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I’m a Romany Rai’ Gypsy Songs Video

Romany Gypsies in their thousands are by far the largest racial minority group in many rural areas and yet, these days, they occupy a very low profile in the tapestry of rural culture, often only really surfacing when some group of house-holders combine to attempt to prevent the siting of a Gypsy site near them.

This 40 minute video will present the very special talents of three traditional Romany Gypsy singers and other Gypsy musicians in a celebration of our traditional Gypsy community and their music.

Possessing a unique culture as strong as, or stronger than, that of any other minority racial group in this country, Romany Gypsies have remarkably few artefacts available which celebrate that culture, and that culture is largely ignored in mainstream British art and music.

This video will expand and make possible for Gypsies their participation in the creative process.

While some of the Romany repertoire comprises traditional folk music they share with non-Gypsies, there are also many songs that belong uniquely to the Travellers, sometimes in Anglo Romani or even full Romany, and this video will be particularly featuring these.

There are also songs composed in the last month or year or decade. The tradition of ‘when something important happens, make a song about it’ is still with us.

Our video will feature 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 this country’s Traveller people.

The narrative song, ‘Mandi went to Poove the Grai’ (‘I went (surreptitiously) to put the horse to graze in a 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’. To celebrate this tradition, we will also commission new songs on Gypsy themes, from today’s Romany singers or composers, and we will feature some of these in the video.

Content of the Video

The soundtrack will feature seven or eight songs performed in their entirety, with brief verbal or musical links in between.

We may well use Charlie Smith, the charismatic Romany president of the Gypsy Council, to introduce the video or provide links. We will feature his own poetry, and set his work to music.

The visual footage, built on to the musical framework, will be of four types, which may vary from verse to verse or song to song:

1) Synch footage in which the singer is singing, sometimes directly to camera, while indulging in some appropriate activity. He/she may be driving a trotting gig along the busy roadways of a Gypsy horse fair; or rabbitting with ferrets or riding bareback; cooking up a pot of jogray; putting the finishing touches to a caravan; collecting scrap; singing by the campfire; buying make-up or finery at a stall deep in mud; strolling through the countryside.

2) Synch footage recorded live during actual public performance. Gypsy musicians and singers have claimed a small place at folk and concert venues, so we may have live footage from folk clubs or, unexpectedly, a church, plus performances at Gypsy weddings, etc.

3) We will also have non-synch (‘cutaway’) sequences illustrative of what is being sung. ‘Will there be Travellers in Heaven?’ may have shots of a roadside eviction or a ‘No Gypsies’ notices outside a pub.

4) The places where Travellers live and play and work - the council sites or ‘illegal’ roadside sites, or horse fairs - will form the background to all this.


The video film will make use of slow motion and stills to become an art object in its own right. Settings will be both urban and rural, wherever Gypsies park their tents and caravan homes.

There will be a celebration of the beauty of the modern motor-drawn caravans; the beauty of horse drawn caravans is now generally recognised but the particular beauty of the new caravans, especially the Westmoreland Stars (the Gypsies know them affectionately as ‘West Morning Stars’) has been little celebrated outside the Gypsy culture. For example, many of these caravans have headlamps as a decorative motif. They are non-functional. There are many other intriguing aspects of caravan design which we will feature.

There will be dissolves between the idealised pictures of horses, women and children Gypsies have on their walls, and real examples of the same as found at horse fairs, etc. and the reality of council sites.

Details of Professional / Semi-professional Romany People and Artists involved

Charlie Smith

Published poet and charismatic president of the Gypsy Council

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 is the owner of many historic traditional Gypsy caravans and horses.

I’m a Romani Rai

Gypsy Woman

Will there be Travellers in Heaven?

Standing Round the Campfire in the Dark

Shadows Round the Fire

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 many other Gypsy gatherings and weddings.

Songs in his repertoire which we may feature:

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

Wisdom (‘Wiggy’) Smith

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

Lord Bakeman

The Oakham Poachers

Harry Smith

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

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

Also participating:

Mizzelli Biddle, great granddaughter.

