MT logo Letters - 2013

Sussex University archive

Dear Rod,

It may be of interest to your readers that the archive previously located at Sussex University has now relocated to The Keep, just down the road towards Brighton proper.  This wholly wonderful building contains not only the archives of Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf and the Mass Observation Project, but also that of Bob Copper.  It has also taken in the material from the East Sussex archive office as well as that from Brighton and Hove museums.

There are state-of-the-art display systems, conservation facilities and a huge number of computer workstations to use free of charge.  The staff are genuinely enthusiastic and helpful and aim to enthuse and assist the general public in their researches.  Family history is a speciality, but who knows what hidden gems there are waiting to be discovered by those with an interest in traditional music?

In the first instance people should look here -

Best wishes

Jon Dudley - 6.12.13

Re: Phyllis Marshall article

Thanks once again to sheer serendipity, I can help with the identification of the song noted by Phyllis Marshall from Elizabeth Nation, Midsummer's Evening, which Geoff Woolfe (Article MT289) tentatively associates with the Banks of Sweet Primroses (Roud 586).  It is, in fact, a version of quite a different song usually known as The Shady Green Tree (Roud 2512), for which Roud cites broadside printings by Catnach and Pitt, and an oral version collected by Hammond in Dorset.

I first encountered the song as a first verse and tune (the latter ultimately the same as Mrs Nation's) among the songs which Vaughan Williams took down in Essex in the first decade of the 20th century, his source being John Denny, by then (25th April 1904) an inmate of Billericay Union (Workhouse).  I subsequently chanced upon the whole of the song in the Essex Records Office, transcribed long hand (possibly from a broadside, but perhaps from memory, as the scansion is not entirely satisfactory) into a copy of Old Moore's Almanac for 1781, which was associated with the White family of Bulphan (pronounced Bull-v'n) near Upminster.

Geoff refers to Phyllis Marshall's note under the text of Elizabeth Nation's version: 'the words slightly altered'.  Altered indeed: in the Bulphan text the fond couple did not 'sit talking for hours' (in fact he 'rifled her beautiful charms') and it wasn't the maiden's 'heart' which was stolen.

This is not the only song which is common to Vaughan Williams' comprehensive Essex collection and that of Phyllis Marshall: viewed together they underline just which songs were the most popular among traditional singers of the age.


Philip Heath-Coleman - 21.11.13

Re: Mike Yates' Blues article

Hello Rod,

What an interesting and stimulating piece on The Blues it is that Mike Yates has delivered!  He has succeeded where many others have failed, in distilling the essence of what made the Blues, into a readable short article.  He's excellent on Handy for example - I don't think any of us believed that WC Handy had 'invented' the Blues, but he certainly had his eyes opened to it and developed it in an exciting way.  The whole 'out of Africa - by force' experience is both a horrific and a fascinating story in terms not only of slavery but of what, musically came out of tribal customs, traditions and beliefs, and again Mike nails some of the most important facts.

As an admirer of Henry Thomas' music since my teenage years - well let's face it - since I discovered where it was that Canned heat got Goin' up the Country, it was good to see Mike give him some analytical exposure too.  In my naive way I'd always thought, just by the sound, that Thomas was somehow either 'pre' or 'proto' Blues - I just loved his country style and the use of the Quills.  His 'complete' works album still gives me joy, and now I see where he fits into the genre.

I remember it coming as both a shock to some and a source of joy to others when certain luminaries of the folk world discovered that Bob Copper was 'outed' as a Blues fan.  Having discovered Drop Down Mama and Married Woman Blues on a Brunswick Black Label 78 back in the 1930s he was wedded to the music for life.  After the war and with the advent of LPs he was often in George Street, Hove, buying a Sleepy John Estes, or a Lightning Hopkins album from one of the few record shops stocking them.  For him the Blues was just a different type of the music he'd grown up with - raw and meaningful, and when on a memorable occasion he discussed this with 'Philadelphia Jerry Ricks', they found much common ground.

Sorry I couldn't help mentioning Bob AND the Blues … for me the two were inseparable - he would have loved Mike's piece.  It's what makes your site such a great resource, Rod.

Best wishes

Jon Dudley - 12.11.13

Re: Dave Bulmer / Celtic Music - 2

Hi Rod

Just caught up with your news on above.

