The Isambard Folk Awards, named after the fella who invented bridges, are a newcomers thang. Anyone can send in a CD, the five best get to perform at the finals; the judges say how terrific the standard has been and that music isn't really a competition anyway, and the winner gets to appear on the main stage at the festival next month. All jolly nice. Fairly certain I was the only person in the audience who wasn't in, related, or at any rate connected to, one of the bands.
I was pretty sure I had it down to a two horse race between Solarferance and Misshaped Pearls. Solarferance did a sort of folk electronica, somewhere between the early Jim Moray and Duotone: that thing where the musicians are playing acoustic instruments and then mixing them live on stage with apple macs, so they end up accompanying themselves and creating what soundscapes. The process may have been taken slightly to an extreme: not only was the good old Cutty Wren accompanied by a mortar and pestle and musical saw, but it was also sung simultaneously in English and Welsh. (So we now know that the Welsh for "Milder and Mulder" is "Dibber and Dobber".) And when your act positively invites comparisons with Mr Moray, maybe its a little courageous to attempt Lucy Wan, without a rap artist but with a reel of sellotape. However Nick Janeaway and Sarah Owen can actually properly sing and the wierd sounds they produced were genuine response to the songs themselves. I particular liked the fading reverberations of "...and what will you do when your father gets home?" in Lucy Wan . (In real life "wait til your father gets home" is proverbially said to a naughty child who has catapulted a pebble through the dining room window; less often to a lad who has made his sister pregnant, chopped off her head and spoiled her pretty bodee.) Much my favourite act, partly because it wasn't like anything else and partly because, in a funny way, it was the most traditional thing of the evening.
But I fully expected the judges to give the prize to Misshaped Pearls, a big seven piece world music ensemble with a Taboresque leading lady who offered complicated instrumentation of Latin lyrics by Ovid and finished up waxing all south American with something which I didn't get the title of written by a Mexican nun. Not precisely my sort of thing, but awfully polished and professional, with a big rich sound that was arguably closer to being actual music than the first lot.
On balance, I ruled out the opening act, Common Tongues, who seemed to be doing very pleasant, singery songer-writery acoustic rock; very listenable to but quite like a lot of other things I'd heard somewhere. I also didn't think that the rather interesting Welsh five piece Evening Chorus, who started out doing close harmony that veered dangerously in the direction of the barbers shop, but then expanded into long drawn out complicated multi-layered rambles, putting me rather in mind of Alasdair Roberts at his more expansive, would get it.
"Either the clever electronic people", I said, "Or the big world music band, with just a small chance of the interesting Welsh five piece."
So, naturally, the judges gave it to Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker. Josienne is a lady who sings semi-traditional songs with her hands, squeezing out an awful lot of emotion and drama, as if she was personally gutted by the fact that her Donald works on the sea. Ben plays fantastically detailed tinkly-tonkly guitar, counterpointing her music rather in the manner of Mr Martin Simpson, who he lists as an influence, as does everybody else.
I can only suppose that the judges gave it to them because they were clearly the most talented people in the room. If not necessarily the cleverest or most innovative.
Which is, like, crazy talk.