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

The mode is celebratory and our singers will often be singing directly to us, their audience.

There is, of course, a dark side to the Gypsy predicament, whether in the U.K., Europe, or the world, and this is reflected in an underlying sorrow that lies close beneath the surface in much Gypsy music. It is, though, part of the Gypsy nature that they do not dwell on this aspect of their existence (so that, for example, Ewan McColl’s song ‘Go, Move, Shift’, probably the best known to non Gypsies of all songs on a Gypsy theme, is too violent in its imagery to ever have really found favour with Gypsies.)

There have been thousands of evictions in the West Midlands; there has been a public call for extermination from a Birmingham Councillor; there have been Gypsy people, including children, who have died during or as a result of evictions; there are pubs and hotels who still refuse to serve them; schools who refuse to educate them.

But it is not in the Gypsy nature to dwell on these things, so that, though present in our video, they will be stated with lightness of touch.

When and Where will this Take Place?


Pre-production: Three weeks, but spread out over three months.

Production: Three weeks.

Post-production and Promotion: Three weeks.

Evaluation: In the course of selling the video.


Places where Gypsies live and work; council sites, illegal roadside sites, scrapyards, horse fairs, many in the West Midlands where we have very good contacts, but also filming nationwide at the great horse fairs and in the area of Essex where the Gypsy Council has its headquarters.


The project will, of course, not be possible without the widespread participation of the Gypsy community, whose enthusiastic approval has been obtained. Some will be participating as assistants. All this will be arranged in collaboration with the Gypsy Council.

Intended Audience, and Marketing

1) The Gypsy Community

Few artefacts are available to Gypsies which celebrate their own rich culture. They are eager to buy art products relating to it.

They are enthusiastic to acquire, for example, pictures of horses and horse-drawn wagons, videos like ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’, books and audio cassettes like ‘Songs from the Roadside’ (produced and introduced by myself for Romany Records).

The Gypsy Council will sell the video at their stall at festivals.

A Gypsy friend, George Smith, has pledged his support. He runs a hot-dog stand at the horse fairs so popular as Gypsy meeting places. He is a guitar player and singer himself and at Gypsy fairs and festivals. We will be presenting the video running non-stop on a large screen powered by generator, as an aid to selling the video.

2) The Audience after Gypsy concerts

Jeremy presents an on-going series of concerts featuring field recordings and live performance by traditional Romany Gypsies. After these we usually sell 10-20 of the book and audio cassette mentioned above and I believe there would be an enthusiastic market for this video cassette.

3) Heritage Shops

It will be a popular addition to the videos celebrating the national heritage in our video shops.

4) Public Libraries

I believe that they will be eager to acquire copies and we will be sending them a flyer about our video. Thirty copies of the book and ten of the music cassette have already been ordered by our local libraries.

5) Through specialist Gypsy outlets, such as Gypsy Museums and Gypsy specialist book dealers. Jeremy already has good contacts with a number of these.


A three and a half minute slot was secured on BBC Midlands News to accompany the launch of Jeremy’s live presentation of Gypsy singers and we will be aiming to achieve TV coverage of the video on a news, magazine or arts programme.

Previous projects of Jeremy’s have been well covered on local radio and extensively in the local press. We also hope to place an illustrated article in one of the glossy newspaper magazines.

What the Project will Achieve

The rich culture of our Romany Gypsy community is surprisingly absent from the tapestry of traditional and modern art products and this video will do something towards setting this right.

How Will this Proposal Help the Overall Aims

of our Organisation?

We believe that prejudice is the result of stereotyping. Most prejudice evaporates on getting to know someone intimately.

We believe that this presentation of Travellers, not in their stereotypical role as victims or villains, but as human beings who sing songs like so many of us, must break down the ignorant hatred which results in so much hostility.

Like R.S. Thomas’ Welshman, Traveller poems and songs seem to be asking us to understand; ‘Listen, listen, I am a man like you.’

