Music and Song

“Well, Turpin Hero is my name
And I from Essex County came …”

From a traditional song (Roud no. 621) about the notorious Dick Turpin, who hailed from Hempstead, Essex

Turpin tried to hide his identity from the authorities by adopting a pseudonym but his identity was revealed by a man from the local post office, who recognised the handwriting on a letter that Turpin had sent to his brother-in-law from gaol in York Castle.
Turpin, of course, never owned a horse called Black Bess and the story of his ride from London to York was a fiction, made up by a pamphlet writer at the time and romanticised in the novel Rookwood published some 100 years later. But the story has become so well known that it has become part of our folklore.
The song recounts a different, perhaps slightly more accurate, account of Turpin’s exploits.

Music is a vital constituent of the Folk Arts. It communicates emotions, moods, or just a state of mind that seems to boost our quality of life. Music may provide the framework for dance or simply be played or listened to to be enjoyed.

So folk songs may describe historical figures and events, however romanticised and inaccurate they might be. These descriptive narratives are, however, not the only songs that we consider to be folk songs. There are many other songs and tunes with wildly different forms and styles that are regularly performed in folk clubs and that are accepted by the audience as ‘folk’ music.

Musicians playing for the Morris dancers

Some traditional tunes and songs may be traceable back in time, sometimes for many generations. There are, though, many contemporary musicians writing new tunes and songs that we think of as being in the ‘folk’ style. So how long will it be until we come to accept rap as a folk art? After all it will, at some time, be regarded as part of our cultural heritage, if it’s not already.

Perhaps we can roughly classify these different styles into groups or genres that are practiced by our members. Some of these venues and performers that can be found in and around the county include:

  • Folk Clubs: formal concert venues where musicians perform in front of an audience at a venue that has been set up for that purpose, usually featuring one or two professional artists who may be supported by local ‘floor’ singers;
  • Open Stage: special folk club sessions given over to local musicians, who can come along to play to an audience;
  • Singarounds: where musicians meet informally in a pub or other venue to sing and play music together and to each other;
  • Music Sessions: (sometimes called Irish music sessions) where musicians meet up informally to play tunes together, utilising many different, mainly acoustic (unamplified) musical instruments;
  • Open Mic Sessions: In pubs or other venues where musicians and singers can come along perform in public. Folk musicians can often be found taking part in these events;
  • Folk Dance bands: tightly knit bands who specialise in playing music for folk dance events;
  • Other Folk Music bands: tightly knit bands who give public performances at clubs and other venues;
  • Shanty Crews: who specialise in singing martime songs and sea shanties and give occasional public performances;
  • Folk Choirs: who meet up to sing folk songs and may give occasional public performances;
  • Singer/Songwriters: Individuals who like to entertain with their own compositions. Folk clubs and singarounds are a nurturing ground for singer/songwriters. Many well known contemporary artists have started their careers on the folk circuit.

Essex even has a folk orchestra. An orchestra comprised of musicians playing an array of folk instruments rather than the usual classical instruments.