Music heritage enthusiast Robin Burton recently Ashton Ingham WI locals with a fascinating talk on the rich history of English folk songs. The compelling discourse, delivered at short notice, delved into the evolution of singing habits, the diligent preservation efforts of a few determined individuals, and the surprising origins of some well-known melodies.

Burton began by painting a picture of a time when singing was woven into the fabric of daily life, a pastime far more prevalent among the working class than the gentry. The arrival of the radio, he explained, signalled the start of the decline of this communal tradition.

The tale of Cecil Sharp, an earnest reviver of traditional English songs, particularly captivated the audience. Sharp embarked on journeys across Somerset and Gloucestershire, even venturing as far as the Appalachian Mountains in America, in his quest to unearth these nostalgic tunes.

Burton then introduced the intriguing figure of Percy Grainger, a pianist and composer, who recorded these precious melodies on his dictaphone. Grainger's journey had been initiated by a visit to a workhouse party hosted by the infamous Lady Elchno, where attendees sang old songs with fervour.

Busting a few popular myths, Burton revealed that the song 'Danny Boy' actually hailed from Avonmouth, not Ireland, as popularly believed. Similarly, 'The Wild Rover' was originally English, not Irish.

He further divulged details about a lottery-funded project, 'Songs and Tunes', which aimed to collate these songs and introduce them to a younger generation via school programmes.

Burton also highlighted the revival of the Gloucester Christmas custom of 'Wassailing', a festive gathering involving food, drink, and costumes, with donations going to the local Food Bank.

The session culminated in a stirring performance by Burton himself, who delighted the audience with renditions of these cherished folk songs. Those in attendance described the talk as both enlightening and entertaining, a stirring reminder of the vibrant musical heritage we share.