BBC Radio 2 heads North East for stories of 21st Century Folk

bbc north east

BBC Radio 2, in partnership with BBC Local Radio, has launched 21st Century Folk, an ambitious initiative to capture the essence of life in the North East of England in 2022.

It comes in the BBC’s centenary year, and aims to achieve its goal through the prism of folk songs, and offering people from the region the opportunity to have a song written about their life.

North East and 21st Century Folk

Mark Radcliffe announced the project to listeners on The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on Radio 2 and on BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio Tees, asking people from the North East to share stories about their daily lives. 

Five of these stories will be given to songwriters, who will write original songs based on the listeners’ experiences. 

The songs will then be performed by a range of artists, including musicians with links to the region.

Helen Thomas, Head of Radio 2, said: “Radio 2 is always looking for ways to tell stories, and 21st Century Folk is a creatively ambitious and hugely exciting new endeavour. 

“Following in the tradition of the Radio Ballads, I’m proud that in the BBC’s centenary year we will be telling the real life stories of our listeners in the North East of England, using original music to create a lasting legacy of their experiences.” 

Mark Radcliffe, presenter of The Folk Show on Radio 2, said: “People often ask me to define what folk music is and it’s a hard question to answer definitively. 

“Its’ backbone, though, is the telling of the real lives of working people and this project does just that.

“Gustav Mahler once said: ‘Tradition is tending the flame not worshipping the ashes.’ With 21st Century Folk, Radio 2 is very much keeping the candle burning.”

This contemporary project follows in the footsteps of the historic Radio Ballads, ground-breaking programmes made in the 1950s and 1960s for the BBC Home Service, which put the real lives of working people into enduring folk songs. 

There were further series of Radio Ballads on Radio 2 in 2006, plus specials – The Ballads Of The Games as a six-part series celebrating the Olympics (2012) and The Ballads Of The Great War (2014-2018) with an episode for each year to mark the centenary of the First World War.

The stories and songs of 21st Century Folk will be revealed in special programmes on Radio 2 later this autumn, following the songwriters and listeners selected to take part as they meet, are inspired by their experiences and progress through the songwriting process. 

The five new songs created will be a cultural ‘time capsule’ of life in the North East at this time. 

The Radio 2 initiative, in partnership with BBC Local Radio, covers regions including Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham, Redcar, Cleveland and Middlesbrough. Visit for full details and how to get involved. 

The website is now open for submissions and closes on Wednesday 2nd March at 11.59pm.

Rozina Breen, Head of North for BBC England said: “This is a hugely exciting partnership that puts communities in the North East and their stories at the heart of BBC storytelling. 

“We are a region rooted deep in voice, music and creative ambition and I’m looking forward to hearing these fantastic new songs which will undoubtedly resonate with local audiences and beyond.”

“Anyone (aged over 18 years) living in the North East of England is invited to get in touch, tell us about their day to day life – or an inspiring person they know – and share stories and anecdotes about doing the sorts of job that make the country tick in 2022, whether a teacher, nurse, delivery driver, junior football coach, scientist, coffee shop barista, student, shop worker or anything else that defines the UK in these shifting times.” 

In March, five participants will be selected from all the submissions by a panel comprised of representatives from the 21st Century Folk team, Radio Newcastle, Radio Tees and a songwriter (to be announced closer to the time). 

Later in the Spring they will be paired with and meet the songwriters who’ll be creating the music from their stories. 

They and their songwriter will really get to know each other, with their meetings recorded and filmed for documentaries that will air on Radio 2 in the autumn.

These programmes will tell relatable tales of modern life, and explore the folk songwriting process. 

The artists (to be announced at a later date) will also be collaborating with established folk singer-songwriters, both from the North East and around the UK as well as breakthrough folk artists from BBC Music Introducing. 

Later in the year, the songs will be performed exclusively for Radio 2, with the spoken stories interwoven with the performances. 

The programmes and performances will be live and available for 30 days after transmission on BBC Sounds.

21st Century Folk is a 7digital production.