OUR FOLK MUSIC HERITAGE
Through the centuries songs have been sung and collected, songs that still reveal how people lived so many years ago.
The first acknowledged song collector was of course Cecil Sharp,considered to be the founder of the British folk music revival. He was born in 1859 in London and his multitude of songs and tunes are stored forever at Cecil Sharp House in Regents Park Road, London.
It wasn't just love ballads he collected but industrial songs of the time, songs of war and dance tunes that formed the backbone of social life in centuries past. But it wasn't all down to Cecil Sharp as other singers and collectors came to the fore as the folk revival gathered momentum. For instance, there was The Copper Family from Rottingdean, Sussex, fronted by Bob Copper and a family that hugely inspired Peter Bellamy's Young Tradition, along with Norfolk's Harry Cox, and The Watersons plus Martin Carthy.
Harry Cox was born in 1885 and so many of his songs are still sung today within the folk idiom, even though he died in 1971. He worked on a Norfolk farm all his life and it's stated that he had a repertoire of 140 songs, which he sang with a folk-style vocal still emulated to this day by modern-day traditional singers. They say he sang with one finger in his ear whilst holding a pipe in the other hand. Once again, many of his songs were of working Britain at that time but he also loved to sing the ruder ballads that made his audiences laugh along at a time great hardship.
Then there was Fred Jordan, another farm worker from Ludlow, Shropshire. Strangely he was discovered by Alan Lomax, an American singer himself and song collector. Fred Jordan was awarded the English Folk Dance and Song Society's Gold Badge Award, the highest possible order, for his distinguished and unique contributions to folk music. Fred stated that folk music was handed down from as far back as Samuel Pepys in the 17th Century.
To complete the list of respected traditional singers we should also mention Sam Larner, an East Anglian fisherman. Ewan McColl attributed his popular folk song The Shoals of Herring to Sam and his rugged way of life. Sam was born in 1878 and they say he rarely travelled westward but only to the east on The North Sea. Martin Carthy claims Sam to be one of the most important traditional folk singers who contributed to the revival.
And let us not forget Ewan McColl himself who created the Radio Ballads for the BBC at a time when our music was never played on the radio. Yes, he wrote The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face but he also did so much more, along with Peggy Seeger. The Radio Ballads were revitalised in recent times by Jez Lowe and other singers.
From socially-aware songs of the working classes, to sea-shanties that kept a crew's morale afloat, to the plight of those on the battlefield to those who left their loved ones behind, those songs of so long ago have been preserved by a caring folk scene and more songs will appear as the singer/songwriters get to work and write of today's subjects.
Our folk music heritage will forever be grateful to the singers and songwriters of so many years ago. Not just those mentioned above but also Paddy Tunney, Belle Stewart, Jeannie Robertson, Cyril Tawney and Sarah Makem. It were they who created the scene that gathered a student following in the 1960s, enhanced by the musical skills of Martin Carthy, Dave Swarbrick and so many more as the folk revival kicked in harder and the electric folk movement began alongside the traditional movement. The rest they say is history.
Many of those singers and their songs are still sung on today's folk scene, by both solo performers and electric folk bands alike and this page is here to recognise their contribution. It shall never be forgotten, even in this age of social media and The Internet. Their voices shall never die. That is our folk heritage.