Nic Jones: From coma to folk music’s greatest comeback

After a head-on road crash, Nic Jones never thought he would sing again - but now he's back with a top award

When Nic Jones lay in a coma after the car crash that nearly killed him in 1982 it seemed unthinkable that the acclaimed folk musician could ever perform again.

But his quiet determination to return to the stage after years of rehabilitation has been rewarded after Jones was named Folk Singer of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

With his finger-picking guitar style, innovative rhythms and laidback vocal style, the Kent performer, 66, became a giant of the 70s folk scene. Bob Dylan covered one of his traditional arrangements.

Jones’s career was wrecked though, when driving back from a gig at Glossop Folk Club, his car collided head-on with a lorry.

He suffered brain damage, broken bones and remained in a coma for weeks. He suffered eight months in intensive care as doctors “rebuilt” him. “Eyes, ears, arm. Elbow smashed to bits. Wrist. Everything had to be replaced,” Jones recalled.

With the help of his wife Julia, who played bootleg recordings of Jones to help stir him from his coma, Jones began years of physical rehabilitation, occasionally daring to see if he could grasp a guitar. 

The crash cut short a career in ascendant. His 1980 album Penguin Eggs, with its progressive guitar open tunings, contained "Canadee-I-O", the song Dylan went on to cover, and has been voted the second best folk album of all time.

His legend grew during his absence from the music scene, with contemporary folk artists Kate Rusby and Seth Lakeman citing Jones as a major influence.

Then to the surprise and unbridled joy of the audience, Jones got up unannounced at the 2010 Sidmouth Folk Festival and sang a couple of his old songs during a tribute concert in his honour.

Emboldened by the response, Jones went on to perform his first solo concerts in 30 years, appearing at the Cambridge Folk Festival, performing sets which mixed old favourites with his take on Radiohead’s "Fake Plastic Trees".

This week he performed in Glasgow, walking on stage with a limp and reading his lyrics from a music stand.

Jones’ son Joe filled in on guitar, since the musician has still not been able to regain the dexterity in his hands. Yet “the weathered voice was unmistakably, wonderfully his,” according to a review in The Herald.

Tonight Jones accepted the Folk Singer of the Year award, at the BBC ceremony, held at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

“I’ll celebrate with a beer or two,” Jones told The Independent. “It’s very exciting. But I really want to thank all the people who’ve helped and supported me.”

The musician doubted he would perform again. “I didn’t think I would ever get back on the stage. I thought I was a complete washout,” he said. “Just being able to sing songs that you love to an audience is amazing. It’s all about communicating with an audience.”

Having his music played to him when he was in a coma was itself a novel experience. “I never listened to the sound of my own playing until my wife played me those recordings,” disclosed the singer, who now hopes to record a new album.

Jones’ early albums have been unavailable for years due to licensing issues but Julia released two home-produced compilations from the bootleg recordings, which allowed a new audience discover her husband.

Dylan’s version of "Canadee-I-O" prompted a debate over whether the American star should have paid royalties to Jones for appropriating his distinctive arrangement of the Canadian and English folk standard. The White Stripes also performed their version of the song.

Jones first began playing guitar and fiddle in the mid-60s folk group the Halliard. Releasing his first solo album, Ballads & Songs, in 1970, Jones’ intricate, picked filigree guitar approach became more ambitious, incorporating open-tunings and percussive slaps.

Before the accident he was seeking to incorporate the reggae rhythms of Bob Marley in his music and has claimed that he always really wanted to become a rock musician and wandered into folk by accident.

Billy Bragg, Roy Harper and Kathryn Tickell were among those honoured at the awards, which can be viewed at www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/ or via the BBC Red Button from Thursday night.

The Radio 2 Folk Award 2013 winners:

Folk Singer of the Year

Nic Jones

Best Duo

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

Best Group

Lau

Musician of the Year

Kathryn Tickell

Best Original Song

Hatchlings – Emily Portman

Best Traditional Track

Lord Douglas – Jim Moray

Best Album

Broadside - Bellowhead

Lifetime Achievement Award

Roy Harper

Lifetime Achievement Award For Contribution to Songwriting

Dougie MacLean

Roots Award

Billy Bragg

BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award

Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar

Lifetime Achievement Award

Aly Bain

Horizon Award

Blair Dunlop

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future