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Folk Song in England

A brand new look at the folk music tradition in England, a hugely readable social history of the phenomenon.

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In Victorian times, England was famously dubbed the land without music – but one of the great musical discoveries of the early twentieth century was that England had a vital heritage of folk song and music which was easily good enough to stand comparison with those of other parts of Britain and overseas. Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Percy Grainger, and a number of other enthusiasts gathered a huge harvest of songs and tunes which we can study and enjoy at our leisure.

But after over a century of collection and discussion, publication and performance, there are still many things we don’t know about traditional song – Where did the songs come from? Who sang them, where, when and why? What part did singing play in the lives of the communities in which the songs thrived? More importantly, have the pioneer collectors’ restricted definitions and narrow focus hindered or helped our understanding?

This is the first book for many years to investigate the wider social history of traditional song in England, and draws on a wide range of sources to answer these questions and many more.

Critic Reviews

[A] monumental history of the English folk song.

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian
Critic Reviews

A remarkably interesting study of this lesser known corner of England's past. He is perhaps the best person to do so, as the creator of the Roud Folk Song Index and an expert on folklore and superstition . . . Roud has done an admirable job pulling together an insightful history – especially considering the difficulty of finding sources for long forgotten social history. Society’s elites have no place in this book, in this record of ordinary people, through the unusual prism of folk music. That alone is to be lauded.

Big Issue
Critic Reviews

A fascinating tour d’horizon of folk song in all its multifarious contexts . . . Celebrates the sustaining power of song for all those who were making gloves, plaiting straw, picking hops, breaking stones or fighting in the muddy, bloody trenches of Flanders.

Critic Reviews

Roud plots a clear narrative from before the Civil War through to the twentieth century . . . His keen eye for accuracy means the book maintains an impressively clear head throughout . . . The book’s welcome sense of humour and clarity means it can be read on several different levels – offering profiles and overviews woven in with enough detail to please the most ardent song collector. After a while, although the title Folk Song in England originally sounds quite lofty, it begins to seem rather modest. There's a whole world in here.

Tessa Norton, Wire
Critic Reviews

Steve Roud’s stunning new tome is a serious and in-depth investigation into our sceptred isle’s folk music history; a history filled with mystery, gaps and a million lost songs. Painstakingly researched and handsomely presented, Folk Song in England not only tells the story of the folk music tradition but provides context for the wider social history that provided the backdrop to its development . . . Folklorist Roud clearly knows his stuff and loves his subject, and has cast his net wide in order to provide this definitive history.

Loud & Quiet
Critic Reviews

The plain truth is that there won't be a better or more important book about English folk song in any of our lifetimes.

Stephen Hunt, fRoots