Thursday, 16 December 2010


I've just found out that Radio Derby are axing their excellent Folkwaves programme. This is a copy of the email of complaint I've sent

I’ve just found out about the plans to scrap Folkwaves on Radio Derby, and I’m deeply saddened. It seems perverse to end one of the UKs most popular folk music programmes at a moment when British (and particularly English) folk music has never been more popular. Indeed, I found out about Folkwaves ‘ fate on the same day that BBC4 broadcast an excellent documentary about English folkdance introduced by Mercury Prize nominated Rachel Unthank- and then followed it up with a programme about clog dancing presented by Charles Hazlewood who regularly broadcasts on Radio 2. Both programmes I note were selected as weekly tv highlights by the national press. To turn your back on a burgeoning local and national folk scene seems frankly bizarre. Folkwaves has been highly successful in building a loyal local audience, but also thanks to Listen Again/I-Player an expanding national (indeed international) audience. Whilst I understand that the radio station has an initial loyalty to local audiences, it is a shame that it is failing to capitalise on this wider listener base and see it as a chance to spread knowledge and interest in the region to a wider listenership. It is a regrettably parochial decision. Even in local terms it is sad. We have seen in recent government policy an increasing emphasis on localism and locality (something echoed in many initiatives of recent years, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund). We are also seeing increasing cuts to arts funding, which has been a great financial support to the folk music scene. So in this time of increasing calls for the ‘big society’ coupled with critical attacks on national support for the arts, it is frankly rather odd that this is the moment that Radio Derby decides to end a programme that has done more than anything to nurture and encourage local and regional traditions. I would urge you to reconsider your decision; the end of the Folkwaves is a sad indictment of Radio Derby

Monday, 29 November 2010

British archaeology on the ropes?

An important article from Nature highlights the threats to British archaeology from the results of the recession.

Archaeology is being hit by a three-way whammy: the economic recession is causing a collapsed in commercial archaeology, the withdrawal of state funding from a wide range of areas as part of the CONDEM cuts agenda, and a threat to universities due to the changes in direct government funding for Higher Education and a reduction of funding available via the Research Councils; Dr Mike Heyworth, Director of the Council for British Archaeology has characterised this as a ‘perfect storm’.

There are a lot of issues worth exploring here, particularly the wider impact of changes to Higher Education (I’ll try and talk about these later). However, I think most significant threat is from the underlying rhetoric about the state withdrawing from funding services, with Cameron’s nebulous notion of the ‘Big Society’ (aka ‘the tooth fairy’) co-ordinating itself to replace, through voluntary service, the state-shaped hole in provision of support for the historic environment.

I am profoundly uneasy about this recourse to the 'Big Society' to cure all ills.

First of all, whilst the belief in the unending stream of volunteers is very touching, one has to question where all these individuals are going to come from. If we are all being asked to give up time to support core services (education; health; welfare etc) there will be a greater pressure on the limited corps of 'willing enthusiasts'. Anybody who already has something to do with local community groups or societies already knows that there is not an endless source of volunteers. There are undoubtedly many keen and enthusiastic members of the community who engage in a wide range of dedicated and committed ways with archaeology and heritage. However, their numbers and time are limited. There is an even greater shortage of people who are willing and able to take up the organising and administrative roles. It is these often boring and unexciting admin jobs (chairman; secretary; treasurer) that keep local volunteer groups going. It is ironic that one of the first things to be axed by EH is their outreach team.

Secondly, again, whilst there is a huge amount of experience, knowledge and specialist skills out there in the amateur community, there is always going to be a need for them to be supported by professional specialists. For example, whilst many local societies have keen field walkers, excavators and documentary researchers, they may lack access to conservation skills (and equipment), geophysical kit (and experience) etc etc; there are also many 'soft' skills which aren't widely available in the amateur sector (e.g. understanding the manifold delights of writing MORPHE compliant project designers, detailed knowledge of planning law). For a vibrant amateur community to work, it has to work in partnership with an enthusiastic professional sector. However, the three main arms of professional archaeology (Local Government; Academic; Commercial) face real challenges - particularly Local Government, where much of the co-ordination and involvement with local groups occurs. As looks likely, if the function of Local Government Archaeology is being reduced right down to simply providing planning advice, the first thing to go in terms of service provision will be precisely the time/resources to facilitate this kind of much-needed partnership working with local groups.

