The U.K. Blues Awards 2018
On 19th May the inaugural U.K. Blues Awards ceremony took place in the fabulous Art Deco Southern Pavilion at the end of Worthing Pier in West Sussex. These awards rose phoenix- like from the ashes of the British Blues Awards, last held in 2016. In an effort to give the awards more credibility the mantel was picked up by the U.K. Blues Federation, who also run the U.K. Blues Challenge. In-depth precautions were put in place to make the public online voting more secure, and the other big change was the stated desire to have a proper awards ceremony and to build the event into a high-profile affair - along the lines of the esteemed BBC Folk Awards.
In December last year a panel of some 600 or more people (musicians, journalists, broadcasters, promoters, managers, venue owners and so on) were asked to submit their top three nominations in each of the proposed categories. From this the shortlisted finalists went to a public online vote throughout February. The awards would be given out at a ticketed event in May. The event sold out very quickly, and before the voting my band Catfish was asked to play. We had played the Southern Pavilion a couple of times before, supporting Kirk Fletcher and Mud Morganfield, and so we were prepared for pulling the barrow full of backline the length of the pier as it juts out into the English Channel. Previously this had been on a cold, rainy November or February night and the wind and rain would coming lashing in horizontally, but this was a beautifully sunlit and calm afternoon. Preparations were well underway inside and we did our sound check and waited for the evening’s revelations - as we were nominated in four categories.
After a couple of speeches from Dave Raven and Ashwyn Smyth board members of the U.K. Blues Federation - we were off and running, with MC Ian Siegal taking an occasionally mischievous glee in finding himself host for the night. There was a glint in his eye and on many occasions witty remarks loaded with irony. The multiple winners of the night were the blues-rock band King King who won the awards for Band of the Year, Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. Ian Siegal pointed out that King King were unable to attend as they were on tour, but had sent a video response. He suggested they had sent the same iPhone video each time, with an' insert award name’ here. More profuse in the video offerings was the legendary producer, and these days singer, Mike Vernon. He had sent a funny opening video message wishing everybody well - and touting for a nomination next time!
Here’s a link to the King King video:
It was no surprise that Peter Green (Personality of the Year) and Eric Clapton (Lifetime Achievement) didn’t attend and it was a shame that Paul Jones (Blues Broadcaster of the Year), who was recently stood down from presenting his BBC Radio blues programme after 32 years, couldn’t be there as he is on tour. He had sent a more effusive video message, but also as his producer for some seven years I was asked if I would accept on his behalf and say a few words, which I was most pleased to do.
After 45 minutes or so of award-giving Catfish played our first set - directly after being presented with the award for Best Blues Act: England. This was an interesting departure from previous awards in that there was a category for each of the four nations that make up the U.K. and this seemed to be a good moment for inclusiveness around Britain, as did the presentation for Blues Club/Venue of the year to Edinburgh Blues Club. There was a lot of love in the room for the more local finalist - the Tuesday Night Music Club, but the overall feeling of all the finalists was that to be a nominated finalist was great in itself, which I would agree with. Catfish didn’t win Album of the Year, but again the roar of approval when Broken Man was read out was so uplifting.
After the rest of the awards had been announced it was time for a second set from Catfish - a good proportion of which was taken up with jamming with two of the Young Artist nominees - winner 13 year-old Toby Lee and finalist 14 year-old Marcus Praestgaard-Stevens. Catfish guitarist, my son Matthew, was also a finalist in this category - although he’s 23 and twice their size! But what joy to see such talented young players coming on the scene. We also jammed with Blues Act of the Year: Wales winner Luke Doherty and would have carried on into the small hours, but for the hitherto-unknown curfew that came at 11pm!
The U.K. Blues Awards are up and running after months of hard work by the organisers, and I think were met with a lot of love by the blues community. The categories are slimmed down from previous iterations and the inclusion of new awards for the Nations and for things like Innovation in the Blues are welcome I think.
No doubt there will be lessons to learn and the 2019 awards will be even bigger and better, but this was a cracking start.
Here’s a list of all the winners:
Male Blues vocalist of the Year: Ian Siegal
Female Blues Vocalist of the Year: Rebecca Downes Blues Band of the Year: King King
Acoustic Blues Act of the Year: Ian Siegal
Young Blues Artist of the Year: Toby Lee
Blues Based Festival of the Year: Upton Blues Festival
UK Blues Based Broadcaster of the Year: Paul Jones
Blues Album of the Year: Exile & Grace – King King
Blues Songwriter of the Year: Alan Nimmo (King King)
Blues Club/Venue of the Year: Edinburgh Blues Club
Blues Personality of the Year: Peter Green
Lifetime Contribution to the Blues in UK: Eric Clapton
Innovation in the Blues in the UK: Rag’n’Bone Man
Regional: Blues Actist of the Year – England: Catfish
Regional: Blues Actist of the Year – Northern Ireland: Kaz Hawkins
Regional: Blues Actist of the Year – Scotland: Stevie Nimmo
Regional: Blues Actist of the Year – Wales: Luke Doherty