Percy Ling

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Percy Ling, Suffolk singer, 1906 - 1982

Obituary from EDS Vol 44 No 2 Summer/Autumn 1982

Percy was a man of irrepressible wit and humour. His contributions to the Topic L.P., recorded by Keith Summers in 1974, show that he often chose songs that were in content amusing and sometimes quite risque. 'Underneath Your Apron', for instance, tells of a servant girl who allowed a sailor to 'tuck it snugly' underneath her apron and the antics of 'The Lobster' were enough to make any fair damsel blush. But it was Percy's delivery of each song rather than the actual content which made him unique. Although it is good to have him still present on record, studio recordings cannot reproduce the constant twinkle in his eye or his infectious delight in singing which never failed to captivate the company.
Percy was born in 1906 in Tunstall, the son of a farm labourer and one of nine children. At 13 years he started work as a bird-scarer for 2/6d per week and later, in 1934, went to work alongside Bob Hart at Snape Maltings. He often talked of the days in the Blaxhall Ship when strangers' were not welcome. Those gathered together for the purpose of exchanging music and song were close-knit overlapping as they did in both work and kinship roles. To be considered a 'stranger' was not a simple matter of locality. Visiting musicians were welcomed, whilst others from within the area, such as farmers, landowners, their servants and gamekeepers, were considered as 'outsiders'. The reciprocal 'Sing, Say or Pay' custom had a consolidatory function for this group at the base of the social hierarchy and in the absence of the upper classes these labouring people would feel free as in songs such as Percy's the Master's Servant'-to boast of their ability to outwit and outshine their masters in matters of the head and heart.
The feeling against 'strangers' still persists but, as in earlier days, the ability to contribute music or song acts as a mediating device. The arrival of a new breed of musician in the area the 'neo- traditionalists'-has been welcomed by the traditional musicians. These people are folk revivalists whose interest in traditional music has been consciously acquired, usually via books and recordings rather than naturally arising out of their socio-economic and kinship environment. The traditionalists recognise the injection of life and enthusiasm that this younger age-set has brought with it, which is essential to the survival of their music. (The equivalent local age-set are into country-and-western.) They therefore leave it to the 'neo-trads' themselves to express elitist notions of exclusivity. Percy welcomed the contribution, then, of any aspiring musician to a session and was frequently to be found at the now completely 'neo-traditionalist' sessions at the Butley Oyster. His enthusiasm took him even further, as most of you know, into those institutions of the folk song revival-the clubs and festivals. Percy's sense of fun could not be suppressed even on the subject of death. Perhaps, then, we should try to alleviate our own sense of loss and frustration at his sudden departure by remembering the verse in 'The Man All Tattered and Torn', which he sang with such relish:
Now I once had a dream and to heaven did go
Where did you come from they wanted to know
I came from Snape, old Peter did stare
Said "Come round the back you're the first bugger from there
Toodle oo, Toodle ay, you ought ta have seen him run round.
Knowing Percy, he'll soon have the whole heavenly company joining in his choruses.
Carole Pegg

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