Sunday, January 01, 2012

Favourite Act of 2011

The Nominations for the 2011 "Why Are You Bothering With Nominations, We All Know You Are Going to Say Carthy" Award:


Boff changed the words of Voices, That's All from "from the Albion Taproom to California" to "from the Bristol Folk House to California". A small thing, but a lovely thing. He's a showman, you see. He knows how to make a connection with his audience. What Chumbawamba are, and I suspect what they've always been, are a political cabaret act. Anarchists they may be, but each gig is beautifully planned. Coming onto the stage and opening the second half with musically and lyrically grim Homophobia, and winding up the encore with the poignant farewell song Bella Ciao; perfection. There is no sense that you are being preached at or harangued but every song has some point. Everything they do has some point. They walked onto the stage at Glastonbury wearing "Bono, Pay Your Tax" tee shirts. I have mentioned that before. That was quite a big thing, actually.

Martin Carthy

Sir Patrick Spens. Sovay, with David Swarbrick, twice. Famous Flower of Serving Men, all of it. Three Jovial Welshman (“why does that always get a laugh”), with Chris Wood. That version of My Son John re-located to Iraq. The Treadmill Song. The Trees They Do Grow. No different on stage in a classical venue (St Georges); three miles from the audience (Scarborough); or three feet from the audience (Camden). I may have mocked Green Note cafe, but honestly, sitting this close to the stage, knowing that only 50 people will ever hear this particular performance of this particular song? Does Martin Carthy know he’s a legend? Or does he just think of himself as a man who sings songs?

Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair has been described as "jaw dropping", "gob-smacking" and "Scottish" (by me) and as "like some coat hangers who've clubbed together and bought a guitar" (by Bristols Top Citizen Folk Journalist). He says that his songs have a cosmological bent, and thinks nothing of rhyming "heroes" with "thanatos and eros". I was so blown away by his Bath gig that I went to Camden specially to hear him again (have I mentioned the Green Note cafe?) and had to travel back on a 5AM train to go to work. Some cosmic force arranged for him to do another one at the Cube, supported by that film about wierd English folk customs. It's hard to choose between his weird rambling philosophical odes and his witheringly authentic takes on traditional songs. He makes Barbary Allen seem like a new and heartbreaking piece of news you haven't heard before, and, I swear, literally reduced the audience to stunned silence when Bonnie Suzie Cleland was burned in Dundee. His weird unaccompanied version of the Cruel Mother, with a refrain that wandered in from somewhere else but somehow seems to fit, is like nothing else on earth.

You remember how Francis Spufford said that he only read other books because he couldn't always be re-reading the Narnia series? (You do, because I've quoted him here repeatedly. Neil Gaiman said the same thing, irrelevantly.). Well, some days that's just how the judge feels about Martin Carthy and other musical acts.

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