BBC Radio 2 heads North East to find 21st Century Folk

The initiative aims to capture the essence of life in the North East of England in 2022 - the BBC’s centenary year – through the prism of folk songs


BBC Three

BBC Radio 2, in partnership with BBC Local Radio, launches 21st Century Folk, an ambitious initiative to capture the essence of life in the North East of England in 2022 - the BBC’s centenary year – through the prism of folk songs, and offering people from the region the opportunity to have a song written about their life.

Mark Radcliffe unveiled the project to listeners on The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on Radio 2 and on BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio Tees, asking people from the North East to share stories about their daily lives. Five of these stories will be given to songwriters, who will write original songs based on the listeners’ experiences. The songs will then be performed by a range of artists, including musicians with links to the region.

Helen Thomas, Head of Radio 2, says: “Radio 2 is always looking for ways to tell stories, and 21st Century Folk is a creatively ambitious and hugely exciting new endeavour. Following in the tradition of the Radio Ballads, I’m proud that in the BBC’s centenary year we will be telling the real life stories of our listeners in the North East of England, using original music to create a lasting legacy of their experiences.”

Mark Radcliffe, presenter of The Folk Show on Radio 2, says: “People often ask me to define what folk music is and it's a hard question to answer definitively. Its backbone, though, is the telling of the real lives of working people and this project does just that.

Gustav Mahler once said, 'Tradition is tending the flame not worshipping the ashes.' With 21st Century Folk Radio 2 is very much keeping the candle burning.”

This contemporary project follows in the footsteps of the historic Radio Ballads, ground-breaking programmes made in the 1950s and 1960s for the BBC Home Service, which put the real lives of working people into enduring folk songs. There were further series of Radio Ballads on Radio 2 in 2006, plus specials - The Ballads Of The Games as a six-part series celebrating the Olympics (2012) and The Ballads Of The Great War (2014-2018) with an episode for each year to mark the centenary of the First World War.

The stories and songs of 21st Century Folk will be revealed in special programmes on Radio 2 later this autumn, following the songwriters and listeners selected to take part as they meet, are inspired by their experiences and progress through the songwriting process. The five new songs created will be a cultural ‘time capsule’ of life in the North East at this time. The Radio 2 initiative, in partnership with BBC Local Radio, covers regions including Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham, Redcar, Cleveland and Middlesbrough. Visit for full details and how to get involved. The website is now open for submissions and closes on Wednesday 2nd March at 11.59pm.

Rozina Breen, Head of North for BBC England says: “This is a hugely exciting partnership that puts communities in the North East and their stories at the heart of BBC storytelling. We are a region rooted deep in voice, music and creative ambition and I’m looking forward to hearing these fantastic new songs which will undoubtedly resonate with local audiences and beyond.”

Anyone (aged over 18 years) living in the North East of England is invited to get in touch, tell us about their day to day life – or an inspiring person they know – and share stories and anecdotes about doing the sorts of job that make the country tick in 2022, whether a teacher, nurse, delivery driver, junior football coach, scientist, coffee shop barista, student, shop worker or anything else that defines the UK in these shifting times. In March, five participants will be selected from all the submissions by a panel comprised of representatives from the 21st Century Folk team, Radio Newcastle, Radio Tees and a songwriter (to be announced closer to the time). Later in the Spring they will be paired with and meet the songwriters who’ll be creating the music from their stories. They and their songwriter will really get to know each other, with their meetings recorded and filmed for documentaries that will air on Radio 2 in the autumn.

These programmes will tell relatable tales of modern life, and explore the folk songwriting process. The artists (to be announced at a later date) will also be collaborating with established folk singer-songwriters, both from the North East and around the UK as well as breakthrough folk artists from BBC Music Introducing. Later in the year, the songs will be performed exclusively for Radio 2, with the spoken stories interwoven with the performances. The programmes and performances will be live and available for 30 days after transmission on BBC Sounds.

21st Century Folk is a 7digital production.


