Folk Song in England

Engraving by Harry Brockway

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A celebration of the folk songs of England

Celebrate the folk music of England, once dubbed ‘the land without music’, and explore the many things we still don’t know about traditional English song.

One of the great musical discoveries of the early 20th century was that England held a vital heritage of folk song, vibrant and alive among its working men and women. Collectors and enthusiasts such as Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger gathered a rich musical harvest: celebratory and elegiac, chaste and ribald, from farmhouse and forge, playground and pub.

But after more than a century of collection, publication and performance, there are still many things we don’t know about England’s traditional music. Where did the songs come from? Who sang them, and where, when and why? What part did singing play in the communities in which the songs thrived? And did the collectors’ passions and prejudices determine what was preserved, and what was not?

This evening of music and conversation celebrates the folk song of England and explores the many things we still don’t know about traditional English music. It also marks the publication of Folk Song In England by Steve Roud, the first book for many years to investigate the wider social history of traditional song in England, drawing on a wide range of sources.

Enjoy food and drink purchased from the Knowledge Centre Bar from 18.00 and after the event until the Bar closes at 22.00.

Steve Roud is the founder of the Roud Folk Song Index and the author of a number of major works on English folkways and customs, including The English Year and (with Julia Bishop, who contributes two chapters) The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. A retired local history librarian, he is also an expert on broadsides and other street literature of the past and is currently involved in getting our rich traditional song heritage catalogued and available online through the British Library, the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and the new cultural charity, Sussex Traditions.

Dr Julia Bishop is one of the country's leading experts on the musical side of traditional song, and her current concerns include making the important collection of James Madison Carpenter (which comprises thousands of songs collected in England and Scotland in the early 1930s) available in Britain for the first time. She is also co-editor of Play Today in the Primary School Playground (2001) and Changing Play: Play, Media and Commercial Culture from the 1950s to the Present Day (2014), and is currently involved in a major project to digitise and catalogue some of the vast collection of children's games and lore compiled by Iona and Peter Opie.

Martin and Shan Graebe sing traditional songs, mostly unaccompanied and in harmony. Their repertoire is based mainly on the traditional songs of Southern England with a strong emphasis on those found by the Devonshire folk song collector, Sabine Baring-Gould, whose work Martin has been studying for many years.

Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp take a no-nonsense approach to traditional English folk song, taking their cues from 1960s folk revival singers and placing an emphasis on strong vocals, tight harmonies and unfussy arrangements. Expect to hear a distinctive range of songs sung with passion.

Lisa Knapp first emerged in 2007 with a remarkable debut album, Wild And Undaunted, establishing herself as a highly distinctive artist, merging a radiant style of traditional folk and self-penned song with vocal, fiddle, hammer dulcimer, strings, banjo and contemporary production. Her second album Hidden Seam was also critically acclaimed. Til April is Dead – A Garland of May, Lisa’s latest album, was released earlier this year.


Name: Folk Song in England
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Show Map      How to get to the Library
When: -
Price: Full Price: £12.00
Member: £8.00
Senior 60+: £10.00
Student: £8.00
Registered Unemployed: £8.00
Under 18: £8.00
Friend of the BL: £8.00
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546