Earlier this month, teenage bluegrass duo Jaywalkers competed in the semi-finals of the BBC Young Folk Award. The band is 19-year-old Michael Giverin on mandolin and 15-year-old Jay Bradberry on fiddle, guitar and vocals. Jay has provided this report of their experience at the semi-finals weekend.
After an accumulation of weekend practices and general hard work upon discovering that we (Jaywalkers) had made it into the BBC Young Folk Award Semi Finals, we couldn’t help but be excited at the arrival of the competition’s audition weekend held in Stratford upon Avon. In the previous few weeks to the weekend itself, we had had several opportunities to perform our 8 minute set to an audience: a folk night held in Bromborough, Helsby’s monthly open mic night, a primary school assembly and finally, at the weekly session lead by Stuart Williams in Helsby, each Thursday. With kind wishes of luck and support from all of our Helsby friends, it was time to embark on our trip to Stratford upon Avon for the BBC Young Folk Award Semi Finals!
As you can probably imagine, at this point we were thoroughly thrilled at the prospect of where we were going, and even a somewhat stressful journey of crowded trains and multiple items of luggage couldn’t wipe the excited grins from our faces. Upon arriving at Stratford upon Avon station, we discovered 2 other semi finalist musicians also waiting for their transportation to the accommodation where we would be spending the following 2 nights. Shortly, our lift arrived in the form of Joe Heap; one of the many staff from organisers “Mrs Casey Music” that made our weekend such an enjoyable experience (MCM is a music events organisation formed in 1974 to develop the presentation of Folk music in this country).
After settling in our accommodation and eating etc, it was time for the introductory session where we met the weekend tutors: Damien Barber (of Demon Barbers Road show) and Tom McConville (“The Newcastle Fiddler”), as well as the rest of the Mrs Casey Music and AVLS staff. At first more of a formal take-it-in-turns-to-perform set up, the session, as the night progressed, relaxed as we became familiar with each other’s playing and music styles. One of the unique things about the semi-finalists chosen this year is how completely different all the acts were; we had group sessions that swung from medleys of traditional tunes and folk songs to blues and a rockier approach – even incorporating our own bluegrass roots into the music being played at times!
Early Saturday morning brought the departure to the Civic hall where we would be spending the remains of the day until after the concert was over. The day was based around a series of workshops lead by the 2 tutors and other professionals from the business, intended to develop our understanding of folk music’s place within the music industry and widen our skills as performers and musicians. Our first workshop, lead by Joe heap of MCM, was on the topic of stage craft, which involved us actively taking part in examples of the ways in which we can control our nerves and use our adrenaline to give us confidence and a comfortable stage presence. Damien then went on to share some of the secret behind compiling effective set lists and spoke from experience as he gave an insight into how to go about getting the gigs and festival spots we wish for. Tom McConville is probably one of, if not, the nicest person you ever could meet and made, not only Mike and I, but the whole group aware of the positives of linking playing music to posture by means of the Alexander Technique: the theme of another of our workshops. After a brief final lesson on the laws within the music industry and the payments we are entitled to, Jaywalkers had their sound check for the evening’s performance. Complete with professional lighting checks and general sound perfecting, we couldn’t have been in safer and more genuinely caring hands for the concert to come that evening.
The concert! Beginning at 7:30pm precisely, Jaywalkers were on first and despite the reputation of being the hardest spot in the running order, we were pleased that we could perform and then enjoy the rest of the show in its entirety. Our set was decided around the 8 minute time limit and began with an original arrangement of the traditional tune “Banish Misfortune”. The rest of our set consisted of a compiled song (Four Blue Walls) and tune (Toss the Feathers) which included a rather risky instrument swap for me from guitar to fiddle. Feeling we had played the best we could, Mike and I returned to our seats to watch our friends from the other 11 acts that we had made over the course of the weekend. Even with such a wide spectrum of styles being played within the folk bracket, the concert really was something to remember, with every performance so supported by the other semi finalists that it felt like anything but a competition.
After a late night of takeaways and music and a morning of a 7:00 fire alarm (not very well received), final sessions, and goodbyes, we travelled home in a tired but cheerful state after such a fantastic weekend. Monday came as the bearer of good news as Jaywalkers received notice that the judges of Saturday’s panel had selected them to go on to the finals held in London on the 5th of December along with 5 other acts from the weekend. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our friends from Helsby for the support they have given us over the duration of this competition and the months before it.