The musician celebrates the 50th anniversary of Morrison’s Astral Weeks with a reimagining that draws out its latent jazz energy
I remember as a kid regularly going into the West End and spending all of my money on records – so much so that I wouldn’t have my bus fare home. I had a nice hi-fi system so all the local kids would come round to hear the latest albums. It was a ritual: we would sit on the sofa and play the whole thing. We’d want to know what the album was saying and we’d take it all in, from the liner notes to the artwork.
Astral Weeks wasone of those albums that had been floating around my mind in bits and pieces for years. I’d heard odd tracks, like Madame George or Cyprus Avenue, but I’d never sat down and heard it in its entirety. That was until two years ago when a friend, Colm Carty, approached me with the idea to do a whole concert of Astral Weeks. I went away and immersed myself in the record for about a month. I’m a late-night person, so I would come home after a gig at around 3am when the adrenaline was still firing, I’d stick it on and I really started getting into it.
There was a freshness. It felt like Van Morrison could’ve recorded it yesterday, even though this year marks its 50th anniversary. When something is good, it works at any time. I was fascinated by the background of the musicians – jazz artists like the drummer Connie Kay, who came from the improvisational Modern Jazz Quartet – and I liked this idea of music coming from people you wouldn’t normally associate with that genre [ . . . ]
Prizes included Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year, and the Young Folk Award.
Belfast music legend Van Morrison presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to musician and producer Dónal Lunny for his contribution to folk music.
The Good Tradition Award went to the Armagh Pipers Club to recognise their contribution to the preservation, dissemination and progression of traditional music over more than 50 years.
Folk Singer of the Year was awarded to Scottish singer-songwriter and musician, Karine Polwart, a talented artist who is also a theatre maker, storyteller, spoken-word performer and essayist.
Dónal Lunny took to the stage to perform with acclaimed musician Zoë Conway on the fiddle, and earlier in the evening Cara Dillon performed accompanied by Sam Lakeman on piano and John Smith on guitar.
Opening the show with a rousing performance of Devil In The Woman was Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band.
The gala evening featured performances from Lankum, with their song “What Will We Do When We Have No Money?”, County Tyrone’s Paul Brady with a solo acoustic rendition of the ballad “Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender”.
A nine-piece from the Armagh Pipers Club brought the evening to a close with a performance of three specially-composed new songs.
The evening included the presentation of the 20th annual BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, an educational contest that exists to discover the next generation of folk acts.
Mera Royle, a young harpist from the Isle of Man, was the recipient.
Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2 said: ‘I’d like to congratulate all of tonight’s winners – the calibre of nominees was extremely high and the wealth of talent that was seen on stage across the evening in Belfast was spectacular.
“The Radio 2 Folk Awards is an annual celebration of the thriving folk music scene – supporting both established and burgeoning folk musicians – and part of our specialist music content that Radio 2 is proud to broadcast across the year.”
Influential singer-songwriter Nick Drake was inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame to celebrate the lasting impression he has had on folk music, despite passing away at the age of just 26 in 1974. Had he lived, he would have turned 70 this year.
Olivia Chaney performed a special tribute with a sublime piano-based interpretation of Drake’s essential song, River Man.
Olivia is a great fan of Nick Drake and a multi-talented singer, musician and songwriter.
Her collaboration with The Decemberists, Offa Rex, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2017.
Although Nick Drake’s music didn’t garner commercial success during his lifetime, decades after his early death, his music would find a wide and reverent audience.
Actor Gabrielle Drake, Nick’s elder sister, was present at the Radio 2 Folk Awards to tell the audience how her famously shy brother might have felt about the occasion.
A Radio 2 documentary – “Lost Boy: In Search Of Nick Drake” was re-broadcast after the award ceremony.
In this 2004 programme Hollywood film star Brad Pitt shines a light on the life and work of the cult singer-songwriter.
Featured in the programme are contributions from producer Joe Boyd, engineer John Wood, Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, Gabrielle Drake and Nick’s late mother, Molly Drake.
The Folk Awards will be televised on Sunday 8 April on BBC Four at 21:00 and on BBC Two Northern Ireland at 17:30.
Selected highlights will be available to watch at bbc.co.uk/radio2 after the show.
A tiny little jazz club in west London witnessed a show as great as any in his illustrious career from the legendary Northern Irish singer-songwriter. Van Morrison was on blistering form, delivering a dazzling and engaged performance that was as warm and friendly as it was bravura. Which, as long time Morrison watchers know, is not a given. He is always impressive when he plays but he doesn’t always look happy about it. Yet here he was, unleashing the full charge of his extraordinary talent to a couple of hundred fortunate fans.[ . . . ]