When I last visited DB's warehouse in Harrogate some 15 or so years ago, when it was still possible to buy some of his LP stock, I noticed tottering piles of what looked like master tapes boxes.  Some of these had slipped onto the floor or were half-open.  It may be that they were subsequently stored in a better manner, but if they included the Leader/Trailer masters, anyone thinking of buying them should check first that they are still in usable condition.

I never got a rational answer from Dave Bulmer as to why he simply sat on the recordings, bar some reputedly amateurish re-releases (Tony Rose?), but wonder whether the tapes had deteriorated.

Best wishes

Mike Feist - 17.9.13

Song Collectors Collective

Dear Friends

I would like to share the announcement of the SCC website, launched today.  The Press Release (see Latest News) has full information on the project and the archives.  Please help support this project and share this site freely across your social networks and forums.

I and the whole SCC team would really welcome any feedback you have on the website good and bad.  This is a work in progress and an expanding archive and we have tried to be as sensitive to all the work done over recent years.  I hope you all enjoy this site and get to listen to the amazing music within.

The Song Collectors Collective celebrates the launch of a unique online archive of traditional song and story recorded from the English Gypsy, Irish and Scottish Traveller and settled community alive today.

September 9th 2013 at 12pm

Sam Lee - 10.9.13

Re: Dave Bulmer / Celtic Music - 1

Hi Rod

I have just read your article and also the comments about the Dave Bulmer / Celtic Records situation which now exists due to the demise of Dave Bulmer.

From the information which I have managed to glean on the internet, I understand that the collection is so huge that it's never really been catalogued.  Because of that, no-one really knows what is in the collection.  In addition most of the material is either on vinyl LPs or tapes.  As we know the condition of magnetic tape deteriorates over the years and the original recording could now be un-playable.

The suggestion of digitising the collection and creating mp3s for download, sounds fine in theory but the amount of time and effort involved would be astounding.

Assuming that the quality of the LP or tape is good enough, every item would have to be played and recorded into a computer and the would have to be 'tweaked', 'balanced', 'cleaned up' etc.  If every LP or tape lasts an average of 45 minutes, it's easy to work out what time would be involved to create individual mp3 tracks for all the albums involved.

If the huge task of creating mp3 was actually possible, the next problem is what to do with them.  There would have to be dedicated website where the tracks would be available for download.  A website along the lines of would be needed.

The cost of digitising the collection and creating a suitable ecommerce website would possible run into tens of thousands of pounds.  The potential financial return from the enterprise would probably come to nowhere near to covering the cost.

Added to that what about the royalties for the artists featured in the recordings.  I'm sure if anything was released, artists would want to see some return for their efforts.

To conclude - a limited amount of material could perhaps be 'cherry picked' and be made available but it will all be down to how viable it would be in terms of sales / profit.

Perhaps the best solution would be to allow the artists to buy back the copyright of their tracks for a reasonable price and let them re-issue the music themselves.


Alan Morley, UK Folk Music - 31.8.13

Re: Dave Bulmer and the fate of the Leader recordings

Hi Rod,

With reference to your recent editorial regarding the Leader recordings, I would strongly urge that whoever becomes the custodians of the Leader catalogue and any similar recordings would perhaps make them available as MP3 downloadable tracks for any that aren't given a commercial release as CDs, in much the same way as Smithsonian Folkways have done with all of their back catalogue of ex-LP tracks.

I believe that Folkways Records has always had a policy of ensuring that the whole catalogue of recordings would always be available in one format or other.  I would hope that the whole of the Peter Kennedy archive might be made available in this way, as surely only a small selection will be made available to the public, albeit in the wonderful continuation of the Voice of the People series.  I would also hope that the same situation might pertain to the Leader recordings, whoever ends up being custodians of them.


Chris Holderness - 16.8.13

Re: Why Ballads Matter article

Dear Rod

Thinking about Mike Yates' interesting article Among the Blue Flowers and the Yellow - Why Ballads Matter, a couple of points occurred to me.  Mike talks about hearing his grandfather singing Barbara Allen.  My own grandparents only sang music hall songs as far as I recall, but I do remember my great aunt May (born 1893) tell me that she learnt  Barbara Allen at school, and when she sang it at home her mother told her ... "you haven't got the words right" ... which I take to mean that her mother knew a traditional version, though I don't know whether she sang or not.

