News Archive

February 2020

The writing and research continue. I’ve been following the adventures of a well-known tune, Paddy Carey which will eventually be posted here, and I’ve revised two other tune histories I wrote some years ago – about The Perfect Cure and Starry Night for a Ramble – these two are now available on my new Tune Histories page. I’ve also added some brief descriptions of my current research projects – you see, they are real, not just something I mention on here every now and again! Have a browse through the Projects /  Research drop down menu at the top of any page to read about Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe, barrel organs on Polar explorations and stepdancing competitions in Somerset.

I’ve also been digitising some superb quality photos we were given. Some of these and others from our personal archive have been making there way into the public domain through the new Facebook page for Veteran Records – I have recently written a piece about fiddle-player Lucy Farr for the page.


Here’s one of my personal favourites from the collection, of The Rakes (minus Lucy Farr on this occasion) – Paul Gross, Michael Plunkett and Reg Hall with Derek Schofield, far left. This was taken at the National Folk Festival at Sutton Bonington in the 1990s.


And I do get out from behind the computer and sit behind a melodeon sometimes too! …

PolkaWorks are playing in London this month! We’re at the Knees Up Cecil Sharp ceilidh at Cecil Sharp House, Camden on Friday 21st February with Mary Panton calling. Last gig before lockdown!


January 2020

A quiet month ahead with writing and preparations for later events, and recuperating from a New Year holiday in Co. Clare with music till the early hours every night for a week!


Several gigs with PolkaWorks coming up in the Spring – details listed here.

Looking further ahead , I am tutoring and performing at  Melodeons on Sea  in Harwich, 18th-19th April.  A new event, wishing them lots of luck, the location, programme and venues all look great.




December 2019

STOP PRESS!!!  UK tour dates announced for Jackie Daly & Matt Cranitch. More details about Jackie and Matt’s wonderful music here: Jackie Daly & Matt Cranitch

You may have read earlier posts about my involvement in this superb film about the life of composer and folksong collector George Butterworth. It has been shown at a number of public screenings and it’s now available to buy on DVD or Blu-Ray. All My Life’s Buried Here  includes an informative booklet with a series of specially-commissioned essays as well as extra filmic material.


Bring on the great choons and frocks: PolkaWorks bring some seasonal cheer to a gloomy season at the Meltdown Ceilidhs in Hayward’s Heath, west Sussex on Saturday 7th December. We promise there will be no cheesy carols, but there may possibly be mince pies or baubles and there will certainly be red frocks, shoes and great uplifting dance music.



November 2019

After our wonderful “I Looked East and I Looked West” event in April, I gaily said to Matt Cranitch, “If I can do anything to bring you over to the UK more often, just let me know …” So, I am pleased to tell you, that as of 1st November I am acting as UK agent for Jackie Daly & Matt Cranitch! I look forward to bringing them to more British audiences.

Early announcement: UK tour dates for August 2020 and October 2020. More details here: Jackie Daly & Matt Cranitch

A really interesting event coming up on November 16th-17th.

“Britain and Ireland have a rich history of step dancing in many forms and contexts,  linking with traditions across the world. This conference aims to further knowledge and understanding in these traditions and to stimulate debate. Two days of presentations, discussion, insight and exploration into step dancing.”

Subjects include “Street” clog dancing; stepping in Irish set and English ceilidh; Devon, Cape Breton, Australian and Welsh traditions; modes of transmission and the influence of competitions, and a panel discussion on Revival and Continuity, to which I am contributing my experiences in East Anglia.

Tickets and further information here and a Facebook page here.


September/October 2019

Good news and sad news.

I’m absolutely thrilled that the book I co-wrote with Pat Pickles was short-listed by The Folklore Society for the Katharine Briggs Award 2019.

I am very sad to say that Pat Pickles died earlier this month, in fact I had just heard about the award and was in the middle of writing to her about it when I received this news. Pat had suffered from dementia for the past couple of years, but will be fondly remembered by all whose paths she crossed over the previous decades, particularly through her many interests in folklore.

Buy the book here:  East Anglian Traditional Music Trust’s shop.


We’ve got two lovely Valiant Dance Band public dances coming up:

Godalming Borough Ceilidhs in Surrey, with Gareth Kiddier calling on Saturday 5th October


Unicorn Ceilidhs in Baldock, Herts, with Sheena  Masson calling, on Friday 11th October.



August 2019

I’m at Sidmouth Folk Festival in Devon every year, doing a variety of things. This year I’m in the Squeezebox Concert alongside Conor Keane, Brian Peters and Keith Kendrick & Sylvia Needham (Tues 6th). I’m also doing a presentation on the history of jig dolls in the British Isles and the USA with Jeff Warner (“Jolylboys and LImberjacks”, Thurs 8th), and I’m on a panel talking about the role of competitions in stepdancing, with Instep (Mon 5th). And, of course, there’s the regular spots in the Woodlands “In the Tradition” evenings. Keeps me out of mischief anyway (mostly!).

We’ll also be running the festival CD stall at Dartmoor Folk Festival (Fri 9th – Sun 11th) as usual.


