BY JUDY HARRIS (Reimagining Lincolnshire researcher) with PAL CARTER[i] (folk singer)
‘Beneath the veneer of Lincolnshire’s agricultural calmness there are many vibrant communities full of vigour and interest. The life and history of Lincolnshire is varied and full of interesting and exciting tales which we want to preserve by encouraging people to write songs about them’. http://lincolnshiresong.co.uk/index.shtml
October 1st was Lincolnshire Day and Reimagining Lincolnshire Research Fellow Rob Waddington treated us to a blog tribute to the region’s talent and contributions to pop music over the last sixty years.
We continue that theme in this blog by drawing attention to a recent ‘voices’ from Lincolnshire event showcasing some more creative local singers and songwriters.
Aiming to stimulate and celebrate county-wide song writing, the ‘Write a Lincolnshire Song’ contest has been a popular annual event since 1992. Until last year it was supported by BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Traditionally, the finals night has been broadcast as a three-hour long radio show. This year was the first time the contest was supported by grassroots action and crowd funding. The finals took place in front of a live and good-sized audience at the Louth Riverhead Theatre on the evening of 28th October 2021.
All ten entries were written and performed especially for the contest. Each celebrated local history and heritage told or retold to old and new audiences. Whether yellowbellies[ii] or not, all the performers expressed a love of Lincolnshire!
The full recording is available on the ‘Write a Lincolnshire Song’ website, please click here:
What follows is a summary of the songs in order of performance followed by a short review by Pal Carter.
There were four awards: gold, silver, bronze and ‘outstanding performance’.
- The Bluestone Hills, written and performed by Caroline Cakebread and Pete Conner, accompanied by Jon Newby, Richard Hodgetts and Richard Nunn.
‘This gently flowing song is descriptive of Lincolnshire beaches and countryside. Caroline has a lovely clear voice, supported by guitar, keyboard, double bass and flugelhorn.’
- This is my Home, written by and accompanied on guitar by David Godfrey.
‘This song features highlights of life in a small Lincolnshire town called Wragby by a relative newcomer (he has only lived there for 15 years!). Delivered in a confident and accomplished style, amusing in places.’
- Our Patch of England, written by Andy Lenton, performed by Andy Tymens on guitar and Steve Scarfe on keyboard.
‘Unfortunately, Andy Lenton was away and could not perform. This is a protest song, railing against the proposed nuclear waste dump at Theddlethorpe. The harmonies in the chorus complement the very topical lyrics.’
- One Hour 2020, written and performed by Penny Sykes, accompanying herself on concertina.
‘Imagery of the fens and marshes around Holbeach feature in this song, along with references to birds and local flooding, hard to avoid these days. Another singer with a lovely clear voice’.
- Toadman, written and sung by Amanda Lowe with banjo accompaniment.
‘This song is rooted Lincolnshire legend. Toadman is another name for a horse whisperer with devilish powers. The storyline is strong and the singer’s stage presence very communicative’. Silver prize winner.
- The Knight of Castle Hills, written by Lynn Haynes and performed by her and Paul Bellamy on guitar.
‘Castle Hills is a medieval site north of Gainsborough and this is a ghost tale about a medieval knight. The lyrics are poetic, the guitar finely played and the singing strong and clear. Lynn Haynes also plays the tin whistle towards the end which is a nice touch’.
- The Winceby Stone, written and performed by Jan and Paul Ramsey, with guitar and harmonica accompaniment.
‘This is a legendary tale of a stone in a field, rumoured to hide buried treasure and what happened when people tried to dig it up. The introduction and choruses are sung a capella’. Bronze prize winner.
- Skipping with Annie, written by Angela King and performed by her and Paul Dickinson on guitar.
‘This song explores the connections between plants and people. There are lovely poignant chords and magical lyrics, giving the song a whimsical feel’.
- The Usher Imp, written by Julie Wigley and performed by Stonesthrow (Steve and Julie Wigley and Tony Fowkes).
‘This song is about the Lincoln Imp and the jewellery made in its image by James Usher in the 1800s.[iii] Sung unaccompanied, delivered with a variety of “actions” this was a worthy winner’. Gold Prize Winner and Performance Prize.
- The Luttrell Psalter, written by Kim Biggs and performed by her and Phil Biggs.
‘In the 14th century a landowner named Luttrell commissioned an illustrated psalter to depict the lives of tenant farmers in Lincolnshire. This song, accompanied by Kim on accordion and Phil on guitar, has some amusing lyrics. The book can be found in the British Museum.’
The variety of sources for these songs – people, legends, history, pagan stories, the rituals of rural life – set against landscapes of brooding marches and fens with big skies, deep ditches, sea frets and foggy mornings all within reach of the gentle rolling chalk hills and the wide shallow valleys of the Wolds with their babbling streams, old woodlands, market towns, small villages with ancient churches – make for a rich and evocative set of performances.
There was a balance between male and female performers, soloists, duos, trios, and even a quintet!
[i] Pal’s folk ‘career’ started in 1965 in the infamous Log Cabin above The Greyhound pub in Louth. The resident band was The Meggies (nickname for Cleethorpes). They had a singer called Sue Clark. After Sue left, Pal sang a few times; ‘The Waggoner’s Lad’ being the first song she sang in public. Leaving school in 1966, Pal moved to London and did very little singing over the next 38 years. In 1994, she met Tom Paley (American folk singer and musician) who invited her to the Cecil Sharp Folk Club (‘the spiritual home of English traditional music’, The Times, January 20190, where he played every week – https://www.efdss.org/cecil-sharp-house. So she went, sang The Waggoner’s Lad, and still sings at Sharps. These days she also writes CD reviews for Folk London magazine and sometimes does the emceeing at Sharps.
[ii] No-one really knows where this term comes from. It is definitely different from yellow-belly (meaning cowardly). At its simplest yellowbelly is someone born and bred in Lincolnshire. According to Wikipedia – ‘A yellowbelly is a person from Lincolnshire, England. The origin of this nickname is disputed, and many explanations have been offered. These include: The uniforms of the Lincolnshire Regiment were green with yellow facings. The fastenings of the uniform tunic, which were known as frogs, were also yellow.’ Other explanations link to term to the medication used for a malaria-like illness that turned fen residents’ skin yellow. Or perhaps it refers to labourers who harvested cereal crops?
[iii] The Usher family jewellery firm is still in business in Lincoln. The son of the founder James Ward Usher was appointed Sheriff of Lincoln in 1916 and bequeathed funds to build the Usher Art Gallery. The gallery opened in 1917 and contains Usher family collections of clocks, watches, porcelain, and miniatures.