Roy Palmer (1930-2015)

Roy, Graham and Pam were all resident singers at the Grey Cock Folk Club in the 1960s.  This photograph shows Roy singing at the club, accompanied by Pam on the guitar.  Photograph: Bob Etheridge

Roy, Graham and Pam were all resident singers at the Grey Cock Folk Club in the 1960s. This photograph shows Roy singing at the club, accompanied by Pam on the guitar. Photograph: Bob Etheridge

A tribute from Graham Langley and Pam Bishop:

Graham first met Roy Palmer in 1965 at a performance of the anti-apartheid play Of One Blood directed by Charles Parker and performed by members of the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre.  Soon after they opened their first folk club and with Roy’s encouragement Graham took part in a young singers night.

Following this the Grey Cock Folk Club became the venue for a series of folk plays drawing on Roy’s growing collection of historical documents and the Folk Centre’s song collection.  Roy’s political interests were evident, especially in the unlikely titled The Funny Rigs of Good and Tender-hearted Masters about a carpet weavers’ strike in Kidderminster.  The line “Damn you James Male” will be seared into the hearts of all who took part as it toured Midlands venues.  These presentations later developed into Banner Theatre who are one of the few political theatre companies still in action.

The Folk Centre had for some time been collecting folk songs from the Midlands and, after a publishing deal with Pergamon fell through, Roy took up the baton and a revised version was published as Songs of the Midlands to be followed soon after by the Topic LP The Wide Midlands.

This is where Roy really began to show his strength, collecting material and publishing books with a genuine historical social comment and a love of folk song and custom.  More recently our paths have crossed again as the Folk Centre collection, in which he played such an important part, is being sifted once again to produce a Birmingham songbook and as always his extensive knowledge and advice has proved invaluable.

We will all miss Roy’s scholarship and enthusiasm for traditional song, music and lore, but his published work will stay with us and continue to inspire us.  The British Library has made many of his recordings available online at http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Roy-Palmer-collection.

Anyone can listen to these 140 hours of field recordings of soldiers’ songs and folk drama recorded for the most part in Birmingham, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire.

The heading to the collection states: “Roy Palmer has been involved from the 1960s in singing and seeking traditional songs.  This collection of field recordings includes performances of songs and tunes as well as discussion and reminiscences about repertoire.  Some of the recordings were given to Roy as he gathered information for his many anthologies of traditional songs and street ballads reflecting different aspects of social, military, maritime, industrial, agricultural and recreational history.”

This article and photograph appeared in the March edition of the Folk Monthly magazine.

As the tribute above suggests, Roy Palmer, who died in February 2015, amassed a wealth of information on midlands folklore, folk drama and folksongs and was a prolific author of books on these subjects.

There are several links to Roy in the archive collections at Library of Birmingham. Roy deposited two collections of material in the last few years. The first was his research papers and photographs for his book ‘The Folklore of Warwickshire’ (MS 4655/1  Acc. 2013/209) which includes  Birmingham childrens’ songs and rhymes of street and playground as well as songs relating to Birmingham from various periods. The second was his research on Birmingham street ballad printers (MS 4655/2  Acc. 2014/050).

Roy also makes an appearance in the records of the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre (MS 1804) and in the records of the Charles Parker Archive. There is a box of papers and scripts of  ‘Grass Roots’; ‘New Navigation’ and ‘The Painful Plough’  (MS 4000/1/7/5); papers concerning ‘Making of the Midlander’, in 1966 (MS 4000/2/117) and ‘The funny rigs of good and tender-hearted masters’ about the 1828 Kidderminster carpet weavers’ strike (MS 4000/2/131), as well as recordings of performances of both of these (MS 4000/6/1/50 and MS 4000/6/1/55A).

Copies of his books can be consulted in the Heritage Research Area on the fourth floor of the Library of Birmingham and his books of folk ballads and songs are available in the Music Library, on the lower ground floor.

Fiona Tait, Archivist

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