I agree with Mike Heyworth that its great that the HER network has been expanded over the last 10 years, but these are living databases, they need to be updated constantly (many HERs already have significant backlogs) and time is needed to deal with enquiries. Currently, these incredibly important research resources are open to the public and researchers (of all levels) and are not simply treated as planning tools. However, how long will this stay the case when Local Government administrators pressure County Archaeologists to maximise income and limit unnecessary work? Even the increasing move to on-line HERs is not the answer- huge amounts of data is held in parish files/'grey literature' - and they still require curation and updating.

It is encouraging that funding for the Heritage Lottery Fund will increase in future years; however, given the 'cuts' agenda, there is also likely to be a massive increase in applications - potentially to fund services that had previously been funded through core budgets. HLF funding also has limitations- it is primarily project based, it won't pay for the year on year provision of basic services or facilities. It is great for initiating work, but not so good at keeping things going when times are tight.

There are many other challenges - I am broadly keen on the move towards localism, but how will Housing Minister Grant Shap's proposals to get rid of planning law when it comes to local housing developments in rural villages affect archaeology, for example? What will be the implications of the proposals to privatise the Forestry Commission on our ancient woodland? What will be the impact of the huge cuts to DEFRA in conserving and maintaining historic landscapes? If we want to support a 'local' agenda, we need to ensure that those in administrative jobs have the detailed and intimate knowledge of local heritage to allow local needs to be effectively developed within an environment that takes on board the idiosyncratic nature of local landscapes and needs- however, it is precisely this kind of knowledge held by people who have spent year's working in their local area that will disappear following the threatened staff cuts. Once that knowledge is gone, it is not easy to get back. Of course, some will continue to work in an amateur capacity out of their love for the subject, but it's a harsh lesson to be told that you are expected to do for free, what you were once paid to do...

I would agree with Reuben that much of this cut agenda is ideologically driven; although I know that many would argue against that perspective. However, whether one sees this slash and burn policy as a necessary evil or politically motivated carnage, what worries me profoundly is the sheer short-termism of the way it is being handled, with a lack of communication, lack of any visible succession planning or real sense of the long-term impact.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Imagined Village

Pleased to see that Georgina Boyes' seminal book The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival has been re-issued. Very interesting stuff (if still showing the scars of being based on a PhD thesis...). This book developes some of the earlier ideas put forward by Dave Harker's book Fakesong: The Manufacture of British Folk Song, 1700 to the Present Day, which critiqued the Sharpian folk-song revival of the early 20th century, arguing that it was essentially that the notion of a 'folk tradition' was a creation of a bourgeois group of middle class collectors. To quote from the blurb from The Imagined Village "Alongside this, however, runs the analysis that The Folk” themselves were a convenient fiction. They and their culture were created and used in the cause of conflicting ideologies – including the Women’s Suffrage movement and British Fascism. Issues of Englishness, class and creativity are all dealt with in this fascinating and controversial history of the Folk, who existed only to sing and dance in an Imagined Village." Ut is worth pointing out that this critique has itself been subjected to a more recent critique- a good review of the debate can be found here

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Folky stuff on the web

A couple of folky discoveries on the internet. First, the British Library has a fantastic collection of ethnographic field recordings of world music- much of which is on-line. In general, there is more Africa and Asian material than European music. However, its great to see a good collection of traditional music and song from England – for example, there are some good field recordings of Oxfordshire morris, particularly from Bampton. Its not all just English material; for example, there is good stuff from the Irish immigrant communities, particularly from London, such as this version of Matt Molloy’s Reel and other tunes, recorded in The Favourite in Holloway. Nor is it very ‘trad’ stuff- I like the recording of ex-POWs singing ‘Abdul Abubbul Amir’

I’ve also been meaning to mention Jon Boden’s new project A Folk Song A Day, which as the name suggests is a blog providing a new recording of a traditional song every day for a year- its only been running since the end of July and there is already some cracking stuff on it, such as good version of Polly Vaughan (though I do like Jim Moray’s recent version) and a nice video of Bold Sir Rylas and Canadee-I-o (which most people will know best through the music of Nic Jones)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Museums and the CONDEMS

