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Reports of meeting talks

13th November 2015
‘Adventures in stories and song in the oral tradition of Norfolk and Suffolk’
Neil Langham, a former auctioneer

On Tues, 13th November 2015 our speaker was Neil Langham, a former auctioneer, whose talk ‘Adventures in stories and song in the oral tradition of Norfolk and Suffolk’ together with recordings and pictures evoked a world that had existed in the 50s and 60s, just over half a century ago now but light years away in terms of culture and it was to this world that Neil was introduced at the age of five following the death of his father when he and his mother Ruby moved from Yarmouth to live with an uncle on a Suffolk farm. It was here, where there was no electricity or indeed any modern conveniences and where the house cow provided the milk for the butter that Neil’s fascination with the oral traditions of the region began, in the midst of a warm extended family, who would gather by the light of Tilley Lamps in the evening to play cards, his uncles and mother singing songs and telling riddles and stories. Neil’s mother Ruby loved and had a long involvement with horses and the land and her songs reflected this. The young Neil was captivated and as he grew older he became aware that the songs would one day vanish if nobody tried to preserve them for future generations.

The traditional singers and story tellers generally performed in the village pubs where strangers were not welcome and everyone drank mild. Rich in wisdom and metaphor, sometimes bawdy, sometimes relating famous murders of the past when the news was spread by ballads and broadsheets, these songs had been passed down through the generations and evolved over time unfettered by the conventional rules of literacy and music. The names Gunboat Smith, Cocky King, Cyril Poacher and Bob Scarce, to name a few, became legends and, thanks to Neil, they and their songs, live on in the recordings and film he has produced.

Another group of rural heroes were the horsemen, many whose names have never been forgotten In communities that could not have survived without the horse. They were revered and respected for their ancient wisdom. Their skills in horse management and welfare had been honed over centuries and it was with great pride that these men wore ‘The Suffolk Jacket’ commissioned by themselves and costing thirteen weeks wages, a considerable sum in those days.

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