Sounds Online

British Library Sounds Online – Recording of the Month


Between April 2012 and November 2014 Janet Topp Fargion (Lead Curator, World and Traditional Music at the British Library) posted a series of items on the Tradsong discussion group of recordings related to English traditional song. There is a wealth of recorded material on the BL Website which can be explored (and we would encourage you to do so!) but I feel it worth keeping a record on this site of her choices for your future interest. They are presented in reverse date order, with her comments from the original posting.

And do take the opportunity to search for other recordings on the BL Sounds website. There is some wonderful material there with new material and features being added regularly. A large selection was added from the Peter Kennedy collection earlier in 2013. There is now the possibility of adding notes to the recordings, for the benefit of other researchers.


3 Nov 2014

Dear Friends and Colleagues

This month I thought it would be nice to point out this connection between available distributed resources. Have a listen to:

George Butterworth’s 1909 recording of David Clements singing “The Banks of Green Willow”:

whilst looking at the transcription in the EFDSS catalogue at

 I wish we had more time to make these connections on our BL Sounds website. Do feel free to add these sorts of links as notes and comments against relevant recordings.

All best wishes



2 Sep 2014

Having just returned from a bright, sunny holiday in Greece last week to a gloomy and grey London, I was thrilled this morning to wake to sunshine and warmth. This is a rendition of ‘A fine summer’s morning’ sung by Jane Burgess, recorded by Bob and Jacqueline Patten at Postlip Hall, Winchcombe in 1998.

Long may the fine summer mornings continue!

All best wishes



[Note by editor – I remember Jane Burgess singing this at the Cheltenham Folk Club and at other places (I may even have been there when it was recorded) – always a pleasure to hear this simple, two-verse version of this song, which was frequently published as a broadside. More usually called ‘A Sweet Country Life’, Jane has taken her version from Cecil Sharp’s collection and it was published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society, Vol 5 (1914) pp.92-93. Sharp heard it sung by Wiliam Watts at Tewkesbury on 11 Apr 1908. Mr Watts had heard it sung 50 years earlier at Ledbury and said that it was very common in that neighbourhood at the time. Roud No 2406. Mr Watts’s text can be found in the Full English at CJS2/9/1488, and the tune at CJS2/10/1632.]


5 Aug 2014

This month’s recording of the month features George Withers in what, in my opinion, is a very moving description of his father – an ‘excellent singer in his time’ and ‘one of the lads of the Somme’. This recording is a small segment of an interview with George that forms part of Bob and Jacqueline Patten’s collection. Searching the BL Sounds site for George Withers throws up a large number of additional recordings.


All good wishes 



12 Jun 2014

I’ve chosen a recording from our British Library Sounds website this month, not so much for the content of the recording (although it’s a wonderful listen) as for the great example it provides of the kinds of comments and notes users of the site have been adding.

The recording is from amongst a large collection of field recordings made by ethnomusicologist, Dr Peter Cooke, in Uganda. This particular recording dates from 1968 and features pupils from Namirembe Primary School who performed as part of the Uganda Music Festival that year. Researcher, Lanny Galikuwa Kimbowa, has added notes onto the waveform of the recording highlighting issues of structure, performance, content and recording technique. By holding your cursor over the red dots you can read the comments. Alternatively, they are listed at the end of the provided metadata if you scroll down. 

Take a look and a listen at and feel free to log on/create an account (in the top right hand corner of the page) to share your knowledge with other users too.

All the best 



13 May 2014

Dear Tradsongers

This month’s recording forms part of the Reg Hall Archive and was recorded Bill Leader in 1967 at the The White Swan Hotel, Wadebridge, Cornwall on the eve of May Day. Now I do realise that we are already well into May so it’s not so much the May Day that I’m highlighting by choosing this recording. Rather, it’s the content of the recording – a pub sing-song of ‘The Barley Mow’ – that I thought was timely given the launch (see photo) a couple of weeks ago of Topic Record’s new publications in the Voice of the People series, one of which includes the Barley Mow film by Peter Kennedy.

 Enjoy, and, as always, feel free to logon and add notes and comments.

 All best wishes



7 April 2014

Dear Tradsongers

This month’s recording was made by the one and only Bob Davenport. However, it’s not a musical performance. Rather it’s an interview he conducted with David Hawkins on the Ludlow Massacre. This event is coming up for its 100th anniversary (20th April 1914) and Bob was keen that it be made available.

For those who want quick background on the episode see

The rest of Bob’s archive is also available on the BL Sounds website at

All best wishes



 10 Feb 2014

 Dear Tradsongers

This month’s recording is an interview (in 3 parts) made by Carolyn Landau with Carole Pegg, whom many of you will know from her research and performing career relating to traditional singers and musicians in Norfolk and Suffolk. Sadly these recordings are only available for listening in Higher and Further Education institutions so far, but you’ll get lovely insight into Carole’s take on ethnomusicology, anthropology and fieldwork in general from the interview.

I aim to work with Carole to see whether her field recordings can be made available more widely

All the best



2 Dec 2013

Dear Tradsongers and BFEers

This month’s recording of the month seems appropriate. It’s a recording of The Gaugers in a folk club in Aberdeen, Scotland, recorded by Bill Leader and forming part of Reg Hall’s Archive here at the BL.  I’m sure we’ve all been shocked at the news this weekend of the helicopter crash in the pub in Glasgow.

