img_20170111_124259103 In early January, I was privileged to be invited to speak at the singing across the channel workshop at the University of Kent.  I travelled down the morning before the conference, passing through King’s Cross Station on the way.  Now, I must have done that before, but I can’t remember ever noticing the architecture in the past.  Maybe it was the winter sunlight flooding through the roof, or the length of time I had waiting for my connection, but I was very impressed!


I arrived in Canterbury in the early afternoon so that I could have a look round the town centre.  Canterbury is a very attractive place, I must say, and I enjoyed having an hour to explore. Obviously I made a point of going to see the cathedral (well, from the outside, anyway) and I treated myself to a pancake in the Chocolate Cafe.  But I’d decided to use the time away as a bit of a writing retreat, so I made my way to the Falstaff Hotel by mid-afternoon so that I could get down to some work on my Pilgrimage of Grace article.  I spent a very profitable afternoon on it, before meeting Éva Guillorel and Jennifer Reid for an evening meal.

img_20170112_111057611After a good night’s sleep and a tasty, filling breakfast with Éva, I was ready to walk up to the university campus with Jen. First to speak was Una McIlvenna, who had organised the conference with Éva. Una told us about her current work on ‘Mazarinades: songs about the Fronde’.  She commented that many are based on a verse form which was closely associated with satire.  They vary from the respectful to the downright crude, and Una argued that a musical approach allows us to understand fully the intertextual references.  I was next, talking about the Pilgrimage of Grace ballads and the way in which some sixteenth-century ballads hid their meaning in  order to protect their authors and singers.

img_20170112_122517285Before lunch, we looked at some of the University of Kent’s John Crow Collection of Ballads and Songs. One of the items on show containeimg_20170112_122326514d a selection of Irish songs including ‘The Lamentation of Hugh Reynolds‘, a song which I learned from the singing of the late Maggie Boyle.  By coincidence, her son Joe finished editing a video of Maggie’s final recording, ‘The Kings of Industry‘, the weekend following the conference.

After lunch, Angela McShane spoke about ‘Dealing with the French in 17th Century English Ballads’, describing how French Protestant exiles to England were subsumed into the category of loyal English. She paid attention to the familiar ways in which foreigners were stereotyped in the seventeenth century, drawing parallels with twenty-first century attitudes.  The next speaker was Éva Guillorel, who talked about her work on ‘Defamatory Songs in French Judicial Archives’.  The records reveal tensions between clergy, bourgeoisie and nobility.  Although there are a huge variety of authors, there are many records of one public figure writing about another.  Music is rarely mentioned and never notated.

img_20170112_153548497I chaired the final session, when Oskar Cox Jensen spoke about ‘Early Modern Intrusions in 19th Century Politics’ in the form of balladeers, who asserted an older view of neighbourhood control by the use of defamatory ballads at a local level.  He argued that songs were empowering for the patrician even if they were written by journalists because they put politics in their hands and employed knowingness.  Last came Jennifer Reid, who sang extracts from 19th century Mancunian ballads and performed Lancashire dialect verse.  We discussed the relevance of news to ballads and how far the newspaper should be taken as the standard to which we compare our news content.  The workshop closed with a wine reception, and we headed back to London through the worsening weather, continuing our discussions on the train.

I must extend my thanks to Éva and to Una, who organised the conference with such efficiency and good humour.  I’d also like to send my best wishes to Una, as she returns to Australia to take up her new position in the University of Melbourne history department.