When discussing the Scottish ballad singer, Joe Rae, some 'Scottish academics' questioned Mike about whether Joe had a radio in his house or not, and Mike is absolutely right in my experience to confirm that Joe's family did not have one.  When researching in Norfolk, I found that the Riseburgh family of Catfield, Norfolk, certainly did not possess a radio in 1947, which is why they went to a neighbour's house to listen to their father, Jack Riseburgh, sing at the famous November 1947 broadcast made at the Sutton Windmill by E J Moeran.  They were greatly disappointed to not hear their father, and listened at their neighbour's again the following week, but Jack was never broadcast (why remains a mystery as he was reputedly a great singer).  The Riseburghs were not a particularly poor family for those times, as Jack had a good job as a steam traction engine driver (however, he had a reputation for heavy drinking which may be where the money went).  For whatever reason, the family did not have a radio at that relatively late date, so it seems probable that other families didn't have one either.

Best wishes

Chris Heppa - 7.8.13

Going to sea for more!

Hi Rod,

In response to Chris Heppa's recent letter (below), the word in question in Sailing Over the Dogger Bank should be "sea" and not "see" - a typo error!  Thanks to Chris for pointing it out.

Best wishes,

Chris Holderness - 31.7.13

Re: Harry Cox and Sam Larner articles

Dear Rod

I was delighted to see two articles in Musical Traditions of late on my favourite Norfolk singers, Harry Cox and Sam Larner.  Firstly there was Phil Heath-Coleman on the thus far unresearched career of Harry Cox as fiddle player.  This little known aspect of Harry's long musical life has even incurred in the past the ludicrous idea that Harry did not even possess his own fiddle, but this nonsense was firmly dealt with by Paul Marsh.  Phil makes a very good case for more interest to be taken in this part of Harry's many musical talents.  I would agree that his fiddling does come over as somewhat 'rough and ready' to modern sensibilities, but I have always rather liked it.  Musically speaking, however, I personally prefer his melodeon playing, and I think that Harry stands with the best on this aspect.  As an example, I don't know whether I have ever heard a better version of Old Joe the Boat is Going Over than Harry's, a version of which appears on the double CD The Bonny Labouring Boy.  Also, his version of the ubiquitous Yarmouth Hornpipe (Pigeon on the Gate) is as good or better a version as any I have heard.  A small correction to Phil's excellent piece - the White Horse pub where Bob Cox played and sang is not in Barton Turf, but in the nearby village of Neatishead.  It is still going strong, unlike the first pub Harry ever sang in, the Union Tavern at Smallburgh, which closed as a pub many years ago.

Secondly, Chris Holderness has written a comprehensive piece on Sam Larner of Winterton.  The existence of two such talented singers in a relatively small area is indicative of the flourishing musical traditions that used to exist.  Chris mentions several other local singers in Winterton, and his research in north Norfolk is still producing new information.  Harry Cox knew and sang with several local men who were recorded by the BBC, including Charlie Chettleburgh, Elijah Bell, William Miller, John Salmons and Walter Gales, as well as many who were not recorded but were reputedly fine singers, such as Jack Riseburgh.  Apparently Harry Cox and Sam Larner never met, but what a meeting that would have been!  Both men had in my eyes very different yet equally moving singing styles; Harry gazed into the distance, totally wrapped up in the song, while Sam was more of a 'showman' who engaged directly with his audience.

I can add a couple of bits of extra information to Chris's article.  The first is that a few years ago a blue plaque was placed on the house that Sam lived in at Winterton.  There also appeared a local history of Winterton village (I'm afraid I don't have the details but it was on sale still last autumn on the Broads) which contained a marvellous photograph of Sam and the rest of the crew of a trawler that Sam was working on.  One feature of Chris's song transcriptions puzzled me, that of The Dogger Bank where he gives the last lines as "And when our money is all gone, we'll go to see (my italics) for more".  This is a common phrase which occurs in several sea songs, but I had always understood it as "we'll go to sea for more".  Both make sense grammatically, I suppose!

Congratulations to Phil and Chris for two excellent articles.

Best wishes

Chris Heppa - 31.7.13

Note: Recordings of these singers were part of the BBC Third Programme East Anglia Sings broadcast in late-1947.  A CD of this programme is available on the MT Records website for just £5.00 - Ed.

Roma Gypsy music

Dear Rod,

Today, Monday 17 June, is two weeks since the UK launch of "STAND UP, PEOPLE: Gypsy Pop Songs from Tito's Yugoslavia, 1964-1980", a collection of ultra-rare Roma Gypsy music from the 'golden age' of rock and roll.  So we thought we’d play catch-up and try to get word of the album out to good people like yourselves (without sounding too desperate, I hope!)

