BBC Radio 2 shines a spotlight on 21st Century Folk in January

Radio 2 announces a feast of folk and brass music to kick-off the New Year, plus a very special 80th birthday celebration for Tony Blackburn

Left to right: Martyn Joseph, Thea Gilmore, Kathryn Williams, Chris Difford, Angeline Morrison, Sean Cooney


BBC Radio 2

In February 2022, Mark Radcliffe, presenter of Radio 2’s The Folk Show launched 21st Century Folk on the network, in partnership with BBC Local Radios Newcastle and Radio Tees. This ambitious initiative aimed to capture the essence of life in the North East of England today through the prism of folk songs, offering people from the region the opportunity to have a song written about their life by acclaimed songwriters. These songs are revealed for the first time today.

Helen Thomas, Head of Radio 2 says:

"Radio 2’s commitment to specialist music makes us unique in the UK radio landscape, and I’m hugely proud of 21st Century Folk, which has originated five beautiful new songs. I’d like to thank our wonderful contributors for sharing their stories and the talented songwriters and composers who have brought them to life through their music."

Folk singers have always sung the stories of real people living in these islands. Inspired by the classic BBC Radio Ballads, people from the region were asked to share stories about their daily lives; five were selected and each was matched with a songwriter who has written a new song based on their experience. These songs have been performed by a range of musicians, including some with links to the region, creating a musical time capsule of life today in the North East.

The songwriters, musicians and singers involved are Martyn Joseph, Thea Gilmore, Sean Cooney with The Young’uns, Chris Difford with Kathryn Williams, and Angeline Morrison with The Unthanks.

The five stories of the contributors and their songwriters, from the first meeting, writing the song, to hearing it first performed, are available on BBC Sounds from today (Monday 9 January) and will be broadcast in 21st Century Folk on Radio 2 (8pm-10pm, Sunday 15th January - a 7digital production). Each of the contributors and songwriters will be on Jeremy Vine’s show from 12-2pm Monday 9 to Friday 13 January on Radio 2, giving their perspectives on this project and the process of working together to write the song (a BBC Audio production).

The people, songwriters and musicians taking part are:

Andrea Bell who, with her fellow volunteers, runs a soup kitchen and food bank called The Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen which serves free food to people in need four nights a week. They have witnessed a big increase in demand during recent times and welcome homeless people and any family or individual struggling to make ends meet. Singer-songwriter, Martyn Joseph, has written a brand new song – called Albert’s Place - inspired by Andrea and the volunteers. Armed with an observer’s eye for detail, a gift for dramatic lyrical twists, and his guitar, Welsh troubadour Martyn travels the world performing powerful songs about relationships, family and society. He has a history of involvement with humanitarian projects. His latest release, 1960, is his 23rd album and came out in 2021.

Martyn Joseph says:

"I’ve always felt that music is a big conduit of empathy and hope, and should come alongside us and remind us that we’re not alone in the world. And if you want to tell the story of a big issue, it’s best to find one person within that issue and tell that one person’s story."

Delyth Raffell from Blyth tragically lost her teenage daughter, Ellen, aged just 16, to anaphylaxis. This led Delyth and her family to set up a charity in her memory, called Ellen’s Gift of Hope, to support other children in their region who face challenges in life due to health issues, special needs and disabilities. Singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore from Oxfordshire met Delyth to hear about her extraordinary daughter and the pain and purpose that inspires the charity to write her song – called She Speaks In Colours. Thea released her debut album in 1998 at 18 years old. Thea’s latest EP, Was, came out in October 2022. On Monday 9th January, The One Show on BBC One will feature Delyth on the programme, showing the moment Thea performed her song to her for the very first time.

Thea Gilmore says:

"It was such an honour to be a part of the 21st Century Folk project. I don’t think I have ever felt such a responsibility as a songwriter to capture a person and a mood as I did with this song. It has been a privilege to listen to Delyth and her family remember Ellen. It has been a privilege to try to do justice to Ellen’s life in song. They’ll all be with me forever."

