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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Spectator piece about the folk awards

The Spectator magazine got in touch a couple of weeks ago and asked if I'd like to write something about the Radio Two Folk Awards, since they were coming up. Obviously I have form in this respect.

It was great to be asked. So I wrote a piece, it was edited by Fraser Nelson, the magazine's editor, who it turns out has strong opinions of his own about folk music. The piece was much improved I thought... and then they published the first version.

Here it is.

The article speaks for itself, I hope, and some of it will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. But there are some things I'd like to add.

I hope that continuing to discuss the way that the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards are administered will compel the BBC to make the reforms it hinted at when I spoke to Fergus Dudley on the telephone. He implied that they would be looking at the awards' transparency again this year. And I hope that, for the sake of our curiosity, this reorganisation will include producing a list of this year's judges so we can compare the results with whatever comes next.

I also hope that one day soon the folk awards will be on terrestrial television because the BBC should promote them as one of the mainstays of our cultural output.

And, since I've started now, I also believe that the Arts Council of England should spend more of its money promoting English talent to the rest of the world, instead of importing "high culture" from abroad that has probably already been subsidised at least once by its own national governments. The clue is in the name of the organisation, we pay for it and we should get our money's worth.

Moreover, I think that if it did this the arts council may find its budget negotiations would go better the next time they made their case to the government - because marketing music that people actually want to buy would produce material rewards and that's the kind of language government understands.

I hope you enjoy this evening's awards.

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Thursday, 17 January 2013

Troubadour Rose's Bryony Afferson has a big week

"In my mind there are all these instruments playing"

There are several things you should know about Bryony Afferson.

Firstly, she sings, plays and writes the songs for a band called Troubadour Rose, of which you may have heard because they've been gigging for about four years and will shortly be releasing their first album.

Secondly, she is on BBC One rather a lot this week: on three separate occasions, no less - one episode of Father Brown during the day on Monday and two episodes of Silent Witness on Thursday and Friday evenings, for she is an actress by training.

And thirdly, her partner in life is Jack Day, who had an album released himself by Proper on Monday.

"What I've been doing this week, though, is filming a kids' drama called House of Anubis for Nickelodeon," said Afferson.

It sounds as if things are going well? Lots of work?

"It started off kind of slow last year and then picked up, which was great because the year before was really slow. I just hope that the ball keeps rolling now. Father Brown was shot back in July" (watch it this week on iPlayer here) "and I play a character who is sleeping with a really unpleasant man in order to protect her husband. Her husband finds out and thinks she's having an affair and then the unpleasant man is found dead and she assumes her husband has done it."

In other words, Afferson plays the character around whom the entire plot revolves. Not that she mentioned this, being modest by nature.

"Father Brown is based on a GK Chesterton character and the show has got Mark Williams and Hugo Speer in it, who are two actors you don't usually see on daytime TV. The rumour on set was that if the show does well they want to bring it back in an evening slot."

In fact, a piece in the Evening Standard media diary yesterday said that it pulled in two million viewers, which is almost unheard of during the daytime, since most people are at work (or maybe not, these days). Then there's iPlayer...

"In Silent Witness I play a scientist who's been forced to work for the baddies. She's being held captive and getting tortured along the way... Unfortunately I do end up on the slab by the end of it. I'm the silent witness.

"But there is a great scene - at least the director said it looks great - when I'm running through a cornfield gagged and bound. But when we filmed it the corn was slashing against my legs. By the end of the day we'd done four or five takes and I came out in hives. I had the make-up lady throwing water on my legs and then the first-aider put witch hazel on them and tried to talk me into going to hospital. But it struck me as interesting that I spent most of the day acting broken and then got genuinely broken."

Obviously the BBC has it in for Bryony this week. Still, it's good to work...

So where does Troubador Rose fit in?

"I've always loved music and acting. I considered applying to music school but realised I'd have more chance of finding work as an actor if I went to drama school and kept working on the music by myself. I went to a college called East 15 out in Loughton and graduated from there in 2004. And while I was there they had open mic evenings where I got to do some music as well.

"Troubadour Rose has got a few festivals lined up for this summer and we've got an album coming out called Tell Me, which is our first. But it feels as if it's been a very difficult process, getting the funds together, going into a studio to record it and doing justice to the songs. In my mind there are all these instruments playing but we've have to scale things back in reality.

"In a fantastic piece of luck there is a friend of Gary - who plays violin - who's offered to mix the album for us. He's a professional so it would cost thousands to pay him the going rate. We're not worrying about finding a label - the chances of that happening seem to be extremely slim these days. But the album's completely ready and it's getting pressed at the moment."

Hasn't Jack also got an album out? I met the two of them a few months ago down at the 12 Bar near Tottenham Court Road, which was fun, and he later sent me a copy.

