Issue 21 2/2002

The FolkWorld Editorial

BBC Folk Awards or: What is Folk Music? By Michael Moll.

As the new year starts, you find glamorous Award ceremonies for everything. For the last three years, the BBC as one of the world's most reputed broadcasters, has produced a Folk Award Cerenomy on BBC Radio 2, and additionally this year World Music Awards on BBC Radio 3. Somehow the Folk Awards left me a bit puzzled, asking myself the question: What IS folk for the BBC?

The BBC Folk Awards reminds you very much of the concept of the Brit Awards for music. And just like the Brit Awards, I am not sure how useful they are. This years' BBC Folk Awards featured eight different categories with four nominees in each category. The selection of 32 nominees actually featured only 17 different acts, as three folk acts were omnipresent: Kate Rusby made five nominations, Cara Dillon and Martin Simpson four each.

Unlike the Brit Awards, there are no categories that allow only British artists; it seems that all categories are open to worldwide musicians. So among the nominees were 10 acts from England, three acts from the States, one from Canada, two from Ireland and one from Scotland. These statistics leave us with the question: What are the criteria for being included? It cannot be the criteria English plus Celtic based folk music - otherwise La Bottine Souriante could not have made it to receive a price last year. What are the criteria then?

Even if you would imagine that the criteria is music from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (plus exile-Irish/Sottish/Welsh musicians), it would not make too much sense: As then it would be a bit strange that from Ireland we have only Colin Reid and Cara Dillon, and from Scotland just one Band, the Old Blind Dogs. Then why the extension beyond the British Isles? And why only extend it toward America, and not at all toward Europe (there would be even Celtic influenced music around - such as Galician music)?

I suppose that the selection of nominees tells us quite a lot about what the jury must understand by the term "Folk Music". It seems to be a rather narrow-minded definition, probably the criteria is: All that is known in England (it can't be Britain - for that, the Scottish representation is too weak). Also, the jury seems to be particularly into singers - seeing that the nominees in the category "Folk Singer of the year" are identical to the nominees for the "Best album of the year".

The BBC Awards offered - when you knew the nominees - no real surprises. Most of the nominees are anyway very well known in the folk music scene. This is another similarity to the Brit Awards (and most other Awards): Just as the likes of Elton John and Bob Dylan were among the nominees for the Brit Awards, in the Folk Awards, the "Folk Singer Of The Year" was awarded to a long established act in the folk scene, Martin Carthy. Of course Martin Carthy IS a very good singer, but in the end he has ALWAYS BEEN a very good singer - why is he now just "Singer of the Year"? Normally it would mean that, if he does not get worse, and if no new great singer comes along, Martin Carthy would need to keep this title forever...
All of the nominees and winners have of course their high qualities, and they have their firm place in the folk music market - but do they really need to get an award for that?

What is the sense of such an Awards ceremony? The Folk Awards seem to feel the need to copy the Award ceremonies from the popular entertainment branche. Yet for whom are these Awards? Folkies will not make much new discoveries as they know anyway most of the nominees. If the Awards are to bring Folk Music beyond folk music circles, I doubt that many people want to listen to it - these ceremonies go on TOO long - in the end it is the music that speaks for itself, and it was very much under-represented in the radio broadcast of the BBC folk awards. Additionally, those who are not folk music insiders will probably think that the number of interesting folk acts must be very limited - 32 nominees, but only 17 different acts.
Somehow, the whole Folk Awards seems to be very much an insider event, where the good old blokes of the music scene come together, meet up and give out a few awards. OK, I have to admit, that is not much different in most other Awards in the entertainment branche. But do we really need such an Award for the folk music scene?

To come to one more point, the range of music presented in the award is not really the kind of choice that can attract a big new audience to folk music - it is simply too much the cliche folk image. I think that Folk Music only can get its break-through if it shows the whole variety it has on offer - and this variety is allowed to go well beyond the Celtic/English folk cliche. You might say now that there are also the World Music Awards, on BBC Radio 3 (no connection to be found between the folk section in Radio 2 and the world section in Radio 3 - a great indicator for the split between those two styles). I won't start to discuss what World Music is - but you cannot divide it from Folk Music, seeing that La Bottine Souriante were this year nominees for the World Music Awards....

Anyway, always worth a try - maybe with the Folk Awards, the masses will come to visit folk clubs...

Your FolkWorld Team.

To the content of FolkWorld's No. 21

© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 2/2002

All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission.

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