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Two Bold Singermen and the English Folk Revival

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Nominated for the 2021 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research

Two Bold Singermen and the English Folk Revival is the first book to explore in depth the lives and song traditions of two of the most influential English traditional singers: Sam Larner and Harry Cox. Larner and Cox were born in late nineteenth-century Norfolk, within six years and fifteen miles of each other. Both men grew up in large working-class families, started work before their teens, spent their working lives in hard manual labour — Larner as a trawlerman, Cox as a farm labourer — and lived into their eighties. Both men were singers from an early age, amassed large repertoires of songs that are now established in the traditional canon, and became key figures in the “folk revival” of the 1950s and 1960s. They directly influenced performers such as Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins, Peggy Seeger, Young Tradition, and Steeleye Span, while indirectly influencing Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. Their impact extends to the current generation of performers and composers in the folk, Americana, and singer/songwriter fields, as well as to Hollywood. Using extensive primary evidence – including recorded interviews with both men – this book provides the first detailed biographies of these great singers, placing their singing and repertoires within the social and cultural contexts in which they lived. It will appeal equally to lovers of traditional song, to social history enthusiasts, and to any reader keen to know more of the fascinating lives of two outstanding singers whose influence continues to this day.

Published: Oct 20, 2020


Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Bruce Lindsay
Introduction Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 1
Fields and Fishing Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 2
Two Norfolk Families Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 3
First Work, First Songs Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 4
The First Folk Revival Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 5
A World Turned Upside Down Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 6
Mr Moeran Comes Collecting Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 7
Harry Finds Fame Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 8
Building the Repertoire Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 9
"All We Had for Entertainment" Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 10
Sam is "Discovered" Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 11
On the Road Bruce Lindsay
Chapter 12
The Road Goes on Forever? Bruce Lindsay
End Matter
Notes Bruce Lindsay
Selected Discography Bruce Lindsay
Bibliography Bruce Lindsay
Index Bruce Lindsay


As someone who learned to love British traditional songs and singers back in the sixties, this book detailing the lives of two of our most influential source singers is a must. It illustrates how two such different, fine, styles of singing developed through personal, familial, generational circumstances against the broader background of the social and cultural conditions of the time. I would recommend it to any one with an interest in social history as well as traditional song.
Frankie Armstrong, singer and voice coach

Books on folk music usually concentrate on the repertoire – the songs themselves, and where they came from and how they are constructed – but Two Bold Singermen and the English Folk Revival breaks the mould and puts the singers centre stage. Harry Cox and Sam Larner, arguably the best of the singers recorded in the post-War period, led different but equally interesting lives, and both had important things to tell us about their songs and the way they sang. This book is not only a fascinating read, and a social history of ordinary Norfolk working people, but also a major contribution to folk song scholarship.
Steve Roud, author of Folk Song in England and compiler of the Roud Folk Song Index

As a folk singer working with songs and stories from East Anglia, I of course welcomed this celebration of Harry, Sam and our rich but often overlooked East Anglian tradition with open arms. It's more than just a window into the lives of two of the unsung heroes of the English folk Revival. Two Bold Singermen and the English Folk Revival is the book I didn't realise I had been waiting for. A thoroughly important book, and an absolute joy.
Georgia Shackleton – ‘The Shackleton Trio’

A very readable and often fascinating source of both folk music lore and social history and while its subjects’ lives were largely based in a small part of East Anglia, its reach extends to some legendary London folk pubs and Shetland, where Sam won singing competitions while on shore leave from herring fishing. Recommended reading for anyone interested in folk song, folk singing and where folk singers got their songs from.
Rob Adams, music journalist

I enjoyed this book so much, that as soon as I finished it, I started again at the beginning: a very rare thing for me, as occasionally before now, I’ve found it hard to read a book I’m reviewing, even just the once!
The book’s blessed with footnotes that show Lindsay’s formidable research. He gets my total respect here: and for supplying a detailed index (amazing the number of biographies that skimp in this area). It’s a heady intellectual brew, but one that’s still easy reading: for he has a lovely lightness of touch, that makes the reader smile.
The Living Tradition

Author Bruce Lindsay’s extensive interviews and desk research are obvious, and the results are fascinating.
I’d say there’s much to gain from learning about the lives and the singing of both men and I’d encourage readers to turn to YouTube, search for their names and play a few tracks, order a couple of CDs and then read this book. Sam and Harry will come alive for you, and you’ll very likely think about their songs in completely new ways.
Folk London

Lindsay's book is a fascinating double biography of these singers.