"Yes! Jack's album The First Ten was officially released yesterday - Monday - by Proper."

Will that count for anything when it comes to releasing Tell Me?

"I'm not sure. Jack got the Proper distribution deal as a result of being on Bucket Full of Brains, which is Nick West's label. It's much easier to get distribution if you're on a label of some kind. Nick's also released stuff by Benjamin Folke-Thomas and John Murray."

So how does Nick West feel about Troubadour Rose?

"I don't know. I wouldn't describe Troubadour Rose as girly music but I don't know if it would fit into his roster."

Is it all men being moody?


But Bryony has other things going for her. She seems to have a gift for getting on with people and, for instance, landed a commission to do the soundtrack of a film called Strawberry Fields last year after meeting the director during a day's acting work. The film starred Emun Elliot who has since appeared in Ridley Scott's Prometheus and as Moray in the BBC's hugely successful drama The Paradise.

... all of which is pretty impressive.

"Thanks. It's felt like a constant battle but when you take the time to sit back and think about the past year and what you've achieved, it's pretty all right. You have to just keep focusing your attention on the thing directly in front of you."

So are there any plans for you and Jack to work together?

"Well, we're a couple and we both play guitar so it's nice to play music together. But we certainly haven't gigged anything. We've been together for about a year and a half - we met at The Lantern Society though I'm a bit fuzzy on the details. I remember watching him play for the first time and being really impressed but Lizzy" also of Troubadour Rose "says I turned to her and said 'Who's that?'

"So now we live together in East Finchley, which is like a different world to Hackney, where we were at first. People there grow roses and everything smells nice."

I grew up there for a while and think it must have changed a lot. I mainly remember greasy Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes. Even so, I'm tempted to say something about everything coming up roses for the two of them because I'm a fool for that kind of wordplay. I won't, though, because that would be tempting fate.

* Listen to some more Troubadour Rose here.

* And some Jack Day here.

*Troubadour Rose will be playing on February 7 at Powers Bar in Kilburn, as part of an evening organised by Club House Records. Buy tickets here.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Friday, 11 January 2013

Southern Tenant Folk Union goes a bit Dexter

Watching the Southern Tenant Folk Union launch their fifth album on the Green Note's tiny stage on Thursday brought to mind a world record attempt to fit the most people into a phone booth. Every time I thought I'd finished counting them, another head - or a banjo - would would pop into view from the back so its owner could take their turn at the single microphone.

It could have been a piece of physical theatre: guitar necks were foisted in the air, the better for the sound to reach the mike, vocalists moved nearer or farther away depending on how loud they needed to be and there looked to be an unwavering awareness of where everyone else was, so they could all move around each other. The lack of space made them a single organism and I didn't see anyone bump into anyone else.

They've also got a look. They had three beardy young men wearing suits that made them look like someone's ancestors in the Green Note's sepia light. Proper old-timey. I kept expecting them to break into Man of Constant Sorrow.

They didn't, though, partly because they write all their own material.

The new album, Hello Cold Goodbye Sun, is surprisingly contemporary in its preoccupations. After being described as "sawdust kickers" by an approving Guardian, they've applied their bluegrassy folk sound to a collection of songs described as "modern horror", as if True Blood, Twilight and Dexter had collided with DeadwoodDeliverance and Lars Von Triers' recent film about the end of the world, Melancholy, in such a way that the only thing left to do was sing about it. Sawdust, after all, is often used to soak up blood.

They began with a song preoccupied, according to the band's remaining founder member Pat McGarvey, by the imagery of JG Ballard's Crash, a novel which eroticises car accidents in a way that - as a former nurse - I always thought was odd. I mean, when you're recovering from traumatic injuries the pain will usually kill eroticism and if it doesn't then the opiates will. But hey... it's fiction. More importantly, the song worked.

Most hilarious intro of the evening went to Jed Milroy, owner of an amazing head of curly hair that he likes to shake about, for his explanation about how he came to write a macabre piece about a real Scottish kayacking trip that ended badly. "They all do," chimed in an audience member to much hilarity. And so we were treated to the image of a one-handed man gaffer-taping a paddle to his arm before finding a weird, Deliverance-y family (Duelling Banjos works well with this on several levels) on a causeway, refusing to admit that the tide was lapping their ankles or even that Milroy was there.

I don't know this band very well and stupidly managed to leave without an album. But they were gripping and there were tunes they played that I urgently need to hear again. OK, so the ambitious vocal harmonies were sometimes a little wonky. But I guess that's partly a function of working with new material.

In their greatest hits at the end - after they'd played the new album from end to end - they included a setting of Yeats's powerfully unusual poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.

I was struck by it because I know The Waterboys' version from their recent and rather wonderful album, An Appointment with Mr Yeats.

The poem is one of the greats. And Southern Tenant Folk Union really aren't bad either.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

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