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Revision as of 10:22, 29 March 2007 by PeteWood (talk | contribs) (→‎Books)
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Category Editor: Dr Vic Gammon

There are many thousands of songs. There are many song collections and many versions of the same song. Where to start looking? That's the problem.

Note. Our intention is not to restrict this initiative to English Song, but to use the present headings as a starting point to view whatever develops from wherever it comes.

Traditional Songs by Theme

It's often difficult to categorise a song. Is the song of a Thames Bargeman a sea song or an industrial one? Likewise a Fishing song. Many industrial or rural songs had a political dimension. It doesn't do to worry too much about it - the categories are really just a rough guide to get to something that fits the browser's interest and in the spirit of the Wiki might lead to somewhere altogether unexpected!

Sea Songs

Traditional sea songs are usually divided into two groups. Shanties were the songs sailors sang to help them with the hard work on board the big sailing ships like the "windjammers" of the 19th century. The songs the sailor sang for enjoyment and relaxation when he was "off watch" are often called forebitters, and although many of them were stories about sailors or the sea, they could be any kind of song.

Rural Songs

Industrial Songs

The folk revival of the early 20th century revealed songs from the rural parts of England, and the songs reflected the life of farm labourers or rural craftsmen. Even at that time, these songs were seen by many as belonging to a bygone era. Most English working people by then lived in large cities and towns, and worked in factories, mines, and other places of intense mechanisation and industrialisation. Before the 1960s, it was assumed that these people did not have any "folk songs", but when the seond revival came about, the two people who are said to be most responsible for it both found this not to be the case. Bert Lloyd had been employed by the National Coal Board in the late 1950s to find songs from miners, and Ewan MacColl at the same time was engaged in researching the radio ballads, many of which were concerned with heavy industry.

Love Songs

Songs of Seduction

Songs of Good Company

Hunting and Poaching Songs

Songs of work, occupation and trade

Songs of Diversion

Travellers' Songs

Ceremonial Songs

Political Songs


Traditional Singers

English Source Singers

Scottish Source Singers

Irish Source Singers

North American Source Singers

Australian Source Singers


section editor Chris Coe

This is a tricky section to think of including. One doesn't always associate folk song and 'performance' but some of the techniques applied by the traditional singers can bear scrutiny, especially by those who want to sing the same sort of songs.

The intimate fireside delivery of Walter Pardon.......

Lizzie Higgins taking a deep breath, expanding to be a 'giant' and setting forth..........

Johnny Doughty turning his cap sideways and singing the Herring's Head.....

And any one who has seen Jock Duncan perform the Two Sisters will have a vivid understanding of song delivery with gestures....

Watch this space.

--JohnnyAdams 22:46, 14 March 2007 (UTC)



Commercially Available Recordings

Currently available or deleted

Books & Bibliographies

Books of and about folk songs abound and seem to increase at an exponential rate. It is ironic that computerisation and digitalisation, which make this site possible, also make it much easier and cheaper to publish new books. In addition, many rare and inaccessible books from the past have been scanned and placed on the web in recent years, which has helped more and more people to find songs and contribute to scholarship and discussion. Probably the most complete and recent listing of books is the one given immediately below. After that, there follows a short selection of some important books.


English Folk Song Bibliography: An Introductory Bibliography Based on the Holdings of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Third Edition, edited by David Atkinson



The site also gives you access to the Roud Index, compiled by Steve Roud.

'The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of 143,000+ references to songs that have been collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world.'