Durham Fair | Songs from the Attic | Now available from all good digital stores

In the seven or eight months I’ve been exploring traditional songs, or perhaps trying to find a folk music definition, one thing that crops up again and again is the importance of stories. When I play live, and when I see other traditional singers play live, the passing on of stories is a really important part of what takes place. And the more you can find out about the original singers, the collectors, the conditions in which the songs were collected, the more you can bring these songs to life.  Read More

Whitchurch, Hampshire and the songs of Henry Lee

One of my preoccupations in recent months has been the relaunch of the Whitchurch Folk Club (which you can find out more about here). I say ‘relaunch’ even though there never has been (to my knowledge) a club of that name. The local folk club that ran regularly throughout the folk revival of the 70s and closed 30 years ago was named after the pub in which it met – The Red House – and while we’re very keen to acknowledge the traditions that the organisers established (not least the amazing-sounding Whitchurch Folk Festival), it’s going to be very hard to […]

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. 

The Bedmaking | Folk from the Attic

As Ian Carter of Stick in the Wheel said in our interview last week, in the hands of Martin Carthy ‘The Bedmaking’ is one of those songs that makes guitarists sit up and wonder what the hell he’s doing. You’ll commonly read of his influence, but his prowess really shows through whenever he sits down to this tune, marking him out as a fingerpicking ninja of sublime syncopation and subtlety.