Here's Luck to a Man: Gypsy Songs & Music from South-East England

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Here's Luck to a Man: Gypsy Songs & Music from South-East England

[Recorded by Mike Yates.] C.D., MTCD320, Musical Traditions, 2003 + booklet 32 pp.

Available from Musical Traditions, 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 2HD

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Gypsy music is the most exasperating of our traditions. Although British gypsies have had a strong musical and cultural tradition, it has passed unrecognized and underdeveloped, unlike the gypsy music of Spain or Hungary, which is universally acknowledged and graces concert platforms worldwide. So British indigenous gypsy music and song goes largely unknown and unappreciated by the general public, by the folk revival and even by the gypsies themselves, who these days sing mainly Country-and-Western songs. However, thanks to the work of collectors such as Mike Yates, we are taken back to a different era, now all but gone, of intimate singing sessions in trailers, around campfires and in out-of-the-way country pubs.

The C.D. Here's Luck to a Man is a seventy-nine-minute collection of thirty-nine tracks of music and song featuring eleven traveller performers from southeast England. Four of the tracks are instrumental (mainly mouth-organ) and most of the remainder are songs, apart from two folk tales. In academic terms, many of the songs are 'incomplete' but obviously not to the performers themselves. Moreover, from a musical point of view, many of the tunes are in modes other than the major key. Listen carefully to 'Hopping Down in Kent' and you will hear the myxolydian creeping in. Mary Ann Haynes from Brighton, but originally from Portsmouth, sings fourteen of the tracks, Jasper Smith from Kent eight, and there are from one to three items from Jasper's brother and sister Levi and Minty Smith, Jasper's son Derby Smith, Joe and Lena Jones, Chris Willett, Alice Penfold and Bill Ellson. In good Musical Traditions style, the C.D. comes with a booklet with full notes written by Mike Yates, along with some excellent photographs. The recordings were all made in the Sussex/Kent area. A minor quibble is that no details are given of when the recordings were made, although one can gather that they were made in the 1970s. Nor is any precise information given about the ages of the singers when recorded, although judging by the recordings themselves, the footnotes and the photographs, they averaged around sixty years old.

Most of the singers are unmistakably gypsy in their style and repertoire. Although some of the singers are past their vocal prime, one can hear the languorous delivery, the glissandos and the savouring of every syllable, all of which are hallmarks of the traveller style of singing. What you do not hear on these recordings is the more high-pitched and strident singing typical of some travellers such as Phoebe Smith of Suffolk or Wiggy Smith of Gloucestershire. The singers here all have a gentler, more conversational way of delivering their songs. …