Evaluation and Monitoring

One measure of our success will be the number of video cassettes we are able to sell and listeners we will be able to attract. We feel that in the act of buying and viewing this video, Gypsies will be empowered and non Gypsies will find themselves unable to hang on to their prejudice. Publicity will present Travellers in a positive light.

The decision to fund and to publicise this will bring home to the public that prestigious ‘establishment’ organisations are prepared to underwrite the Gypsy population.

Travellers have for a century been custodians of traditional music that otherwise would have been forgotten. Their poems and songs have a particular vigour of their own. Some are of lasting importance, beauty, or dignity. To preserve them at this point, when so much of the verbal tradition is under attack, is to be of benefit to humankind as a whole, not only Travellers.

Other indications to us of the success of this project will be:

1) If the cassette is widely sold or reviewed

2) If this further enhances the career of Gypsy performers.

We will also deem it to have been a success if the work sells well in that proceeds from sale of the video cassette can then be put into projects of which the Gypsy Council approves. Those that immediately spring to mind are:

1) The Gypsy Playschool.

2) The Christmas Gypsy Children’s Party.

3) The Safe Childbirth for Travellers Organisation.

How Much Will it Cost?

Pre-production; 1 week (Spring/Summer ‘97)

Charlie Smith & Gypsy Council’s time in briefing of Jeremy, discussion,

Jeremy Sandford’s time in advice (one day): £50

Location and Transcription of songs

Preparation of Script

Recce of Locations

Rehearsal with artistes

One week at much below national average wage (1 x £250) £250

Travel by public transport and own car:

400 miles, round trip @ 10p per mile £40

Typing, postage, telephone, admin. £30

Meals away from home @ average £3 per trip (x9) £28

Total: £398

Filming; 2 weeks (late Summer ‘97)

Charlie Smith & Gypsy Council time spent in discussion, advice,

appearing in film (two days) 2 x £50 £100

Romany Artiste’s fees (Gypsy singers, semi-professional and

professional, and other Romany musicians)

£50 per day (x5) £250

Location hire where necessary, average £50 per location (x5) £250

Composers of songs, where in copyright £100

Video 8 Pro Camera @ £150 per week (x2)

(provided free by Jeremy)

Equipment hire: lights, tape recorder, contingency £100

Materials: cassettes for video @ £4 (x10) £40

Replacement batteries for camera @ £48 (x2) £96

Travel using own cars (production team and artistes):

14 journeys average 50 miles @ 20p per mile £140

Meals when away from home @ £3 (20 x £3) £60

Typing, postage, telephone, admin. during this period £30

Jeremy Sandford’s time @ £250 per week (x2) £500

Thank-yous to those who have especially helped (£9 x10) £90

Total: £1,756

Editing; 3 weeks (Autumn ‘97)

Charlie Smith & Gypsy Council (one day) £50

Jeremy Sandford’s time @ £250 per week (x3) £750

Editing suite @ £150 per week (x3) £450

Travel using own cars: (Jeremy, production team, artistes for

post synch)

15 journeys, average 40 miles @ 20p per mile £120

Typing, postage, telephone, admin. during this period £50

Meals when away from home @ £3 per trip (x15) £45

Total: £1,465

Post-Production & Promotion (Winter ‘97)

Printing of video cassette, first edition of 200 @ £3 per unit £600

Charlie Smith & Gypsy Council (1 day at £50) £50

Inlay @ 30p per unit (x200) £60

Flyer to double as press release, Titling and credits £100

Jeremy Sandford’s time (1 week) £250

Launch party £100

Travel, 8 journeys, average 40 miles @ 20p £64

Telephone, postage, stationery £50

Total: £1,274


Pre-Production £398

Filming £1,756

Editing £1,465

Post-Production & Promotion £1,274



Contributions in Kind

Up to four more weeks of Jeremy’s time @ £250 per week £1,000

Provision of own video 8 Pro camera by Jeremy for free,

thus saving an estimated 2 x £150 £300

Ditto for further week if required £150



Distribution of the Video Cassettes

150 to Gypsy Council to be sold by them or for promotional purposes.