July 2019

I’ve at last got round to uploading a few images from the wonderful ‘I Looked East and I Looked West’ event in April – here’s me with Billy Clifford,. There’s a whole page of photos here , so do have a look and let other people know they are on here too. During that weekend, friends Caroline and Michael launched a fantastic new website, where they are publishing sound files and scores from recordings they made of Julia Clifford in the 1980s. A great musical resource with a lovely personal touch: it’s called The music of Julia Clifford.



May 2019

The “Suffolk Premiere” (!) of the George Butterworth film “All My Life’s Buried Here” is at Aldeburgh Cinema on Sunday 5th May at 4pm and I’ll be talking about his folksong collecting in the area afterwards – including from Ben Hurr (left), fisherman from Southwold. Tickets here.  Scroll down to February’s news for more about the film.


In connection with this, I have updated my research into their trip to the Southwold area and this is now published on this website: Southwold Singers 1910. When I carried out the initial research in 2003,  I also looked into traditional music-making and singing in Southwold later in the 20th century, and this research is now updated and republished here: Southwold in the later 20th century.

I was sad to hear that one of the great characters and singers of Southwold, John ‘Dusso’ Winter died earlier this year, and there’s a lovely tribute to him here in the Eastern Daily Press.




April 2019

You can now see the full programme of events for “I Looked East and I Looked West”. Details of the pub session trail will be found in the Souvenir Programme which should be available locally at Easter and can be picked up at the weekend. We can also post these out afterwards to anyone who would have liked to come to the weekend but couldn’t manage it. Details here.

My main preoccupation at the moment is this presentation, with over 100 images and press cuttings to edit and organise. Fascinating stuff though …





March 2019

“I Looked East and I Looked West”, our weekend festival celebrating the life and music of Irish fiddler Julia Clifford is coming up on 26th-28th April, in Stowmarket, Suffolk, and there are lots of exciting developments. We have just sold out of tickets for the Saturday evening , but there are many more events on over the weekend, with an absolutely exceptional line-up of traditional musicians from the west of Ireland coming over to join the celebrations. It’s a one-off event with opportunities to listen, dance and play.



February 2019

A new film about folk song collector, composer and dancer George Butterworth has just been launched. Called “All My Life’s Buried Here” it charts Butterworth’s life and work until his death on the Somme aged just 31. Featuring wonderful singing and music and interviews, including yours truly, as I researched some of the collecting trips he made in East Anglia with Vaughan Williams in 1910/11. The film premiered to great acclaim at the British Library on 27th January and has public screenings coming up in Leicester, Diss and Lewes. Full details on the film’s website. I will be attending the Q&A session after the screenings in Diss Corn Hall  on 27th February.

If you’d like to know more about Butterworth’s folksong collecting in the eastern counties, and the singers he collected from, I have just updated my research about his 1911 trip to the Diss area in south Norfolk and published it here.

Further information about his collecting trips in East Anglia with Vaughan Williams is available on the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust website. Next to be updated is the trip the made to Southwold in 1910, which I will be working on in preparation for the next screening in East Anglia, which is at Aldeburgh Cinema on Sunday 5th May at 5pm. Again, I will be attending the Q&A session after the screening. Come and here about the REAL Ben Hurr!

PLUS …  not one, but two public Valiant Dance Band gigs coming up! First up is the Ceilidhs on the Move at Clopton Village Hall near Woodbridge (IP13 6QN) on Saturday 16th February, with Nikki Acott calling an interesting selection of dances. Then we’re back at the always lovely Norfolk Ceilidhs at the John Innes Social centre on the outskirts of Norwich (NR4 7UH) on Friday 8th March with caller Mary Panton delving into her store of unusual dances (pictured on the left with the Valiant Dance Band, Towersey 2018).

January 2019

Great news to start the new year: we have received confirmation of some grant funding from Culture Ireland, an organisation which facilitates visits by Irish performers to other countries, for our Julia Clifford memorial event I Looked East and I Looked West. We’re delighted to have their support, alongside other established English events such as Return to Camden and Birmingham Tradfest. Later in the month we heard that Stowmarket Town Council are also backing this event, so big thanks to both organisations!

Tickets for I Looked East and I Looked West are on sale now – here’s a quick link  to the section of this website about the event.

We’re organising this event completely independently and would encourage you to buy your tickets as soon as possible, or consider making a donation, so that we can ensure it all runs according to plan. It’s a one-off event, so if you miss it … you miss it!

December 2018

HOT NEWS! Tickets for the Julia Clifford memorial event, I Looked East and I Looked West are on sale now – here’s a quick link  to the section of this website about the event.

And  the last of PolkaWorks’ 10th anniversary gigs on 15th December: for SHOCC ceilidhs near Winchester – and it’s their 4th anniversary! Stompingly good music, interesting dances from caller Aidan Hansell and bunting and party poppers everywhere you look!

And here we were in action: Polkaworks at SHOCC ceilidhs 15.12.18

November 2018

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.

Two more guests have confirmed 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.

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 …

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.

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!

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.

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.


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.




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.



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.