My current research subjects are:

  • The work of the early twentieth century folk song collectors in the eastern counties, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth and others
  • The Dulcimer in East Anglia
  • Stepdancing competitions in England
  • Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe
  • Parry’s Barrel Organ
  • Julia Clifford, Irish fiddle player who lived in Norfolk 1978-1997

Early twentieth century folk song collectors in the eastern counties

For the last twenty years I have been researching the early twentieth century folksong collectors in the eastern counties, and in particular, the singers (fishermen, farmworkers) they collected from. Some of my findings were originally published on the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust’s website,  but I am now updating this work, and two revised and updated articles are now published here on this website: South Norfolk singers in 1911 (folksongs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth, near Diss) and ‘Southwold singers in 1910’ featuring the legendary (but real) Ben Hurr! These writings supersede earlier versions which may still be found on  the EATMT website. My research about King’s Lynn  will shortly be republished here, but meanwhile the original is still available on the EATMT website,  under the title Vaughan Williams in the East. 

The image above shows George Butterworth’s notations of songs and words on his visit to south Norfolk, courtesy of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library which has digitised all these collectors’ original manuscripts.

Next up will be my latest research into songs collected in south Suffolk in the early 20th century. Watch this space!

The Dulcimer in East Anglia

John Howson and I have  researched this subject for nearly forty years and rather than having just a page or two on this website, we have built an entire website devoted to the history of the East Anglian dulcimer, its makers and players:

Stepdancing Competitions in England

In 2019 I started work on some research into stepdancing competitions , starting with East Anglia and then broadening across the southern half of England. This is developing with a particular focus on Somerset and the relationship with the early folk revival 1900-1939.

Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe

The far reaching story of one tune and dance across two centuries, and one young dancer’s rise to fame and sudden disappearance from the stage.

Parry’s Barrel Organ

An investigation into the barrel-organ taken onboard Parry’s Polar Expeditions in 1819-1825. Early recordings of popular dance tunes, many of which are still known today, designed to keep the crew fit and interested during the long winter months when the ships were icebound searching for the North West Passage.

Latest news 1st June 2020

I am doing a short presentation for the Traditional Song Forum ( a research group of which I have been a member for many years) called “Will the real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up!”  –  Paddy O’Rafferty is one of the tunes on the barrel-organ.

This will go out live on Sunday 14th June at 4pm. Here’s a link to find out more about the Traditional Song Forum and how to join their Zoom meetings.

Julia Clifford, Irish fiddle player

Julia Clifford (1914-1997), fiddle player from Lisheen in Co. Kerry, lived in Thetford, Norfolk for the last twenty years of her life. Lisheen is in an area known as Sliabh Luachra (the rushy mountains), renowned for its poets and traditional musicians. Julia and her brother Denis Murphy came from a musical family and recordings made of the two of them brought the music to wider attention in the 1970s.

Julia and her husband John Clifford, also a musician, had been living in London since the 1940s, but shortly after the recordings came out, they moved out to Thetford in Norfolk, and as far as publically available information goes, they all but disappear from view. However, this period, and especially after 1981 when John died, saw a busy period of music-making for Julia, with a younger generation of enthusiasts and a new audience on the English folk scene.

I knew Julia and played with her on occasions. Although my focus at that time was seriously on my own local musical traditions from East Anglia, I loved her Sliabh Luachra slides and polkas and visited her home to learn from her, with a packet of her favourite biscuits in the bag of course! A number of other people in the locality took her out and about to sessions and folk clubs and further afield to festivals and other events too.

Her musical talents and legacy were eventually celebrated in the UK in 2019 in a wonderful one-off event called ‘I Looked East and I Looked West’, held in Suffolk on the weekend of 26th-28th April 2019. This incorporated a photographic display as well as workshops, concerts and sessions.

Julia playing with Michael and Caroline Kilbane, Islington Folk Club, 1987.

To mark the anniversary of the event, in April 2020, the photographic exhibition created for the festival has been uploaded to this website and may be accessed here:  The Julia Clifford Project or from the top menu.

There’s also some information about Julia’s music on my Sliabh Luachra page.

In 2019/2020, Julia Clifford was featured in two editions of the RTÉ radio programme, ‘The Rolling Wave’, the second of which includes an interview with me talking about her life in England – here’s the link to that programme.

Other research interests:

  • The history of dancing jig dolls    This culminated in a book “The Brightest of Entertainers” co-written with Pat Pickles, published in 2018 and short-listed for The Katharine Briggs Award in 2019 by The Folklore Society.
  • I’m a member of Instep Research Team, which has a website full of information about stepdancing from across the British Isles. I’ve just started work on some research into stepdancing competitions across the south of England.
  • 19th century musicians in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk (unpublished)
  • Traditional harmonica players in England & Ireland (embryonic)

Details of some other research projects are on the Publications page

If you think my research skills could be of use to you, please get in touch.

Recent commissions for other people include genealogical research for ‘Taking Steps’ (history of Dartmoor stepdancing) and projects on Robert Cinnamond, singer from Northern Ireland and Henry Price, musician from Oxfordshire.