By Paul Long
After an encouraging inaugural year on 2018, recently the news arrived that there would be no UK Blues Awards for 2019.
After last year’s ceremony in Worthing on the south coast of England, it was (rightly) decided that the Awards needed to travel the country to be accessible and relevant to as many people as possible, and the decision to go to the North West and Preston Guildhall was a welcome one. In December the panel of some 750 musicians, journalists, promoters, broadcasters and so on (me included) were invited to submit their nominations, which would be whittled down to a short list of finalists in each category for the public vote in February.
Then as the new year unfolded, it appeared things had not gone well. The UK Blues Federation had not been able to finalise an agreeable contract for the hire of the venue. Apparently, efforts to resolve this situation or find an alternative venue had come to nothing. Even more disturbing was the revelation that fewer than 13% of the panel had returned their nomination form – and some of those that had made a return had not done so in all the categories.
This has been deeply disappointing in many ways (and yes, I’ll declare an interest in that last year my band had 4 nominations: winning one category, and I was nominated in the Broadcaster category). Arguably more work could have been done to find an alternative venue, and perhaps it was wrong to announce that the venue was in place when it wasn’t signed and sealed. As for the nominations – maybe with the loss of the venue this might have been an opportunity to delay the Awards whilst seeking a replacement, and also to extend the nomination process without having to announce that all this had fallen apart.
I am not a member of the Board of UK Blues Federation so don’t have an inner knowledge of how difficult this must have been for them, and I’m sure they didn’t take this cancellation decision lightly; and the transparency of their announcement was either refreshing or mistaken. Either way, the message it sends out makes us seem like a poor relation to the recent, and hugely successful, UK Americana Awards held at the Hackney Empire in London at the end of January. There is a strong argument of course that music is not about competition and prizes, but much needs to be done to improve the profile and stature of blues related music in Britain. The Awards are an important showcase and the UK Blues Federation deserves to be supported in its efforts. Such a poor response from the nomination panel merely fuels the detractors’ and their keyboard warrior sniping and we need to find a way of improving the response, or alternatively use a different model for selecting nominees – as done by other music awards.
Nominations have now been invited for artists to play at the UK Blues Challenge in September, to pick our entry for the 2020 Blues Challenges. In the last challenge Kyla Brox was chosen by the UK Blues Federation to represent Britain at the 2019 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. She got to the semi-finals which was an excellent outcome, and hopes are high for Kyla and her band at the European Blues Challenge on the Azores in April. These trips have been made possible with the help of UK Blues Federation and other crowdfunding, so let’s hope for some good news for Kyla and for the UK Blues Federation.