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Copyright Nick Morgan, Kate Kavannagh and Serge Valentin

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“Although it was a great accomplishment to win a gold medal, as soon as
they put it on you, that's it; your career is over.”
- Sugar Ray Leonard


What we didn’t tell you about
Just for the record, your errant reviewers attended, but did not write up the following gigs in the course of 2011:  The Zombies 50th Anniversary, A tribute to Nic Jones, Fleet Foxes, Jack Bruce and his Big Blues Band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Madness, Greg Allman, Bootsy Collins, Raindogs Revisited, King Creosote and John Hopkins, The Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival, Roy Harper, St Vincent, Alison Krauss and the Union Station, Roddy Frame, Bill Frisell with the 858 Quartet, Alabama 3, and finally, Joe Boyd with Robyn Hitchcock.  And we missed a few for various reasons too: Pulp in Hyde Park, Nick Lowe at Meltdown, and Rickie Lee Jones.



Most Disappointing Gig of the Year

Madness at Ray Davies’ Meltdown seemed very out of sorts as they worked through a greatest hits set, and for all the continued and misplaced adoration heaped on them, Fleet Foxes looked disconnected from both audience and each other when they ended a long tour at the Hammersmith Apollo.  But the worst evening of the year was, beyond doubt, at the O2 Indigo where we waited far too long for a lacklustre Bootsy Collins and his band, who then managed to look perplexed when the show was abruptly called to close as they breached the venue’s curfew.  Sad, given that support Vintage Trouble had played a great opening set.  But then it was like time-travel back to the 1980s as we watched portly and puzzled roadies scratching their heads over amplifiers and instruments for around an hour and a half.  Needless to say, as Bootsy Fan Numero Uno, the Photographer was not amused.



Guitarist of the Year
There is something quite wonderful about listening to a great performer playing at the top of his game.  Even when he makes the odd mistake Martin Carthy can simply transfix you with he intense picking style. Richard Thompson too is the sort of player with whom you can float away.  Every time we see him is still another “how does he do that?” moment.  Jerry Douglas’s Dobro playing with Union Station was certainly one of the unexpected virtuoso moments of the year.  But it was Bill Frisell with the 858 Quartet at the Queen Elizabeth Hall who took this year’s award; delicate, witty, ever inventive, a master of the understated use of technology, his playing is almost perfect.



Craziest Gig of the Year

There could only ever have been one Crazy winner.  The Crazy Arthur Brown and his Crazy World, a keyboard driven jazz-rock outfit (with Clem Clemson guesting on guitar) who created a wonderful backdrop for Arthur’s Crazy performance.  Actually he’s not that Crazy; beautifully spoken, erudite, amusing, self-deprecating, and with a sharp view of his brief and Crazy flirtation with international stardom, he had his audience in the palm of his hand.  When his Crazy falsetto really got going his singing was great; his Crazy dancing (which at times was about as suggestive as it could get for a man of almost seventy), leering, face-pulling, and quick costume changes behind the drum-kit all added to the sense of madness.  And of course when he donned the Crazy flaming headgear for THAT song (when there was a distinct smell of singed bodily bits) he automatically swept up this award, which Crazily, could have been made just for him.


Guitar of the Year
It was, unless I’m much mistaken, a Gretsch 6121 that Andy Hackett was playing in Edwyn Collins’  band at the Empire back in February.  And only a few days later we saw Paul Young playing one with his Tex-Mex band Los Pacominos.  Subsequently I’ve seen quite a few of these throaty beauties around in the hands of a number of great players. Sometimes known as the Chet Atkins solid body, they are currently available with a tooled leather binding.  Avoid this if you can and get an older one; it is one of the prettiest guitars around, with a great resonant growling Gretsch sound.


Special Award for Someone who Managed
to get me to Buy a Pink Floyd Album

Many would have thought this impossible, but within twenty-four hours of  attending Joe Boyd’s reading from his autobiography, Chinese White Bicycles, I found myself handing over a tenner for a copy of the Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn.  Boyd’s memoirs (not all of which are in the book), which ranged from his electrifying description of Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival to Nick Drake, were absolutely riveting.  Equally engaging were Robyn Hitchcock’s performances of songs relevant to Boyd’s stories.  Boyd ended with Syd Barrett, Hitchcock with Floyd’s ‘Bike’.  I ended up with the album; I can’t get ‘Bike’ out of my head, and am delighted to have been reminded just how great songs like ‘Lucifer Sam’ were.  Thanks to you both, gents.

Joe Boyd

Best Vocal Performance
of the Year

If you do one thing next year, either it should be to go and see King Creosote perform, or buy the wonderful record he made with John Hopkins, Diamond Mines.  His dreamy and gentle singing (which is sometimes deceptive given some of the barbs delivered in the lyrics) is effortlessly graceful.  Someone who was trying a bit harder was The Zombies’ Colin Blunstone; with the band visibly egging him on, he excelled himself at their 50th Anniversary gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and his singing on ‘Say you don’t mind’ was remarkable by anyone’s standards.  But neither Blunstone nor Creosote got the prize.  Nor did Vintage Trouble’s Ty Taylor, or Arthur H, who delivered a wonderfully Gallic Tom Waits’ pastiche in the Raindogs Revisited gig at the Barbican directed by David Coulter. In the end it was head to head between Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski who captivated London for about a week of gigs at the Royal Festival Hall.  Their singing was quite possibly as close to perfect as you might imagine, so they share the prize.


