The Major Performers of English Folk Music
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This is a personal selection of artists chosen to reflect the emphasis of this site, i.e. traditional English folk music with good instrumental content, and mostly features long-established performers who are still actively performing.
This site tries not to do any rating and ranking of artists. You cannot do so objectively because it is a matter of personal preference and taste. I am wary of competitions and awards. The value of competitions is mainly to act as a showcase for the audience to decide for themselves.
Selection on this site, and order of appearance depends on relevance to the site's aspirations, but also on the grouping of associated performers and on the somewhat haphazard issue of whether the author has any first-hand knowledge of the artists, and especially if original photos or sound clips are available.
Said to have formed in the early 1990's with core members of Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson, and their daughter Eliza Carthy, and usually one other, who at the time of writing (2010) is Saul Rose. They sometimes perform together, and sometimes individual members appear separately and with others.
Eliza Carthy and Saul Rose, 2010. Photo by Nick Barber.
Highly respected singer and player of the acoustic guitar. Played in a duo with Dave Swarbrick in the 1960's. This probably ended due to Swarbrick joining Fairport Convention. Carthy joined the other big folk-rock band, Steeleye Span in 1970 in time for the recording of their second album. He played a prominent role but didn't stay long. In 1972 he joined the Watersons and married Norma Waterson. He re-joined Steeleye Span briefly in 1978. Later was a member of the pioneering Brass Monkey, and after that continued his folk career in partnerships with Norma Waterson and occasionally Dave Swarbrick.
The daughter of Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson. A good singer showing influence from both, but also a brilliant fiddle player. One of the newer generation of folk artists sometimes bordering on pop culture, but more traditional when she plays with Waterson:Carthy.
These were a four piece family group from Hull, Yorkshire and included Norma Waterson. Their first records were in 1965. They split up in 1968, but re-formed in 1972 with Martin Carthy.
Highly respected player of the button accordion and anglo concertina for many years. Started playing in the 60's as a morris musician. Has collaborated with many eminent folk musicians over the years, sometimes as a session musician, and been a member of several bands including for a short time Steeleye Span and later Brass Monkey. He wrote the tune Jump at the Sun, which is now a popular session tune.
The accordion John Kirkpatrick plays is unusual. It is a melodeon but with the bass buttons of a piano accordion. It seems like the best of both worlds because the normal bass buttons of a melodeon are very limited. Such instruments are not generally available and he probably has his specially made, but I believe there are one or two instruments of this configuration sold commercially.
Notable album from 1976:
Plain Capers. Morris Dance Tunes from the Cotswolds. Includes Martin Carthy, Sue Harris, Martin Brinsford, Fi Fraser
Tunes on the CD version:
Glorishears, Hammersmith Flyover, Old Molly Oxford, Black Jack / Old Black Joe, Blue Eyed Stranger/ Willow Tree, Brighton Camp / The March Past, Bobby and Joan / Bobbing-A-Joe, Monk's March / The Fieldtown Processional, Sweet Jenny Jones / The Sherborne Jig, Lumps of Plum Pudding, Highland Mary, Wheatley Processional, Maid of the Mill / Cuckoo's Nest / William and Nan, Buffoon / The Fool's Jig, Constant Billy, Laudnum Bunches.
Legendary pioneering band of the 1980's. They were born out of a collaboration between Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick. They formed Brass Monkey together with Martin Brinsford (Old Swan Band and English Country Dance Band) and two classical brass players. There are a number of CDs available including Complete Brass Monkey, which is no longer complete as it has been followed by several others.
Complete Brass Monkey
Waterman's Hornpipe, Fable Of The Wings, The Miller's Three Sons, The Maid And The Palmer Bad News, Sovay, Tip-Top Hornpipe / Primrose Polka, Jolly Bold Robber, Old Grenadier, George's Son, Da Floo'er O' Taft / The Lass O' Paties Mill, The Handweaver And The Factory Maid, The Rose Lawn Quadrille, Willie The Waterboy, Doctor Fauster's Tumblers / The Night of the Trafalgar / Prince William, Riding Down To Portsmouth, Trowie Burn, The Fox Hunt.
Strongly instrumental duo who also sing. John Spiers plays melodeon, Jon Boden plays fiddle and sings. Very popular on the folk festival scene. When I saw them they performed a good mix of traditional English instrumental music and traditional songs, (which themselves also have good instrumental content).
Since 2001 they have released a CD approximately every 2 years: Through & Through, Bellow, Songs, Tunes, Vagabond. The two CDs Songs and Tunes were both released together in 2005 as companions to each other, but are sold separately.
Tunes and songs on the CDs.
