I sing and play mainly traditional English songs and tunes - I've nothing against Irish, Scottish or American music and sing a number of songs from these cultures, but I'm English and I feel that these songs are 'mine', both to enjoy and to pass on. There is no longer an oral tradition in England, but that is how Iearned most of my songs: from listening to other singers, live and recorded, and especially, as a child, to "Singing Together" on the BBC at school.
Of course I never realised that these were folk songs; as a teenager I thought that folk songs were American as sung by Wally Wyton, Lonnie Donegan, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes!
always a crowd pleaser; had everyone singing along to his wonderful songs and tunes. Robin Mansfield, Cambridge Folk Club.
When I was thirteen I learned ‘Five and Twenty Ponies’ from the fisherman uncle of a classmate and admit to being a bit disappointed when I discovered that it had been written by Rudyard Kipling, but I had learned the words and the tune in a very traditional way by simply listening to an older singer and then making it my own. Traditional songs were all originated by someone, even if not written down - the great thing is that they are passed on from singer to singer who each make the song their own by memorising it and then performing it from memory. The songs and the tunes get changed a little by this process - it’s a living tradition!
Most of the songs I sing are ‘stories’, a few true and factual, but mostly made up for entertainment in the home, the alehouse or forecastle. The story is always the main event and I believe that accompaniments should be just that - simple basic accompaniment to the story that I’m telling.
The concertina has gradually become my accompaniment of choice for many of my story songs whilst the Appalachian Dulcimer works well for a few songs that benefit from a simple melody and 'drone' accompaniment. I’ve always kept my guitar accompaniments simple and sparse so that it is always subordinate to the song. If you can’t catch all the words, then I’m wasting my time!
Where I feel that the accompaniment detracts or distracts from the main event, then I’ll sing the song unaccompanied - many of the old songs are much better that way!
I have recorded some of the songs that I particularly like and tend to group them together in 'sets' around a theme rather than sing a random selection - you'll find a few of the themes below.