A year ago, the Traditional Song Forum, a national organisation based in the UK that brings together those interested in the research, collecting and performance of traditional song, faced an existential crisis. A ‘Forum’ is a place where people meet – and we were having to cancel all our meetings. We decided that we would try to make use of the emerging technologies that made meeting online possible. Our first meeting on Zoom was in May and, since then, we have notched up 21 meetings at the time of writing. Far from being a crisis, the last year has been one of extraordinary growth. Our Sunday afternoon slot at 4 o’clock allows enthusiasts as far away as Sydney and Seattle to join us for our fortnightly 90-minute meetings, during which they can listen to three or four short talks on aspects of traditional song. People who would not have been able to attend our physical meetings now over-fill our 100-person limit on Zoom and we are streaming the meeting live on YouTube for those who can’t get in the meeting room. Even though the possibility of holding physical meetings is now in view, we will continue the online meetings as long as there is a demand for them.

Meetings of the Traditional Song Forum have always been free and open to anyone who wishes to attend. We do not charge a membership fee, but we welcome donations, most particularly through the Friends of TSF, who give small or large sums according to their preference. This money goes towards the running of the organisation, but we are also supporting publishing and other activities related to traditional song. We have also been able to offer bursaries for younger people (under 30) to attend events related to traditional song such as the EFDSS ‘Folk Song in England Course’ and the Broadside Day organised by TSF in association with EFDSS. Our Friends have been generous again this year, so we hope to increase the scope of our bursaries and our support for projects in 2021.

One of the disappointments of 2020 was that we had to call off the conference, The Folk Voice, that we had planned for last June. That conference will now be going ahead as a free online event over three successive Sunday afternoons – 18 April, 25 April and 2 May 2021.

There will be no charge to attend the conference. Places within the Zoom meeting are limited to 100, but we will be live streaming the event simultaneously to YouTube. Each event will start at 16:00 (London Time) and will last for between 90 and 120 minutes. Full details, including how to book for the event are available on our website.

The great news about The Folk Voice is that not only are the speakers who were going to talk last year ready to deliver their papers but that we have squeezed in a couple of extra talks as well!

The aim of the conference is to look at the way in which traditional songs have been and are performed and at the singers of tradition and the revival.  There have been conferences about folk songs and folk music before, but never one that focused on the way that traditional songs have been and are performed.

We know relatively little about the way in which folk singers performed their songs in the years before mechanical recording, though the Victorian and Edwardian collectors and other writers have given us some glimpses of performances they observed. Later collectors captured performances in sound recordings and, more recently, on film. Clues to past singing culture can also be discovered in survivals in the more isolated communities and in the work of the song collectors. This is a rich theme for study, and we are delighted to have received such a diverse collection of papers.

The conference will open with a keynote address by Frankie Armstrong, whose love of singing is well known and who has done so much to bring song into the lives of people all over the world. The programme for the three sessions is expected to include the following (though, of course, it may need to change):

David Atkinson – Voice And Persona: To Whom Are We Listening?; John Baxter – Some Reflections On Music Hall Singing And Its Influence On Traditional Singers; Elaine Bradtke – Now For The Music And Now For The Fun: Carpenter’s Recordings Of Songs From Folk Plays; Nick Dow – A Secret Stream: Gipsy Singers And Their Songs; Steve Gardham – From Dorset To Yorkshire, The Songs Of Shepherd Miles; Katie Howson – Sixty Years Of Singing In A Fishing Community: King’s Lynn 1905-1965; Bruce Lindsay – Some Nights At The Rechabite: How They Built Sam Larner; Paul Mansfield – Can I Sing This Here? Voicing Traditional Song In Broader Acoustic Music Contexts; Brian Peters – Finding The Folk Voice; Katy Ryder – The Sound Of Protest? Women, Strikes And Folksong In Victorian And Edwardian England.

Put the dates in your diary, and we will look forward to seeing you in April.



Martin Graebe