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How nu-folk became the latest new rock’n’roll

UST over two years ago, a rising band called Mumford & Sons crowded into an Edinburgh record shop and ran through five of their songs for a small crowd of fans and interested bystanders.

Few who were there could have foreseen that the band would last week win the British Album of the Year Brit award or spark huge queues of fans this weekend for a tour of “intimate” Scottish venues.

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When tickets went on sale yesterday for their eight-date tour from Mull to Orkney next month, public anticipation was obvious. By early morning, a queue of hundreds stretched down Inverness’s Academy Street from the Ironworks, and the 1000-capacity venue was sold out for the March 8 gig soon afterwards. Last night, there were already pleas from ticket-starved fans on the internet.

Fellow nu-folkie Laura Marling, a gifted 21-year-old who once dated Mumfords’ singer Marcus Mumford, won the Brit for British female solo artist, beating bookies’ favourite Cheryl Cole.

These acoustically-minded nu-folkies apply a sophisticated yet commercial sheen to elements of Britain’s musical heritage, but few expected them to challenge The X Factor judge and Take That.

The consensus seems to be the rise of nu-folk stems from 1997, when the Fence Records label was established in Fife to release music by such acts as King Creosote and James Yorkston.

Kevin Buckle, owner of Avalanche record shop where Mumford & Sons played, believes the appeal of nu-folk cuts across age ranges, from students to buyers in their 40s.

“It’s only in the last three or four years that the wider public has latched on to nu-folk as the numbers of bands multiplied.’’

Ironically, as the appeal of traditional-influenced music grows, one of the pillars of Scottish traditional music is under threat. The internationally acclaimed National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton faces an uncertain future after The Highland Council announced it was axeing £300,000 in funding. The decision has provoked outrage from thousands including former pupils, teachers and some of the biggest names in traditional music in Scotland.

Donald Shaw, artistic director of the Celtic Connections festival and a musician, composer and producer, said: “It would be a tragedy if the course doesn’t continue.

“When you look at the number of musicians who have gone on to have successful careers, there is an argument for the course to be centrally funded like some of the academies or university courses.

“It’s like having a stream of traditional musicians and putting a dam up against it.”

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