30 to artistes and others who have played an important part in the film.

70 to Jeremy Sandford.

Further Editions

The Gypsy Council or Jeremy Sandford (‘the backer’) may put up the money for a further edition. The backer agrees to make up to half the edition available to artistes or non-backing parties.


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.”

Gypsy Songs Video

about Jeremy Sandford

During a varied career my best known projects have been television films, whether dramatic or documentary, which, although I like to believe carry my strong personal imprint, have in fact been written by me but directed by someone else.

I have for a long time wanted to direct films as well as writing them, and I am hoping your help may now bring this day closer.

Myself and the Romany Gypsies

Since the late sixties, when I first became a member of the Gypsy Council, I have been an admirer of the Romany Gypsy culture, and involved in the battle against the ignorance and prejudice which is so often directed towards them by the non- Gypsy house-dwelling population.

I am an ex-director of the Gypsy Council, ex-editor of Romano Drom, the Gypsy newspaper, a current member of the Herefordshire Traveller Support Group, author of the book ‘Gypsies’, and appear in planning appeals, which we have been known to win, for our Gypsy population.

A community play of mine, featuring the Gypsy population, was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival and was performed over a week in Cheltenham and Gloucester.

My Grandmother, Mary, herself travelled the roads of England and Ireland in her own horse-drawn caravan.

To this project I hope to bring a poetry and lyricism and personal vision. This video will belong to the category of poetry, rather than that of documentary or the social sciences.

Jeremy Sandford’s C.V.

Best known so far for his BBC TV screenplays Cathy Come Home (‘possibly the most successful TV play of all time’ - The Express) and Edna, the Inebriate Woman (‘the difficulty is to control one’s superlatives’ - The Times). Martin Banham in the Cambridge University Press British Television Drama wrote ‘Television ... is a medium ideally suited to his campaigning and his compassion.’ Quentin Crewe in The Times wrote ‘Plays and novels have altered history, but ordinary writing has done so as well ... television plays like Cathy Come Home have served to awaken us ... the passion of Jeremy Sandford’s play would be inadmissible in a documentary.’ Also, ‘When Edna was first shown, many people commented that it seemed exaggerated ... Those who work in the field know that (it is) depressingly accurate.’ (Colin Hodget, Church Times).

The BBC TV documentary Hotel de Luxe, about the Savoy Hotel, which he scripted, won an ACTT award, and was the subject of an attempted High Court injunction in which the hotel tried to prevent it being shown. Screenplays and plays on radio, stage and TV include Dreaming Bandsmen (Belgrade, Coventry) (‘in most attractive bad taste throughout’ - Daily Mail), Not Wishing to Return (Radio) (life in an Irish castle in 1900) (‘haunting’ - Observer), It Is For Ever (Radio) (based on the diaries and poems of Francis Kilvert), The Motor Heist (Radio), Oluwale with Paul Schofield as narrator (‘one of the year’s landmarks in the use of radio’ - Guardian), Whelks and Chromium (Radio) (later published in Penguin New English Dramatists), The Fatted Calf (ICA Theatre), Don’t Let Them Kill Me on Wednesday (Granada TV), Death of a Teenager (Radio), Virgin of the Clearways (Radio), Raggle Taggle (Cheltenham Festival and Gloucester), The Fall of Fonthill (Radio, forthcoming).

