OCTOBER 2017 Update: this eloquently presented list of one man's favourite 10 pieces from the vast reserves of English folk music deserves another airing. I still disagree with him about Steeleye Span. The article first appeared here in the second half of 2013 and I am adding a couple of clips ...
Another guest writer, another fellow Sunderland supporter. No apologies there. Guest contributors are always welcome, even if they support Newcastle United but have something interesting to say about the music covered here. Andrew Curry, who first posted this at his own site Around the Edges - https://aroundtheedges.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/a-dozen-great-english-folk-records/ - knows I disagree with him about Steeleye (read on) but have no quarrels with his choices, some of which would be in a similar list of my own ...
Bellowhead, English, Fairport Convention, folk music, Imagined Village, Jim Moray, June Tabor, Kate Rusby, Martin Simpson, Nic Jones, roots, Shirley and Collins and Davy Graham, Unthanks, Watersons
June 2017 update: this tribute piece to a great song by an even greater departed heroine of folk and folk-rock, Sandy Denny, first appeared nine years ago when I was living in Abu Dhabi. Some of the versions mentioned in my introduction have disappeared, because the links went dead, but others - Nanci Griffith, Rufus Wainwright, 10,000 Maniacs - have been added. See Comments, too: I never got round to acting on Tom Bliss's request but will try to do so in due course (another nine years?). Meanwhile, my thanks to Ross Anderson for alerting me to a tremendous BBC Soul Music mini-documentary on the song, quoting Sandy, Judy Collins, Rufus, Sandy's biographer Mick Houghton, Simon Nicol and several others. There's a link in the footnote ...
...well, I'd like to know what happened to the time that has elapsed since I agreed to an acquaintance's request to compile for him a cassette - that dates it already - of versions of Sandy Denny's spellbinding Who Knows Where The Time Goes?, his favourite song.
It began with good intentions on my part. As a reviewer of folk albums, I already had several renditions - quite a few different ones recorded by Sandy, come to that - and you can be sure that more have reached me since.
But I never quite got round to it. I am not sure exactly how many years have passed since my undertaking to prepare the tape. But with thanks to YouTube subscribers and apologies to Julian, the husband of one of my wife's then colleagues, here at least is a start.
A search for the song produces the good, the not so good and the downright ugly. I came across some assaults on the ear that were simply so gruesome that it would be unkind to everyone concerned to expose them to Salut! Live's small but probably quite discerning audience.
A frustrating feature of where I live (the UAE) is that when using the internet away from my place of work, I am handicapped by restricted access to certain sites. I have no reason to fear that Salut! Live is other than entirely innocent, likewise my other sites (Salut!, Salut! North and Salut! Sunderland). But I gather from Typepad that there is some problem here concerning - presumably - all the sites it hosts.
The upshot is that I cannot properly view the clips I have located from YouTube, except via a not very practical preview function. I know that Sandy is there two or three times, including a BBC interview in which the song is also heard.
You will also hear Kate Rusby, Mary Black, Judy Collins, Richard Thompson, Eva Cassidy, Nina Simone, the Sullen Kinks, Kate Wolf, John Kirkpatrick, Justin Bond, Lisa Lavery, Chris While
Feel free to commend other versions to me, or to comment on those I present here in an attempt to ease my guilty conscience. And sorry again, Julian, I still haven't got round to making a tape.
An e-mail from the fRoots editor Ian Anderson brings news that Bellowhead have won the album-of-the-year award in the magazine's annual poll - its 25th - of critics and others associated with folk and roots music.
I am delighted for Bellowhead, an outstanding band, and offer them Salut! Live's warm congratulations.
But the choice vindicates my own decision not to take part, for the first time in as many years as I can recall, in this year's judging. The same applied to the BBC 2 folk music awards poll.
My chaotic existence over the past five or six years - moving from Paris to the south of France to London to Abu Dhabi and back again (but without Paris) - has limited my access to as much music as I would like to hear. The supply of review albums has also steadied to a trickle, an understandable consequence of the little amount of reviewing I still do in newspapers as opposed to here (and it's not that much more here).
I have asked both fRoots and the BBC to keep me in mind as a panel member for next year and hope very much to make Salut! Live much more active than it has been. But for 2010, I simply could not have done justice to the judge's role.
So bravo Bellowhead, and to the other winners, as announced last night on BBC Radio 3's World On 3 by Mary Ann Kennedy and Ian:
Album Of 2010: BellowheadHedonism (Navigator)
Compilation/Re-issue: Various Artists: Africa 50 (Stern's/ Discograph)
Best Packaged Album: Natalie MerchantLeave Your Sleep (Nonesuch)
Since I have none of these albums, a gap in my life that I shall now rectify, the correctness of my decision to abstain from the voting was clearly justified.
If the awards entice you into buying any of the selected albums, or any others that have been mentioned here over the past couple of years, consult my Amazon list by scrolling down the right sidebar or go directly to the Bellowhead link by
The answer to my own question is that I am having it all ways. This has been a thin year for Salut! Live, a consequence of the time I have necessarily spent on the day job (and developing another of my sites, Salut! Sunderland). The records don't flow my way quite as they did. But I could not let the year end without sharing my thoughts on the best I did come across in 2009 ...