Dr Ifti Lone is a dedicated GP working in Middlesbrough. Since moving to the UK from Pakistan he has served the same Teesside community and become a lifelong fan of Middlesbrough Football Club, a passion which binds him to his community. Dr Lone administered thousands of Covid vaccines during the pandemic and, after catching the virus himself, ended up in intensive care. Award-winning songwriter, Sean Cooney, met him to hear about his life, work, being in intensive care, and the power of football to unite a community, before writing the song – called Doctor Boro - about him and performing it with his bandmates, The Young’uns. Sean, from Stockton-on-Tees, co-founded The Young’uns with David Eagle and Michael Hughes. Their rousing harmonies, strong social conscience and humour have made them an unmissable live act. They have released eight albums and perform an acclaimed stage show called The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff.

Sean Cooney says:

"Discovering folk songs as a teenager was a life changing experience for me. Many people think they only tell the stories of the past. Being involved in 21st Century Folk has reaffirmed my belief that folk songs are as relevant today as ever, and it was a privilege to meet Dr Lone and be able to tell his story through song."

Michael Dodds is a fifth-generation foyboatman in the Port of Sunderland. Day and night, Michael helps ships from around the world to moor on the Wearside docks. His role involves high-tech communications, whereas previous generations used small boats, ropes and whistles. The Port was, until recently, where Ukrainian steel arrived in the UK. In the future, giant turbines will be shipped out to Dogger Bank to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm. Michael meets legendary Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford who was inspired by his stories to write the song – called Foyboatmen. Chris co-founded Squeeze in 1974, co-writing pop classics including Cool For Cats, Up The Junction, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) and Tempted with Glenn Tilbrook, before embarking on a solo career. Chris performs the song with singer Kathryn Williams, who has also composed the music. Liverpool-born singer Kathryn lives in Newcastle and has released 10 albums since her 1999 debut, Dog Leap Stairs, recorded for just £80. She was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2000 and her latest album, Night Drives, is out now.

Chris Difford says:

"It was a real pleasure working on this song with Kathryn Williams, someone who I admire. Talking with Michael I managed to get a good impression of his life and the boatmen who go back many generations before him, it was a subject that instantly inspired me."

Katie Toner, from Northumberland, organises accessible parties and sleepovers for neurodiverse children. She has autism and ADHD and found it hard to enjoy typical children’s parties. Now a young adult, she creates experiences that all children can enjoy. Singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Angeline Morrison met Katie and has written the song – called A Dream For You - inspired by her life and work. Angeline, who now lives in Cornwall, won Cambridge Folk Festival’s award for upcoming talent - the Christian Raphael Prize - in 2022, and made her debut recently on BBC Two’s Later… with Jools Holland. This year she has also released The Sorrow Songs: Folk Songs Of Black British Experience, produced by Eliza Carthy. The music is arranged and performed by Northumbrian band The Unthanks who famously draw on their Northumbrian origins in their music. Centred around the sibling harmonies of Rachel and Becky Unthank and the arrangements of Adrian McNally. The Unthanks’ 2022 album, Sorrows Away, hit the Official Albums Chart and followed their acclaimed work on the TV soundtrack for BBC One series, Worzel Gummidge featuring Mackenzie Crook.

Angeline Morrison says:

"Katie is so friendly and confident and warm. She’s just a fantastic person. I was really struck by the way that she goes into schools and shows children that neurodivergent people come in all different forms, and that there is no ‘one way’ of being neurodivergent."

21st Century Folk is partly inspired by the classic BBC Radio Ballads which were created by Charles Parker, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger during the late 1950s. These landmark programmes described the lives of real working people through their own words and original songs. The Radio Ballads format was also revived by Radio 2 during the 2000s.

In The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe (9-10pm, Wednesday 11th January), Mark - who recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as presenter of the show - will be featuring Thea Gilmore live in session and chatting to Sean Cooney. A 7digital production.

