On Friday 5th December, I travelled to London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank for the Young Folk Award. Although I've always followed the award and its competitors, I've never made it down to the finals.
And on arrival, my geeky star-struck side promptly came out when the first person I saw, stood by the entrance, was Jim Moray - who, once himself a finalist, was attending on judging duty. Then it became a bit of a spot-who-is-in-the-audience moment, but I didn't get much further than Simon Nicol, Colin Irwin and a bloke I knew I recognised and turned out to be a member of Mawkin.
Anyway, starting promptly at 7.30pm, Mike Harding trotted on stage and the performances began.
First up was Tyde, a trio from Northumberland playing guitar, fiddle and accordion. Technically Tyde were fantastic, not surprising considering that they met when playing in Folkestra, and their two sets of tunes were unabashed and confident. I even let out a whoop at applause time, though on reflection I realised they probably lacked that energy and dynamism to make them winners.
Lucy Ward was a brave young lady - fancy chastising Mike Harding on stage! (Mike mistakenly said that she'd won a songwriting competition in 2009) That certainly got the crowd on side! Her rendition of Mike Waterson's 'Stitch In Time', sung unaccompanied, possessed everything you'd want an unaccompanied song to possess.
Megan and Joe Henwood... well, we'll come to them later ;)
Maz O'Connor is often guest singer for the band Last Orders but here sang two songs unaccompanied. Although enjoyable at the time, I have to confess to not being able to remember what she sang. I knew I should've brought a notepad and pen like any other self-respecting journo!
Emily Hoile and Alice Burn, once I'd got over the fact that they are both aged sixteen yet look older than me, played a set of tunes on clarsach and pipes. Again, their musicianship and technical ability was obvious, but it seemed that technique got in the way of interpretation and feeling. It seemed a little souless at times.
Jaywalkers couldn't have been a bigger contrast. A duo of mandolin and fiddle from the north west of England, 15 year old Jay's voice was astonishing.
Of course, Mike Harding stressed how difficult the judges' job would be, and although that comment always seems a polite cop-out, it was matter of fact here. The standard of the acts was enormously high but incredibly varied. I thought if I wanted one of the competitors to record a CD, I would have chosen Tyde. But if I was thinking purely about festivals, then I would've picked Jaywalkers because they were so compelling to watch.
As it so happened, Megan and Joe Henwood, a sibling duo from Oxfordshire, were crowned the winners. Megan's voice is truly heart stopping - it's distinctive, idiosyncratic, yet gorgeous - and the sensitive accompaniment from saxophonist Joe was thought provoking without being overbearing. Admittedly, the duo aren't at all traditional whilst previous winners are, so I wasn't surprised to see the mudcat message board awash with complaints.
Nevertheless, I'll be interested to see how they develop over the next year.