Through and Through (2001):
Rambling Sailor, The Rochdale Coconut Dance, Earl Richard, The Qauker/ Brighton Camp, Oswestry Wake/ Morgan Rattler, Golden Glove, Red Kites, Boston Harbour, The Three-Two Set: The Shropshire Rounds / Rusty Gully / The Three-Footed Chestnut, Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy, Three Around Three, Down The Moor, The Gooseberry Bush / Laudanum Bunches, Banks Of Green Willow.
Prickle Eye Bush, Sloe Gin Set: Frozen Gin / Vinegar Reel / The Sloe, Courting Too Slow, Dawn Chorus, The Outlandish Knight, Jiggery Pokerwork / Haul Away / Seven Stars, Go And Leave Me, Jack Robinson / Argiers / Old Tom Of Oxford, Copshawholme Fair, Princess Royal / Cuckoo's Nest, Brown Adam, Ginger Up Lustily / Old Woman Tossed Up In A Blanket.
Bold Sir Rylas, Old Maui, Horn Fair, Child Morris, Innocent When You Dream, Cruel Knife, Derry Gaol, On Christmas Day, Doleful Dance Of Death, Bill Brown, Lucy Wan.
Sportsman's Hornpipe, Monkey-Cokey, The Old Lancashire Hornpipe / The 3rd Beekeeper, Dee-Light, Flapjacks & Firesticks / The Minor Rigged Ship, Stoney Steps Hornpipe, Cuckoo's Nest, Cheshire Waltz, Fireside Polka / Rampant, Union, Dearest Dickie, Blow The Winds, The Shropshire Miner, Trunkles, Sportsman's Hornpipe (Slight Return).
Tom Padge, The Birth Of Robin Hood, Three Tunes, Captain Ward, Beggar Boy, Mary Ann, Speed The Plough / The Princess Royal, Rambling Robin, The Gentlewoman, The Rain It Rains, Vignette.
Spiers and Boden are also the nucleus of the mainly instrumental band, Bellowhead.
Based on the nucleus of Spiers and Boden (above). A large instrumental band with a membership which occasionally varies.
Formed in 1996 by melodeon player Ed Rennie and pianist Gareth Kiddier as a duo playing English dance music for ceilis. Later joined by fiddler Nina Hansell who of course adds to the music, but with her animated playing certainly adds to the visual aspect of the band's performance too.
The Bismarcks at the Saturday night ceili, Swanage, 2005.
A video clip of the Bismarks taken at this ceili is available at
Caller Gordon Potts and Nina Hansell dancing at the Bismarcks ceili.
Jenny Lind / Over the Hills and Far Away, Les Varieties de la joie / La Lanterna Magica, Hills of Alva, Albert Farmer's Bonfire Tune / Foul Weather Call, Knees up in Kingston, Tars of the Victory / The Stool of Repentance, Brighton Camp / Muffin Man, Robertson's Reel / The Great North Run, Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway / Mr Fletcher, Trip to Bavaria / Adelphi Polka, Liberty Bodice, Morpeth Rant, Jacky Tar / La Jambe du Jean.
Louth Quickstep / Follow On, The Small Fees / Turn Again Martha, Mr Welch's Favourite / Speed The Plough, Tarantella Calabria / 3e partie du CalÚdonia, Goodnight And Joy Be With You / Jock Wilson O' Fenton, Market Rasen Quickstep / Togmeister Twostep, Stockton Hornpipe / Browns Hornpipe, Persian Dance, Seven Stars / A.M. Shinnie, Tower Of London Quickstep / Turkish March, Chatham Hornpipe / Con Club Hornpipe, Corn Rigs / High Tea (Michelle Soinne), Paddy Carey / The Valiant, The Mudgee Schottische, The Damper Song.
The Bismarks is a likely mis-spelling! Other searches: Bismarck, Bismarck.
Polkaworks at the Anchor garden ceili, Sidmouth, 2010.
Polkaworks must be the hottest ceili band around in 2010. Formed in 2008 by former Bismarks pianist Gareth Kiddier, and otherwise all women. Notably including two great fiddlers, Fi Fraser and Gareth's former Bismarks collegue Nina Hansell. Also, playing melodeons, Jeannie Harris and Katie Howson (who also plays harmonica), and top hammer dulcimer player Sue Harris.
That great combination of melodeon and fiddle is doubled up in this band. Fiddlers Fi Fraser and Nina Hansell, if regarded separately, would seem to be quite different in style, but when together their styles combine to make something greater than the sum of its parts (synergy). Fi brings in something from the Old Swan Band which radiates through the whole band.
Another picture elsewhere on this site (search).
