CHESTERFIELD: Blair Dunlop’s folk award win is best birthday present

Blair Dunlop with his Horizon award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards
Blair Dunlop with his Horizon award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards

Folk musician Blair Dunlop has described winning a prestigious award as the icing on his birthday cake.

Blair won the Horizon trophy for best emerging talent at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards last week.

Ahead of his 21st birthday celebrations on Monday (February 11), he said: “Winning the award is definitely the best present I could have.”

His proud dad, award-winning musician Ashley Hutchings, who lives in Cutthorpe and founded folk luminaries Fairport Convention, The Albion Band and Steeleye Span, was by his son’s side at the ceremony in Glasgow last week.

Blair said: “I think Dad was crying when I went up for the award.”

“It was a really good night. I saw so many amazing musicians that I love like Jerry Douglas, Dirk Powell and Martha Wainwright. I got a lot of good wishes from people and it was a really nice atmosphere.”

Blair is particularly pleased about the accolade because of the controversy which surrounded his taking over the reins of The Albion Band from his father in 2011 and bringing in a new generation of folk musicians.

He said: “It was controversial because there weren’t any original members. However in the past, The Albion Band had 160 members over 30 years so it was a fluid line-up.

“I put my neck out musically taking on The Albion Band and got a lot of stick from people about nepotism.”

Blair, whose mum is Chesterfield folk singer Judy Dunlop, has played guitar since he was six. But it was an actor that he first came to public attention when he played the young Willie Wonka in Tim Burton’s smash-hit film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005 and appeared in the TV series Rocket Man.

His musical career has been helped in no small part by his parents. He said: “My Dad taught me so much about the trade, from stringing a guitar to scripting a set. It is like a mechanic when you’re changing an exhaust on a Vauxhall Corsa - you have to be very specific.”

“My Mum taught me follow my instincts and be myself. When I was playing a few years ago, I realised I wasn’t very good and I had to get better. I wasn’t a very good musician until quite recently. I now feel that I am in a good place.”

Blair has been living in Cardiff for 18 months, not that he spends much time there because he’s been touring and recording for the past six months.

He said: “In December I recorded an album with Larkin Poe in Georgia and we did the overdubs in England. They are my favourite band - I was a fan before I met them - and I have to pinch myself when I am working with them.”

On top of band projects, Blair also performs as a soloist. His guitar playing is inspired by Nic Jones and Richard Thompson, his vocals by Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne. Songwriting is driven by the American west coast writers of the 70s. He said: “I like telling stories in my songs. I don’t like bad lyrics - there’s no excuse for them.”

Blair brings his solo act to north Derbyshire on April 12 when he plays at Club Chesterfield in a double-header gig with The Carrivick Sisters, twins from Devon who specialise in American bluegrass songs.

Before that, he plans to celebrate that important 21st birthday with friends in Cardiff on the day and then head up to north Deryshire to see his parents. He said: “I think we’ll go to Fischers in Baslow - I have not been there since I was five years old and my mum said that I loved it there...I have got expensive tastes!”