Talking about dialect, place and identity in folk song

Fay Hield June 22, 2012

As a solo performer, Dr Fay Hield has recorded two albums, namely, Looking Glass (2010) and Orfeo (2012), the first of which was nominated for a Horizon Award at the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. In both albums, Hield draws on songs from a dazzling variety of sources, including ‘Kemp Owen’ (on Looking Glass), a Scottish song that she adapted from a text in the Oxford Book of Ballads (1910), ‘Serpent’s Tail’, an eighteenth-century American song (on Orfeo) and ‘The Old ’Arris Mill’, a traditional song in Lancashire dialect (also on Orfeo). Fay has also intimated that, on Sunday the 24th, she will play a comic song in the Yorkshire dialect, entitled ‘The Cat, the Mouse and the Cask of Ale’ , which she has not to date recorded, and which, she has intriguingly suggested, contrasts in an interesting way with her better-known work.

Hield’s work as a professional performer feeds into and is fed by her work as a teacher and researcher in Ethnomusicology at the University of Sheffield. Her research encompasses the ways in which folk clubs and circles define themselves as communities and the formal elements of the folk singing style. She is interested in the points where these two topics meet: namely, the relationship between the style of a singer (including their accent) and the networks to which they belong. One of her areas of specialism lies in the prevalence of regionalism in folk music, and the role that accent plays in this. For that reason, along with the regional eclecticism of her repertoire, it is difficult to think of anyone better suited to shed light on the subject of folk song and dialect.

For more information about Fay Hield, see the link to her homepage in the right-hand column.


Dave Burland

Dave Burland has been performing and recording since the late 1960s. He has ten albums to his name, some of which are the fruit of collaborations with other musicians. On the Songs of Ewan Maccoll (1978), for instance, Burland teamed up with Dick Gaughan, from Leith, and Tony Capstick, a fellow denizen of South Yorkshire. Like Burland’s debut solo album, The Dalesman’s Litany (1971), the Songs of Ewan MacColl includes tracks set in a variety of regions and dialect from different areas. Most notably, in Maccoll’s composition ‘Schooldays End’, the dialect shifts between Scots, Yorkshire dialect and Welsh English as the narrator of the song addresses miners in Scotland, the north of England and Wales respectively.

On Sunday, Burland will perform the title track from The Dalesman’s Litany, a nineteenth-century song in Yorkshire dialect that protests against the uprooting and displacement caused by industrialisation and urbanisation (follow this link for more information about the song). Dave will also perform ‘The Barnsley Anthem’, a text that he discovered in a chapbook and set to music. Like ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’, ‘The Barnsley Anthem’ combines Yorkshire dialect with a defiant attitude towards the iniquities of life in the industrial north. Burland doesn’t just play British folk songs however, but often includes American songs in his set. His work to date testifies to a longstanding interest in songs from different regions and a readiness to explore different voices and places through his music. It is this that singled him out as an ideal performer to play at Sing-Folk-Speak.

For information about Dave Burland, see the link to his homepage in the column to the right of this entry.