Last week David Cameron gave a lovely heart-felt speech all about how the UK has been not promoting its touristic charms effectively. He argues that the significance of England’s heritage had been underplayed by the previous administration: “"The last government underplayed our tourist industry. There were eight different ministers with responsibility for tourism in just 13 years. They just didn't get our heritage. They raided the national lottery, taking money from heritage because it didn't go with their image of 'cool Britannia'," (which is quite a fair point). Certainly museums and galleries boosted the UK's economy by £1bn last year. However, the irony is that not that long before making this speech Cameron’s “bonfire of the Quango’s” saw the abolition of the Museum, Libraries and Archive council by 2012; with the Culture Minister considering a review of the role and remit of English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.. The DCMS is also heading for major redundancies () - and more recently we’ve seen potential plans for the hiving off of nature reserves to private management. There have also been increased calls by the government for museum funding to be funded through philanthropy – along with Cameron’s wider call for a volunteering ethos as part of his “Big Society” idea (if we can call it an ‘idea’).

In many ways there is relatively little which is particularly controversial- if there are going to be spending cuts (and I’ll skip the whole cuts v tax rise debate) then I have no problem with the arts and heritage taking some of the pain; equally, I have no problem with people giving up their time to help museums (let’s face it, outside the nationals and major regional museums, most museums rely on huge amounts of volunteer support already). I’m equally relaxed with wealthy people giving museums huge bags of filthy lucre.

I don’t particularly want to get drawn into some of the wider discussions about the importance of museum and heritage in general – not surprisingly, as a professional archaeologist, I am of the opinion that these things are generally a ‘good thing’ and should be encouraged and promoted. I have very little sympathy for the more instrumentalist view of heritage (i.e it's not the intrinsic value of heritage itself that counts but the wider impact it can have on society - such as engagement with the National Curriculum, promotion of literacy/numeracy, as well as ‘softer’ functions, such as promoting social cohesion; and most importantly heritage as a creator of wealth) – although I’ve not been above seizing the instrumentalist agenda when it comes to writing proposals for grants and funding for my own work. What currently gets my goat is that in a fairly typical case of doublethink, the new government is busy promoting British heritage as a source of income and prosperity through its intimate links with the tourism industry, whilst simultaneously hacking at the roots of the sector in other ways.

If the queues outside the National Railway Museum, just round the corner from me, are anything to go by, then the national museums aren’t going to have too much problem surviving. They have the internationally important collections and high profiles which will make it relatively easy for them to attract personal and commercial sponsorship, and have the high visitor numbers that will make it possible for then to weather minor drops in footfall. However, it’s the smaller, local museums that are more likely to suffer from attacks on the support infrastructure. As I noted above, they already rely heavily on volunteers to support them. Whilst there is undoubtedly much to criticise about the MLA, they do provide some of the professional expertise (security, collections management, conservation, interpretation) that smaller museums don’t have on tap. On a purely personal level, it is visiting local museums as a child that triggered by interest in the past (a brief roll of honour would have to include Reading Museum; the Museum of English Rural Life; Deal Maritime and Local History Museum amongst many others). If the government are really committed to an instrumental heritage agenda and promoting tourism, it would be good to see more commitment to supporting these kind of local institutions, as these, as much as the nationals, have potential for feeding the tourism industry. It's worrying,although not surprising, to see a complete lack of the 'joined-up thinking' that governments of all political stripes are so keen on connected to this issue. Sadly, its going to be the local and small museums that have less capacity and less ability to weather financial storms that are going to suffer (and don't even get me started on the way the HLF has been raided to support the Olympics.....)

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Folk and Industry

I’ m looking forward to reading Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music. As the review in today’s Guardian notes, the historiography of the British folk revival has been relatively limited (although in addition to the few examples noted in the review, there is also Georgina Boyes’ Imagined Village and the BBC 4 series from a few years ago Folk Britannia. It’s clear that Young’s project is to draw out the pastoral neo-Romantic aspect to the folk revival- with its origins in the folk collectors (Vaughan-Williams, Cecil Sharpe etc) of the late 19th and early 20th century through to the 1960s trad folk and ‘hippy’ revivals through into the pastoral noodlings of Kate Bush and potentially even Goldfrapps’ relatively recent excursion into LSD folk. This is clearly a strong line of inheritance, with the rural idyll closely tied into a British radical anti-industrial political tradition which can be traced from William Morris to the modern Green movement. British (particularly English) folk music is often unfairly decried for its rose-tinted view of a rural past (have a listen to Show of Hands’s Country Life or Imagined Village’s Hard Times of Old England as an impassioned rejoinder to this).

