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Previous Roy Palmer Lectures

2023, Whitby Folk Week
Stephen Winick - Lessons learned from Robin Hood

In Britain and America, we all grow up hearing, seeing, and reading tales of Robin Hood. We may know him as a mystical Celtic warrior, a jaded returning crusader, or a youthful martial artist. But before all that, he was a ballad hero. In this lecture, In this lecture, Steve explores the character as he features in traditional songs and ballads. Robin Hood scholars have focused on certain questions: was there a real outlaw behind the Robin Hood stories, and if so, when did he live? Was Robin a nature spirit in what has been called the “Fairy Mythology?” Or was he more simply a fictional character? Having touched on these subjects, he suggested other questions more central to the ballad scholar, and the ballad singer: what do the Robin Hood ballads communicate? How can we help them keep communicating to today’s audiences? The lecture was illustrated with Steve's own live singing, and some of his recorded performances of Robin Hood ballads, on which he is accompanied by leading folk musicians, including Grammy Award winners and National Heritage Fellows.

Stephen Winick is a folklorist at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, the home of important archival collections including the Alan Lomax Collection and the James Madison Carpenter Collection. He is the general editor of the Folklife Today blog from the Library of Congress, and the co-host of the Folklife Today podcast. His writing about diverse folklore topics, including ballads, legends, proverbs, and riddles, has appeared in many publications, including 'Folklore', 'The Journal of American Folklore', 'Dirty Linen', 'Realms of Fantasy', and 'Sing Out! 'He was a contributing editor to the 'Grove Dictionary of American Music', 2nd edition, and to the 'All Music Guide'. As a singer with several folk groups, he has performed at diverse venues, including Cecil Sharp House, the Ark, the Birchmere, and Mystic Seaport Museum. For over a decade he has been studying, adapting, arranging, and performing Robin Hood ballads. He holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, and an undergraduate degree in Middle English from Columbia University. In 2022, he was elected a Fellow of the American Folklore Society.

The 2023 Roy Palmer Lecture was hosted by Whitby Folk Week, to whom we are very grateful for probiding the facilities.You can view the video of the lecture at

2022, Whitby Folk Week
Julia Bishop - What shall we do with folk song music?

It’s 115 years since Cecil Sharp published his conclusions on English folk song with his observations on its music. Despite the musical orientation of most early collectors, and subsequent advances in other areas of research into traditional song, our musical understandings seem to be stuck in 1907. Is there any more to be said? What is it that we want to know today? Julia Bishop gives her take on these questions, drawing on examples from her own research.

Julia Bishop has been involved in the collection, transcription and analysis of traditional music for 40 years, when her day job allows it. She completed a degree in music before going on to an MA in folk life studies at Leeds and a PhD in folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland. She now works as a researcher at the University of Sheffield School of Education where she studies children’s folklore, past and present, including musical play. Julia may be better known to some as the organist for the local carol singing at the Blue Ball, Worrall.

The 2022 Roy Palmer Lecture was hosted by Whitby Folk Week. You can view the video of the lecture on YouTube -

2021, Online
Jeremy Harte - ‘Brother Workmen: Solidarity in Trade Folklore’


'They worked in unison, they sang in unison. For traditional artisans, the trade was more than a job: it was a living presence, which might take form as Old Clem or St. Crispin or Bishop Blaize. Rules of the workplace were enforced with the kind of mock-earnestness that masks real solemnity, and humour, often tested to breaking-point, was a test of whether mates could be relied on: that was why apprentices had to be teased and sent on fools’ errands. Mere skill was not enough for initiation: the rules of the workshop explicitly protected the interests of the group as against those of the individual, keeping back the over-industrious in order to redistribute work to the needy. Like soldiers, artisans saw the outside world through an atmosphere of slightly boozed male camaraderie, preposterous but well-loved traditions, fiercely enforced loyalty, and absolute unity against a common foe – the bosses.'

Jeremy Harte is a researcher into the overlap between folklore and the landscape, especially places of encounter with the supernatural. His books include Cuckoo Pounds and Singing Barrows, The Green Man, English Holy Wells and Explore Fairy Traditions. A member of the Council of the Folklore Society, he trained as a museum professional, and is curator of the Bourne Hall Museum in Surrey.

