Traditional Singing in West Sheffield, 1970–1972

Ian Russell

Former director of the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen

Volume 1 – View PDF →
Volume 2 – View PDF →
Volume 3 – View PDF →

It’s good to know that the research I did into traditional singing near Sheffield almost fifty years ago for my PhD is creating some interest. It was a huge labour of love, undertaken at a time when I had a very demanding full-time job as a classroom teacher in a primary school. I cannot understate my appreciation of and gratitude to Norma, my wife, who was my fieldwork partner.

As part of my research, which began in 1969, I became familiar with the local Christmas carolling tradition and undertook an extensive survey of its distribution and repertoire. Although an account of the survey appeared in the journal Lore and Language, the chapter on pub singing in volume 1 of my thesis captures the social interaction, details of the practice and performance, the singers and the contexts we encountered.

Yes, I did say ‘volume 1’. There are in fact three volumes. The first is the dissertation itself; the other two present my detailed transcriptions of the recorded repertoire (over 450 items). For example, Volume 3 contains 34 transcriptions of carol recordings. And there is another element, the field recordings housed in Sheffield and Leeds universities – about 100 reel-to-reel tapes. Such a magnum opus just wouldn’t be allowed today and quite right too!

It all looks very clunky, with the idiosyncrasies of the mechanical typeface, the odd typos and infelicities in the text. If anyone takes the plunge, please be aware that we didn’t have a word processor, only Norma’s gallant assistance on an electric typewriter. Nor was there a Sibelius package to help prettify the music, only paper, pencil and an eraser. I nearly forgot, we did have Tipp-Ex and still do (it’s great for speedy repairs to home decoration).

My PhD was undertaken at the erstwhile Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies at the University of Leeds, and I was fortunate to have A. E. (‘Tony’) Green as my supervisor. It was examined and awarded in 1977. My external examiner and subsequent lifelong friend was the late David Buchan. My dedication was to the wonderful singers, whose kindness, hospitality, creativity, and respect for ‘the old ways’ made it all possible. They all became great friends but one by one we lost them. On Armistice Day in 2015, we buried George White (aged 96), the last of the singers I recorded for my doctorate.

Please get in touch if you have anything to ask or tell me,