The album's been two years in the making - a real labour of love that saw my Vlax Records partner Philip Knox and myself traveling the length and breadth of Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia in search of old 7"s.  Along the way we met the 'Queen of the Gypsies', Esma Redzepova, learned to speak bad Romani, crashed a wedding, stayed at a bauxite mining themed hotel/resort in 'Serbian' Bosnia, and battled bureaucracy and blizzards to get to a stash of virgin vinyl in the basement of the National Library of Serbia.  And then we ran a successful Kickstarter project to fund the restoration and remastering of these 'forgotten' tracks and the translation of the lyrics into English.  And now we've finally turned all this stuff into a beautifully designed album.

Here's a link to our Youtube promo, to give you a sense of what it's all about.

Nat Morris, Vlax Records - 17.6.13

Re: Mike Yates' Ballads article

Greetings Rod,

As I have lost touch with Mike, I would like to take the opportunity on your website of correcting a slight mistake that appeared in the notes to my CD and in his current article on ballads.

In the notes, the scene of the ballad of William and Lady Marjory was noted as being located at Thirlstane Castle.  It would appear however that I did not make it clear to Mike that there were two Thirlstane Castles.  The present castle of that name near Lauder is still occupied and is open to the public.  Though I do not know who the current owners are, it was at one time owned by the Maitland family - Mary Queen of Scots having as her secretary one of that family.

The Thirlstane Castle connected in legend to the ballad stood some fifteen miles west of the Lauder one, and some three miles north west of Selkirk.  It was the home of the Scotts of Thirlstane and with the march of time it is now doubtfull if any remains are visable.  The father of Ned Robertson and Thomas Murray, the Galloway poet, heard the ballad and the story at the site around the middle of the 19th century and, as Mike points out, the information contained in the first verse helps to date the story.

Mention is made in the 4th verse of the Kings Life Guards.  It is so long since I read the notes with the CD, I do not remember if the explanation is given therein for their presence at Thirlestane.  When the exchequer of the old Kings was running low they would take all the court on tour to the various landed gentry.  Now, if the King had an ill will towards any of his subjects, he would prolong his stay with them, and hungry hangers on in the court would literally eat them out of house and home.

The said Kings were always, with good reason, fearfull of assassination attempts and, when they stayed at any house, no male was allowed to sleep in the house - they all having to take up their night quarters in barns, byres and outhouses.  There were two reasons for this: the King being guarded by his Life Guards who would not allow any man to enter the house during the night, felt reasonably secure from an assassination attempt; and it also gave him unlimited scope for a bit of bed hopping during the night with the ladies of the court, with no fear of interruption by their husbands.

Aye yours,

Joe Rae - 1.6.13

Re: Mr Rew - 6

Editor's note: There is now a photo of Billy Rew and a sound clip of him playing Over the Water to Charlie - see below.

Dear Rod,

Vic Smith is substantially correct.  In the 1970s I had a little influence at the BBC and managed to get copies of the Dorset Trio recordings before they were issues on the Boscastle Breakdown LP.  I had no idea at the time they would be issued commercially.  I learnt the tunes and shared them with various friends: Ian Holder with the Etchinghams; Will Duke etc. with the Pump and Pluck Band.  I can never remember which is which but one of the tunes is a version of what is often known as Come let's Dance and Sing.  I thought they went particularly well on the C single row melodeon; P&P used to play in C quite a lot - a good key on the G/C Anglo Will liked to play, and the absence of fiddles in the band made that an easy if more widely unpopular choice.

I think Mr Rew is playing an Anglo although as I recall he keeps his fingers down on the left hand so it sounds rather melodeon-ish.

I hope this is helpful.

I met a rather lost Chinese man at Newcastle airport the other day.  His English was pretty poor so I tried to help him find his way.  At one point he said to me "Are you solly Mrs Thatcher dead?"  With an almost out of body experience I heard myself saying "I solly she ever born!"  Hey ho.

