The English Folk, Dance, and Song Society’s citation reads that the Gold Badge is awarded ‘to those who have made unique or outstanding contribution…’
There can be no more fitting recipient than the much-loved Sandra Kerr, whose very significant achievements were celebrated in the grand manner in a concert in the King’s Hall at Newcastle University on Friday night.
London-born, but having made the North East her home, from her beginnings as part of the ‘60s folk revival under the tutelage of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, she followed on with her best-known work in the children’s TV series Bagpuss, and in BBC School Radio.
She continues to play a pivotal role in the folk and traditional music movement of today, as principal voice tutor in the Folk and Traditional Music course at the University, and in her many other roles on the national and international stages, as both performer and teacher.
The bunting was up, and the packed audience of family, friends and colleagues was treated to two-and-a-half hours of joyful, uninhibited performance starting with Sandra’s women’s choir Werca’s Folk, whose repertoire for the evening ranged from Billy Boy to the splendid and heartfelt Tom Paxton song How Beautiful upon the Mountain (are the steps of those who walk in peace), and finishing with Kerr’s acerbic We Were There, about women being a footnote in history.
Sisters Unlimited, founded by Kerr in 1986, brought more wit and wisdom in song from the traditional My Bonny Lass, to Bear Down, their sea shanty about childbirth.
A real celebration of the lives and concerns of women, their songs, including the caustic Fired Up, make their points of protest most effectively, and importantly with great insight and disarming humour.
Following the citation read by Mike Norris, the broadcaster and chair of the EFDSS, Sandra’s daughter Nancy – who Mum says is her greatest contribution to folk music - and husband James Fagan gave a typically varied and inspiring set with voice, violin and guitar, later joined by Sandra, now gleefully sporting her gold badge.
Never losing her incisive and perceptive view of the world, especially where injustices are concerned, she finished with all performers on stage for a heartfelt rendering of No Going Back, her song inspired by the Staffordshire women who supported the striking miners in 1984.
A life in music and teaching well celebrated in an evening of high entertainment and a standing ovation.
A night to remember
“It was just perfect... I can’t think of any part of it which didn’t fulfil what I hoped it would be,” said Sandra Kerr of the King’s Hall concert on Friday night.
“We had a full audience and standing ovations... all kinds of things. I loved it.”
Having found out she was to be presented with the Gold Badge from The English Folk Dance and Song Society at the end of the summer last year, Sandra said she had enjoyed organising the concert with her partner David Malone - once she got over the surprise.
“I have to say I was quite taken aback when I heard I was to be awarded such a thing,” she laughed. “When you look at the people who have been awarded it in the past, I did think ‘goodness me, are they right about this?’
“I wanted to have the concert as close to International Women’s Day (March 8) as possible, so I was very pleased to have it on the Friday before. There was a total predominance of women performers on the night as there is, in my life as a musician and teacher,” she added.
None more so than Sandra’s daughter, Nancy Kerr who took to the stage in honour of her mum.
“Yes, my wonderful award-winning musician, writer, singer Nancy and her husband James Fagan were so fantastic,” gushed Sandra.
“Really she is just so extraordinary. She has taken the baton and run way in the distance with it... and that’s not just a proud mother talking.
“In the past I’ve been able to be at the BBC Folk Awards when she has been awarded various prizes.
“It was so lovely to have all the people I love the most in the world there. I’ll never forget it.”