Shortly after I began presenting the folk programme for BBC Radio 2 some fourteen years ago I found myself out in Austin, Texas to cover the South by South West Festival there, recording interviews and making programmes. Nic Barraclough and Bob Harris were out there also for their programmes as was my executive producer John Leonard. One night, as we were sitting round the dinner table I said it was a pity that we didn’t have a Folk Music Hall of Fame similar to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
We chatted on, looking at various possibilities: could there be a Folk Centre somewhere in the Midlands perhaps; could Cecil Sharpe House become a folk music Hall of Fame. We came to the conclusion that getting a building would be difficult – but we could at least have an awards ceremony like the Nashville awards that recognised excellence in Folk.
From that simple idea came the Folk Awards. The BBC put up some money (to hire venues, put up acts in hotels, pay their airfares etc.) and John got on with the work of contacting festival and folk club organisers, record company execs, folk journalist and folk programme presenters asking them to be judges.
There are 170 of them and each year they are asked to do two things…
1 – sign a form saying that they will not vote for anybody that they have a personal or financial interest in
2 – fill in a form with their nominations for best singer, best new song, horizon award etc.
The forms are scrutinised to check that the judges are not voting for acts they record or represent – none ever have …EVER
That is all – no swearing to secrecy, no cloak and dagger
The people who receive the awards do, on the whole, represent the best on the folk scene at the present moment. It may seem to some that unknowns are not represented, but that is the same in any profession – we all have to serve our time. The notion that somebody can pick up a guitar one week and appear at Cambridge the next is just nonsense. There may well be great undiscovered acts out there – but if they’re all that great they won’t be undiscovered for long. I spend hours trawling the web and listening to links people have sent me as does my producer Jon Lewis.
The nominations come from the judges on the basis of their personal judgement and are not drawn from the playlist for my programme – whether or not I have played most of them is neither here nor there.
After the first round of nominations 4 names come forward in each category and the judges then vote on these. The end results are announced on the night of the awards together with the Good Folk Award and Lifetime Achievement Awards – these are made to people who have done just that – been good to the folk world or worked all their life in a very special way for folk.
There are no cliques / cabals or covens.
All we are trying to do is further the music we all love.
I don’t know who the other judges are and I don’t care. I know enough about both the BBC and my producer John Leonard to know that everything is above board.
Trust is everything.
I don’t particularly care whether the names of the judges become public knowledge or not – they weren’t kept secret they just weren’t published.I suspect that both Smooth Operations and the BBC thought nobody would be much interested in knowing who they were– I would however point out that…
1 – Judges might not want their names known because they could possibly become the subjects of either lobbying or abuse
The lobbying I doubt simply because there ain’t that much money in folk that a big record company are going to start flying Fred Bloggs the organiser of WIlberswick Folk Festival to Cannes. Also I suspect that the folk world – because of its very roots – is fundamentally anti big business and is still at base a world in which honesty and being rooted is very important– you couldn’t find more rooted and honest people for example than Chris Wood and Martin Simpson two of this years nominees.
Abuse (as from the evidence of this “transparency” campaign) is much more likely.
2 – The campaign to “out” the judges seems to be generating hot air, hysteria, misinformation and personal attacks that are completely unnecessary. I deeply believe that if the names were made known, the trolls that are rubbishing the Folk Awards at the moment would just move on to rubbishing the judges. It’s a no win situation. I for one would just like to get on with making good programmes (please) and would love to be able to open my Facebook or Twitter pages and find it clear of nagging, false information, abuse and silliness (e.g. the recent tweet to “Occupy the Folk Awards”).
The Folk Awards came about because of the music we love – not for any monetary or egotistical gain – it was simply to share the good things of the folk world – and we managed to get the BBC to spend a good deal of time and money working on them. Not everybody agrees with the result but I think that many people feel that it does largely recognise and applaud all the good stuff that is happening on todays folk scene. I too have my reservations about some of the results – but the voting is fair and honest so I accept the decisions. That’s what happens in any voting process. Look at the long list of people who’ve received awards over the years and tell me that people like the Copper Family, Christy Moore, Joan Baez, Spiers and Boden, Chris Wood, Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr and James Fagin, Martin Simpson, Ewan McLennan, Norma Waterson, Eliza Carthy, Jackie Oates, Lucy ward etc. are not worthy of nomination.
We have one hour a week of folk on BBC mainstream. We should be making it easier for the BBC to work with us, not harder.