What I suspect Young’s book will not bring out (and as ever, it might have been a good idea if I’d actually read it before writing this), is the strong tradition of folk music derived from urban and industrial contexts. Traditional music was obviously most heavily embedded in the working culture of maritime world (shanties etc), but also other industries gave birth to rich traditions of song and dance. For example, the coalfields of the North-East developed and refined an existing tradition of long-sword dancing and saw an outpouring of vernacular songwriting and poetry. These alternative threads have also long been closely entwined in the folk revival. Figures such as Ewan McColl early identified the close link between folk song and the industrial working class, and collected and popularized many traditional songs about working life. He, along with Charles Parker, was also responsible for the creation of the Radio Ballads, a series of radio documentaries about industrial and other communities that integrated interviews and oral history with new music written in a traditional idiom. This industrial dimension to the current folk tradition is an important one. In recent years there’s been a new set of Radio Ballads written, and bands, such as Chumbawamba, who have come from very different musical backgrounds have embraced this aspect of the tradition.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

It's one hundred years since the first performance of Vaughan William's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. This has become part of the canon of British (or should that be English) popular classics (voted number 3 in its Hall of Fame by Classic FM listeners). An interesting article in last weekends Guardian contextualises the piece. What I think the article brings out is the role classical music played in the Neo-Romantic project. For me, the movement really flowers in the post-WWI period, as a direct reaction to the slaughter in Flanders and the twin perceived threats of fascism and communism. One of its key characteristics is the engagement in a metaphorical archaeology, digging into the past for powerful images and juxtaposing them, often anachronistically, with a more modern symbolic repertoire or stylistic techniques. A good example of this is Eric Ravilious' series of pictures of chalk hill figures seen from or next to railways. The Guardian article shows how in the first decade of the 20th century a series of British composers were carrying out musical antiquarianism. They were not only rescuing the rich tradition of Tudor church music (Byrd, Tallis, Gibbons, Taverner, Dowland), but also refashioning and using it, along side folk song, in new compositions. I find it interesting that most of the traditional narratives about the rise of Neo-Romanticism tend to sideline music focusing mainly on visual arts and to a lesser extent literature.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Making of the British Landscape

I'm now going to do that most difficult and irresponsible of things, comment on a book I haven't read. Once can't help but think of home-county vicars getting outraged by alleged smut on BBC drama series they haven't actually seen, but what the hell, you only live once. Francis Pryor's Making of the British Landscape was reviewed in The Guardian last week. As the review notes, the title is a riff on Hoskins' The Making of the English Landscape; I'd be interested to find out how much it really is truely British in scope (don't worry I promise I'll read it to find out). Raeding between the lines it clearly takes a much longer perspective than Hoskins. The latter's work barely grazed prehistory, whereas Pryor made his name as a prehistorian work on the important site at Flag Fen. Pryor's previous popular archaeological publications have always been far stronger in his home territory of the pre-Roman world and noticeably weeker once he hits the first millennium AD. This is by the by however; what has piqued by need to comment on this blog is the fact that according to the reviewer

He worries that landscape history is on the cusp of retreating entirely into academia, taking its findings and its insights with it. As a result, ordinary people – the kind who tramp the footpaths of Britain at the weekend for no other reason than they love to – will be thrown back on to a fuzzy subjectivism untethered to real knowledge.

Certainly, Hoskin's book was one of the few academic volumes that was both accessible and made a break through into the wider public perception and indeed made a television series based on his book. However, the high point of its popularity was probably the 1960s and 1970s and Hoskin's is no longer any kind of household name, and inevitably the tide of new research and discoveries made in the half-century since its initial publication have rendered its modern importance primarily historiographical. Nonetheless, I'm not sure I see landscape history 'retreating into academia', if anything its hard to go to National Park Visitor's centre, National Trust shop or Tourist Information Centre without being able to pick up dozens of pamphlets and leaflets about walks packed with information about the landscape through which they pass.

I wonder if Pryor is instead worried about the decrease in university extra-mural teaching. The popularising of Hoskin's work coincide with a highpoint in extra-mural/workers eduational/evening classes; he himself I believe was very involved in this kind of outreach. Much local research (parochial in the best sense)was carried out by groups which had their origin in such groups. Undoubtedly there has been a massive retreat in this kind of non-vocational adult education, due to recent government's heavily instrumental approach to adult learning, i.e. if it won't help you get a job its not worth funding. This has seen over the last ten years far fewer universities offering extra-mural learning, whilst the rise of educational bureaucracy (such as the joys of Aims, Objectives and Learning Outcomes) has meant that there are far fewer individuals willing to tackle all the paperwork required to offer this kind of learning experience. This has been a real tragedy.

