Frank Purslow (1926-2007)

By Schofield, Derek | Folk Music Journal, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Frank Purslow (1926-2007)


Schofield, Derek, Folk Music Journal


Frank Purslow was born, with the surname Chapman, in Edgbaston, Birmingham, on 20 February 1926. Encouraged to sing by his aunt, it was the folk songs of family get-togethers and school that stuck in his memory. In his young teens, he read Cecil Sharp's song books and biography, borrowed from the local library, but on moving to London after the Second World War, he became more interested in the theatre. His brother reawakened his interest in folk music, with Burl Ives songs accompanied on the guitar, but when he heard his brother's 78 rpm records of Ewan MacColl and A. L. Lloyd, Frank sought out their folk club, Ballads and Blues. He later recalled that this was Very different to anything I'd heard before'.

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It was at Ballads and Blues that Frank heard his first traditional singer, Phoebe Smith, and he soon travelled out to Woodbridge in Suffolk to visit Phoebe and her husband Joe, a fiddle player. He also befriended Harry Cox, after meeting him when Harry made a rare visit to sing in London. On that occasion, Harry was taken ill and Frank visited him in hospital, and later in Norfolk. Frank tape-recorded both Phoebe Smith and Harry Cox, but not Sam Larner whom he also visited. He also went in search of older singers in the Three Bridges area of Sussex.

Frank became a regular visitor to Cecil Sharp House and helped as a volunteer in the library. It was librarian Sara Jackson who was responsible for sparking Frank's enthusiasm in the manuscript song collections made by the Hammond brothers, Henry and Robert, mainly in Dorset, and by George Gardiner in Hampshire. At the time, few people even knew of the manuscripts' existence. Frank offered to index the songs, starting with the Hammond collection. It proved to be a time-consuming process, with Frank frequently having to match texts and tunes and, with the Gardiner collection, type out texts from the original notebooks. As a result of his work, Frank Purslow contributed two important articles on George Gardiner and the Hammond brothers to Folk Music Journal, in 1967 and 1968, respectively.

At Cecil Sharp House, Frank became a regular at the Ceilidhe Club, where Peter Kennedy was introducing traditional Irish and English singers and musicians to the young folk enthusiasts. Soon, Frank was running two folk clubs himself, helped by the guitarist John Pearse. In 1959, Frank and John made a record for the Dobell's label. Entitled Rap-a-Tap-Tap, it comprised traditional songs from the Hammond, Gardiner, and Sharp collections.

Peter Kennedy wanted to produce cheap pocket-sized books of songs for people to sing and, with the success of Rap-a-Tap-Tap, he approached Frank because of his knowledge of both traditional folk songs and ballad sheets. The result was Marrow Bones, published in 1965. …

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