In Happy Birthday Tony Blackburn: 80 Poptastic Years, many of the UK’s finest broadcasters plus friends from the world of entertainment and music celebrate national treasure Tony Blackburn on the occasion of his 80th birthday, presented by fellow Radio 2 presenter Dermot O’Leary. Dermot guides listeners through Tony’s life and career through an in-depth conversation, surprising him with heartfelt messages.

Tony Blackburn says:

"When I started out on the pirate ships I had no idea quite what my future would bring, but I can’t think what else I would have done to be honest! It’s been quite a ride so as I celebrate my 80th birthday it will be great to look back and share some of my incredible experiences."

Dermot O’Leary says:

"Tony is genuinely a broadcasting great – he was a pioneer of pirate radio and the very first voice heard on Radio 1 when it launched in 1967. I can’t quite believe I can also say we’re now colleagues at Radio 2. I’m beyond honoured to be sitting down with him to mark his 80th birthday and find out all I can about the radio legend that is Mr Tony Blackburn!"

Helen Thomas, Head of Radio 2, says:

"Everyone at Radio 2 wishes Tony a very happy 80th birthday. He’s a broadcasting legend, and we all love the fact that he’s as excited about live radio now as he ever was."

We hear from his former bandmate and creator of Year Of The Cat, Al Stewart, school friend and former BBC Chief Political Correspondent and Strictly star John Sergeant, close friend Noel Edmonds, soul singer Jaki Graham, and Gyles Brandreth. Marty Wilde MBE remembers Tony’s unique family connection with his family as Tony’s father, Dr Kenneth Blackburn, delivered his daughter and future star, Kim Wilde. Sir Cliff Richard, Frank Allen (from The Searchers) and Johnnie Walker remind us of his role on the ground-breaking pirate radio stations, Radio Caroline and Big L – Radio London. Radio pioneers Johnny Beerling and Tim Blackmore describe his unique importance at the beginning of British national pop radio on pirate radio, The Light Programme and launching BBC Radio 1, while Gary Davies appreciated his warm welcome to Top Of The Pops.

Ant & Dec send their best wishes, alongside Christine Hamilton and Chris Moyles who give their insights as to why Tony was crowned the first ever King Of The Jungle. Pete Waterman reveals how Tony changed his life and gave Rick Astley his biggest date.

Fellow broadcasting colleagues Greg James, Sara Cox, Zoe Ball, Trevor Nelson, Simon Bates, Rob Brydon, Jon Culshaw, Pete Paphides and Nick Grimshaw chat about why Tony has always been, and indeed continues to be, such an inspiration to them.

Happy Birthday Tony Blackburn: 80 Poptastic Years will be available on BBC Sounds from Saturday 28th January and air on Radio 2 on Sunday 5th February. A BBC Audio production.

Owain Wyn Evans will be launching the new Early Breakfast Show on Monday 13th February (Monday to Friday, 4-6.30am), presenting live each day from BBC Cymru Wales broadcast centre in Cardiff. This is the first Radio 2 daily weekday programme to move out of London and forms part of the BBC’s Across The UK plans, as announced by the Director General in 2021, allowing the BBC to better reflect, represent and serve all parts of the country. A Bengo Media production.

Owain Wyn Evans says:

"I’m beyond excited to launch my new Early Breakfast Show on Radio 2 on Monday 13th February. Thankfully, I am quite the early bird, but I’ve still bought an extra alarm clock just in case! Whether you’re up early, working a shift or staying up late… join me for some fabulous music and a good old chat from BBC Cymru Wales, and we’ll welcome the day together."

From Sunday 8th January there will some change to overnights, with Phil Williams joining as the host of Sundays into Monday (12am-3am) and OJ Borg moving from five to four nights a week – presenting Tuesday to Friday (12am-3am).

The Showstopper (to be broadcast in March): 2023 marks 40 years since the HIV AIDS virus was named. It devastated people’s lives all over the world, including bringing immeasurable heartbreak to the theatre community of Broadway and the West End. In this programme, presented by actor Jonathan Bailey, music and memories tell the story of HIVs impact on the theatre community, and tells how this community supported those affected. Theatre became a voice of awareness and of supressing fear. There were plays, one-man performances and musicals highlighting the pandemic, spreading messages of hope and support and helping to quash hurtful and misleading information.

