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Songs From the Roadside
The official launch of the audio cassette and book based on the original BBC Hereford and Worcester radio programme “Songs from the Roadside” is to take place on Friday 10th May at 6.00 p.m. in the churchyard at Weobley. After a break at 7.30 for a concert of Ralph Vaughan Williams music, the launch will resume at 9.30 with a Gypsy campfire sing-song.
Jeremy Sandford’s extensive research for the original radio programme was made possible through the generous backing and support of West Midlands Arts and Radio Hereford and Worcester, and was produced, edited, and transmitted from the BBC studios in Worcester.
An unusual aspect of the launch will be that for three days a genuine Gypsy bowtop caravan will be parked in the churchyard, complete with Gypsy Ted Atkinson and some of his family. Ted is one of a number of Gypsy singers who is now receiving public recognition as a direct result of Jeremy Sandford’s original programme and the roadshow presentation that followed from it.
The invitation to camp comes from the Rev Richard Birt, vicar of Weobley, and is believed to be the first time Romany Gypsies have created a Gypsy encampment in a churchyard. Ted and his family will be resident in the caravan throughout the event.
There will be a genuine Gypsy campfire with logs and buckets for seating and Ted, assisted by his family and author Jeremy Sandford on squeezebox, will be conducting a Gypsy sing-song and offering participants a bowl of ‘jogray’ - Gypsy stew cooked in the traditional way out in the open. They will be joined, among many others, by Mark O’Gallaidh, traditional Gypsy singer and performer on bodhran and Irish whistle.
Weobley is particularly appropriate for this event since it was at The Homme hop farm nearby that the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, assisted by Weobley resident Ella Mary Leather, recorded folk songs from local Gypsies which he later incorporated into his own music, and published.
One of these Gypsies was Eliza Smith, who is buried near to where Ted’s caravan will be parked. Some of Eliza Smith’s Gypsy grandchildren, great grand-children and great great grandchildren will also be present as guests of honour.
These Smith family of Gypsies are all still living locally, although Ted who, in addition to being a singer is also a wheelwright, restorer of ancient Gypsy caravans, and founder of the Gypsy Museum at Axbridge, comes from Somerset.
Six Gypsy children, Eliza Smith’s descendants, were recently baptised by Richard Birt at Weobley, and the Gypsy encampment and launch of Jeremy Sandford’s cassette and book are featured as part of a weekend festival centering round Weobley church and featuring concerts and talks celebrating and relating to the lives of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Ella Mary Leather.
The 6.00 p.m. launch on Friday will adjourn at 7.30 to hear a concert in the church of Ralph Vaughan Williams music. The launch and campfire sing-song will continue at 9.30, after the concert is ended.
Many of the festival events, including all the above, are free. Sunday, at 1.45, sees a talk and presentation with field recordings and live Gypsy musicians by Jeremy Sandford, also free. Outside events will take place in the church if it is wet.
There will also be a ceilidh with Wiffeldy on Saturday night in The Hopelands, Weobley’s Village Hall, and a folk concert with Michael Raven, Joan Mills, and Fred Jordan.
Jeremy Sandford’s book and audio cassette, like the original radio programme, explore the rich world of Gypsy traditional folk song in the West Midlands over the last hundred years, with recordings, transcriptions and illustrations.
Jeremy says; ‘It may be that Gypsies are the last English people still to be sitting round the fireside and singing old songs in the way we all did once. As well as their own songs in Anglo-Romany, they have been preservers of the traditional folk music that belongs to all of us.’
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