Research

My current research subjects are:

  • the work of the early twentieth century folk song collectors in the eastern counties
  • Julia Clifford, Irish fiddle player who lived in Norfolk 1978-1997
  • the Dulcimer in East Anglia

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 the singers they collected from. Some of this work was formerly published on the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust’s website under the title Vaughan Williams in the East but I am now working on updating and publishing further aspects of this research, and the first revised and updated article is now published on this website: South Norfolk singers in 1911 (folksongs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth, near Diss). Next to be updated and published here will be Southwold singers in 1910 featuring the legendary (but real) Ben Hurr!

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.

Read my full article here.

See also the Publications page on this subject.

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 have never been celebrated in the UK – but they will be in 2019! Please see the I Looked East and I Looked West page for details of a wonderful one-off event to be held in the UK on the weekend of 26th-28th April 2019. This will incorporate a photographic display as well as workshops, concerts and sessions.

Here’s just a couple of photographs of Julia in England in the 1980s.

Julia playing with Chris Morley (fiddle), Tony Hall (accordion). Notre Dame High School, Norwich, 1980s.
Julia playing with Michael and Caroline Kilbane, Islington Folk Club, 1987.

Thanks to Chris Morley, Pete Cooper and the late Keith Summers for these photos.

If you have any memories at all of Julia – in England, Ireland, USA or anywhere else – please do not hesitate to contact me. Even the tiniest reminiscences add to the overall picture. 

If you remember Julia, you’re very welcome to fill in this downloadable Questionnaire to get started. It’s a PDF, but if you’d like one in Word, or would like to send it by post instead of email, drop me a message.

More information about Julia’s music on my Sliabh Luachra page and more information about the event on the ‘I Looked East and I Looked West’ page.

The dulcimer in East Anglia

John Howson and I have built a whole website devoted to the  history of the East Anglian dulcimer, its makers and players: www.eastangliandulcimers.org.uk

Other research interests:

  • The history of dancing jig dolls    This has culminated in a book “The Brightest of Entertainers” co-written with Pat Pickles, published in 2018.
  • 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 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.