His starting point was that he didn't want the names of the judges to be public. "I'm very aware about the better off record companies being able to lobby people on the panel," he said.
Which ones, I asked? I know Seth Lakeman was with EMI but isn't any more as he's struck out on his own. So which large record companies have a foot in the folk scene at the moment?
"I couldn't possibly say which ones," he replied, before mentioning Topic and Proper. However, he later changed his mind about these companies, suggesting that I was putting words into his mouth. I had raised the way in which Topic and Proper seem already to do quite well out of the folk awards, and asked how their influence would increase if the names of the judges were on the record? He wasn't sure but seemed very certain that the forces of capital would do something bad to the judges if their names were to be made public.
He added that another downside of judges making themselves known would be that they might use their position to get free CDs.
There is a list, he explained, of new music sent out to all the judges every year, based on what's been played on the Mike Harding Show (which is also produced by Smooth Operations). I mentioned a comment that was posted under yesterday's blog, from Marjory Carlisle, about two friends of hers who are judges for the folk awards but who, as far as Marjory could see, don't seem to get out and about much. "If they listen to the Mike Harding Show they will hear most things," he said. Then he changed his mind, saying within seconds that "the Mike Harding Show scratches the surface of the folk scene". He also explained that in order to have one's position as a judge rescinded one has to have not filled in the form the previous year.
Discussing the extent to which the relationships between the judges and the nominees are transparent, he emphasised the form that has to be signed every year by the judges, saying that they will not vote for musicians with whom they have a working relationship. But wouldn't it be better, I asked, if the judges - perhaps a different group of people less well-connected in the folk scene - could simply vote for the best contenders?
"I used to think that," he said. "But I was persuaded that I was wrong," adding that this was related to BBC compliance.
In terms of how one is to make a name for oneself on the folk scene, he says that he started out on the folk club circuit when he was 19 and thought it should probably still be done the same way. "I just went around all of these clubs. It's up to a you to get to know all the folk journalists but the first job of a young band is to get themselves a promoter." He named Alan Bearman and Adastra as possibles, adding that "there's one in Scotland".
He also said that he doubted that a young band was entitled to consideration on its merits until it has paid its dues. "If a band is just starting out do you think they are seriously eligible for a folk award?" he asked. Not unless they're really good, I replied. But it would also be good if the structure of the industry and its marketing were transparent enough for them to be able to make their way. Especially since the internet has turned the music industry on its head.
We returned to the idea that only someone wealthy would be able to lobby 170 people, as if it would be expensive. I thought (a) he may not have heard of burning CDs or sound cloud and (b) if your career is at stake you invest in it. This may be a thought that only someone who's had to pay back student loans would take seriously though.
I asked whether he'd heard of a terrific live folk band called The Destroyers. "Why haven't they sent us their album?" he asked. I was really quite surprised. "Perhaps they didn't know who to send it to?" I offered.
They may have done, as far as I know, but they play mainly in cities - not folk clubs - and there is no sign of any kind of management on their website, so they may not be on his radar even though they've been around for five years.
Earlier in the day I'd been sent a link to this page on the BBC website relating to compliance when running BBC awards ceremonies. It makes interesting reading, especially the parts about transparency (near the top) and, section three, about the judging: "The judging system should normally be clearly explained to the audience and must be explained to entrants via on-air/online announcement and the terms and conditions."
There is also a mention of a senior editorial figure who is responsible for making sure that these rules are applied. In the case of the BBC Radio two Folk Awards, this is Fergus Dudley.
If you double click on that it should become legible. I heard from John Leonard first, who said he'd heard from Dudley that I'd been in touch with him too. So I tried again.
* Read the next post about the BBC folk awards
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