Welcome to the website for Katie Howson, I Looked East and I Looked West and Old Hat Music.

Katie is a traditional musician, researcher, writer and events organiser from Suffolk, England.


I play traditional music on the melodeon and harmonica. My musical education took place largely in the pubs of Suffolk as a young adult, where I learned much from an older generation of musicians. Since then I have spent most of my life either playing traditional music or passing it on to others in one way or another.

Until October 2017 I was Artistic Director of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.

Seventeen years of work is summed up in a presentation I did for the EFDSS Folk Educators’ Group in June 2017, which you can see here (but there are only a few words of explanation as it was designed as an aide-memoire for me to talk over!):  FEG 2017

I am now a freelance performer, tutor, researcher and animateur.

Musical background

I started playing the melodeon whilst at university, teaching myself to play through listening to others. This was at a time when English traditional music was experiencing a renaissance and there was no shortage of exciting recordings and events to inspire me.

After moving to Suffolk in 1978, I spent many hours in pubs playing alongside traditional musicians and in 2000, with the founding of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust, the music of my adopted locality became a huge focus for research and performance.

I play and learn by ear. I love the fact that learning by ear opens up music-making to people from all walks of life and I have taught many people to play instruments and express themselves musically in this way.

You can find out more about tuition opportunities, my music and bands on the relevant pages. There’s also a detailed CV on the biography page.

EFDSS Gold Badge Award

In 2010, my husband John Howson and I were awarded the prestigious Gold Badge by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. You can read the EFDSS Gold Badge Citation here.

Here we are at Cecil Sharp House in Camden, on our Gold Badge day, singing a chorus with the Copper Family. Cecil Sharp House is the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and home of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.


Page updated on 26th  November 2018

Here’s some occasional short blog posts, followed by some other news items at the end. Click here to see my gig list.

November 2018

HOT NEWS! Tickets for the Julia Clifford memorial event, I Looked East and I Looked West are now on sale – here’s a quick link if you’ve been waiting keenly for this moment!

So busy this month nearly forgot to drop by and update this page! Playing for an amazing event to celebrate the centenary of signing of the World Ward One peace armistice in central London this weekend. Off to teach and play at Witney Supersqueeze the following weekend – teaching East Anglian stepdance music, “Stretching Your Fingers” and “In the Mood” (not Glen Miller tunes! – more about expressing yourself through traditional music). Then a mini-fest of Sliabh Luachra music locally with visiting friends.

Update, 22nd November

Two more guests to confirm attendance at I Looked East and I Looked West! First is multi-instrumentalist John Coakley, a former member of The Boys of the Lough, who knew Julia well in the UK. See our Artists page for more details about John. And second is Tony Hall – whizzo English melodeon (accordion if you’re Irish) player, who played with Julia in the 1980s. Here’s Julia playing for a ceilidh at Notre Dame High School in Norwich with Tony and Chris Morley; two on the right unknown. Thanks to Chris Morley for the photo.

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October 2018

Working away on the planning and funding for ‘I Looked East and I Looked West‘ this month. Guest list looking good and we’ve just had confirmation from the Irish Traditional Music Archive that they will be coming to record the event for their archives, which is great news! There’s now more information about the event available (see link above), and tickets go on sale from this website on 26th November.


There’s news of a new opportunity to build your own one-row melodeon in England with Emmanuel Pariselle next year – see Other News at the bottom of this page.

I’m looking forward to a fun Knees Up Cecil Sharp House ceilidh with the Valiant Dance Band in London on Friday 19th and then the culmination of the Armistice project next month, again in London. With Simon Callow no less! Had great fun over the summer with both bands – here’s the Valiant suitably dressed  for some music from the Seychelles at Sidmouth Festival in August …

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September 2018

Taking a bit of a breather after a hectic summer (PolkaWorks ceilidh at Towersey Festival pictured). Normal service will be resumed for PolkaWorks’ 10th anniversary ceilidh at Godalming on 29th September.

There’s now a page on here dedicated to  the ‘I Looked East and I Looked West’ event and more news on guests and tickets coming soon.

“The Brightest of Entertainers” – a history of jig dolls – is launched and available from me in person (£11.00) or by mail order (£13.00) from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust.

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August 2018

PolkaWorks is ten years old this summer, and to celebrate we’re out on the festival circuit this month – at Sidmouth, Whitby and Towersey – and we have a couple of special gigs in the Autumn too. More info on the PolkaWorks website  – and dates below.

It’s a busy old month, as I’m also playing harmonica and melodeon with Martin Brinsford at Sidmouth, and the Valiant Dance Band have two special events there – The Next Step Ceilidh with five wonderful stepdancers providing percussion on Tuesday 7th August, and a zany concert called “Around the World in 80 Minutes” on Wednesday 8th August. Then John and I are off to the ever-lovely Dartmoor Festival, running the CD stall as usual, back for a couple of days before a Valiant Dance Band ceilidh at FolkEast, then up to Whitby Folk Week with PolkaWorks for a few days and on to Towersey Festival with both bands on the Monday!

