Preserving traditional songs from the South Downs

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A hugely successful project to teach the traditional songs of the South Downs to a new generation of singers came to an end on Sunday with the launch of a CD at the Weald and Downland Museum.

South Downs Songs – live at the Burpham sessions was recorded by people who attended workshops run by folk trio Emily and the Hares for the South Downs Society.

The two-year project received a grant of £48,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Project Manager Chris Hare said the launch was a great success. “We had upwards of 150 people all coming together to celebrate and to sing,” he explained. “Throughout the day groups of our singers performed for visitors to the museum – part of the Sussex Day celebrations.

“People seemed delighted to see and hear these old songs and were impressed by the quality of the singing.”

Emily and the Hares – Emily Longhurst, Chris Hare and Ann Feloy – taught workshop courses in Lewes, Chichester, Petersfield, Brighton, Worthing and Billingshurst between October 2011 and March 2013. Nearly 250 people signed up for the courses and most continued on to record the songs at live sessions at Burpham Village Hall.

South Downs Songs – live at the Burpham sessions contains the lyrics of all 21 songs and some cultural and historical background about each song as well.

The CD retails for £10 and is available via the South Downs Society website – www.southdownssociety.org.uk or by calling the Society on 01798 875073.

Robert Cheesman, Chairman of the South Downs Society, praised the project for raising the profile of the cultural heritage of the South Downs: “The Society is very keen to promote the history and heritage of the Downs,” he said. “This wonderful project has surpassed our hopes in achieving this end and reaching out to people of all ages and backgrounds.”

Information about the project and clips of singers performing the songs can be found on the website. The songs cover all aspects of rural life, including work, trades, drinking, love and songs of wartime. Chris Hare believes those that buy the CD will be so impressed they will want to learn the songs themselves. “These songs are joyous and full of fun,” he says, “a million miles away from the ‘finger-in-the-ear’ idea of folk singing.”