Entertainment & Arts

Tony Blackburn reveals his folk band past at Radio 2 Folk Awards

Tony Blackburn in 1973
Image caption Blackburn presented a lifetime achievement award to Al Stewart at this year's event

He's best known as a soul DJ, but it turns out Tony Blackburn once formed a band with folk star Al Stewart.

The broadcaster made the revelation as he presented Stewart with a lifetime achievement prize at Wednesday night's Radio 2 Folk Awards.

"He was a wonderful guitarist except that he was so loud that he drowned out my voice totally," recalled Blackburn.

Stewart went on to score hits with Year of the Cat and Time Passages.

The ornately named Tony Blackburn and the Swinging Bells were never heard of again.

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Media captionAl Stewart performs On The Border at the Radio 2 Folk Awards

Blackburn, who later became the first DJ to broadcast on Radio 1, joked that Stewart "seems to have forgotten I was the one who gave him his chance".

Accepting his prize, Stewart paid tribute to the musicians who inspired him, including skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan and Bob Dylan.

He also paid tribute to "my ex-roommate, who wrote songs and I would listen through the wall".

"He taught me how to write songs," said the star, before revealing the roommate was, in fact, Paul Simon.

Stewart was not the only musician honoured at the Folk Awards, which were broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 from the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Singer-songwriter and slide guitar virtuoso Ry Cooder also received a lifetime achievement award, taking to the stage to sing Jesus on the Mainline in a rare UK performance.

The star, who has collaborated with everyone from the Rolling Stones and Randy Newman to The Chieftains and Buena Vista Social Club, was recognised for his efforts to keep the folk flame alive.

This was perhaps best exemplified by the night when Bob Dylan showed up at his house, asking for a lesson on how to play guitar like the bluesman Sleepy John Estes.

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Media captionRy Cooder performs Jesus on the Mainline at the Radio 2 Folk Awards

Scottish musician Kris Drever won folk singer of the year and also song of the year for If Wishes Were Horses, the title track of his third solo album.

Born on the island of Orkney but resident in the even more remote Shetland Islands, the singer's lyrics are nonetheless rooted in the realities of modern life.

"I wish that politicians ties/Would tighten up when they tell lies," goes one couplet on If Wishes Were Horses.

Scottish politics also inspired the album of the year winner, Songs of Separation, which was triggered by the 2014 independence referendum.

Recorded in just a week on the Isle of Eigg in the Scottish Inner Hebrides, it features contributions from 10 female musicians, including Eliza Carthy, Karine Polwart and Kate Young.

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Media captionFara perform Three Fishers at the Radio 2 Folk Awards

Woody Guthrie, author of such classics as I Ain't Got No Home, Pretty Boy Floyd and This Train Is Bound For Glory, was inducted into the Folk Awards hall of fame on the 50th anniversary of his death.

The US folk icon's songs were a major influence on popular music and have been covered by the likes of Van Morrison, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

Billy Bragg, who made a Grammy-winning album with Wilco based on unused Woody Guthrie lyrics, paid tribute to the star by performing I Ain't Got No Home.

The track, one of his most biting compositions, is sung from the perspective of a homeless man criticising the "rich man [who] took my home and drove me from my door".

Recent research suggests Guthrie wrote an alternate version of the song in 1950, in which the villain was Donald Trump's father and Fred - his landlord at the time.

Image caption Guthrie is one of the most influential figures in folk and popular music

Bragg called Guthrie "the first real singer-songwriter" and "the father of the topical song tradition".

"One of the great things about folk audiences is that they still want to hear topical songs, even though it's become unfashionable in mainstream music," he continued.

The Folk Awards will be broadcast on BBC Four on 9 April at 22:00 BST in an hour-long highlights programme that will include all the performances - including those from Stewart, Cooder, Afro Celt Sound System and Daoiri Farrell.

In the build-up to the awards, BBC Radio 2 counted down its top 10 most-played folk songs, with Cat Stevens' Wild World topping the chart.

The star, who now goes by the name Yusuf, said he was "really, really pleased" but noted it had taken nearly 50 years "to be recognised as a folk singer".

"The fact it's still being played makes me feel very satisfied, because it shows the song and the meaning is still very relevant," he told Radio 2's Simon Mayo earlier.

"But of course it's relevant - a wild world is exactly what we're living right now.

"And it's getting worse. It's getting wilder."

Full list of winners

  • Folk singer of the year - Kris Drever
  • Best duo - Ross Ainslie & Ali Hutton
  • Best group - The Furrow Collective
  • Best album - Songs of Separation
  • Horizon Award - Daoiri Farrell
  • Musician of the year - Rachel Newton
  • Best original song - If Wishes Were Horses by Kris Drever
  • Best traditional track - Van Diemen's Land by Daoiri Farrell
  • BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award - Josie Duncan & Pablo Lafuente
  • Lifetime achievement award - Al Stewart & Ry Cooder
  • Hall of fame inductee - Woody Guthrie

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