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Folk For All's Chris Wilbraham looks at the Folk Album Chart and is impressed by the mix of well-known and lesser known folk acts

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Having announced the launch of the Folk Album Chart by The Official Chart Company a few weeks ago, I thought this week I’d see who was in it.

When I asked musician and presenter of Cambridge 105’s Strummers and Dreamers Les Ray what he thought of it, he felt it was a bit like the Radio 2 Folk Programme in that it “favours the Premier League of folk acts and mostly ignores the English Football League”.

Here is the chart:

Music (43247698)
Music (43247698)

1 Song for Our Daughter – Laura Marling

2 We Get By – Jamie Webster

3 Hand Me Down – Kate Rusby

4 Between a Breath and a Breath – Dyble Longdon

5 Peace – Levellers

6 Boss – James Webster

7 Where the World is Thin – Kris Drever

8 Heart’s Ease – Shirley Collins

9 The Lost Words-Spell Songs – Lost Words

10 Wrackline – Fay Hield

11 A Pilgrim’s Tale – Seth Lakeman

12 Cures What Ails Ya – The Long Johns

13 Steer by the Stars – Skippinish

14 Live at St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth – Seth Lakeman

15 The Living Mountain – Jenny Sturgeon

16 Hold Fast – Stick in the Wheel

17 Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook – Karine Polwart

18 Philosophers Poets and Kings – Kate Rusby

19 The Livelong Day – Lankum

20 2020 – Richard Dawson

21 Into The Depths of Hell – Joshua Burnside

22 Battlefield Dancefloor– Show of Hands

23 Sleep on the Wing – Bibio

24 Old Wow – Sam Lee

25 The Love That You Want – Lewis Watson

26 The Place You Call Home – Liam McGrandles

27 Diversions Vol 5-Live and Unaccompanied – Unthanks

28 What makes You – Elephant Sessions

29 Bwncath II – Byncath

30 La Vita Nuova – Maria McKee

31 Return to Us – Lilac Time

32 Shuffle and Go – Fairport Convention

33 Prosperous – Christy Moore

34 Hill of Beans – Ralph McTell

35 Pandemic Songs – Robb Johnson

36 A Beginners Guide to Bravery – David Keenan

37 Rooted – Martin Simpson

38 Live Across Scotland –Skerryvore

39 Live at Rock City-November – Richard Thompson

40 Estd 1969 – Steeleye Span

I could see Les’s point on first glance. Laura Marling, Kate Rusby, Shirley Collins and Kris Drever are all there, vying for a place in Europe. Even Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span feature, although Steeleye Span seem to be in a relegation battle with Richard Thompson at the moment!

James Webster sits in second place having built his following singing about his beloved Liverpool FC, who not only got to Europe, but won the Champions League.

On reflection I think Les’s analogy is a little unfair.

Radio 2’s Folk Show is a little like the way rugby fixtures used to be organised before leagues started in the late 1980s. It was a tough job for an ambitious club to get fixtures against the established first class clubs. The ‘old boys network’ was rife. Nowadays, it is possible to rise through merit. If a club gets promoted enough, their fixture secretary can find themselves typing clubs like Redruth into the fixture list like I did for Bury St Edmunds RFC a few seasons ago. In the same way, an act like the irrepressible London Folkies Stick in the Wheel get into the chart above many established names because they are active, fresh and selling their music, without needing to convince a Radio 2 executive that they are worthy of play time.

I have to say I was pleased to find plenty of artists and music I was unaware of among the usual suspects, especially as the stated aim of the chart was to give folk artists more exposure.

I haven’t had time to listen to them all but after a weekends listening I can tell you that Show of Hands latest album is highly listenable, with Miranda Sykes’s voice more to the fore than I recall. There are some nice nautical metaphors flying about, too.

Dyble Longdon are an interesting listen. They flit between sounding like a folky Pink Floyd one minute and later come up with a song that could be off an Elbow LP.

Richard Dawson’s music is challenging and stimulating. His voice, soundscape and music are a long way from the basic three chords and the truth, but in a pleasing way. His song Freshers Ball, about dropping a much-loved first child at university resonated strongly for me. His album is entitled 2020, so like Robb Johnson’s Pandemic Songs deal with this wonderful year we are having!

Some one should be doing it.

There is plenty of music from North of the border, with Skippinnish, Karine Polwart, Kris Driver and Maria McKee all chipping in. I think the collection I will return to most might be The Lost Words-Spell Songs, also from Scotland. It is an exquisitely produced set of songs with beautiful words and voices. This was not a surprise once I saw the names Polwart, Fowlis and Drever were involved with this project. Definitely a Champions League strike force!

They might even be lucky enough to get played on Les’s Monday night show, which is definitely worth listening to for his fine mix of Premier League and Local League folk talent. In non-Covid times the local talent plays live in the studio. His previous shows can be found on Mixcloud after searching for Strummers and Dreamers.

Compiled by Chris Wilbraham

Contact: chris.wilbraham@tinyonline.co.uk