When First I Came to Caledonia | Folk from the Attic

Like most modern performers, I think I first heard ‘When First I Came to Caledonia’ sung by Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy and Eliza Carthy on their first Waterson:Carthy album. For years, in fact, it was pretty much the only song I’d return to again and again. The melody is haunting, and given that I was in my early twenties and living in southern Japan – an old mining and coastal region, warmer but not dissimilar to the place in the song – there was something very familiar about the story of a young man working far from my family, homesick but fascinated in […]

My Old Hat That I Got On | Folk from the Attic

If there was ever a case of a folk song hiding in plain sight, this was it. I first heard ‘My Old Hat That I Got On‘ as a recording on Voice of the People, performed by an old Oxfordshire chap named Tom Newman. It struck me as a song with potential for a slightly bluesy guitar arrangement so I began hacking away at it, slowly chiseling it into something performable, much to the annoyance of my family (that chorus played 20 times a day will wear down the hardiest of people). 

The Unquiet Grave (Andover version) | Folk from the Attic

There’s an irony to ‘The Unquiet Grave’ that I find delicious. Here we have a traditional folk song that warns its listeners that excessive grief and ghost-bothering can really piss off the dead. That’s pretty rich advice, coming from a genre that spends most of its time wallowing in death and misery. It can be a contrary beast, this folk music – yet another reason to love it so.

Ye Mariners All (A Jug of This) | Folk from the Attic

Forgive me if it feels like I’m just doing the folk Greatest Hits here, but certain songs I just can’t resist. This week’s ‘Folk from the Attic’ is ‘Ye Mariners All’, a song I first heard when I was at university in the mid-90s, back when I was the only person on campus with a copy of Martin Carthy’s debut album and very much the lonelier for it. Sorry Martin – the other kids didn’t think you were as hip as Boyzone. Who’s laughing now? (Answers on a postcard…) 

Sandgate Dandling Song (or the Liverpool Lullaby) | Folk from the Attic

If Martin Simpson is to be believed (and I’ve no reason not to), one of the definitions of a folk song (or a traditional folk song, at least) is that nobody can remember who wrote it. If that’s the case then this article is not about a folk song at all. It’s about a song by one Robert Nunn, a blind fiddler from Newcastle who died in 1853, which was subsequently adapted over 100 years later by Stan Kelly-Bootle, a folk singer/songwriter (presumably with 20-20 vision) who moonlighted as a computer scientist at Cambridge and Warwick Universities. 

Eliza Carthy on ‘Big Machine’, Bellowhead and folk song collecting in the 21st century

I doubt Eliza Carthy would take too kindly to being called ‘Folk Royalty’ – it seems a little too hoity-toity, somehow – but there’s no denying her influence. I’m due to interview her over Skype one Friday lunchtime in early February, and five minutes before the agreed time, I’m still trying to find a quiet corner of Cecil Sharp House in which to crank up the laptop and get the old dictaphone out. With only seconds to spare, it occurs to me that her name might open doors – quite literally. “I’ve got an interview with Eliza Carthy,” I mention in […]

Shallow Brown | Folk from the Attic

‘Shallow Brown’ (Roud 2621) is a fascinating song for so many reasons. Is it a sea shanty? A slave song? Who is singing to who, and where in the world were they singing? There’s as much here to love as there is to be heart-broken by. Quite simply, another traditional folk song of fare-thee-wells and loved ones being transported over the sea that feels, in some ways, as prescient now as it ever must have done. 

Martin Simpson on song collecting, Graham Coxon, the Watersons and the true definition of folk music

It’s a late January evening and you join us as we’re being turned away from a Thai restaurant in Andover, Hampshire. “We have nothing available,” they tell us, doing their best to hide a room full of entirely empty tables. Undeterred, if a little confused, we opt for Plan B. One of our party – a folk guitarist of some renown and pedigree – has had the forethought to pre-book a table at a restaurant back on the high street. The trouble is, he’s not going to find the high street without some assistance. Not that he’s the worse for wear, of […]

The amazing tale of Daria Kulesh’s Long Lost Home

Sit ye down, weary internet traveller, for I bring to you a tale of epic proportions. In the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I interviewed the singer-songwriter, Ange Hardy, to find out more about the story behind her song, ‘What May You Do for the JAM?’ Within a few hours of its publication, I received a message from Daria Kulesh, a folk singer of Russian origin, very sweetly explaining that she had a few songs with interesting stories, too, and that she’d love to tell me all about them.

David Suff on the future of Topic Records and answering the eternal question: what exactly IS folk music?

Pitching up at Normafest a few weeks ago, David Suff was one of the first faces we spotted in main hall. With his exceptional beard (hipsters, take note), the current Mr Topic Records (and acclaimed artist) is not easily missed, and I made a beeline for his stall, as much to try and engage him in conversation as to check out his wares.