Two video clips of Polkaworks are available at
Polkaworks' Myspace page includes a selection of full-length recordings of their music all (or mostly) recorded live at ceilis. This may be their earlier work and their current music has more power and confidence.
Northumbrian Small Pipes player from the North East. Plays traditional tunes for the instrument from her local area, together with some of her own compositions. Usually performs with the Kathryn Tickell Band. Also plays fiddle.
Mature instrumental ceili band. A multiplicity of diverse instruments. Many members of the band are famous in their own right. The band seems to be in semi-retirement playing only a few special gigs.
Half folk, half pure pop and half new-wave/punk. That makes them a band and half and they are! Great original songs and instrumentation. Great combination of instruments, melodeon, fiddle, electric bass, drums.
Singer of English traditional songs, and plays violin and viola. Often performs in a duo or with other big names of English folk. Picture shows her at the main concert at Winchester Mayfest, 2008.
Named after one of Thomas Hardy's fictional Dorset villages. They play early English instrumental music using early traditional instruments. Some songs and some spoken word works.
www.mellstockband.com A good web site with a generous selection of full-length recordings of their music. Details of their CDs and tune books. Links.
The Melstock band is a likely mis-spelling!
Long established trio from the west country who sing, and play instrumental dance music. Instruments include piano accordion and acoustic guitar. The name comes from their early life together in Yetminster. Now seem to be based around Yeovil area. They have championed some ot the local traditional instrumental music of Thomas Hardy.
Very entertaining 3 piece band. They have a great new album The Antiquated and the Arcane released 1st November 2010.
Click icon below for more details, pictures, and link to their web site with sound clips.
Name sometimes written Three Daft Monkeys.
An excellent live band and one of the few all-instrumental bands. Performing dance music based on the roots of ceili music of the British Isles, but with creativity improvisation and an occasional hint of new-age culture. Fiddle, melodeon, acoustic guitar and drums. Based in Yorkshire, but make regular appearances at festivals throughout England.
A relatively young instrumental ceili band, their first CD being in 2000. They seem to have taken a break for a few years but have now returned.
422 can be found at the site of Adastra.
"Fiddle driven celtadelic roots-rock fusion from Wales". www.bluehorses.co.uk .
Duo consisting of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, performing mostly songs of their own composition, but which retain, or re-create a traditional style. Steve Knightley plays bazouki and Phil Beer plays fiddle. Both sing.
Duo consisting of Paul Sartin (Oboe, Violin and Vocals) and Paul Hutchinson (Accordion). They perform instrumental music and songs. In common with Spiers and Boden they come from the intellectual side of the folk world.
Belshazzar's Feast can be found at Wild Goose Studios:
Jez Lowe, singer/guitarist, is highly rated as a songwriter and wrote the popular traditional-sounding song Old Bones. The band, the Bad Pennies include traditional folk instruments including fiddle and pipes.
Long-established singer and instrumentalist, plays melodeon, bazouki and banjo. He has a web site which can be found using a search engine.
A lovely singer with a dark warm voice. Performs traditional songs and modern compositions in a pure traditional singing style. Believed by some to be "One of the finest solo singers and interpreters of traditional and contemporary folk music alive today". June has collaborated with The Oyster Band on an excellent CD, Freedom and Rain, and with Maddy Prior as Silly Sisters.
Singer-songwriter from Yorkshire who also plays guitar. Sings a mixture of traditional songs and her own compositions. Becoming very popular on the folk festival scene and has about 6 CDs available.
Singer/songwriter from the 60's to 70's. One of his great songs was I Hate the White Man. He was highly regarded by Led Zeppelin who did a tribute song to him.www.royharper.com
Singer/songwriter whose main popularity was around 1970. He had a very popular album Love Chronicles and later chart success with a single Year of the Cat.
Another singer/songwriter whose main popularity was around 1970 but sadly achieved immortality at a very early age and it was only after he died that he achieved proper recognition. He has something of a cult following in the present day.
Recent pictures by other photographers of Richard Thompson, Spiers and Boden, Eliza Carthy, Saul Rose, Simon Care, and Nancy Kerr.
See www.flickr.com/english-music (galleries)
This part of the site includes various things not specifically traditional English folk music, such as things which are:
This zone does contain information on more English music, more instrumental music, and more traditional music!
A huge list of English Ceili bands, with links, in alphabetical order at Webfeet:
A huge list of English folk music performers, with links, in alphabetical order:
English Folk and Traditional Music
Acoustic Music Services - The official home pages of many English folk artists.
The Bee's Knees - "A music information archive" featuring many English folk artists.
Lots of information on CDs, (track lists, cover pictures and sound clips)
is available from:
This page is part of:
Please click the above link to go to the main contents page, and search facility.