Percy Grainger (rear, centre) and four Lincolnshire folk singers, including Joseph Taylor (right, front)

Just spent a delightful couple of days in North Lincolnshire on the trail of Percy Grainger, with my old friend Charlie Davie.

Grainger collected folk songs in North Lincolnshire from 1906-09, pioneering the use of the phonograph to record the local folk singers. His visits to Brigg in particular, yielded a rich harvest of songs, which I had the privilege of listening to recently at Cecil Sharp House where they keep the complete recordings. Songs such as ‘I’m Seventeen Come Sunday’, ‘Lord Bateman’, ‘Creeping Jane’ ‘The Ship’s Carpenter’ (later recorded by Bob Dylan, ‘Bold William Taylor’ and ‘Died For Love’ were recorded for the first time here, as was ‘Brigg Fair’, famously set by Grainger’s friend and mentor Frederick Delius, a recording of which can be heard here.

For me the highlight of the visit was a visit to Saxby-All-Saints, home of Grainger’s favourite singer Joseph Taylor, who walked from his home to Brigg and won the first competition with his version – and introduction to the world – of ‘The Sprig of Thyme’. Of Taylor, Grainger wrote, “Mr. Joseph Taylor was a perfect artist in the very purest style of English folk-song singing, having, in addition to fine natural musical gifts, a resonant ringing lilting tenor voice… Though his memory for the texts of songs was not uncommonly good, his mind was a seemingly unlimited store-house of melodies, which he swiftly recalled at the merest mention of their titles. His versions were generally distinguished by the beauty of their melodic curves and by the symmetry of their construction. He relied more upon purely vocal effects than almost any folk-singer I ever heard. His dialect and his treatment of narrative points were no t so exceptional, but his effortless high notes, sturdy rhythms, clean unmistakable intervals and his twiddles and ‘bleating’ ornaments (invariably executed with unfailing grace and neatness) were irresistible.”

Taylor had sung in the choir at the church of Saxby-All-Saints for 45 years, and it was a moving experience to stand in that selfsame church and imagine him singing in that resonant voice that so beguiled Grainger. While the church was undistinguished, for me it held a great beauty, as I sat in a pew where Percy Grainger himself may have sat, and listened in appreciation to, not only Taylor, but the whole choir of North Lincolnshire locals at their devotions.

Grainger later took Taylor to London to hear Delius’s setting of ‘Brigg Fair’, during which, rumor has it, he got up and sang along. While we can’t hear this, we can here him singing another song he introduced to Grainger, ‘Rufford Park Poachers’, a song Grainger later set as part of his Wind Suite A Lincolnshire Posy. The recording is here, and shows why Grainger regarded him so highly.