However, I think, that limiting our views of the relationship between academic and popular archaeology to the world of evening classes is wrong. At the same time that there has been a decline in evening classes we've seen a massive rise in 'community' heritage projects mainly funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund; just taking my own area as an example, the Northumberlan National Park has its Coquetdale Community Archaeology project, the North Pennines AONB has just launched a new community archaeology initiative called Altogether Archaeology and there was a major joint project on recording prehistoric rock art run out of Durham and Northumberland county councils. All these projects have been fundamentally based on a large-scale community involvement, and have resulted in a large number of enthusiastic individuals in the region with a commitment to and good understanding of, archaeology in the landscape. Maybe things aren't quite as gloomy as Pryor suggests

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Blackbeard's Tea Party

I had the rare opportunity of an evening out last night and headed down to Fibbers (one of York’s most palatial and salubrious night spots) to see Blackbeard’s Tea Party. Anyone who lives in York will probably have seen them busking in town; but this was one of the first chances to see them headlining– also to see them wired up rather than entirely acoustic. After a couple of support act (some drumming gubbins and a bloke and a guitar) they hit the ground running with British Man of War. One of the great things was that this was a proper gig with a proper atmosphere. Much as I like folk music, occasionally the atmosphere can be a bit ‘Sunday school teaparty’ – I remember once being told off for talking during a Dhol Foundation gig at the Beverley Folk Festival- apparently I should have been sitting down quietly. Anyhoo, it was their usual mix of songs and tunes (often with a nautical theme) with electric guitar and bass adding a bit of oomph (as did the sousaphone). Highlights for me were Rolling Down the River and I Can Hew. All in all, a good night out – looking at their MySpace page they appear to be putting in an appearance at the Beverley Folk Festival this year and they’ve already been played on the BBC2 Folk programme with Mike Harding. Now if Fibbers can only do something about the price of their beer….
(In the interests of full disclosure I should say that Laura from BBTP is my fiddle teacher )

Saturday, 6 March 2010

London 2012 Opening Ceremony

I watched the Winter Olympics opening ceremony a few weeks ago. A typically brash and overblown celebration of the culture of the host nation. Obviously my thoughts now turn to what delights the London Olympics opening ceremony will deliver, and what aspects of British culture will be involved (cardigans? pot noodles? mild disappointment? out-of-town shopping centres?). Personally, I am fully supporting the campaign to see Morris Dancing included. I kind of like the idea of 14,000 choreographed morris dancers performing in perfect unison, in some kind of bastard mix of the Archers and totalitarian mass callisthenics.

I’d also like to suggest a new Olympic event. As most people know, the marathon is traditionally believed to have been based on the run made by Pheidippides from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to report the Greek victory over the Persian in 490BC. If we can base sporting events on Greek historical events, then I think we should be able to use British history as a source for unique races for the London Olympics. In 1600, Will Kemp, an actor and jester known for taking comic roles in some of Shakespeare’s plays, took 23 days to morris dance from London to Norwich. He later published a description of this event called the Nine Days Wonder. Thus, I’d like to suggest the 186km prance as a new event for London 2012 - the winner to be awarded a gilded pigs bladder.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Nick Griffin - folk music fan!

Last weekend’s Guardian had a fun piece about the music favoured by dictators and political villains (Robert Mugabe is apparently a fan of Cliff Richard whilst Mahmoud Ahmadinejad favours Chris de Burgh). However, there was little bit of the article that mildly pissed me off. Amongst the pantheon of bad hats and loonies was Nick Griffin,who apparently is a fan of (and I quote) “that most arthritically white of genres”, English folk music including ‘nu-folk poster girls Eliza Carthy and Kate Rusby’. According to his blog Griffin finds it ‘"an alternative to the multi-cult junk played incessantly on Radio 1"

First of all, a slap for the journalist for that lazy bit of stereotyping and secondly a slap for Griffin (I don’t think I need a reason for that). I’m sure they’ll both be pleased to hear that Eliza Carthy is currently touring in the band Imagined Village, whose members include a sitar player, one of the country’s leading dhol drummers and an overall line-up which is about 50% ‘non-indegenous English’. I saw them live in Leeds at the Irish Club on Tuesday (I’ll post a review soon). Pleasingly the band had also picked up on the article and videoed the entire audience flicking the Vs at Griffin and shouting “bollocks”; they are doing this at each venue on the tour and will be editing it all together and putting it on there website as a suitable rejoinder to the BNPs attempt to get into folk music.

