Roy Bailey

All social action has two kinds of results, those purposely pursued and those unintended. So what then is the purpose of the Folk Awards and what are its unintended consequences?

According to the web page the purpose is “… an occasion to celebrate folk music and the people who make it.” The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards programme exposes the music to a wider national and indeed, international audience than previously achieved and one that connects with people ‘outside’ the folk song world and with young people. Another thing it seems to have done is destroy the ‘finger-in-the-ear’ and knitted woollie image of the folksinger. Who could reasonably object to these things?

To my knowledge no one has explored the consequences that are unintended. From just listening to ‘folkies’ talk, I get an impression that a considerable number of people don’t approve and indeed, object quite strongly to the process if not the resulting recipients. Many people who are committed to folk music and support the folk club circuit here in the UK and elsewhere feel excluded from the annual ritual. Maybe this is inevitable. Maybe any attempt to demystify the processes objected to, would only be successful by (unintentionally) creating a new mystery?

This may not the place to pursue this much further but perhaps I might just throw this view into the discussion: maybe folk music should be outside the mainstream music industry? After all, that’s where traditional and broadsheet songs were for centuries before (and indeed, since) the Revival of the 50’s & 60’s. Folk song belongs outside the cultural establishment – the Court, the genteel musical circles of the past and indeed, the not so genteel rock and pop circles of today? It is a ‘people’s music’. That may sound rather pretentious and precious but Cecil Sharpe et al didn’t find the songs, or the music in the sophisticated Drawing Rooms of a Victorian middle class culture. It was from among ordinary, often non- or barely literate people in a rural and urban working class. Many of our contemporary songs collectively offer us an insight into a version of history you won’t find in the history books. The victorious write our history. We should pay attention to the stories and songs of those outside the approved cultural system, we should also listen to the victims!

It is my view that the strength of the tradition comes from the talents of ordinary people writing and telling of their experiences: their hope, their fear, their joy and their anger through their songs and their stories. It is and should remain essentially and necessarily outside, what I have described elsewhere, as the formulaic demands of the mainstream music industry. Dare I say it: from below the radar?
I think we should get the perceived virtues and vices of the Folk Awards into the open. Let’s discuss them. There is no definitive position – just opinions held by our peers within, what we somewhat coyly call ‘the folk community’.

Roy Bailey
February 2011


For 50+ years, Roy Bailey has been one of the UK Folk & Acoustic scene’s most loved and admired performers. From his early days performing skiffle in student union bars, to his love of traditional songs and the stories they tell, onto developing a unique repertoire of songs of dissent and hope, he has performed on stages, TV and radio all over the world. In 2000 he was awarded an MBE for Services to Folk Music – an Award he later returned in protest at the Government’s Foreign Policy. In the 1970’s Roy joined forces with Tony Benn to present their show ‘The Writing on the Wall’ for which the duo won Best Live Act at BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2003.