It disturbs me that such a prominent figure as Mike sees honest concern and intelligent criticism from genuine fans as "moaning" and "nagging", and also that he has such little regard for the democratic process, claiming on one hand that public voting would skew the awards to those who sell the most records and tickets, yet on the other defending the awards for rewarding the same people because they sell the most records and tickets!
As far as I'm concerned I can do no more on this issue at this point. Currently I'm not well and this whole episode is impacting further on my health, and sapping time away from other projects at FolkCast. If you feel strongly about this issue, it's up to you to get involved, to make your feelings known to Smooth Operations and the BBC. I intend to step away from this argument - for now at least.
I've raised what I consider to be legitimate concerns, and received a great deal of support for my views here, on Twitter and on Facebook. Thanks to all for that, it's much appreciated!
There are also some people who have criticised me and others for even daring to criticise the awards, saying we should simply support them blindly and "get behind the folk scene" or words to that effect. Sorry, but that's like suggesting we should not criticise politicians, just support them blindly and "get behind the government". That's not the way we do things in Great Britain - we hold people and things paid with public money up to scrutiny and up to account.
Mike and others have warned that the BBC could even cancel the entire awards if there is "a whiff of scandal or trouble". That would be a terrible shame, but what better reason does anyone need to ensure that the awards are not only "honest and above board" (as he puts it) but can be demonstrated to be so to anyone who suggests otherwise? Only a house built on shaky foundations can be so easily toppled.
If nothing else, I and others such as Emma Hartley who have asked serious, important questions about an issue which involves a large amount of public money have managed to reveal a little more about the mechanics of the Folk Awards than have ever been previously forthcoming from the organisers. We've shown the weaknesses of the system, exposed the confusion among even those at the centre of the organisation. A little more light has been shone into the machine, and that might just help dispel some of the wilder rumours that I've heard about how the Folk Awards work.
It's a start, but I remain convinced that Smooth Operations and the BBC need to take a long, hard look at the whole process in order to win the confidence of everyone that the process of nomination and voting is not only straight but can be shown to be straight. It's too late to do that for 2012, but we'll see if they take the opportunity in time for the 2013 Awards.
At the end of his email Mike makes mention of personal abuse against himself. I want to make it clear that none of that came from me or anyone associated with FolkCast, despite a message on Twitter from Mike that associated our name with it. I asked him to make it clear that it came from elsewhere: he did not do so. He also mentions an "Occupy Folk Awards" slogan. This was from me and was clearly a joke (indicated as such with a smiley), and made in response to someone else's comment. I hope Mike isn't losing his sense of humour!
At first Mike specified that his comments were not to be published, but in a later email he did give permission. First there's his initial email, and then his point-by-point rebuttal, where Mike's answers are in bold, just as he formatted them in his email. What follows is unedited in any way.
The Folk Awards - Some Thoughts
Shortly after I began presenting the folk programme for BBC Radio 2 some fourteen years ago I found myself out in Austin, Texas to cover the South by South West Festival there, recording interviews and making programmes. Nic Barraclough and Bob Harris were out there also for their programmes as was my executive producer John Leonard. One night, as we were sitting round the dinner table I said it was a pity that we didn’t have a Folk Music Hall of Fame similar to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. We chatted on, looking at various possibilities: could there be a Folk Centre somewhere in the Midlands perhaps; could Cecil Sharpe House become a folk music Hall of Fame. We came to the conclusion that getting a building would be difficult – but we could at least have an awards ceremony like the Nashville awards that recognised excellence in Folk. From that simple idea came the Folk Awards. The BBC put up some money (to hire venues, put up acts in hotels, pay their airfares etc.) and John got on with the work of contacting festival and folk club organisers, record company execs, folk journalist and folk programme presenters asking them to be judges. There are 170 of them and each year they are asked to do two things… 1 - sign a form saying that they will not vote for anybody that they have a personal or financial interest in 2 - fill in a form with their nominations for best singer, best new song, horizon award etc. The forms are scrutinised to check that the judges are not voting for acts they record or represent – none ever have ...EVER That is all – no swearing to secrecy, no cloak and dagger The people who receive the awards do, on the whole, represent the best on the folk scene at the present moment. It may seem to some that unknowns are not represented, but that is the same in any profession – we all have to serve our time. The notion that somebody can pick up a guitar one week and appear at Cambridge the next is just nonsense. There may well be great undiscovered acts out there - but if they’re all that great they won’t be undiscovered for long. I spend hours trawling the web and listening to links people have sent me as does my producer Jon Lewis. The nominations come from the judges on the basis of their personal judgement and are not drawn from the playlist for my programme – whether or not I have played most of them is neither here nor there. After the first round of nominations 4 names come forward in each category and the judges then vote on these. The end results are announced on the night of the awards together with the Good Folk Award and Lifetime Achievement Awards - these are made to people who have done just that - been good to the folk world or worked all their life in a very special way for folk. There are no cliques / cabals or covens. All we are trying to do is further the music we all love. I don’t know who the other judges are and I don’t care. I know enough about both the BBC and my producer John Leonard to know that everything is above board. Trust is everything. I don’t particularly care whether the names of the judges become public knowledge or not – they weren’t kept secret they just weren’t published.I suspect that both Smooth Operations and the BBC thought nobody would be much interested in knowing who they were – I would however point out that… 1 - Judges might not want their names known because they could possibly become the subjects of either lobbying or abuse. The lobbying I doubt simply because there ain’t that much money in folk that a big record company are going to start flying Fred Bloggs the organiser of WIlberswick Folk Festival to Cannes. Also I suspect that the folk world – because of its very roots – is fundamentally anti big business and is still at base a world in which honesty and being rooted is very important– you couldn’t find more rooted and honest people for example than Chris Wood and Martin Simpson two of this years nominees. Abuse (as from the evidence of this “transparency” campaign) is much more likely. 2 - The campaign to “out” the judges seems to be generating hot air, hysteria, misinformation and personal attacks that are completely unnecessary. I deeply believe that if the names were made known, the trolls that are rubbishing the Folk Awards at the moment would just move on to rubbishing the judges. It’s a no win situation. I for one would just like to get on with making good programmes (please) and would love to be able to open my Facebook or Twitter pages and find it clear of nagging, false information, abuse and silliness (e.g. the recent tweet to “Occupy the Folk Awards”). The Folk Awards came about because of the music we love - not for any monetary or egotistical gain - it was simply to share the good things of the folk world - and we managed to get the BBC to spend a good deal of time and money working on them. Not everybody agrees with the result but I think that many people feel that it does largely recognise and applaud all the good stuff that is happening on todays folk scene. I too have my reservations about some of the results – but the voting is fair and honest so I accept the decisions. That’s what happens in any voting process. Look at the long list of people who’ve received awards over the years and tell me that people like the Copper Family, Christy Moore, Joan Baez, Spiers and Boden, Chris Wood, Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr and James Fagin, Martin Simpson, Ewan McLennan, Norma Waterson, Eliza Carthy, Jackie Oates, Lucy ward etc. are not worthy of nomination. We have one hour a week of folk on BBC mainstream. We should be making it easier for the BBC to work with us, not harder.