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July 2018

Here are Valiant Dance Band members John and Rob plotting our musical itinerary for “Around the World in 80 Minutes” featuring quirky tunes from our repertoire from such exotic locations as Denmark and the Seychelles! This event is during Sidmouth Folk Week, where we’re also playing ceilidhs and concerts.



A different sort of project finally reaches fruition this month. Some years ago  Pat Pickles who had, with her late husband Rennie, written a book about the history of jig dolls asked me to work with her on a new edition. The task was a long one, with the revision turning into a whole new edition, with many many extra photographs and pages and pages of additional information, including whole new sections of my own research.  It is now finally ready for publication by the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust! It was very much a joint venture and I am only sad that Pat isn’t really able to appreciate its eventual publication, as, sadly, her health took a serious turn for the worse a couple of years ago. The Brightest of Entertainers is on sale from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust by post or from me in person from mid August.

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June 2018

We’ve fixed a date for our commemorative event for the great Irish fiddle-player Julia Clifford. Julia lived a few miles away from me for the last 20 years of her life and a group of us still play her music locally.

The event, ‘I Looked East and I Looked West’ will take place in Suffolk on the weekend of 26th-28th April 2019 and is already looking very exciting with some great musicians joining us from Ireland! There’s a Facebook page you can join for the latest information. Tickets will be available in late 2018.


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May 2018

Listen in on Tuesday 8th May on BBC Radio 4 at 11.30 am for “Thinking Inside the Box” – a programme about making melodeons with me, Andy Cutting and Emmanuel Pariselle. Part of the “Instrument Makers” series. Here’s a link to the BBC page .

“Emmanuel Pariselle welcomes renowned musicians Andy Cutting and Katie Howson to his home, just outside the picturesque French city of Poitiers, where he builds diatonic button accordions for some of Europe’s finest players.

“In his workshop, Emmanuel combines technical skill with a passion for problem-solving, as he aims to build the perfect squeezebox for every musician. Here, he discusses how the instruments are built and maintained, the special relationship between a musician and a maker, and what qualities make a great musician …

“Later, we hear him take a nervous Katie’s two-row button accordion apart to try and diagnose a clickety rattle in the action. And, on a box he designed and built with Emmanuel, Andy demonstrates the difference in what the left-hand and right-hands do and explains that the longer he plays the instrument, the more it plays how he wants it to play.

“Ever wondered what a free reed is? Or what distinguishes an accordion from a melodeon? Or whether you can make a musical instrument from plywood? This is a unique insight into this fascinating instrument – and three friends’ relationship with it – with stories and music along the way.”

OHDB at Cecil Sharp House, 1992

As a trailer for that programme, Old Hat Dance Band got a play on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show on 2nd May. We’re on 14.25 minutes into the programme.  It’s on Listen Again until at least the end of May.




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February 2018

The instrument in the red box belonged to my grandpa. I’m playing some First World War songs for an Armistice celebration later in the year and to practise, I’ve been playing along with a recording of John McCormack – my grandpa’s favourite singer. Aw … shame I couldn’t have used his instrument but I play diatonics (the ones below, in different keys)  and his is a chromatic model and all rusted up.



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January 2018

This dear little ‘boite a frissons‘  made its second journey to France, this time I went with it!

We visited Emmanuel Pariselle, accordion designer and maker who refurbished it for me a few years ago.  Andy Cutting came too, not to make a melodeon this time, but a radio programme for BBC Radio 4. C’est vraiment excitant!

Here’s a soundclip of this box.



Other News

There’s some events I wouldn’t miss each year, even when I’m not officially booked at them, here’s some recommendations:

Dartmoor Folk Festival, South Zeal, Devon. Went to the first one in 1978and although I’ve missed a few, it’s a fixture in the diary, especially for the stepdancing and the Orchard family’s sessions.  9th-11th August 2019.

Willie Clancy Summer School, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Been going to Miltown for donkey’s years, but only to the ‘Willie Weeks’ in more recent years, when I have been honoured to take part in the harmonica recital. Now there’s no day job to get in the way, why would I be anywhere else in the first week of July? Just remember to pack the waterproofs and woollies, yes, even in July. 6th-14th July 2019.

Meanwhile, the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust continues under the new management of David Cain with events old and new. EATMT has had a period of change recently but is regrouping and looking forward to a revitalisation in 2019!

There’s an opportunity to build your own one-row melodeon with Emmanuel Pariselle in England next year. As Director of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust I organised the first of these events in the UK in 2007, followed by four more, but have now handed on the reins to Halsway Manor in Somerset. It’s a wonderful experience and you’ll have a wonderful instrument at the the end of it – more details here.




Having spent 17 years setting up and running the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust, there are a lot of links from here to that website. However,  the EATMT website is in the process of being rebuilt and some pages may be temporarily unavailable. 



Click on the thumbnail to see the whole image.


You can email me at katie.howsonatgooglemail.com (just change the word at for the symbol @).