Research

My current major research subject is the life of Julia Clifford (1914-1997), fiddle player from Lisheen in Co. Kerry, who 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.

Other research interests:

  • Dulcimers in East Anglia: a whole website devoted to the  history of the East Anglian dulcimer and its makers and players at www.eastangliandulcimers.org.uk
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams’ folksong collecting in East Anglia: see Publications page and also www.eatmt.org.uk
  • 19th century musicians in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk (unpublished)
  • Traditional harmonica players in England & Ireland (embryonic)
  • I’m also a member of Instep Research Team, which has a website full of information about stepdancing from across the British Isles.

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.