. But there was free booze on the tables and repeated warnings that the show would be going out live on TV and radio (parsed as *please don't get drunk and start shouting - you can do that later*).

The whispers around my table during the ceremony were largely about Tamsin Grieg: her off-the-wall speech - hailed by a cry of "we love you Debbie" after her role in The Archers - provoked questions from within and outside the room (by text, it was live) of whether she was mildly inebriated. But you had to pass close to her table to get to the loos and it was reported back that all the wine on her table remained unopened. I guess the trip to Hollywood for Episodes has left its mark and she's just a kooky girl.

Joanna Trollope's cut-glass tones felt a little nannying, with all her talk about the "ethereal" nature of the voices of various people well-known for not being particularly ethereal, her speech seemed slightly off-key. But she was very thorough in her appreciation of the nominees for Album of the Year and intonation is no barrier to liking good music, so the bristling in the audience should probably have been less than it was.

To recap then: Chris Wood and Bellowhead won most things, there was drinking and then there was more drinking afterwards at the Thistle hotel down the road. I managed to leave my jacket in the cloakroom at The Brewery but the nice man running the mini bus service picked it up for me on his next run. So that was OK.

The Levellers had finished off the evening with some wordage about folk being the music of protest. I think the definition of folk is a bit more inclusive than that but I wonder whether the pervasive sense that evening of being under fire was as much about surprise that it hadn't been cancelled completely for money reasons as anything else.

Yet what is the purpose of the BBC if not to do this? The number of folk festivals to be found over the summer is proof that there is money in this kind of music if you know how to tap it. But the Beeb isn't supposed to be about that anyway. There was a hat-tip to Mumford & Sons and there are lots of similar folk-ish bands who could usefully have had a look-in. Personally I would have liked to have seen the Urban Folk Quartet and Urusen there.

And the remit could be wider - not much Scottish stuff going on despite an entire festival full of it in Glasgow only last month.

But it was fun and it went off without a hitch. And you can't ask for much more than that really, can you?

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