Battle of the folk bands - a skirmish of skill and talent!
It’s perhaps all too easy to be sceptical or cynical about music talent competitions; the splurge of TV talent shows in recent years has inundated our screens with all manner of takes on the formula, and often one is left unimpressed by the fairly bruising treatment of unsuccessful competitors and manipulation of situations in order to create what the producers deem ‘good telly’.
As a musician though, I believe there is most definitely a place for them – particularly those in ‘real life’ – as they can be hugely beneficial to those taking part and of course the winners. The competitive element will not be for everyone but if, as a musician, you’re willing to put yourself and your music on the line, then it encourages you to up your musical game, can be an incredibly rewarding experience and the launchpad for many superb opportunities.
In the folk world there are several well-established music competitions and awards involving a live play-off in front of judges, including BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year and Celtic Connections’ Danny Kyle Open Stage. These competitions have grown to become staples in the folk calendar, launching the careers of many traditional musicians who are now acclaimed artistes performing in theatres and venues around the world.
Relatively newish kid on the block, Battle of the Folk Bands, is a tremendously exciting opportunity for bands, or singers and musicians who have an idea for a band. Another inspired initiative from Hands Up For Trad’s Creative Director Simon Thoumire, the competition invites submission of demo recordings, from which the best four selected will go through to a live final at Celtic Connections 2020.
The winning prize is no less than the chance to perform at Celtic Connections, the Skye Festival, plus a day’s recording in the Caribou studio with Mattie Foulds. Now, if that’s not worth battling it out over with bows, buttons, keys, strings and puff, then what is?
I should confess here I have some experience of a talent contest. In 2013, not long after our band Dorec-a-belle formed, we entered the Sunday Herald’s Best Unsigned Band Competition. Though a wee bit apprehensive, we reckoned it was a quality Sunday newspaper, partnered with the quality Wickerman Festival, so would be a serious and credible competition, and duly submitted our demo.
Lo and behold we were shortlisted, from where stage two was an online public vote, from which, again much to our amazement, we emerged as a finalist! Third stage was a live play-off with the other bands in front of judges and public in Glasgow’s Broadcast music venue.
It was a quick down-and-back dash to Glasgow in one day as we all had kids to get back for, and with one breastfeeding band member with baby in sling, timing was of the essence. In between feeds (the things mum musicians must do!), we performed our set of three songs, which we were reasonably happy with, but our fellow finalists sounded slick, polished and very strong so we didn’t hold out much hope of winning.
I was in the basement ‘ladies’ when the judges announced their decision – clearly overly relaxed about the whole thing – when my bandmates came rushing downstairs, screaming that we’d won! We were completely stunned, overwhelmed and incredibly happy!
The prize, playing the Saturday main stage at the fabulous Wickerman Festival, we did the following August and that alone was an unforgettable experience but in addition we got TV and radio interviews, live broadcast performances, pieces in the Sunday Herald and other media coverage, and many more doors opened to Dorec-a-belle as a result.
So, folk musicians out there, don’t hesitate! The deadline for submissions to Battle of the Folk Bands is Sunday 8th September so get those mp3s in and you too could be one of the four finalists to battle it out at Celtic Connections on 25th January 2020. Go on, it’s all to play for!
(First published by Scottish Provincial Press 6th September 2019)