Does this matter in the big picture of things? Well, lets face it, I don’t think that all Nick Griffin needs to do to make the elusive electoral break-through is to profess an appreciation of Steeleye Span and The Wurzels; nor, I suspect, will the SSuporters of the BNP be particularly dismayed that a bunch of weirdy beardy folk fans don’t like them. I still think its important though to try and attempt to resist Griffins/BNP attempts to annexe English folk music, history, archaeology and other things close to my heart in his rather half-arsed attempt to create a volkish image of an indigenous national culture which he is trying to use to contest his (mis)-understanding of the multi-cultural society we actually live in. So, if shouting “bollocks” to Nick Griffin and his nasty little party are what we have to do, then so be it!

(Image whipped from David Owen's Ink Corporation website; an excellent site well worth looking at).

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Woolworths and Leylines

The Guardian's always excellent Ben Goldacre strays into the world of archaeology with a nice piece on the latest claims about the sacred geometery of the prehistoric world - also worth reading for the comments below. The work in question claimed that prehistoric monuments were so arranged as to form a network of triangulated points that were used by past societies to navigate around the country. It also reports a counter analysis that showed that similar patterns could be found in the spatial distribution of Woolworths
The key point, of course, is not whether prehistoric societies ritualised their landscapes through monument construction (something accepted by all mainstream and 'alternative' archaeologists), but how data is used and analysed. Like any study which involving recognising patterns in huge amounts of data, it never really confronts the fact that if we have enough points of data (whether these are inscriptios, Bronze Age mounds etc etc) and subject them to enough analyses seemingly meaningful patterns will be found. However, the trick is proving whether these apparent patterns are a function of meaningful action by a past society or just a freak of statistics. Another example of this is the work by Charles Thomas drawing on the approach developed by David Howlett on Biblical Latin Style on the early medieval inscriptions of Wales and Western Britain. Thomas's analyses of these inscriptions seem to show messages (and even images) hidden within these simple inscriptions (this is best laid out in his his book Celts: Messages and Images. Stroud: Tempus, 1998). He argues that these messages can be made visible by certain mechanisms such as letter counting and the ascription of numeric values to letters. However, his critics point out that it is possible to identify hidden messages using such techniques in almost any text if you analyse it in enough different ways - is it a case of the 'wisdom of ancients' or simply infinite monkeys producing, if not Shakespeare, then at least Biblical Latin?

Friday, 8 January 2010

Imagined Village

Very excited about the new Imagined Village album- the first album was one of my picks of 2007. Of course, although there is a tour, they are not playing anywhere I can get to...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


Whilst searching something for entirely different I've just come across this old picture report from the BBC news website about the Seto people who live in the south-east border of Estonia and the neighbouring area of Russia . We went to Estonia in 2004 and spent some time in Setumaa (the land of the Setos) whilst we stayed nearby. The Seto are an Orthodox minority within Estonia where the main religion is technically Lutheran. They still maintain their traditional culture very strongly, particularly their folk song and their polyphonic choral tradition has recently been inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.

It was when we were exploring this forgotten corner at the edge of Europe that I really fell for Estonia and its history- this has led to the accumulation of far too many books on Estonian archaeology. I'm desperate to some fieldwork there at some point...

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Mumming Plays

It's the time of year for mumming plays. I got to see one performed in Wantage on Boxing Day this year- the text of the play is actually recorded from my parent's village of Steventon (which is just down the road). Fortuitously, whilst I was working on archives at the Museum of English Rural Life research H.J.Massingham I came across the text of a mumming play which I think has not previously been published - it was in a box along with the manuscript for an projected book written by Massingham on Cotswold folk-tales and humour. It is very similar to one from Snowshill (Gloucestershire) so I presume its from somewhere in the neighbourhood. The copy of the text is not written in Massingham's hand, so I presume it was passed to him by someone else; presumably at some point in the 1930s.