Tag Archives: Music

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this the Grey Cock Folk Club became the venue for a series of folk plays drawing on Roy’s growing collection of historical documents and the Folk Centre’s song collection.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


Celebrating Diversity: Vesta Tilley

MS 310/1467. Miss Vesta Tilley.

MS 310/1467 Miss Vesta Tilley

Vesta Tilley was born in Worcester in 1864 as Matilda “Tilley” Powles. She made her first stage appearance at the age of 4 and her first appearance as a male impersonator in 1870 in Birmingham at Day’s Concert Hall. Vesta Tilley had a strong lesbian fan base and she challenged contemporary notions of gender roles in Victorian society.

This image comes from the Manning Collection (ref MS 310) which is a collection of photographs and other materials relating to music hall, mostly in Birmingham and the Black Country but also including other areas of the country.

You can find out more about Vesta Tilley online here:

Worcestershire County Record Offices Archive Collection relating to Vesta Tilley


BBC Radio Four Womans Hour on Vesta Tilley:


Victoria and AlbertMuseum sources on Music Hall generally and Vesta Tilley in particular:


There are various publications relating to Vesta Tilley (references are to Birmingham Archives and Heritage collections, available from September 2013)

“Recollections of Vesta Tilley” – Lady de Frece (1934) ref L78.1 TIL

“Vesta Tilley” – Sara Maitland (1986) ref: L78.1 TIL

“The Great Little Tilley” – Gwyneth Sudworth (1984) ref: L78.TIL

There are also more sources relating to BirminghamMusic Hall in Birmingham Archives and Heritage including the Manning Theatre Archive (MS 310), the Manning Theatre Index and a large collection theatre programmes for Birmingham theatres.

Carolling in the collections

Continuing with the festive theme from last week, and inspired by singing in a local choir, I thought I would see what I could find in our collections relating to Christmas carols.

I saw three ships woodcut

“I Saw Three Ships” designed by Henry Payne (MS 2717/3/1 page 22)

I was surprised to discover carol singing in many different parts of our archive.  The activity can be found in hospital, school, photographic and individual  collections,  as well as in religious records such as this draft copy of a book of Christmas Carols for the use of the Old Meeting Church.  We  also have  many traditional carols available to listen to as part of the recordings made by Charles Parker.

Black and white woodcut illustration with title of book surrounded by a woodcut of a stylised floral border

Title page for “A Book of Pictured Carols” (MS 2717/3/1 page 15)

One of the most beautiful objects I found was in the records of Joseph Wainwright and Colbran J. Wainwright, manufacturing jewellers. “A Book of Pictured Carols designed by members of the Birmingham Art School” (MS 2717/3/1) is a slim hardback book of carols and illustrations created under the direction of Arthur J.Gaskin. The intricate woodcuts were each created by different artists, both male and female, and are all in the Arts and Crafts style. Some have strong floral and folk motifs such as the title page designed by Georgie E. Cave France. Others are inspired by themes of myth and legend such as the design at the top of this page by Henry Payne.

Contains a black and white woodcut illustration of a Nativity scence showing Mary and Jesus with a cow in the background

“The Golden Harp” (375224, LP 07.2 GUE )

The Local Studies collection contains several volumes of carols printed in Birmingham. This is the cover of a tiny booklet of carols printed by J. Guest of Bull Street in about 1850. The pages are very thin, and it feels like it has been well used. The carols it contains are not the familiar ones that are popular today. They include intriguing titles such as Melodious Sound, Twinkling Stars and Twelve Points. They often refer to death and sin as well as to joyful celebrations.

It has been interesting having a glimpse into how traditions change over the years and I have enjoyed finding some new carols. I hope this brief taster may inspire you to come and see us next Christmas in our new home.

Perhaps a nice way  to end this post is with the last verse of The Moon Shines Bright printed in “The Golden Harp”

 My song is done- I must be gone,
I can stay no longer here:
God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a happy new year!

 Kathryn Hall
(Libraries and Archives Assistant)