Last weekend saw the launch of the new Official Folk Albums Chart in Manchester, produced by English Folk Expo and presented by Manchester Folk Festival. Under different circumstances, the weekend would have marked the fourth Manchester Folk Festival.
The launch was hosted by Mark Radcliffe from Manchester’s HOME and, finally, you might well say, acknowledged the unique importance of folk music. Interviewed by Radcliffe during the live-streamed show, the great Shirley Collins, whose return to recording and performing after decades of silence has been just one of the exciting recent developments in the genre, said: “We all want to be recognised and acknowledged and this chart brings us closer to the mainstream. I think it’s a great idea.”
Folk singer Fay Hield added: “The folk scene is a many-headed beast, and it is brilliant that album-releasing artists have this new platform to introduce more people to the music. The chart can help new listeners delve into the nooks and crannies, find new artists, go to the clubs and get more deeply involved in the folk world.”
Meanwhile, commenting on a rich genre taking in everything between acoustic pop and traditional music, Manchester Folk Festival’s David Agnew, said: “In folk music the album is still an occasion, a work of art and a moment to be celebrated.”
Folk is not only at a new high but is characterised by a high percentage of independent releases. In fact, according to new Official Charts Company analysis, more than 90 per cent of the best-selling new folk albums of 2020 are independent releases, showing the potential for the new chart as a platform for discovery.
“We are delighted to be celebrating all that is great about British and Irish folk music,” said Martin Talbot of the Official Charts Company, which has recently acknowledged genres including Americana, blues and jazz, progressive and AfroBeat. “The emergence of artists such as Laura Marling, Frank Turner and Kate Rusby as stars of the folk scene while also taking their place in the mainstream charts and award categories, illustrates how much love there is for this genre which is simultaneously one of the most ancient and contemporary genres in music.”
The show was an exciting combination of live, socially-distanced performances from Welsh chamber-folk trio VRï, Manchester-based alt-folk duo The Breath, and the visibly-excited Fay Hield (whose new album Wrackline was high in the chart) with her superlative band, alongside inserts from Kris Drever, recorded from his home in Glasgow, and interviews with the likes of Collins from her South Downs home as well as Belfast self-releasing artist Joshua Burnside from his endearingly-scruffy home studio.
In-between performances and interviews, the actual charts were announced in an amiably-retro style by veteran broadcaster Matthew Bannister (whose brilliant Folk On Foot podcast will announce future charts on a monthly basis), with this first chart topped by Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Jamie’s Webster’s debut album We Get By on the Modern Sky label, and Laura Marling’s Song For Our Daughter released back in April, sitting at number two. Recent releases by Kate Rusby, The Levellers and Stick In The Wheel came in at three, four and five respectively.
The October 2020 top 40 chart is peppered with well-known names from the UK and Ireland folk scenes including Shirley Collins, Skerryvore, Fay Hield, Lankum, Skipinnish and Dervish as well as rising stars such as Scotland’s Elephant Sessions at 34 and Bwncath from Wales at 31. The chart this month features artists at every stage of their careers from Bristol shanty singers The Longest Johns with their independently released album Cures What Ails Ya at number 16 to the legendary Fairport Convention with their February-released Shuffle And Go at 26. Chart-topping Jamie Webster also achieves the double with a second album, Boss, at number seven.
“I grew up listening to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Johnny Cash,” said Webster. “I didn’t actually know that it was folk that I was listening to, I just liked the real-life stories that were being told in the songs. It was later on that I realised that it’s the stories and realities told which makes the songs folk songs.
“I’ve always tried to tell stories in my music and talk about real life issues. I think that’s the only way to do it. I wrote this album to tell a story about working class life and that’s what I feel folk music does in a nutshell. So, to be included in this year’s Top 10 Official Folk Chart means my album has done its job and people relate to the stories I’m telling.
“Also, with no gigs at the moment it’s a great way for new people to listen to my music.”
Main image: Mark Radcliffe BBC Radio 2 Folk Show
The new chart will be supported by a new monthly Official Folk Albums Chart podcast, presented by Matthew Bannister and produced by the team behind Folk On Foot and the Folk On Foot festivals, available as a podcast and on YouTube at 7pm on the first Monday of every month. If you missed the launch event, you can watch it by clicking here.