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NICK DOW, COHEN BRAITHWAITE-KILCOYNE, STEVE GARDHAM - A Secret Stream: Folk Songs Collected From English Gypsies 

NICK DOW, COHEN BRAITHWAITE-KILCOYNE, STEVE GARDHAM - A Secret Stream: Folk Songs Collected From English Gypsies 
Francis Boutle Publishers ISBN: 9781838092894 

Songs selected by Nick Dow, with musical notation by Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne and notes by Steve Gardham, this comes from the same trio that offered us Southern Songster in 2020, and here they return with an equally impressive publication. Nick and Steve were also the prime movers of the 2017 extensive revision of both The Constant Lovers (first published in 1972) and The Foggy Dew (1974) combined as Southern Harvest. All three and the earlier reworking of The Wanton Seed come from this publisher using the same design so that they sit happily on bookshelves together.

All the songs are selected from the collections by the famed names of that early burst of song gathering in the first years of the 20th century; mostly Vaughan Williams, Leather, Gardiner and Sharp, with the last named being by far the prime source. In his fine introduction, Nick writes: “Would Sharp have managed to collect nearly five thousand songs if he had behaved in a less than respectful manner to his singers?” before going on to describe some encounters with his Gypsy informants; thus joining that pendulum swing that has been occurring in recent years back in favour of Cecil Sharp’s work and attitudes.

The volume presents 79 songs with an additional nine carols in a separate section, as well as eight which include a fair sprinkling of Anglo-Romany words in their lyrics and 34 dance tunes.

The songs range from items that are still frequently sung today such as Barbara Ellen and The Seeds Of Love through to obscure but very interesting songs like The Murder Of John James and Captain Grant. The clear intention is to present singable versions of songs, so interesting tunes collected as fragments are used for different versions of the song or they are filled out in other ways. Unlike many other previous song books, such changes are meticulously noted. In fact, ‘meticulous’ might be a good word to describe every aspect of this production.

The tunes come from three fiddlers; the famed John Locke of Leominster, and Tom and Henry Cave from the Mendip Hills area. They were all notated by Cecil Sharp whose photos of his informants enhance the book and confirm a long-held opinion that his photos seem to capture a great deal about his subjects.

The notes are a model of precision and care, with Nick giving information of the structure of the melodies and Steve’s wide knowledge and thorough research telling us much about the background of the words. He also offers biographical details of the singers which cannot have been easy with the encounters with the informants happening over a century ago.

Nick hints that a future project will focus on the songs of later generations of Gypsies whose songs were collected in the decades after the Second World War. With the trio that are credited here and the same publisher, all folk singers and scholars will be likely to share my enthusiastic anticipation.

Vic Smith


This review appeared in Issue 142 of The Living Tradition magazine