In June this year, Elle Osborne released ‘If You See a Rook on Its Own, It’s a Crow’. The album was reviewed by David Morrison who declared it a “bona fide masterpiece”. In his introduction he referenced words used by David Tibet when talking about the music of Shirley Collins, it’s these words which sum up Morrison’s feelings towards this Elle’s album…“so intimate, and true, and beautiful, because it’s real…when people feel something that is so true…and so innocent…their hearts open, their hearts respond.” I couldn’t agree more.
This interview was planned for earlier in the year following the album release but for reasons which Elle talks about below, it required a more considered response to some of the questions I asked. I’m immensely grateful for her honesty and the time she has taken with her answers, it couldn’t have been easy but as Elle says, these personal experiences also “raise issues about universal experiences, which aren’t necessarily being talked about much.” I hope this maybe starts a dialogue that needs to be taking place.
Watch her new video for The Offing, on which she talks more on below.
While many know Elle best for her album releases, she also composes for dance, and makes sound installations. These have included LongLines for the National Fishing Heritage Museum, Brigg Fair, Dark Nights celebrating 800 years of the Lincolnshire Gypsy horse fair, and Stand Apart at Fabrica gallery, Brighton.
By the time the mercurial, volatile singer-songwriter John Martyn heard that he had been awarded an OBE for his contribution to British music, he was in a wheelchair, having lost a leg to septicaemia compounded by a lifetime of substance abuse. He died weeks later, before he could accept the honour.
Musicians often embody a garble of contradictions, but the English-born “Scots Belgian Jew” known to his family as Iain McGeachy was a more troubled – and troubling – figure than many from the late-60s. A trailblazing guitarist, he began his artistic life in the crucible of the folk revival that also produced Fairport Convention and Nick Drake. Solid Air, one of Martyn’s most magnificent outings, was written about Drake.
But Martyn took many of his extemporising cues from jazz and he went on to embrace nascent electronics, most particularly the early, spacious effect known as echoplex. U2 guitarist the Edge may not formally concur, but Martyn fans know the Irishman’s signature guitar sound was cribbed from Martyn. John Lydon and Bob Marley were admirers, as were Portishead. (In later life, Martyn did a sterling cover of Portishead’s Glory Box.)
By the end, Martyn had been impaled on a fence post and run into a cow with his car; artistically, he was yesterday’s man, having spent the 80s making slicker, more suffocatingly produced commercial rock music, often in the company of Phil Collins. There were periods when this leading light of the maverick fringe went dark, presumably to avoid the disreputable characters with whom he surrounded himself. The searching artistry of this caustic musician’s musician went hand in glove with dissolution and damage.
To his credit, journalist and biographer Graeme Thomson, author of previous well-regarded works on Kate Bush, George Harrison and Phil Lynott, dives straight into the awfulness of the man in the preface. “He blackened the eyes and broke the spirit of women he professed to love, abandoned at least one of his children and neglected others.”
Martyn’s parents separated when he was young, with his mother remarrying; the young Martyn felt the enforced distance from his mother, Betty, keenly. “He mistrusted women, which turned him into a misogynist,” states the folk singer Beverley Martyn, who suffered his violent alcoholic rages. Her own career did not survive their two-disc partnership; she eventually essayed albums of her own again much later in life, most recently in 2014. When the marriage broke up, Martyn left her, their two biological children and Beverley’s eldest child penniless; they lived off benefits while Martyn fuelled a coke habit. He started another family, forsook them too.
Somehow, this man had the gall to sing about love. Perhaps his best-known early song, May You Never, is an open-hearted blessing: “may you never lay your head down without a hand to hold”.
Yes they probably invented folk rock but also, on their landmark third album, Fairport Convention, presented a view of England that has now been lost… one of violent division along lines of class and gender but one that was also positive and questing, says Michael Hann
One autumn evening a couple of years ago, my friends and I were drinking outside a pub in behind Euston station. As the last of the sun bathed the tables, a group of men and women assembled in the street. They were wearing white shirts and trousers, red neckerchiefs around their throats, bells tied to their ankles. They carried sticks. As they took their places in formation, my friends started sniggering to each other: Here they are, the racists, UKIP’s morris-dancing wing. Continue reading →
Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita, Brìghde Chaimbeul, Ye Vagabonds and Kitty McFarlane also nominated; Dervish to receive Lifetime Achievement Award. Listen to our playlist of all 2019 nominees.
Irish folk singer Lisa O’Neill has been nominated for four awards: Folk Singer of the Year, Best Traditional Track (‘Factory Girl’ with Radie Peat), Best Original Track (‘Blackbird’), and Best Album for Heard a Long Gone Song. The album was released last October on the River Lea label and also received a nomination in the inaugural RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards.
Welsh harper Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita have received two nominations (Best Album and Best Duo/Group), and Keita has also received a third as Musician of the Year. Finch and Keita’s duet album Soar has already won ‘Best Fusion’ album in the Songlines Music Awards and the fRoots Critics Album of the Year for 2018. The other nominees in Best Album are Flook’s Ancora and Hide and Hair by The Trials Of Cato. Voting for Best Album is open to the public in the UK.
Along with Finch and Keita, the groups Stick in the Wheel, The Breath and The Rheingans Sisters also received a nomination in the Best Duo/Group category. The other nominees for Best Musician of the Year are Jenn Butterworth, Mohsen Amini and Sam Sweeney.
Emerging artists and songs
Scots piper Brìghde Chaimbeul, who released The Reeling last year, produced by Lau’s Aidan O’Rourke, has received a nomination in the Horizon award (for emerging artists), along with Kinnaris Quintet, Kitty Macfarlane (who features on the Topic 80th anniversary album), and The Trials Of Cato, who won Best Emerging Artist/Band at the first Wales Folk Awards in April.
Ye Vagabonds (below), who received two nominations in the RTÉ Folk Awards last year, have been nominated for Best Traditional Track with ‘The Foggy Dew’ from their new album The Hare’s Lament. ‘Ffoles Llantrisant’ by VRï (which won the equivalent Welsh Folk Award with the same song) and ‘The Reedcutter’s Daughter’ by Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith have also been nominated, along with O’Neill and Peat.
Singers and musicians
The nominees for Folk Singer of the Year are Ríoghnach Connolly from Armagh, Olivia Chaney who has released two albums on the Nonesuch label, Gwilym Bowen Rhys (also Best Solo Artist at the Welsh Folk Awards) and O’Neill.
Kris Drever from Lau has been nominated in the Best Original Track section for ‘Scapa Flow 1919’, about the scuttling of a German fleet in the Orkney Islands after World War I. Also nominated are ‘I Burn But I Am Not Consumed’ by Karine Polwart from her album Law of Motion, ‘O-U-T Spells Out’ by Kathryn Tickell and The Darkening (‘An ironic look at borders, walls, barriers, Brexit…’), and O’Neill’s ‘Blackbird’.
It has also been announced that Dervish will received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony. Commenting on the honour, the band’s accordionist Shane Mitchell said: ‘We are thrilled and so delighted to be receiving this very special honour at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, particularly as this is the 30th anniversary of the band.’ The group will perform on the night.
The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards take place at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 16 October as part of the Manchester Folk Festival. See the full list of nominees and listen to our playlist of all artists below. For more information, visit https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00yrkrj.