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f100 The Belfast Polka


The Folk Awards bash went to Belfast this year. Colin Irwin was there…


when you’re staying at the Europa Hotel, which proudly claims to be the most bombed hotel in the world. Let’s hope it remains the safest city in Europe once all these Brexit clowns have finished with it.


G


A large picture of Margaret Barry greets visitors arriving at the rather splen- did Belfast Waterfront Hall, cunningly located on the rather splendid Belfast waterfront (see what they did there?). Always good to be greeted by Margaret, even if she looks thin and wan at the end of her life… and once inside, the excite- ment is as palpable as the rush for the bar. “He’s here!” whispers someone In The Know conspiratorially. “I saw him. I really saw him and you’ll never guess what… ” No, I probably shan’t guess what. “He was… wait for it… he was SMILING. A proper smile. Never thought I’d see the day… ”


Who could they be talking about? Steve Knightley? Mike Harding? Ian Pais- ley? Donald Trump?


Paul Brady. Class.


reat city, Belfast. Safest city in Europe according to the taxi driver escorting tourists on the trail of terrorist sites. Which is comforting to know


“He was standing right there smiling. In front of that poster actually smiling. Fancy seeing Van Morrison in Belfast… ”


Well, he does live here. “Yes, but he was smiling.” He’s a big Margaret Barry fan, that one; he probably liked the pic- ture at the entrance.


So… in its 19th year, the BBC Folk


Awards finally makes it to Northern Ire- land and a quick refresher course on the list of nominations reveals plenty about modern folk music. One of the most revealing conclusions of the lists for top singer and best instrumentalist is that men can’t sing and women don’t play instru- ments; that’s the first shock on perusal of the nominees. Another one is that the English are rubbish and only the Scots and Irish need apply for awards – unless, of course, you’re a Young ’Un. It also looks like we’ve finally run out of ancient Ameri- can singer songwriters prepared to cross the ocean for a late bounty of ego mas- sage. And, oh yes, there’s the diversity issue. Or lack of... No change there then.


Still, no time for pointless cynicism when warrior woman Eliza Carthy – all blue hair, warpaint and white Amnesty tee-shirt – kicks the whole shebang off with her


splendid Wayward Band – all 300 of them – belting out Devil In The Woman, morris dancing and all. Serious pizzazz engulfs the hall and even Julie Fowlis’ glittering top looks demure in comparison. You think this lot must be a shoo-in either for best band or best album. You think wrong.


Presenters of gongs are always a dodgy business at these affairs… if it’s not OTT thespians banging on for hours on end about how their lives would be mean- ingless without a daily injection of their beloved folk music, it’s the drones of disin- terested rock stars peering intently at an autocue scripts cut and pasted from Wikipedia (David Gray, anyone?).


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irst one up tonight is someone called Jamie Lawson, who appar- ently had a No 1 album and is best mates with Ed Sheeran, and gets to present the suited and booted boys of Ímar with their Horizon award for best newcomer. Good to see the new breed setting high standards of dress code as Ímar’s success sets the tone for an evening of Celtic dominance – two mem- bers from the Isle of Man, one from Cork, Mohsen Amini from Glasgow (and more of him later) and in bodhran player Adam Brown, a lone flag-waver from Suffolk. Indeed, it turns out to be a good night for the Isle Of Man, when the visibly shocked harpist/fiddle player Mera Royle takes time out from her sixth form studies to take her place as the Young Folk Award winner.


I’m still perusing the horrendous mis- take in the event programme because Lisa Knapp’s name doesn’t appear to be on the list of nominations for best traditional track when up steps Siobhan Miller to claim her prize from crime writer Val McDermid, who talks a bit about folk clubs and murder ballads. Siobhan wins with her version of Banks Of Newfoundland, which is indeed lovely, tasteful and moving but… but… haven’t the judges listened to Lisa Knapp’s groundbreaking interpretations of traditional classics on ‘Til April Is Dead? Do we not reward bold innovation any more?!


Next live act up are Lankum. Well, it should be Lankum. A pause… hand ges- tures in the shadows… a momentary moment of panic in the voices of hosts


Photo: © BBC


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