Good wishes,

Vic Gammon - 13.4.13

Re: Mr Rew - 5

Dear Rod,

A few more points for the correspondence arising around Mr Rew:

I was very taken with them and remembered one of the tunes as the one that I had played on my radio show a few years earlier.  I asked Vic Gammon to teach them to me a few days later.  Memory tells me that Vic told me that the band learned both the tunes from recordings of Mr Rew.  I will copy this to Vic Gammon in the hope that he can confirm this.  A recording of this pair of tunes turns up on the CD released some twenty years after they were recorded by the Etchinghams on Fledg’ling FLED 1002, though there is no reference to where the tunes came from in the album booklet.  Some of the tracks on the CD ­ all recorded live ­ were recorded at the Lewes Festival.  They are still played together as a pair very frequently in English tune sessions in Sussex.

I have a copy of the BBC recording of Grandfather’s Dance and wonder if Grandmother’s Dance played by Mr Rew also existed in the BBC archives.

best wishes

Vic Smith - 13.4.13

Re: Mr Rew - 4


I don't know if it's relevant - or news to any of the previous correspondents - but annotations of a number of Mr Rew's tunes appear in the EFDDS booklet Dances for a Party (1957).

I am intrigued by Vic Smith's reference to a BBC recording of Mr Rew, because the two tracks in question (Grandfather's Dance and Hands Across [Oyster Girl] - assuming the former to be the same as Sheepshearing which now circulates - or did when I was a lot younger - as Grandfather's Polka, despite clearly being a version of the Cliff[e] Hornpipe) appear on Vol 9 of Voice of the People played by the Dorset Trio, along with at least one (the Italian Schottische - otherwise known as the Seven Step Polka) of the two tracks attributed to them on the reverse of the BBC recording which Vic borrowed.  I imagine the other one (Monkey Hornpipe) also appears on VOTP9 under a different name, though I should be delighted if someone could confirm as much (or refute the suggestion).

Incidentally, does anyone know where the Sheepshearing title came from?


Phil Heath-Coleman - 12.4.13

Re: Mr Rew - 3

Dear Rod,

I'm well aware of the photo of Mr Rew holding an anglo - although I couldn't actually remember where I'd seen it!

And funnily enough, last night I was doing some more digging and found a reference to Over the Water to Charlie at - not sure how I'd overlooked that reference previously.

Elsewhere on the Folktrax site, under Mr Rew's entry as a performer, there is this:

REW, William - Devon\ unacc singer & conc\ 1950 -- RTR 0944/7T-0008 rec by PK, Sidbury Nov 1950 "Handkerchief Dance" (Over the water to Charlie) - 7"RTR #0009 "The Counting Song" (One Man Went To Mow) & "The Farmer's Boy" (Farmyard Song) - rec by PK 13/10/54 RPL 22321 "Counting Song" "Ram Song" & talk about his life - RPL 22322 "Farmer's Boy" "Barbara Allen" & talk about "a family spree" - FTX-017 "Among the New Mown Hay - FTX-027 "The Counting Song""Ram Song" & "When I was a boy and a Farmers Boy" (Farmyard) - FTX-086 Devon - rec by Jean Ritchie (Sidbury 1952) Maxell tape RTR 0062 incl "When I was a boy" talk about pig verse "I'm proper Devon" - "Mr Rew's Waltz" "Dannish Waltz" "Up comes a chap" (frag: The Devonshire Lad) "Irish Recruit" "Pretty Little Dear" (Triumph) & "Derby Ram" - OLD SWAN BAND: FREE REED FRR-011 1976 play "Mr Rew's Polka"

That's not entirely clear, but I guess that Maxell tape RTR 0062 containing the Jean Ritchie recordings is somewhere in the archive, so will ultimately be accessible from the British Library.

All the best

Andy Turner - 12.4.13

Re: Mr Rew - 2

Dear Rod,

In response to Andy Tuner's letter about William Rew's concertina playing, a very short track recorded by Peter Kennedy called Over the Water to Charlie (Handkerchief Dance) was released on the Folktrax CD-R South Devon Village Music, and there's a wonderful photograph of him playing the concertina in Kennedy's book Folksongs of Britain and Ireland.


Chris Holderness - 11.4.13

Re: Mr Rew

Hi Rod,

Folkways records issed an LP Field Trip England (FW8871) many years ago.  The material was collected by Jean Ritchie and her husband George Pickow in the 1950s and includes a track of Barbara Allen sung by a 'Mr Rew', presumably the same Mr Rew, the concertina player, who is pictured with Jean.

Mike Yates - 9.4.13

The track is available to purchase as an MP3 on the Smithsonian Folkways website - Ed.

