For over one hundred years, folk-song collectors have been fascinated by the songs and singers they have found in the rural communities of East Anglia. Traditional singers learned their songs from their families and communities. They usually sang solo without any accompaniment but with companions or audience joining in on any choruses. The songs they sang ranged from ancient ballads to songs reflecting the coastal and rural life of the region, with the occasional item relating specifically to local events and characters. More light-hearted lyrics also went down well in the pubs, which frequently provided convivial settings for singing gatherings.

Many of the songs noted down by the early collectors were published in books and journals, and in 1934, commercial recordings – of the great Broads singer Harry Cox – were issued: the first in a steady stream to be released on 78 rpm and later 33rpm records. Folksong collectors were active in the region throughout the twentieth century and from the 1950s onwards, many recordings were made.  See our LINKS page for a selection of excellent resources.

The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams visited the eastern counties on many occasions between 1903 and 1913 and we are gradually researching each of his visits – see the Vaughan Williams in the East page for links through to the various communities and singers he visited.  Including North End Voices (King’s Lynn project, 2005-8); Blyth Valley Voices (Southwold project, 2003-4) culminating in a book of words and tunes collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a number of singers from the Southwold area; Vaughan Williams in South Norfolk (Diss research 2016).  In 2022, EATMT were successful in winning a National Lottery Heritage Fund to run Vaughan Williams’ Folk Project – this project is co-ordinated by Nicky Stockman – a local musician and heritage project leader.  You can follow this project’s development HERE. 

Behind the Songs
A feature on two songs written in 2011 by Katie Howson:  “Peter the Paynter” a.k.a. “Escape from Bury Gaol” and “The Captain’s Apprentice” – a song reputed to be based on true life events near King’s Lynn.  In addition, the song Old Joe features in an article written by Mike Yates.

Two Singers from the Stour Valley
As a result in the Managing a Masterpiece project, this article contains research into singers Maurice Cardy and Thomas Sparkes from Bures near Sudbury, from whom Thomas Wood collected some songs in 1929.