Books include: Cathy Come Home (Pan) (‘angry, humane, and totally authentic’ - The Observer), Edna, the Inebriate Woman (Pan) (‘Mr Sandford forces attention and involvement. The strength ... lies in his breadth and dimensions, comedy and sadness springing naturally from the character’ - The Telegraph), Synthetic Fun (Penguin) a study of canned amusement (‘a nice thick coarse sandwich’ - The Observer), In Search of the Magic Mushroom (Peter Owen and Sphere) about travels in Mexico (‘highly recommended’ - Guardian), Smiling David (Marion Boyars) (‘an angry and saddening book’ - TLS), Tomorrow’s People (Jerome) (about the world of pop festivals), Gypsies (Secker and Warburg and Abacus) (‘as a work of research it is ideal’ - Evening News), Prostitutes (Secker and Warburg and Abacus) (‘excellent ... valuable information from a range of remarkable women’ - New Society), Down and Out in Britain (Peter Owen and Sphere) (‘a frightening personal dossier’ - Evening Standard), Figures and Landscapes, Hey Days in Hay, From the Back of Beyond (forthcoming), Songs from the Roadside.

Newspaper Series and Enquiries for various newspapers, both ‘popular’ and ‘highbrow’, included Families without a Home (‘the most famous newspaper article in recent years’ - Penguin Special on Housing), The Dossers, Seaside, Soho, Dark Side of Affluence, The Revolt Against Marriage, Gypsies, Down and Out in Britain, Mexico, Fortune Tellers, Frontiers of Perception, Reincarnation, New Religions, The Other Health Service (homeopathy, etc), The Age of Consent, Female Ghosts, Car Thieves, Unmarried Mothers, Holiday Camps, Package Tours, Busking, Prostitutes, Black Britain, Unusual Parliamentary Candidates, etc. etc.

Sandford began his professional career with talks and feature programmes on the BBC Midland Region (Goodbye to Gospel Pass, Follies and Grottoes, A Canoe Trip Down the Wye, and many others). He then recorded and presented a largish number of features for the BBC Radio Home Service and Third Programme. (Living in Boats, Homeless Families, Gypsies, Battersea, Mechanical Music, Laurie Lee, John Bratby, and many others).

Compiled, interviewed for, researched and presented some twenty programmes for BBC TV Women’s Programmes and later was to do thirty or so for Thames Television Religious Broadcasting. Wrote three television documentaries, R.S. Thomas (for Monitor), Hotel de Luxe (see above) and Cathy Where Are You Now? which he also researched and presented.

Songs from the Roadside, just published, is a book with companion cassette and concert presentation and features songs sung by Gypsies, including the Irish Tinker Gypsy families, the O’Connors and the Delaneys, currently camped beneath the M4 link in London and in the British industrial midlands.

From the Back of Beyond, a West Cork Journal (1898-1901) is his grandmother’s journal, kept at Castle Freke in County Cork, never before published, with extensive introduction, epilogue and notes by Sandford, to be published by the Lilliput Press of Dublin in 1996.

On the Road with the IrishTravellers features an extensive introduction by Jeremy Sandford and a photo essay by Mathias Obersdorff. It is to be published by the University of Syracuse Press in 1996.

As poet, and musician specialising in Spanish, Gypsy, and New Age music, he has performed at the Edinburgh Festival, Young Vic and Kings Head Theatre Club in week long runs, and many one-shots including Lunga Castle, the Findhorn Foundation, the Festival for Mind, Body and Spirit at Olympia, Hereford Three Choirs Festival Fringe, Hay-on-Wye Festival Fringe, and the Hereford Folly Lane Arts Theatre. He has introduced and presented a series of concerts featuring field recordings and live performance by traditional Romany Gypsies. His work won ACTT awards, the Italia Prize and other awards. An artist and former director of the Cyrenians and Simon Community, ex Member of the Gypsy Council and patron of Shelter, currently runs a green and ‘New Age’ conference facility at his home Hatfield Court near Leominster, and provides music and teaching of folk and sacred circle dancing at Oak Dragon and Rainbow Circle Camps. With his wife Philippa has lived the life of a wandering busker in Spain and the Balearic Islands. He lists his hobbies in Who’s Who as riding, sailing, music, painting, windsurfing and mountain exploration. He has successfully fought planning appeals for local Romany Gypsies and New Age Hippy Travellers.


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