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Proposal for an audio cassette:

I’m A Romany Rai’

Traditional and Modern Gypsy Songs

Sung Round the Campfire

The Romany Gypsy Open Air Museum at Axbridge in Somerset is home to 25 Gypsy caravans, mostly the traditional horse drawn type, but also with some modern examples.

Ted Atkinson, the proprietor, is a traditional Gypsy singer and his campfire is one of those places where Gypsy Travellers gather for evenings of songs, poems and story telling.

Here, sheltered by some spectacular caravans, conserved and restored by Ted, who is also a wheelwright, is to be heard some of the best contemporary and traditional Romany Gypsy music - especially on those gala nights when Ted invites Gypsies from further afield as his guests to add to the festivities.

This 60 minute cassette (30” + 30”) will be an evocation of the best of a typical gala evening.

Singers like:

Ted Atkinson

Wheelwright, founder and proprietor of the Gypsy Museum, traditional Gypsy singer and genial host of many Gypsy sing-songs.

Mark O’Gallaidh

Vocalist, popular player on bones, bodhran, Irish whistle, at Stow Fair and many other Gypsy gatherings and weddings.

Wisdom ‘Wiggy’ Smith

Renowned traditional Gypsy singer, currently parked with his large extended family on a council site near Ledbury.

Songs like:

I’m a Romany Rai’ (‘I’m a Gypsy Lord, or free spirit’), which has been claimed by some as the anthem of the English Travelling People.

The narrative song ‘Mandy Went to Poove the Grai’ (‘I went (surreptitiously) to put the horse to graze in the meadow’) and what happened thereafter.

The wistful ‘Will there be Travellers in Heaven?’ (‘and will there be barmen up there who still refuse to serve us?’)

The evocative ‘Standing Round the Campfire in the Dark’ which tells of the sense of anomie which can strike Gypsies who have found life on the road too difficult and moved into a house.

‘When something important happens, make a song about it’ has always been the guideline of Gypsy singers and to celebrate and mark this tradition we shall particularly be featuring new songs which are being added to the tradition and possibly actually commissioning a new song from one of our singers.


Traditional Romany Gypsies (or Travellers as they often like to call themselves) number about 100,000 in Britain, about one million in the European Community.

In the rural areas of Britain they often constitute the biggest ethnic minority group. Because of Hitler’s extermination programme and for other reasons they often try to keep a very low profile, so that their importance, and the richness of their culture, often goes largely unnoticed by the settled population.

Jeremy Sandford, author of Cathy Come Home; Edna, the Inebriate Woman; and many other books and plays, has for many years been an admirer of world wide Gypsy music, especially that from Spain, Hungary and Romania. More recently, he has become involved in the rich culture of our own Gypsy musical tradition, helped by, and working in close collaboration with, friends and contacts among our Gypsy travellers.

Yesterday it was to the Gypsy population that Vaughan Williams and other composers turned to hear some of Britain’s most lovely and evocative traditional songs, which were then often incorporated into their compositions.

Today the tradition continues. Our Gypsies may now be the only English people still in touch with an unbroken tradition of singing and songs which have been passed from mother to daughter, grandfather to grandson, without having to rediscover their musical culture and heritage from written archives and books. Some of these songs are in Romani or Anglo Romani and are unique to their own culture. Others come from that great tradition that belonged to all of us - once.

Jeremy Sandford says;

“Gypsies are still singing the old heritage songs and, on important occasions, still creating new ones. But for how much longer will this tradition live? It may be that the youngest generation of Gypsies are less interested in singing these ancient songs which are such an important part of their heritage.

“These songs also do not usually form part of the curriculum for the thousands of Gypsy children who are now taught in our schools. Indeed, many of their teachers are not as well-informed as they could be of the wealth of Gypsy history and tradition, especially as expressed in and through their music.

“It will be sad indeed if the people I am recording turn out to be the last generation who sing the old songs and I hope that my researches will encourage the newest generations of Gypsy children to be as proud of the tradition as were their forebears.”

Originating in what is now Pakistan, Gypsies arrived here some 500 years ago. These days they live on specially built Local Authority sites, some on farms, and some on our roadsides. All these live in caravans. With increasing blocking and ditching of the roadside verges on which Gypsies had traditional camping rights, many have now, often with regret, been forced to move into houses.

There is often ignorance of the degree to which Gypsies are a colourful part of the country tradition. Gypsies were crucial to agricultural wealth, providing a mobile labour force for the harvest, whether it be apples, hops, wheat, barley, potatoes, or other crops. Their large families sent hundreds of young men to fight and to die in two world wars.

Many of today’s prosperous country public houses welcomed the harvest money of the lavish spending Gypsies as crucial to their income; and in days of the horse, Gypsies were of great importance as trainers and dealers.

Gypsies these days live mostly in exotic-looking custom-built caravans, such as the Westmorland Stars, Buccaneers, and Weipperts.

They are different folk to the “New Age Travellers”, who are a phenomenon of the past two decades and are the children of non-Gypsy house-dwelling folk, often victims of the current housing famine, living in buses, horseboxes, trucks, tents, or second-hand tourist caravans. Often interesting people, they do not however inherit the Traditional Gypsy culture, and appear to be less good at avoiding conflict with settled house-dwelling society.

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