This last week I decided to watch the BBC red button transmission of the annual Radio 2 Folk Awards. I have learnt that there are more sub divisions in this genre of music than realised at first, with various factions trying to claim their particular style is more authentically orthodox than the rest. My sense is that this is a problem that tends to arise where there is a clearly defined sub-culture, which folk music surely is.
One of the issues that manifests itself is the 'big fish, small pond' syndrome. Some of the music was simply not that great! A bit like poor versions of mainstream equivalents, even prog. rock (to my prejudiced ear) got a look in. There were notable exceptions from the delightful Karine Polwart and the sublime rendition above from Lifetime (he prefers 'lunchtime') Award recipient, fiddler Aly Bain.
This piece is played with such amazing sensitivity and surpassed anything else that I heard during the evening. Of course, it may have been different actually being there, but from the audience reaction I reckon this was most likely a Secret Chord moment! Unashamed plug warning: read more in Jonathan Evens and my wee book, The Secret Chord!
There are those that have managed to 'crossover' (that dreadful description) to the mainstream, in the last few years Seth Lakeman and Bellowhead to name but two, both of whom have amazing talent and virtuosity. This year an 'outsider' was invited to cross back, as a guest, into the fold, from the big outside world, namely Billy Bragg, who also received a special award.
It was all a bit like going to church, those who knew what was going on were fine, to us on the fringe some aspects were a total mystery (church), lots of meaningless drivel (bad sermons), some inspiring speeches, (good sermons), plenty of average music (typical), a rousing hymn at the end (predictable) and the transcendent rendition from Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham (a rare and precious sacred moment which reminds us what it's all about).
There seems to be plenty of energy devoted to maintaining traditions (back to church again!), but those that choose a higher calling prefer rather to build on the traditions and land up producing something very special, long may that continue...