Today's music comes from British folk singer and folk song collector Sam Lee. I'm completely in love with this young man's work, and the wide variety of collaborative projects he instigates or contributes to. If you ever have the chance to see him live, please don't miss it. Sam's recordings of old ballads and Gypsy Traveller songs are wonderful, but hearing them live -- as they are meant to be heard -- is just extraordinary.
Above: A BBC profile of Lee's "Singing With the Nightingales," an annual series of events in which folk, classical, and jazz musicians collaborate with nightingales in their natural habitats. As the website explains, guests at the nightingale gatherings are invited "not just to listen to these birds in ear-tinglingly close proximity, but to share an evening around the fire, delving into your hosts’ and guest musicians' own funds of rare songs and stories." After supper by the fire, the small audience for each event is lead "in silence and darkness into the nightingale’s habitat, not only to listen to these majestic birds, but to share in an improvised collaboration; to experience what happens when bird and human virtuosi converge in musical collaboration." The BBC video above was filmed back in 2017, but the Nightingale project continues -- and Sam has just published a fine book on the subject, which I highly recommend.
Below: "The Garden of England," a re-working of the folk classic "Seeds of Love" (the very first song collected by Cecil Sharpe). It appears on his latest album Old Wow, a collection of old songs molded into new forms for our troubled times. "I feel like we are living in the age of extinction, culturally as well as ecologically,” he explains in an interview. “My hope is that by looking to the past we can strengthen our resolve to protect the future. What I’m doing is making the richest compost I possibly can."
Above: A live recording of "The Moon Shines Bright," re-working "Wild Mountain Thyme" and classic Romany folk themes, accompanied by Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. The song appears on Old Wow.
Below: "Blackbird," a traditional British Traveller song peformed in Amsterdam, with Jonah Brody on piano, Joshua Green on percussion, amd Flora Curzon on violin. The song appeared on an earlier album, The Fade in Time.
Above: "The Blind Beggar," performed with Lisa Knapp and Nathaniel Mann at the Foundling Museum in London as part of their Broadside Ballads project. A broadside, the three musicians explain, "is a single sheet of inexpensive paper printed on one side, often with a ballad, rhyme, news and sometimes with woodcut illustrations. Broadside ballads, from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, contain words and images once displayed and sung daily in Britain’s streets and inns. Although part of living traditions of folksong, popular art and literature, these illustrated printed sheets are now rare and preserved in only a few libraries." In developing the project, they spent time researching the ballads at the Bodleian, and then created new contemporary arrangements for these historic songs.
For more on Gypsy/Traveller songs, see the short film Ballad Lands: Jonny O' the Brine (about Sam's apprenticeship to Scottish Traveller Stanley Robertson); and his talk about how he became involved with the Travellers and their songs as a young Jewish man from London.