We are so thrilled to share the exciting work of our Chair of Trustees, Kellie While, in her role producing the incredible project, ’21st Century Folk’.

“As an independent production company, we have a long history of working with Radio 2 to find new ways to celebrate folk music across its schedule. Our latest project, 21st Century Folk, has seen folk songs and their writers placed right at the heart of the UK’s biggest radio station. With a daily feature and ‘song reveal’ in The Jeremy Vine Show, a 2-hour documentary special presented by Mark Radcliffe, performance videos and the new songs written and performed for the project scheduled for plays across a whole week and talked up brilliantly by the presenters, we couldn’t have asked for better support from Radio 2. It led to wider coverage on regional radio, BBC Breakfast / News, The One Show, The Guardian and more. In the spirit of the great BBC Radio Ballads, we wanted to put the voices of ordinary working people at the heart of the project and their stories and the wonderful songs they inspired have had a real impact, introducing folk music to new audiences on the radio, on TV and via social media. We hope to repeat the project in future, focusing on lives in a different region of the UK.”

Kellie While, Executive Producer, 21st Century Folk and Head of 7digital Creative 

In 21st Century Folk, five individuals inspired five brand new folk songs in this landmark BBC series.

21st Century Folk was designed for Europe’s biggest radio station, BBC Radio 2. The challenge from the network was this: invent a way for a big mainstream station to celebrate folk music across its daytime schedule in an impactful way.

So, we matched five ‘ordinary’ listeners with five talented songwriters to create five original songs reflecting modern life in the North East of England. We wanted to retain the spirit of the groundbreaking 1950s BBC ‘Radio Ballads’ by putting the voices of ordinary working people at its heart, while making it work across linear, digital, social and video in 2023. We called it ‘21st Century Folk’

In early 2022, we launched the project in collaboration with the Radio 2 Breakfast Show, prime-time TV programme The One Show and BBC regional radio. The call-to-action was simple: audiences in the North East of England should get in touch if they wanted the chance to have a song written about their life.

Five ‘subjects’ were selected. We wanted diverse stories and different lived experiences, and to represent the issues that people told us about so passionately in their applications: the cost of living, neurodiversity, experiences of Covid and the can-do spirit of communities in the area. We wanted to create a time capsule of these listeners’ lives.

Next, we matched the subjects with the perfect songwriters to turn their tales into songs. We brought them together for a series of conversations, and then the writers went away to write. The final stage was a reunion, so the song could be performed directly to the person who inspired it. 

This process generated a week of content:

– Five audio documentaries (available on-demand via BBC Sounds) telling the stories behind the songs.

– A daily live feature in the Jeremy Vine Show (Radio 2’s current affairs programme) featuring a subject and songwriter each day and the first on-air ‘song reveal’ placing this ‘specialist music’ right in the heart of daytime, reaching millions of listeners (Mon-Fri). 

– Daily features on regional stations BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio Tees (Mon-Fri).

– Five brand new songs scheduled for airplay across the week on Radio 2 (Mon-Sun) with presenters pointing to the rest of the content. 

– Five videos on YouTube and social media, showing the moments the subjects heard their songs for the first time. 

– A special edition of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show (Wednesday) 

– A two-hour linear compilation of the documentaries (Sunday)

Reaching beyond Radio 2, the project attracted coverage from the biggest BBC networks including BBC News, BBC Breakfast TV, Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, BBC Look North (TV) and The One Show. Reaching out beyond the BBC it was covered by The Guardian, Folk Radio UK, Living North Magazine and lots of regional press. 

The five stories were about:

01 Andrea Bell runs an independent soup kitchen and food bank in a deprived area of Sunderland,. She was paired with Welsh troubadour Martyn Joseph.

02 Delyth Raffell lost her 16 year-old daughter to anaphylaxis, had her song written by gifted songsmith Thea Gilmore

03 Dr Iftikhar ‘Ifti’ Lone is a Middlesbrough soccer fan who has served his community for 50 years as a family doctor. He had his twin passions for the National Health Service and ‘The Boro’ turned into a song by Sean Cooney and The Young’uns. 

04 Michael Dodds is a fifth-generation dock worker on the River Wear. Squeeze’s Chris Difford and singer–songwriter Kathryn Williams joined forces to create his shanty-inspired song.

05 Katie Toner is a young autistic woman who organises inclusive sleepovers for children. She was matched with Angeline Morrison who wrote a song for Northumbrian folk group The Unthanks to perform.  

Videos of the intimate performances are here.


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