Tag Archives: Folk Songs

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this the Grey Cock Folk Club became the venue for a series of folk plays drawing on Roy’s growing collection of historical documents and the Folk Centre’s song collection.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). Continue reading


Charles Parker Day 2014

Charles Parker  interviewing Mrs Costello photographed by Bob Etheridge  [MS 4000 2004/172]

Charles Parker interviewing Mrs Costello photographed by Bob Etheridge
[MS 4000 2004/172]

Studio Theatre, The Library of Birmingham                                             Friday 4th April 2014 10.30-17.30 

The extensive Charles Parker Archive [ref. no. MS 4000] stored at Archives, Heritage and Photography at the Library of Birmingham, comprises the papers and tape recordings collected by Charles Parker (d. 1980). Parker was a BBC radio producer in Birmingham until the 1970s, was an activist and co-founder of the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre, Grey Cock Folk Club and Banner Theatre of Actuality. He was a tireless campaigner for the voice of ordinary people to be heard on radio, and the folk music and song which originally came from the working classes to be preserved and re-used for contemporary campaigns.

The 10th Charles Parker Day, the annual conference that celebrates the radio feature – past, present and future –  will be held at the Studio Theatre, Library of Birmingham on Friday 4 April, 2014.

The first Charles Parker Day was organised by the Centre for Broadcasting research at Bournemouth University on 5 April (Charles Parker’s birthday) in 2004. It included the launch of the Charles Parker prize for students of radio features.

For the last eight years, the main theme of the conference has been the Radio Ballads, for which Parker and his collaborators, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger became famous.

It’s 50 years since the last of these eight innovative radio features – ‘The Travelling People’ – was broadcast. So this year, the Charles Parker Day celebrates this ballad about travellers and examines the legacy of the whole series of Radio Ballads.

For this special occasion one of the original creative team, Peggy Seeger, will attend the day and will reflect on the making of the ballads, in particular ‘The Travelling People’, in an illustrated conversation with Peter Cox (author of the definitive book on the Radio Ballads ‘Set into Song’).

But have attitudes towards travellers changed during the intervening 50 years? Heritage writer and consultant Sarah Baylis will examine the relevance for travellers today of the original recordings for the ‘Travelling People’ in the Charles Parker Archive. Continue reading

‘How can I keep from singing?’

Pete Seeger said his goal was ‘to put a song on people’s lips, instead of just in their ears’. His death at the age of 94 was announced on 28 January 2014.

‘Once called ‘America’s tuning fork’, Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song,’ said President Obama. ‘But more importantly, he believed in the power of community.  ‘To stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be.’

This brought to mind the wealth of songs of protest and social criticism residing in Archives, Heritage & Photography waiting to be sung to rally the hearts and minds of campaigners, protesters and all humanity!

The Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000] has particular links, because Peggy Seeger, half-sister to Pete and an equally wonderful musician and singer of political songs was involved in many of the programmes and projects in that archive. Together she arranged the music for the Radio Ballads created for BBC Radio with Ewan MacColl and Charles Parker from the hours of tape recording they had undertaken. She and Ewan also set up a self- help group of young folksingers, the Critics Group, to examine the technical and artistic problems of singing and various ways of tackling them. The programme papers and recordings are all here to be heard. Ewan and Peggy also gave practical instruction and lectures to members of the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre, started by Charles Parker and others in 1963. The records from this organisation [MS 1804] show the work undertaken to collect folk songs from the Midlands which, edited by one of the members, Roy Palmer, were published in the book ‘Songs of the Midlands’ in 1972.

The Grey Cock Folk Club grew out of the Folk Centre and specialised in learning and singing political songs. AH&P also holds records of this club, which closed in 1987 [MS 1642]. ‘The Grey Cock’ was a traditional song collected from Cecilia Costello of Birmingham and a double CD set of her singing has just (2014) been issued by Musical Traditions.

From the Grey Cock grew Banner Theatre Company, using multi-media techniques and folk song and music to create drama on contemporary political struggles. These can be studied from their records at AH&P [MS 1611] and a selection of songs to practice can be found in Singing the Changes: Songs by Dave Rogers for Banner Theatre (2005).


Political Broadsides - The Vain Attempt To Take Lady Well

Political Broadsides – The Vain Attempt To Take Lady Well

Illustration: The Vain Attempt to take the Lady Well (AH&P Political Broadsides Vol.2 p. 83)

Back in 1989 when water privatization was undertaken by the government of Margaret Thatcher through the sale of assets of the then public regional water authorities, an amateur group supported by Banner chose to create a short drama on the subject by using a  Birmingham Broadside from the 1800s. This tells the story of the Devil and his henchman attempting to close the Lady Well in Hurst Street and set up a pump to charge the people for their water.

As children from Nechells Junior and Infant School sang, in a successful demonstration to save their school from closure in 1983:

Hey there everybody, there’s one more thing we want to say, 
Take care of the world where we all live
The future isn’t yours to give
We’ll be here when you are gone
Make way for the young ones coming on
We demand a future                                                                

[Banner Theatre. Songs of Struggle, 1987]

Keep on singing!

 Fiona Tait