Cecil Sharpe is one of the founding figures in the English folk revival. He was in the forefront of collecting traditional songs and tunes in both England and the Appalachians in the early 20th century. Like most such pivotal individuals he has been the subject of much revisionism, and there is a tension between celebrating him as a valuable collector of a vanishing tradition and condemning him for exploiting those who provided his songs and bowdlerising and editing his material to provide an orthodox canon of ‘authentic’ material. However, I think it’s easy to forget the incredibly important work done by collectors from the 1930s onwards, by which time recording equipment was more transportable allowing a fantastic corpus of songs to be recorded as performances, not simply transcribed straight to paper. It gives us a great chance to hear the performers and singers themselves without an intermediary. I’ve been recently exploring some of this material through the Voice of the People series issued by Topic Records (available on Spotify). One of the revelations for me has been that some of this field recording was Alan Lomax, who is best known for his recordings for the Library of Congress in the US. I must confess I never knew he strayed this side of the pond.
Current favourites include the singing of Fred Jordan [Spotify link to We Shepherds are the Best of Men],
Harry Cox (pictured and from who the title quote was taken) [Spotify link to Just as the Tide was flowing] and
Walter Pardon [Spotify link to an unusual version of Raggle Taggle Gypsies]