Welcome to the website for Katie Howson 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 2nd June 2018

Here’s some occasional short blog posts, followed  by my gig list and some other news items at the end, including melodeon/accordion news.

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.



May 2018

PolkaWorks is ten years old this summer, and to celebrate we’re out on the festival circuit in August and have a couple of special gigs in the Autumn.

More info on the PolkaWorks website  – and dates below.



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.



 2018 dates

Saturday 24th February 2018: Borderbox, Oswestry, Shropshire – a day of workshops and an evening concert, with Rees Wesson and Tony Weatherall. My subject was tunes in polka timing from England (Suffolk), Ireland (Cork) and Newfoundland and how they vary from country to country.

Friday 9th March 2018: Unicorn Ceilidhs, Baldock, Hertfordshire – Valiant Dance Band

Sunday 20th May: Weird and Wonderful Wood, Haughley Park, Suffolk – informal music under the trees at this lovely laid-back event.

Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th June: English Country Music Weekend, Staffordshire. A mighty seed-bed for traditional music for over forty years.

Friday 3rd -Thursday 9th August 2018: Sidmouth Folk Week, Devon – Valiant Dance Band Spectacular (with Instep), ceilidh and other special events; PolkaWorks birthday ceilidh; Martin Brinsford & Katie Howson

Saturday 18th August:  FolkEast, Suffolk – Valiant Dance Band

Monday 20th – Wednesday 22nd August: Whitby Folk Week, Yorkshire – PolkaWorks

Monday 27th August: Towersey Festival, Oxfordshire – Valiant Dance Band & PolkaWorks 

Saturday 29th September 2018: GBH Ceilidhs, Godalming, Surrey – PolkaWorks

Friday 19th October 2018:  Knees Up Ceilidhs, Cecil Sharp House, Camden, London – Valiant Dance Band

Saturday 10th November 2018: Armistice Centenary Concert, Covent Garden, London – with Liz Giddings & Roger Digby 

Saturday 17th – Sunday 18th November 2018: tbc!

Saturday 15th December: SHOCC CeilidhPolkaWorks

2019 dates

Saturday 16th February 2019:  Ceilidhs on the Move, Clopton, Suffolk – Valiant Dance Band

Friday 8th March 2019: Norfolk Ceilidhs, Norwich – Valiant Dance Band

Other News


The East Anglian Traditional Music Trust has announced the date for this year’s Stepdance Day, to be held at Blaxhall Ship on Sunday 29th July.





For twenty years, the great Irish fiddle player, Julia Clifford, lived a few miles away from me, just over the Norfolk border. Talking to friends recently, we realised there’s been little recognition of her musical legacy, so we aim to put that right with a commemorative event: ‘I Looked East and I Looked West.’

We can now confirm that this will be held in Suffolk on the weekend of 26th-28th April 2019.

Information will be posted here, there and everywhere when we have confirmed the details. Meanwhile, there’s a bit more information over on my Research page. Watch this space for more news soon!

Emmanuel takes a well-earned rest at the end of an EATMT Melodeon Makers week.

When I was Director of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust, I worked with Emmanuel Pariselle to run five Melodeon Makers courses in Suffolk.  We enabled fifty people to build their own one-row melodeons. Each week was a fantastic, life-changing experience for the participants, swinging between frenetic activity and quiet absorption, with plenty of music and wisecracks inbetween. Halsway Manor has since taken on the hosting of Emmanuel’s workshops, building two-and-a-half row boxes in March over the last couple of years.

Mattias De Smet is also planning a melodeon building workshop with Emmanuel Pariselle in Lummen, Belgium, from Saturday 27th October to Sunday 4th November 2018.

In this workshop you will be building a one-row melodeon with 4 voices.
You can choose the key and the inlay of the instrument.
The price is 1900€ for 8 day workshop, meals and shared lodging included.

Contact at +32 486 37 24 43 or mattiasdesmet@gmail.com

Here’s a link to the online booking form for the event.

There’s some events I wouldn’t miss each year, even when I’m not officially booked at them, here’s some recommendations for 2018:

Dartmoor Folk Festival, South Zeal, Devon. Went to the first one 40 years ago and although I’ve missed a few, it’s a fixture in the diary, especially for the stepdancing and the Orchard family’s sessions. 11th-13th August 2018.

Willie Clancy Summer School, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Been going to Miltown for donkey’s years, but only managed a couple of the ‘Willie Weeks’ in recent years. 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. 7th-15th July 2018.

Meanwhile, the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust continues under new management.

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 has recently been 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 @).