It’s a nice dance tune though, titled Atholl Highlanders. You’ll notice I’ve put a marker at the point in the recording where the musicians finish tuning up and the tune starts. Please feel free to create an account and add other notes to the recording.

All the best 


Ps: In case the Tradsongers and BFEers don’t know each other, let me introduce you: Tradsongers are members of the Traditional Song Forum list, BFEers are members of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology.



4 Nov 2013 

This recording was mounted just a couple of months ago as a special request from our good friend Martin Graebe. It’s part of the English Folk Song and Dance wax cylinder collection C37, which the British Library holds on their behalf. Some years ago we put a good number of them on the site but some were left off where we felt the quality of the recording might make people think there was something up with their player! In fact this one isn’t as bad as we thought so we added it to the collection.

When you access the recording, you’ll see that Martin has added  notes to the recording which I feel add valuable information for us all to learn from. Whereas the available documentation said “EFDSS Cylinder No.52. Two English songs, sung by Mrs Ellen Powell. 1. Pretty Caroline. 2. Noble man and the Thresherman”, Martin has told us that “Ellen Powell sings ‘sat-ted a lovely one.’ Later in the recording she sings ‘Sailor-er lad.'” Thanks Martin!

[Oops – I may not have made myself clear – what I intended in the notes was to highlight the way in which Ellen Powell added the extra syllables to the words of ‘Pretty Caroline’. There is, actually, a third note that I made, pointing out that this version of ‘Pretty Caroline’ is the one that Ralph Vaughan Williams used in his ‘English Folk Song Suite’. It is sometimes (eg in the Full English) attributed to him rather than Ella Leather. She made the recording on a machine that RVW had lent her and then sent the cylinder to him for transcription.]


1 Oct 2013

After some break, for which I apologise, I’m here again with my monthly recording which this month is taken from Peter Kennedy’s collection. I’ve chosen something from this collection to draw your attention to the various social media facilities on the site. You’ll notice that our good friend Andrew Pace has added a number of notes to the recording providing additional information. You’ll see that many aspects are still not described. For example can anyone out there confirm the performers, or the title of the first item sung, or indeed the performance occasion of the recording? If you do know anything please feel free to log in (on top right hand of the page) to add notes and comments. You can even share the link amongst your own networks (Twitter, Facebook) to see if anyone else might know something.

Once you’ve done that, you could look around at the many thousands of other recordings and share your knowledge.



[There was a break of some months between December 2012 and October 2013 before the series was restarted]


13th Dec 2012

This is a recording that sits in our content package labelled Traditional Music in England. One user, from Vancouver, pointed out by email to me that in fact the song is a Tin Pan Alley tune from 1925, composed by R.B. Saxe and Hubert W. David. It was ‘Top Of The Pops’ back in the 1950s when he was a teenager in England. You’ll see (if you login with the button in the righthand corner of the page) that I’ve added this information as a note on the recording. As you listen you’ll see that the user who contacted us was clearly not the only person who knows the song!



9th Nov 2012

This month’s recording is taken from Bob and Jaqueline Patten’s collection. I’ve chosen something from this collection to draw your attention to the fact that while the collection used to be restricted (by Bob and Jacqueline) to use in higher and further education institutions, they have now agreed to open it to all users. You can now all stream (not download) the recordings from the site.


The recording in particular that I’ve chosen was made by Bob at Halsway Manor in Somerset. Just the other day I was talking to Paul James, Chief Executive at the Manor, about our shared Peter Kennedy materials. When the photographs, papers and original tape recordings came to the BL in 2007, all Peter’s commercial LPs and his book collection went to Halsway Manor. We like to check in with each other from time to time to see how work with our respective parts of Peter’s legacy is going. Have a look at their new website at 


17th Aug 2012

I hope you enjoy this track, taken from the Roy Palmer Archive. The song – Boys in Khaki, Boys in Blue – was sung and recorded by Frank Jones in 1984 and subsequently sent to Roy as part of his research on soldiers songs [see his book What a Lovely War: British Soldiers’ Songs from the Boer War to the Present Day (Michael Joseph Ltd,1990) ].

2 July 2012

I’ve had a good browse around recordings from Yorkshire this time – for no other reason than I’m going to Yorkshire for my holidays this year… I’ve homed in on this recording by Dave Bland (as part of Reg Hall’s Archive) of Frank Hinchcliffe talking in 1973 about songs he heard in his youth. It’s wonderful to hear people singing, but it’s also great to hear people talking about songs and traditions.


29 May 2012

With Bob Davenport’s birthday coming up, I thought we’d listen to him talk about himself, the Rakes and various other things in the ‘BL Sounds online – recording of the month’ this month. In this interview, recorded in 1979 by Edward Tise, Bob talks about when he first sang in public, at the Bedford Arms in Camden; the decline of live music in Camden; the importance of traditional music; his view of music of the 1960s and 1970s; the influence of breweries on music venues.

The interview was recorded for the film “The Boldon Lad: aspects of traditional music in working class Britain”, directed by John Tchalenko (1980).


28 April 2012

Dear Tradsongers

I thought I’d start sending links to random recordings from the traditional music collections I’ve listened to during the month on the British Library’s Sounds site. This one is an ethnographic recording forming part of Reg Hall’s Archive, recorded, I believe, by Bill Leader. (Performer’s note: children. Item note: includes the song “The Derby ram”.) Please feel free to login to make use of the site’s various functionalities.