Link to Living Tradition Homepage





MAY BRADLEY Sweet Swansea

Sweet Swansea
Musical Traditions  MTCD349

On a hot day in the summer of 1959, blind folksong collector Fred Hamer paused from playing for his Morris tour to refresh himself in what he thought was an empty pub – the Blue Boar in Ludlow, Shropshire.  Putting his fiddle behind the bar for safety he was immediately regaled by an elderly woman asking him to play a tune.  Wearily, he responded with a request for her to sing him a song.  “Within a few seconds, I was petrified by her response.  With her mouth but a few inches from my ear, she sang...several verses of The Outlandish Knight”.  It’s the sort of serendipity that collectors dream of. 

The singer was May Bradley and, until now, few of the recordings Hamer made have found their way onto commercial releases – a smattering on the LP Garners Gay, the cassette The Leaves Of Life and of course Topic’s Voice of the People CD set.  Yet again we are in the debt of Rod Stradling’s Musical Traditions label for providing us, for the first time, with all her known recorded material. We now have 26 songs, with several of these being in more than one performance – vital and rare evidence as to how a traditional singer viewed a song at different times.  And what a singer she is!  An initially harsh tone belies the sweetness at its core, with an impressive command of tone and nuance to present the song. 

As ever with Musical Traditions, the notes are superb – Keith Chandler has tackled the seemingly blank canvas of her life and come up with a booklet-full of fascinating information.  The songs are transcribed, with notes – although some of these are perfunctory.  It’s all very well saying of Eileen O’Grady, “It would appear that this is the only time this song has been collected or recorded in the oral tradition” – this is hardly surprising, as it is a song not long written, and had been popularised by the Irish tenor Josef Locke only a few years before May Bradley’s performance.  Likewise unknotted are the fact that a fragment of The Blind Boy has been recorded in Nottinghamshire, and no less a personage than the great Gordon Hall was recorded singing I’m A Man That’s Done Wrong.  But this is nitpicking some excellent work.  Hats off once again to Musical Traditions for giving us “the works” of this singer, whom Keith Chandler says is “a stunning singer who really should be far better known”.  Amen to that!

Paul Burgess

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 87 of The Living Tradition magazine.