This event was hosted by the Folklore Society, and an audio recording of Jeremy's talk can be heard on their YouTube channel -

2020, Online
Jeff Warner - Old Songs for New Folk,Interpreting the tradition for lay audiences
In his talk, 'Old Songs for New Folk' Jeff Warner described his approach to interpreting traditional songs to audiences who are not familiar with the genre and how using the style and delivery of traditional singers helps to get the story across. He talked about choosing songs, the use of humour, and dealing with 'difficult' topics. He played a number of examples live and from recordings.
The presentation on Zoom was recorded, and you can see the video of it here:
Jeff Warner is one of America’s foremost interpreters of traditional music. His songs from the lumber camps, fishing villages, and mountaintops connect 21st-century audiences with the everyday lives – and artistry – of 19th-century Americans. Jeff grew up listening to the songs and stories of his father Frank Warner and the traditional singers his parents met during their folksong collecting trips through rural America. He accompanied his parents on their later field trips and is the editor of his mother’s book, Traditional American Folk Songs: From the Anne and Frank Warner Collection. Jeff has performed widely, from large festivals in the UK, to clubs, festivals and schools across America. He plays concertina, banjo, guitar and several “pocket” instruments, including bones and spoons.
2019, Belfast
Dr John Moulden – The Worlds of Sam Henry


Sam Henry is known world-wide for the newspaper series ‘Songs of the People’ and the singers and publications that draw on it. However, he was much more than that. He allowed himself to be distracted into the fields of journalism, broadcasting, topography, photography, genealogy, archaeology and others. This talk will explore and delineate these diversions to indicate that these diffuse strands of his activity can be drawn together to build a compelling context for the songs, the singers and life in north Ulster in the first half of the 20th century.


Dr John Moulden is a lifelong singer and student, more concerned with the location of songs and singers within their communities than with mere words and music. A former Primary School Principal he is, like Roy Palmer, an advocate of the use of traditional songs in schools; but recent work, led by his doctoral thesis ‘The printed ballad in Ireland’, has been more academic; principally concerned with persuading historians that vernacular songs, properly questioned, are vital components in reaching into the lives of the ordinary people of the past and that literary scholars should appreciate that such songs have qualities not reached by the poetry of the formally educated classes.



2018, Newcastle
Dr Sandra Joyce - He Travelled East and He Travelled West: The Contribution of Travelers to Irish Traditional Song


In ‘He Travelled East and he Travelled West: The Contribution of Travelers to Irish Traditional Song’ Sandra Joyce will discuss the legacy of Travelers to the song tradition of Ireland in the twenty-first century, considering the place of the medieval ballad as well as popular song styles.


Dr Sandra Joyce is Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, which has twenty programmes of study from BA to PhD level. Together with Niall Keegan and Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, she founded the BA Irish Music and Dance and MA Irish Traditional Music Performance at the university and has been the course director for both of these programmes.  She has also led the development of many other programmes at the Academy. She is a founding member of the TradSong research cluster, and has supervised a number of PhDs in the area of traditional song. Sandra is a traditional singer and bodhrán player.  Her CD, produced by legendary musician Dónal Lunny and entitled Since You and I have Been: Songs of Love and Loss from the Irish Tradition will be released in 2018.  Her research interests include the Irish song tradition, the Irish harp tradition, and historical sources of Irish traditional music.  Her co-edited volume, Harp Studies: Perspectives on the Irish Harp (with Helen Lawlor) was published by Four Courts Press, Dublin, in 2016.



2017, Sheffield
Prof Ian Russell – Why Study Traditional Song and Singing? A Personal Quest for Meaning


‘In this lecture, I will embark on an exploration of the life journey I have made documenting traditional songs and singing, trying to make sense of the changing landscape, identifying the key moments and encounters, and reflecting on the experiences of fieldwork and scholarship. Along the way, I will be noting significant connections, identifying creativity, sharing transformative experiences, and evaluating my ‘progress’. Ultimately we are all trying to understand an aspect of human expression and it is the people who share and nurture their cultural traditions and with whom we build relationships that provide us with the key, the content and the vision. Fear not, this lecture is not about theory or navel gazing but people, songs and singing’.


Emeritus Professor Ian Russell is the former Director of the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen (1999-2014). This institute specialises in the ethnology and folklore of the North and North East of Scotland. His current research is focused on the traditional culture of NE Scotland, including singing traditions, instrumental traditions, and festivalisation. Since 1969 he has conducted extensive fieldwork into singing traditions in the English Pennines, especially Christmas carolling – and has published The Sheffield Book of Village Carols (2011) and The Derbyshire Book of Village Carols (2012). He is the founder and Director of the Festival of Village Carols, and the President of the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, which has held meetings in St. John’s in Newfoundland, Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland, Cape Breton Island and Aberdeen. His most recent publication, co-edited with Catherine Ingram, is Taking Part in Music: Case Studies in Ethnomusicology (Aberdeen University Press, 2013). He is Principal Investigator in the AHRC/NAFCo Networking Project ‘Memory, Music and Movement’.



2016, Stroud
Steve Roud – English Folk Song, Some More Conclusions

Steve Roud is one of England’s leading writers on folklore and folk song, and his ‘Roud Index of Songs’ has become an essential tool for those interested in exploring the roots of traditional English song. His Introduction to the recent New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs outlined current thinking on English folk song in the 21st Century and set many myths about it to rest. He is now working on a new book for Faber, called Folk Song in England. His talk, ‘English Folk Song, Some More Conclusions’, will describe the latest thinking about English traditional song.

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