The organisers of two British folk awards approach me each year for my nominations in their year-end polls.
Cara Dillon's Hill of Thieves may seem an obvious inclusion for CD of the year, her outstanding version of Spencer the Rover for best traditional track.
And so I voted, in the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards. The album was also among those listed by me in the fRoots poll (for which judges are not required to place their choice in order).
So Hill of Thieves is Salut! Live's album of 2009? No. That is where having it all ways comes in.
A misunderstanding on the release date led me to name it my album of last year. The confusion may have been mine but I am stuck with the choice I made. Since the album was considered a 2009 candidate in both the BBC and fRoots polls, I had to nominate it there.
Salut! Live is under no such obligation, and will continue - however erroneously - to regard Hill of Thieves as last year's event. I had the album in November, for heaven's sake.
So to my top 10 folk albums for 2009. One note of caution: I no longer receive albums in the numbers that I once did. Some that would probably have featured in my list in other circumstances have not come my way.
Partly for this reason, I have made no distinction between new CDs and reissues. The effect of this is that I have decided, for the first time since I began naming my album of the year two decades ago, to place two albums - one new, one a compilation - in joint first place.
Chris Wood scored a notable double in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for 2009, collecting both Best Singer and, for Trespasser, best album titles.
All the winners are offered warmest congratulations by Salut! Live. Highlights of the awards evening (held last night) will be broadcast on the Mike Harding show on Radio 2 tomorrow evening, Wed Feb 4, at 7pm UK time. The full list of winners is:
FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR
Chris While & Julie Matthews
Bob Fox & Stu Luckley
Spiers & Boden
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Trespasser – Chris Wood
Dreams of Breathing Underwater – Eliza Carthy
Low Culture – Jim Moray
This Earthly Spell – Karine Polwart
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
All You Pretty Girls – Andy Partridge (performed by Jim Moray)
Come Down Jehovah – Chris Wood (performed by Chris Wood)
Mr Magnifico – Eliza Carthy/Ben Ivitsky (performed by Eliza Carthy)
The Cottager’s Reply – Frank Mansell/Chris Wood (performed by Chris Wood)
BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK
The Lark in the Morning – Jackie Oates
For the first time since I began nominating my folk CD/s of the year, an entirely subjective exercise though I have been lucky enough to have platforms for my views for 20 years or more, I found myself stumped.
There was not one clear winner; there were two: Eliza Carthy's outstanding Dreams of Breathing Underwater being caught at the last minute by Cara Dillon's spellbinding Hill of Thieves. An Englishwoman who has given a mountain of service to folk, whatever she chooses - we choose - to call her music now, shares the Salut! Live honours, as performer of the best CD of 2008, with one of the best singers to emerge from Northern Ireland/north of Ireland in decades.
This is simply one man's opinion, of course. It is not even the opinion I gave in my response to the fRoots and BBC critics' polls, for the simple reason that Dillon's album had not even reached me in the UAE when the deadlines for those nominations were looming.
This is my full list - I will add more detail regarding my choices when I can get round to it!:
1 Eliza Carthy Dreams of Breathing Underwater 1 Cara Dillon Hill of Thieves 3 Bellowhead Matachin
4 Fotheringay 2 5 Leon Rosselson A Proper State 6 Chris Foster Outsiders 7 Maddy Prior Seven for Old England 8 Karine Polwart This Earthly Spell 9 Ruth Notman Threads 10 Seth Lakeman Poor Man's Heaven 10 Kris Drever, John McCusker, Roddy Woomble Before The Ruin
* one obvious ps concerns the criteria applied in composing the list. No, I do not see every folk CD. Now that I live in the Gulf, and am no longer the folk critic of The Daily Telegraph, agents and record companies feel much less need to bombard me with everything that is released. So I rely on those that are sent to me, by the people who have dealt with me long enough to know whether I am likely to try to make use of them, and those I buy myself.
In other circumstances, I am sure some of the following - and others, had I heard them - would have entered my considerations since each is by an artist I have in the past championed or regularly reviewed:
Bob Fox & Stu Luckley 30 Years On Karan Casey Ships In The Forest Tom Paxton Comedians & Angels
Jim Moray Low Culture
Rosie Doonan Moving On
Catriona Macdonald Over The Moon Mary McPartlan Petticoat Loose Loudon Wainwright III Recovery Tiny Tin Lady Ridiculous Bohemia Capercaillie Roses and Tears Chris While and Julie Matthews Together Alone Tom McConville Tommy On Song Dervish Travelling Show
Bellowhead, Cara Dillon. folk CDs of 2008, Chris Foster, Eliza Carthy, Fotheringay, John McCusker, Karine Polwart, Kris Drever, Leon Rosselson, Maddy Prior, Roddy Woomble, Ruth Notman, Seth Lakeman