Re: Andy Turner's letter

Dear Rod,

In response to Andy Turner's letter, I think that I can help him by pointing him to an item that was certainly in the BBC Sound Archives on a 78rpm disc in 1972 - because I borrowed it to play on my programme on BBC Radio Sussex.  The record was:

Best wishes,

Vic Smith - 9.4.13

Re: Classic Celtic Music CD

Dear Rod

Just read your review of that Smithsonian Classic Celtic Music CD.  Incredible that such a well-respected label should stick out such a shoddy piece of work.

But what caught my eye was 'a full-page photo of Jean Ritchie recording Mr Rew, playing his concertina'.

I've never heard Mr Rew's playing.  I asked Keith Chandler recently if he knew of any examples.  Keith asked Reg Hall, who said that as far as he could see from Peter Kennedy's archive, there was one surviving recording, made in 1954.  That hasn't surfaced on the British Library site yet, but hopefully it will in due course.

There was also a BBC radio broadcast from Sidbury in 1950, in which Mr Rew featured, but it's unlikely that it was retained.

I wonder what recordings Jean Ritchie made of Billy Rew, and whether they are ever likely to see the light of day?

best wishes

Andy Turner - 7.4.13

Re: Jon Dudley's second letter

Dear Rod,

I think that Jon Dudley has things absolutely right in summing up the relationship between the singing informant and song collector in Sussex, especially when he writes: 'My conclusion - based upon nothing at all, except a lifetime of mixing with country people - is that there seems to have been little political conversation between collector and singer.  They probably didn't want to ruin a perfectly good night out.'

I think that we can extend Jon's summary to take in the symbiotic relationship between the older singers in Sussex and younger enthusiasts and organisers of the folk revival.  I feel that this was quite healthy in Sussex with a lot of the youngsters finding that they had a great deal to learn in terms of style and repertoire from the older singers and they, in their turn, finding a new outlet for their songs in folk clubs at a time when the number of village pubs that welcomed them was being greatly reduced.

We were very lucky in Lewes in that the older singers seemed to find our club a welcoming environment, even if the way that we ran things was different from what they were used to.  I invited many of the older singers that I met to a variety of events in Lewes and the only one who refused was Mary Ann Haynes who told me, "It's not for the likes of me, dear."

Politics, however, was a subject to steer away from in our dealings with some of the old singers.  Quite a number of us in Sussex found ourselves in the role of drivers, taking our favourites to Cecil Sharp House, London folk clubs, the National Folk Festival etc; I have been party to a number of coversations with friends and colleagues who agreed that we felt that we had to button our lips as we drove through Brixton and other ethnic community suburbs.

Best wishes

Vic Smith - 26.3.13

Jon Dudley's second letter

A private correspondent wrote to Jon, saying: Just read this.  Your question re: contradiction between those of us on the left and the views of trad singers has always intrigued me.  Bob Roberts comes to mind ...  Perhaps you could ask Shirley Collins for her views ...

Vic Gammon covered the socio-economic background to the Coppers in his excellent booklet accompanying the Topic CD Come Write me Down.  Everything is written from a certain perspective and in Vic's case, although I have no idea what particular shade of politics it is, I would guess slightly darker than pink.  Like everyone else in society, traditional singers came in all shapes and sizes and had varying degrees of interest in the political world around them.  The Rottingdean situation is well documented and coloured by an enlightened 'squirearchy' based around Quakerism.  In terms relative to the time, and I mean the mid 19th century onwards, the villagers situation was hard but averagely comfortable.  This goes a long way to explaining the Coppers rather apolitical stance, although Jim may have voted Tory he equally could have voted Liberal … we have no hard evidence for either.

Our correspondent cites Bob Roberts as having what sort of views?  Conservative?  Maybe, I just don't know.  It didn't seem to preclude his involvement in traditional singing activities or his deep friendship with John Seymour, left wing and proto-environmentalist.  As I said before, you'd find a fair old mixture here in Sussex.  Generally speaking the chaps would be of a fairly conservative bent.  Could it be that despite the Marxist intellectual background of some collectors, that politics was buried during the collecting process and that 'people just met people' and shared a common love of the music?