This documentary includes powerful stories from those at the heart of the theatre community at the time, including producers Cameron Mackintosh and Nick Allott, lyricist Tim Rice and Musical Director Jae Alexander, alongside performers such as actor and activist Jill Nalder (Les Mis, Oliver!), Claire Moore (Phantom of the Opera), Craig Revel Horwood, Stifyn Parri (Les Mis, Brookside), and Make A Difference charity’s Melanie Tranter. A Telesgop production.

Jonathan Bailey (Bridgerton), who performed as a child on the West End stage in the nineties as Gavroche in Les Miserables, says: “It is my privilege to share in this Radio 2 programme the stories that must not be forgotten of a musical theatre world that was devasted by fear and discrimination, but at the same uplifted by the love, care and bravery of an overwhelmingly supportive community.”

Top Brass, hosted by multi-instrumentalist James Morrison returns for a fifth series in January (Sunday 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th January). Across four episodes, James features brass music of all kinds, from rock and pop covers, to jazz, Big Band, Latin, ska, funk, and even a techno marching band!

James Morrison says:

"It's great to be back on Radio 2 for a fifth series of Top Brass, and to be able to bring listeners such a great look at modern brass playing around the world. I believe that this is the most varied series to date, with music from the USA, Iceland, Jamaica, Germany, the Czech Republic, Japan, the Netherlands, and - of course - the UK, amongst many others. The series takes in jazz, brass bands, big band, funk, pop, anime, Latin, and so much more. Brass music is so versatile, that there's almost no style or genre of music that it doesn't inhabit, and it's a pleasure to be able to bring all this together on Radio 2 for Top Brass!"

There’s a smörgåsbord showcasing the music of the Black Dyke Band, Carol Jarvis, Björk, the Prague Big Band, ska legend Don Drummond and Latin jazz from the Mambísimo Big Band. German Techno band MEUTE reinvent the music of Disclosure, and there’s original music by Yoko Kanno, Cory Wong, trombone quartet Slide Monsters, Tom McGuire, and an original composition for brass by comedy legend Spike Milligan. Enjoy covers of the Bee Gees, the Stooges and Bruno Mars, alongside original music by Horn House and Trombone Shorty. James plays a live recording of the multi award-winning Cory Band, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed joins forces with Ebi Soda for modern jazz, and there’s a 21-trombone tribute to the late Michel Legrand. The Alan Baylock Big Band and trombonist Jimmy Cleveland pay tribute to the Great American Songbook, with Latin jazz from Machito and music from The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Horns of Leroy complete plus so much more. Top Brass is unmissable series for lovers of brass music. Made by A Lonesome Pine Productions.

All programmes are available to listen to live on BBC Sounds and for 30 days after their broadcast on Radio 2.

BBC Radio 2 is the UK’s most listened to radio station, with a weekly audience of 14.46 million (RAJAR Q3, 2022), and won Station Of The Year at the Music Week 2021 awards. The network’s presenters include Michael Ball, Zoe Ball, Rob Beckett, Tony Blackburn, OJ Borg, Rev. Kate Bottley, Ken Bruce, Rylan, Fearne Cotton, Sara Cox, Jamie Cullum, Gary Davies, Paul Gambaccini, Angela Griffin, Bob Harris, Cerys Matthews, Scott Mills, Jason Mohammad, Trevor Nelson, Dermot O’Leary, Elaine Paige, Mark Radcliffe, DJ Spoony, Liza Tarbuck, Jeremy Vine, Michelle Visage, Johnnie Walker, Jo Whiley, Claudia Winkleman and Steve Wright.

Source BBC Radio 2

January 9, 2023 3:00am ET by Pressparty  

, ,

  Shortlink to this content:


Latest Press Releases