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May 25, 2014

The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs

by Val Reynolds

9780141194622When I recently joined an informal singing group I had no experience nor training in singing, except in the bath of course! Over the first few months we sang several folk songs and when I came across the recently produced The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs I was delighted.

I so love this book! After reading the introduction, I was more than ready to dip in to the contents. The songs are divided into sections:

  • Soldiers and sailors
  • Happy relationships
  • Unhappy love
  • Lovers’ tricks, disguises and obstacles overcome
  • Lust, infidelity and bad living
  • Rural life and occupations
  • Animals and nonsense
  • Songs of death and destruction
  • Poachers, highwaymen and other criminals
  • Traditional religious songs

My favourite is Rural Life and Occupations. Many songs give insights into country life and when I have shown some of the songs to local people where we live in Cumbria it has given our conversation a lively and fascinating element that  further stimulates insights and background.

Although I can’t simultaneously read music and hear the tune in my head, each song includes the musical notation and verse so I can play the music on a keyboard giving me the opportunity to practice the songs we eventually sing in the group.

Whatever attracts one to this book it provides a fascinating collection of songs to dip into for historical and social information – 130+ pages – plus musical notation and verse.

The book cover uses a section of a beautiful Tunnicliffe engraving of a stallion and its groom which underlies the folk theme of the songs. Did you know there is a Charles Tunnicliffe Society? If you like his work here is a link to the official website with its fascinating website index that includes masses of illustrations of his work.

A great gift for anyone interested in folk music history that we can’t praise more highly, The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs is published by Penguin at £9.99 for the paperback.  A truly classic book – it’s a permanent item on my bedside table and constantly referred to.

Val Reynolds, Editor

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