BBC Radio Ballads

The BBC Radio Ballads were masterpieces of radio, broadcast as eight programmes on the BBC Home Service between 1958 and 1964. They weaved the voices of rarely-heard communities with new songs inspired by the recorded experiences of the interviewees. The series came about when folk singer, Ewan MacColl, was commissioned by producer Charles Parker to write a script about a steam-locomotive driver called John Axon, whose act of railway heroism in 1957 had cost him his life and for which he was posthumously awarded the George Cross. Realising the strength of the recordings of Axon’s widow and workmates, they decided to use in the programme these real voices rather than actors’ – an unheard-of practice at the time. MacColl wrote songs inspired by the stories, with music directed by Peggy Seeger, creating a new, hybrid format in which the original voices, interwoven with the music, could tell the story.

7digital made a new six-part series of Radio Ballads for Radio 2 in 2006. It featured the issues felt to be of relevance half a century on from the original series, and so visited steelworks, shipyards, fairgrounds, fox and hare hunters, musicians caught up in The Troubles and people living with HIV/AIDS. Hundreds of people were interviewed, and the songs were written by professional musicians from the folk scene overseen by musical director, John Tams.

The Ballads Of The Games was broadcast on Radio 2 over the Summer of 2012 to mark the London Olympics. The six-part series featured extraordinary moments from the history of the Olympic Games told in words and specially-written songs from folk songwriters, including episodes on The Marathon, and the 1936 and 1972 Games in Berlin and Munich.

The Ballads Of The Great War’ (2014-2018) was a five-part series commissioned by Radio 2 to mark the centenary of the First World War, with an episode broadcast every year during the centenary. It comprised of real-life stories of life and death on the Western Front in words and music, featuring eye-witness accounts from veterans and fifty specially commissioned songs by British folk songwriters.

Folk on Radio 2

BBC Radio 2 is the only mainstream radio station where listeners can hear a wide range of music from established folk and acoustic artists and breakthrough talent from around the UK and beyond. The mainstay of Radio 2’s commitment to folk is The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe – a weekly strand (Wednesdays, 9-10pm) showcasing the best new and established artists and musicians who represent the timeless spirit of folk music. The show contextualises the genre with interviews, live sessions, new releases and classic tracks. It is produced for BBC Radio 2 by 7digital, in Salford.

Through support in daytime shows and specialist evening programmes, in recent years the station has helped establish names such as Skerryvore, First Aid Kit, Seth Lakeman, Show Of Hands, The Band Of Love, Jon Allen, Wildwood Kin, Beoga, Nathan Evans and others via our New Music Playlist. During lockdown, the network kept live performance alive with an entire Virtual Folk Festival in August 2020 headlined by Yusuf Cat Stevens, with Fisherman’s Friends, Suzanne Vega, Martyn Joseph, Loudon Wainwright III and Orcadian musicians Fara.

For more than a decade, Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park has featured many of the UK’s leading folk artists, including Bellowhead, Seth Lakeman, Wildwood Kin, Kate Rusby, Band of Love, Jamie Lawson and Cara Dillon. Other folk highlights from the last two years include Seth Lakeman’s four-part Folk Map of the British Isles, and in December 2021 with Nations of Folk: a live radio tour of our musical islands which heard performances in Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff, and was simulcast across five BBC networks.

BBC Radio 2 is the UK’s most listened to radio station, with a weekly audience of 14.87 million (RAJAR Q4, 2021), 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, Craig Charles, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Fearne Cotton, Sara Cox, Jamie Cullum, Gary Davies, Vanessa Feltz, Paul Gambaccini, Bob Harris, Ana Matronic, Cerys Matthews, Jason Mohammad, Trevor Nelson, Paul O’Grady, Dermot O’Leary, Elaine Paige, Mark Radcliffe, Romesh Ranganathan, Rylan, Liza Tarbuck, Jeremy Vine, Johnnie Walker, Jo Whiley, Claudia Winkleman and Steve Wright.

Source BBC Three

February 8, 2022 4:00am ET by BBC Three  


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