Song Collectors Collective Gathering 2015

March 21st


Following SCC founder Sam Lee’s highly acclaimed four-date album launch in religious venues across London last week, Saturday saw the SCC welcoming Thomas Mc Carthy and Tony Robertson to St Mary’s Old Church in Stoke Newington, a beautiful (if slightly chilly) location with the South wing dating back to the fifteenth century.


Unfortunately, having sung at Sam’s album launch and the on Radio 3 the night before, Freda Black was unable to make it back to London from her home in rural Hampshire (although she promised she would be at the next event). With questions from James Mc Donald we were treated to a fascinating insight into the childhoods and ancestry of the Gypsy and Travelling people from Ireland, Scotland and London though discussion, anecdotes and song.


There were stories of the Great Famine in Ireland, of a childhood on the road, stories told to frighten children, and myths dating back centuries, as well as amusing and personal tales of Tony being punished by his father Stanley by forcing him to listen to all thirty verses of the most boring ballad he could think of!

There were interesting questions on singing styles, on ballad preferences, and also of memory, with Thomas commenting on the sharpness of intellect with his assertion that a Traveller, or ‘Pavee’ in their own language, had to be able to listen to a song once and pick it up, such was the need.


On Sunday the SCC was warmly welcomed to the Blackheath Conservatoire, to Europe’s oldest purpose-build life drawing studio no less (although everyone kept their clothes on), for a fascinating day of talks and discussion. Lucy Duran, a professor of ethnomusicology at SOAS University of London, began by giving us a fascinating insight into Malian music, and of her lifelong passion for the Kora… citing (and indeed playing) the very tune that grabbed her attention before she had gone on to produce the first severn albums by Touamani Diabate.

Alaistair Anderson, the man behind the England’s only traditional music degree in Newcastle, gave us a very animated rundown of Northumbrian music, with some hilarious anecdotes and beautiful jigs and reels played on the concertina and Northumbrian pipes, what a tone!


After lunch the charming Deirdre Morgan presented her work on Jew’s harp research, and the varying traditions between Sicily and Norway. Through videos and pictures we were lead through her varied field work, as well as some sensational singing that really grabbed everybody’s attention!


Following Deirdre was the wonderful Shirley Collins in interview with Sam, giving us the sights, smells, and particularly sounds of a song collecting trip with Alan Lomax in the 1950’s. Shirley has a memory as sharp as her wit, with vivid recollections of the old blues singers on the porch, as well as the 400 moths in her room that night.


It really was a fantastic weekend, and we would like to thank all who came and spoke, sung or listened, and to St. Mary’s Old Church, along with Sydney Thornbury and all her team at the Blackheath Conservatoire for hosting it in such a fabulous space.



IMG_1417 IMG_1411 IMG_1433 IMG_1430 IMG_1592 Thomas McCarthy Tony Robertson Saturday's panel

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