This year is a year of firsts for the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards. For the first time, the ceremony is being held outside of London in the Lowry at Salford Quays – much to the delight of the northern musicians. 2012 also saw members of the public being allowed in to watch the show; selling out in just two hours – the fastest selling show ever held at the Lowry. However, this time there is a definite absence of the new folk giants who had previously dominated the awards. Step forward then, the folk veterans, who absolutely take the youngsters to the cleaners tonight.

Hosted by Radio 2’s Mike Harding and Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, the night opens with the Martin Simpson band, backed by a huge array of remarkable musicians, most notably melodeon player Andy Cutting and harmonica extraordinaire Will Pound, both of whom are up for the Musician of the Year award. Simpson himself is no stranger to the nominations, being up for no less than three gongs, including Musician of the Year, Best album for Purpose + Grace, and Best Traditional Track for ‘Lakes of Ponchartrain,’ which he performs for the audience. It is a track evocative of its origins in Louisiana, coupling Simpson’s impressive slide guitar with an innovative and daring solo by Pound, who produces a sound many would believe a tiny harmonica was not capable of. Helped along by Cutting’s melodeon, driving double bass, loopy lap guitar, the overall sound is fun, finger-clicking goodness. But unfortunately, Simpson, Cutting and Pound walk away empty-handed from the evening.

It isn’t all over for squeezebox enthusiasts, as tonight is a successful night for “one the best melodeon players in the world,” Tim Edey, who firstly waltzes off with the Best Duo award with harmonica-playing partner Brendan Power, and then picks up a second prize for the much coveted Musician of the Year. Later, the duo graces the stage to showcase their stuff with ‘Wriggle and Writhe/Celtic Thunder,’ and their musical expertise is clear, with a foot-stompingly good set of tunes played at breakneck speed.

Strangely absent are folk giants Bellowhead, who are away on their European tour. The 11-strong band, who usually sweep the board with awards, are nominated for Best Live Act – alongside trance-folkies Peatbog Faeries – but newly-reformed 80s folk-rockers The Home Service took the prize. Bellowhead are not the only notable folk celebs absent this year, Kate Rusby, Lau, and Karine Polwart are missing from the awards. However, there is some good news for the new generation, as Seth Lakeman provides an eerie performance of his new single, ‘Blacksmith’s Prayer,’ and Badly Drawn Boy, with his trademark hat, (who mused over whether he would pick up a prize himself for “the musician who presented the most awards without winning any”) hands over the Horizon Award to 21-year-old, blue-haired, Derby songstress Lucy Ward, who responds with a huge grin and, “Ey-up! I’ve just met Badly Drawn Boy!” Young tune maestros Loscaid also walk off with the Young Folk Award. But there are casualties as well. Despite a warm, rousing, brass band accompanied composition from Northumbrian band the Unthanks, they leave without a single prize, despite being nominated for five awards.

The real victors tonight are June Tabor and Oysterband, who sweep the board winning no less than four awards, including Best Traditional Track, Best Album, Best Group and Folk Singer of the Year for Tabor, and thank the musicians that have supported her through the years. Overwhelmed with the stack of awards, she tells the crowd, “To be honest, it’s all a bit too much.”Tabor, looking marvelous in her Technicolor coat, goes on to give a brilliant performance with Oysterband, who look particularly chuffed with their win.

This trend continues, as Bill Leader and Ian Campbell both get honours, and Christy Moore performs a harrowing rendition of ‘On Morecambe Bay’, a song penned by Kevin Littlewood about the tragedy of the Chinese cockle-pickers, shortlisted for Best Original Song. Aging US folk-rocker Don McLean also takes home a Lifetime Achievement Award – although his guitar could benefit from a slight tweak to the tuning. Steve Tilston takes the gong for Best Original Song with his composition, ‘The Reckoning,’ although the youngsters clings on in the guise of Bella Hardy, with whom Tilston has to share the award for her song, ‘The Herring Girl.’ However, this was not just a night for musicians, as Malcolm Taylor, the “visionary” librarian of Cecil Sharp House, is recognised with the Roots Award.

After a resurgence in the popularity of folk music, and a number of years dominated by the new generation of folk artists, tonight is a celebration of the Old Guard, of those who have passed on, and those who still continue to keep the music alive after all these years. The last few years have seen the departures of folk greats Bert Jansch, Mike Waterson, Kate McGarrigle and Howard Evans to name a few, and this time much of the show was spent honouring those musicians no longer with us. I also get the impression that 2012 is a year to commemorate those who continue to provide an outstanding contribution to music, but have perhaps escaped the amount of recognition that other artists enjoy. To end the night, then, old favourites the Dubliners, are honoured with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award,’ and on stage prove they are still going strong, managing to whip up the crowd with ‘Dirty Old Town’, dedicated to Salford lad Ewan MacColl, and much-loved anthem ‘Whisky in the Jar,’ which unites the crowd singing, young and old, to end an evening of incredible music and even more incredible folk veterans.

I'm a huge music lover, being a regular gig and festival goer, singer songwriter, tv/radio presenter and reviewer for Silent Radio.