Our correspondent wonders too about Shirley Collins' views which would indeed be interesting as she herself came from a radical left wing background.  I must ask her.  Her mother, at 100 years of age is a lifelong believer.  In conversations I have had with Shirley she maintains a refreshingly open mind about life, music and politics.  Some of her experience of collecting came with Alan Lomax of course, but in my ignorance I don't know what other areas she was involved in, or when.  She's a person who I defy anyone not to get on with.  Her 'secret' is to be genuinely interested in the people she's talking to, and in the case of collecting, appreciating their art and sharing it with them.  I don't know Mike Yates, but from what I've read he seems to possess that gift too.

Class boundaries were also blurred in the pursuit of song collecting.  We know for example that when a Rottingdean visitor, Mrs Kate Lee, collected songs from the Copper Brothers James and Tom in the dying years of the nineteenth century, that they were admitted into the home of Sir Edward Carson (now there's a name to conjure with, think Ireland, think Oscar Wilde!) albeit to the pantry, and a place it would normally be unheard of them to visit.  Provided with fresh bottles of whisky on 4 consecutive evenings, the brothers provided fifty songs for Mrs Lee.  Now you're not telling me that all they did was sit and starchily sing, particularly with a few drinks inside them - there must have been conversation and she was clearly taken them and with their singing.  A cross-class, cross-cultural relationship was formed which must have opened the eyes of many when they were honoured in the first journal of The Folk Song Society.

My conclusion - based upon nothing at all, except a lifetime of mixing with country people - is that there seems to have been little political conversation between collector and singer.  They probably didn't want to ruin a perfectly good night out.  Certainly, Bob Copper's success as a collector was not only because he was such a bloody nice man, but also because he could relate to country people as an absolute equal and was deeply interested in what they had to say.

Sorry about the rambling nature of these thoughts.

Jon Dudley - 25.3.13

Re: Jon Dudley's letter

Hi Rod,

Jon's recent letter brought back a memory.  When I first met the Appalachian singer Dan Tate, who was blind, I discovered that he kept a loaded pistol in his pocket and that there was a rifle propped up beside the house door.  On one occasion Dan told me of all the famous people, collectors and musicians etc, who had visited him.  They had become his friends and he was very proud of this fact.  Two of the friends were "Pete" and "Alan" - Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax, I presumed.  When I asked him about the rifle, Dan replied that he kept it in case "the Red Menace" came over his mountain.  He would, he said, "be ready" if they came.

I don't suppose that "Pete" and "Alan" every got round to talking about politics with Dan.  I guess that they would have talked more about his songs and banjo-playing.  Dan would, I'm sure, have been highly surprised had I told him that "the Red Menace" had been closer to his mountain than he had ever imagined.

Mike Yates - 21.3.13

Re: George Spicer and the Coppers

Hello Rod,

Well done for keeping Musical Traditions going and providing such a valuable resource.

I've been particularly interested in George Frampton's detailed examination of George Spicer's career and life - what a huge amount of research must have gone into this.  It is this most recent episode however that has caught my attention with, as you might guess, the references to Bob (and Ron) appearing 'up country' at some 'sings' back in the day.  The Family has never really known in detail what Bob (and Ron) got up to in the music sense during the early days of the revival and particularly those years of the late '40s, '50s and to a much lesser extent the early '60s.  Obvious events like the Albert Hall, Bob's collecting experiences and BBC connections are well known to us, but the occasional outings to pub sing songs are not so clear.  There is no great mystery to this of course, as both Bob and Ron were landlords of licensed establishments and it was extremely difficult to get away without having to rely on staff, paid for out of the slim earnings such a living provided.  I'm still fascinated about the kind of events they did manage to attend - particularly together.

As a secondary thought I never knew that both Ken Stubbs and Mervyn Plunkett were communists.  I suppose that went very much with the territory along with Ewan McColl, Lomax, Seeger, et al, but one wonders how this sat with some of the archly conservative country singers around at the time.  Yes, I know it's a paradox - why would an agricultural labourer not be a rampant or even a regular-going socialist?  (Walter Pardon comes to mind).  The truth is of course that it was fairly common for the rural working class particularly in our part of Sussex to be Tory, whether this was born out of genuine conviction or as a vote of loyalty to the local landowner remains unproven.  I'm sure that neither Ken nor Mervyn were attempting to push radicalism down anyones throat in any case and were delighted to find that such rural backwaters provided such a cornucopia of song.  Must have been a marvellous time.

Don't know what really prompted this … good luck.

Best wishes

Jon Dudley - 20.3.13


Rod Stradling - e-mail:  Tel: 01453 759475
snail-mail: 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Glos  GL5 2HP, UK

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