Lifetime Achievement Award
David "Honeyboy" Edwards (born 28 June, 1915; died 29 August 2011).
Another huge loss for Mississippi Delta blues fans when guitarist Honeyboy ended a life dedicated to music: travelling and playing for almost eighty years with other greats, including Robert Johnson. His childhood friend, blues pianist Pinetop Perkins, died last year at 97.
Rest in peace, too, Honeyboy.
Suggested reading: Edwards, David Honeyboy “The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing: The life and times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards”. Chicago Review Press 1997.


Best Moment of the Year

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person, eyes covered, peering through fingers, as veteran folk performer Nic Jones, still obviously deeply affected by the accident that brought his burgeoning career to an abrupt halt in 1982, stood, towards the end of an impressive tribute gig from artists young and old, to sing with his son.  This was probably his first real public performance for thirty years or more, and like everyone else in the theatre I had everything crossed, wishing hard that it would go well.  They started with ‘Rue the day that ever I married’, and what a remarkable moment it was.  You could sense the astonishment, even in the eyes of his fellow performers (sitting in a semi-circle at the back of the stage) as his unique voice took command of the song.  And then, of course, there was that wonderful and magical moment of absolute silence when the song finished, before the ovations began.  A moment that I could never have dreamed of, worthy of tears, and never to be forgotten.

Nic Jones
Drummer of the Year
This one goes, without prejudice, to Scotland’s Tom Bancroft whose performances at the Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival, both in his own band Trio Red, and supporting others, were thoughtful, precise, perfectly syncopated, and highly entertaining.  If I had to pick seven drummers drumming then Mr. Bancroft would certainly be one of them.


The Now I Remember Why I Hate Folk Clubs
Special Collective Award for Tediousness

How many folk club fans does it take to from a committee?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Well, I do,  because they first strutted around Martin Carthy’s brilliant birthday gig, and then again at the fine Nic Jones tribute.  Standing in earnest groups at the front of the stage or in the aisles before and after the gig; self-righteous pompous know-it-all retired teachers and social workers (and don’t get me started on pensions); Guardian-reading beard strokers, (and no, I’m not going to do that joke) spontaneously committeeising at the top of their voices with (oh so much I really don’t want to hear it) tedious and trivial tattling about who they know and who they booked and they wouldn’t have made it here if it hadn’t been for us and what do you think of it so far.  You get the picture.  Wherever they are, and in whichever committee, they all get this bloody prize.  Next year the Photographer and I are going to the Sidmouth Folk Festival to cause some trouble.  Anyone care to join us?

Folk Club

Jozzer’s End of Year Review of Rickie Lee Jones
Guest reviewer Jozzer went off with his doll to see RLJ at the RFH and this is what he said: “It was an extraordinary gig.  Exceptional but deeply flawed singer/songwriter.  Superbly talented and tolerant band.  Amazing singing, beautiful phrasing.”


Album of the Year

Sorting through the debris around my kitchen CD player quickly tends to reveal the popular discs of the moment.  And stripping away the old stuff quickly reveals the contenders for this year’s album of the year.  Some really interesting stuff this year: from a guitar point of view Buddy Miller’s Majestic Silver Strings was simply sensational, with Miller being joined by Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Greg Leisz to deliver the guitarist’s guitar album of the year.  I liked Christy Moore’s Folk Tale, Martin Simpson’s Purpose and Grace, and the Unthanks very grown-up Last; not many jokes but just gorgeous singing and arrangements.  The same can be said for Kid Creosote and John Hopkins’ Diamond Mine, a collection of songs set in a not-so-mythical fishing village on the east coast of Scotland (they even managed to get Conservation Areas and roof tiles into one of the songs, no mean achievement). 


Anna Calvi’s eponymous debut album, with bucket-loads of twangy guitar, grew on me (and the youth insisted on telling me how good it was at every opportunity), as did Tom Waits’ Bad as Me, widely judged as a ‘return to form’.  I also loved the Levon Helm’s live Ramble at the Ryman (much of which I enjoyed whilst reading Barney Hoskyn’s Across the Great Divide) and Ry Cooder’s marvelously grumpy Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down.  But I have no shame in joining an acclaimed bandwagon and hailing P J Harvey’s Let England Shake as album of the year, and possibly more.  This is an impossibly well-crafted collection of songs of huge depth and complexity; it’s not obvious, in fact it takes a lot of listening too, but rewards the effort.  Quite simply stunning, and I’ve listened to nothing more often this year.


Best Gig of the Year
This coveted award ended up as a three way contest: Frisell vs Alison Krauss vs King Creosote.  It could have gone either way, but by a short nose the award goes to King Creosote and John Hopkins for a wonderfully mellow and transportational gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, just days after they were pipped by P J Harvey for the Mercury Prize Album of the Year.   Despite the dreamy nature of the songs, there is often an unexpected sting in the tail, full of yearning and wistfulness, which Hopkins’ keyboard playing only exemplifies.  These guys are very special performers, and they delivered a very special gig with a wonderful atmosphere.

King Creosote

The Non-plus Ultra Award
In the tradition of previous distinguished recipients this year’s award goes to someone whose endeavour goes beyond the bounds of reasonableness.  Jerry Dammers’ Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra is a thing of beauty, to be admired and cherished.  To quote (me) “It is a brilliantly-conceived piece of musical madness, defying wisdom and convention, and delivering in their place an exhilarating, joyful (despite the dark nature of many of the songs) and thought-provoking multi-sensory experience.” That is award-winning form.  Mr. Dammers, we salute you!


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