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press release

* * * * * *

With the generous support of

West Midlands Arts


BBC Hereford and Worcester

and with the generous assistance and co-operation of

the Traditional Gypsy Community

* * * * * *

Songs from the Roadside

100 years of Gypsy Music

in the West Midlands

* * * * * *

Gypsy songs, sung by our traditional Gypsy Travellers

from the Commons, Hills, Roadsides, Farmlands and

Sites of Herefordshire, Worcestershire,

Shropshire and Gloucestershire

* * * * * *

Songs poignant and lively, historic and immediate,

traditional and modern

Part One

Jeremy Sandford’s Presentation

will be accompanied by songs recorded on tape, record, and cylinder, and:

Part Two

Gypsies in Live Performance


Mark O’Gallaidh

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

Ted Atkinson

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

Wisdom ‘Wiggy’ Smith

Renowned traditional Gypsy singer. Currently his caravan is parked with those of many other members of his family on a council site near Ledbury.

presented by

Jeremy Sandford

Author and performer on accordion and Irish whistle, will be setting the scene and presenting the performers.

Presented, from phonograph cylinder and other historic recordings, and in newly recorded performance by today’s travelling people, by Jeremy Sandford, Herefordshire author and musician (Cathy Come Home; Edna, the Inebriate Woman; Gypsies; Raggle Taggle; etc.)

* * * * * *

The songs of Esther and Eliza Smith, David Price Jones, Angelina Whatton, Wisdom Smith, Bob Smith, Johnny ‘Pops’ Connors, Mary Delaney, Mik Darling, Paddy Houlihan, Mark O’Gallaidh, Ted Atkinson, and many others.

* * * * * *

One of a number of events:

Songs from the Roadside

A special documentary feature programme

BBC Hereford and Worcester last year broadcast this programme

to coincide with the first occasion of the presentation.

* * * * * *

Gypsy Songs

A companion softcover book also to be published by Redlake Press,

with illustrations by Peter Upton.

* * * * * *

Gypsy Songs on Music Cassette

Jeremy Sandford presents Gypsy songs, published by Romany Productions,

Hatfield Court, nr Leominster, Herefordshire.

* * * * * *

Further information:

for the Presentation:

for the Books: The Redlake Press, Brook House, Clun, Shropshire.

for the Cassette: Jeremy Sandford, Hatfield Court, nr Leominster, HR6 0SD.

Phone 01568 760333.


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.

With generous help from West Midlands Arts and BBC Hereford and Worcester, he has been collecting and recording the music of yesterday’s Gypsy population and the living tradition which links it to today’s. Jeremy is being 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.”

Participation of the Traditional

Gypsy Population

This entire project could not have taken place without the active participation of our local Gypsy population, many of whose families have been living in the West Midlands for generations.

An advisory committee, drawn from singers, musicians and storytellers from the Gypsy community, have been advising and assisting Jeremy Sandford.

Who are the Traditional Gypsies?

We of Herefordshire and Worcestershire (along with Kent) have the highest proportion of Traditional Gypsies among our population of any county in Britain.

Originating in what is now Pakistan, Gypsies arrived here some 500 years ago.

Of the hundreds of Traditional Gypsy families living in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, some are 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 currently great interest in the traditions and heritage of the county of Hereford & Worcester especially, perhaps, among those who have newly come to settle here. There is often, however, ignorance of the degree to which Gypsies are a colourful part of our tradition.

Gypsies were crucial to the agricultural wealth of the county, 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.

Songs from the Roadside


Part One

Jeremy Sandford presents recordings of traditional Gypsy singers and a few songs sung live.

... Relating the British tradition to the Hungarian, Rumanian and Spanish Gypsy traditions.

... Where do our Gypsies come from? Pakistan and a stupendous battle. King James of Scotland and his Gypsy troupe. The origin of the Raggle Taggle Gypsy, Lady Cassilis and Johnny Farr. Mary Carbery, Jeremy’s Grandmother, a passionate admirer of the Romani culture. Her last days in Herefordshire and influence on Jeremy.

... Ralph Vaughan Williams and his friend Ella Mary Leather. Their recordings and transcriptions of the songs and music of Herefordshire Gypsies. Jeremy presents songs originally sung by the Gypsies Esther and Eliza Smith, Angelina Whatton, Alfred Price Jones, Mrs Loveridge, many recorded at The Homme near Weobley, performed by Angelina Whatton’s daughter May Bradley, and many others.

... A visit to the famous Gypsy horse fair at Stow-on-the-Wold to hear what today’s Gypsies are singing. Accomplished performance of Country & Western by the Biddle family, songs by Paddy Houlahan and his Gypsy musicians. Present day Gypsy admiration for Irish and Country & Western music. Songs from our own tradition including The Romani Rai, Buckled I Long to Be and My Old Horse and Me.

... Songs in Romani and Anglo Romani and their translation. Mandi Went to Poove the Grai and Can You Rocker Romani? Observations on the Romani tongue. The Oakham Poachers and The Rich Farmer from Sheffield, sung by Wisdom Smith. Gelem Gelem, a song in full Romani and its meaning (‘Rise Up Gypsies’).

Part Two

A live performance of Gypsy music given by:

Mark O’Gallaidh

Son of an Irish Gypsy father and British teenage mother, Mark is a popular vocalist and performer on bones, bodhran and whistle pipe, and with diddling, at Stow and Priddy horse fairs and other Gypsy gatherings and weddings.

Ted Atkinson

Traditional Gypsy singer and genial host of many Gypsy sing-songs. Ted is also one of this country’s foremost wheelwrights, was founder of the Gypsy Museum at Axbridge, and owner of many historic traditional Gypsy caravans and horses.

The Gypsy tradition is to perform without accompaniment. However, Marco may be accompanied, on occasion, by Jeremy Sandford on piano accordion.

Participation by other members of the Gypsy community is also anticipated, including;

Wisdom Smith

Renowned traditional Gypsy singer, currently his caravan is parked, along with those of many of his children and grandchildren, on a council site near Ledbury.

Harry Smith

Much respected member of the local Gypsy community, will perform on harmonica.


The programme is likely to include some of the following;

Mark O’ Songs

I’m a Freeborn Man of the Travelling People

Nancy Miles

Sullivan’s John

Peggy Gordon

I’m a Man you don’t Meet Every Day

Ted Atkinson Songs

I’m a Romani Rai

Gypsy Woman

Will there be Travellers in Heaven?

Shadows Round the Fire

Scarborough Fair

Wisdom Smith Songs

Lord Bakeman

There was a Rich Farmer from Sheffield

The Oakham Poachers

Mark O’ on Whistle, Pipe and Bones

Blarney Pilgrim

Banish Misfortune

Planxty Erwin and Blind Mary by O’Carolan

The Lonesome Boatman by Ted Fury

For Ireland I’ll Not Tell Her Name

Guests of Honour

Our Guests of Honour will be Harry and Evelyn Smith, direct descendants and grandchildren of Esther and Eliza Smith, whose songs were collected and used in his own music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Mizzelli Biddle, great granddaughter.

And great grandchildren.

Richard, Lacey, Johnboy, Tammy Shareen, great great grandchildren.

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