Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Overall Favourite Act of 2012


Paul Sartin

Okay, maybe this column has an over preference for the single male voice singing the long narrative ballad; but two of my absolute musical highlights this year were Paul + Faustus singing the depressing song about the deserter who is flogged, shot and freed at the last minute by Prince Albert; and the rude one about the farmer who wants to show his girlfriend his threshing machine (by Steeleye Span and the Wurzels, respectively). His equally rude song about the other farmer showing off a male hen was the highpoint of the Bellowhead aftershow and with Paul Hutchinson as Belshazzrs Feast, he demonstrated that people can laugh at music without laughing at the music. He quotes, proudly, that someone said "no-one does misery like Paul Sartin". But no-one does a slightly bemused narrative humour like him, either.

Steve Knightley

Steve Knightley never fails. Whether he's riding a dodgy P.A system in a wet tent; winding up the last night of a new festival; bantering with an over-devoted hen-party; or just singing complicated, poetic songs that only give up their details on the second and third listening, he never fails to catch and channel and transmute the mood of the audience. Your Carthys and your Tabors may be "folk royalty"; but Knightley is folk's prime minister, its ambassador, almost the embodiment of where it is now.

And the winner is....

Luke Jackson

As mentioned, this column has a marked preference for older male voices with guitars (Bob, at least two Martins, Chris, Dick, Nic and sometimes Robin) but in this case we decided we should break with tradition and choose as our performer of the year a younger male voice with a guitar. Not that any regular reader will be surprised by the choice: I've heard Luke four times this year, and he just gets better and better. After his set at the Bristol Folk Festival, I tweeted: "Luke Jackson = Next British Dylan. Fact." That was hyperbole, of course: every young man with an acoustic guitar gets called the new Dylan, in the same way that every new boy band will get called the new Beatles. And anyway, Luke is no enigmatic riddler: his personal lyrics can be disarmingly straightforward "when Sunday came it was time for a game/in the summer sun or the pouring rain". The more accurate and more specific comparison is the one which John McCusker made on the Radio 2 Folk Award show -- that Luke is the next in a line of folk-influenced acoustic singer-songwriters which goes from Nic Jones to Chris Wood. But I think I shall stand by my initial gut-reaction. This is a young man who has brought to folk music the point of view of a poet. And he does a killer cover of Blown' in the Wind.

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