A man called…Sam Lee
Those of you familiar with Sam Lee will be eager to jump straight to the recordings of him (scroll down down down).
Those who know nothing of the name, the man, or the songs, might wish to read on awhile…
Sam Lee is a singer who knows where his songs come from. He works to turn dry old archive recordings into breath, ears, and living celebration.
He is a lineage-holder (with a silver ring to prove it). He was the last apprentice to Stanley Robertson, Scotland’s Traveller Song-King, who taught Sam the songs, the meanings, and the magic of his art and experience. Stanley died last year, God rest him (see obituary), leaving young Sam to maintain the traditions with which he has been entrusted.
Sam has a uniquely thorough grounding in the Folk Traditions of these islands. He worked for years at Cecil Sharp House, the English Folk HQ (see EFDSS). It was through a chance meeting with Sam’s (then) boss, Malcolm, in a Lewes pub, that we met with Sam, and were happily enthused. Our friendship has led us into recording sessions in Cecil Sharp House, to performances in the South Bank Centre, and has seen Sam join us en-walk, on sundry happy occasions.
An inspiring organizer, Sam’s motif seems to be ‘example and enthusiasm’, which people are always willing to follow. He puts on weekly gigs and sessions in London and beyond, with his (award-winning) collective “The Magpie’s Nest”. Last thing we heard, he was touring the USA. If there was ever a man to watch in the British Folk Scene, it is Sam Lee.
Sam is also a bushcraft expert, a thrivalist and outdoors man. This makes him even better company when out walking. Once, when walking alone beside a frozen Scottish river , he saw a mighty trout beneath the surface ice, and by tying his knife to a fallen bough, he improvised the spear with which he took the fish’s life, and ate it. We admire.
Sam seems to agree with us that the most fitting place for traditional British songs is deep in the landscape that produced them. Concrete and car-horns are not the finest folk accompaniment, but birds of the field, wind through woods, and rhythmic sea-tide, most certainly are. These are the contexts that birthed the old songs, the invisible background to all ballads of Britain.
We are glad to have met Sam Lee, whose works so happily co-mingle with our own. If you’re in London, be sure to seek him out. If you’re far from there, his website might suffice…
This winter, in the depths of the coldest snap, when every edge was smoothed and toothed by the enveloping ice, Sam came to visit us. His company was warming welcome, and he brought forth song, great slabs of the stuff, with which to cheer our cockles.
Here are those songs. The recordings speak amply for themselves. Please enjoy them greatly.
Van Dieman’s Land
This tells the tale of poachers. condemned to Tasmania, for trying to supplement family diets with the forbidden flesh of a rich man’s Game Park. The background sound is the rain, falling on our winter home, and the drone comes from Sam’s Shruti Box, an Indian hand-organ.
A wonderful song of piracy and treachery, where the English do not come off best, but sink sink sink.
A final song, which describes a poor man’s cut-throat economic aspirations.