Video: Music festival celebrates life of north Norfolk folk singer

Alan Helsdon singing at the graveside of local folk legend Walter Pardon, in whose memory a music festival was held at North Walsham. Photo: Karen Bethell Alan Helsdon singing at the graveside of local folk legend Walter Pardon, in whose memory a music festival was held at North Walsham. Photo: Karen Bethell

Sophie Wyllie sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk
Sunday, March 2, 2014
5:08 PM

A festival celebrating the life of a north Norfolk folk singer was brought to a poignant end after a relative of the musician held a short commemoration service at his grave today (Sunday).

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Walter Pardon - a life dedicated to music

Walter Pardon was born in Knapton on March 4 1914.

Relative Roger Dixon persuaded him to record 20 songs, aged 59, after hearing him perform The Dark-Eyed Sailor at a family party.

Within a couple of years Mr Pardon had completed further recordings, joined a group of English folk singers at the American Bicentennial Celebrations in Washington, and appeared at a range of folk festivals and clubs.

Much of his repertoire came from his uncle, Billy Gee, who in turn had learnt songs from his father - a repertoire stretching back to the early part of the 19th century.

Although he left school at 14 to become an apprentice carpenter, Mr Pardon was very well-read and had a remarkable memory for songs.

He was filmed by the American film-maker John Cohen in 1983, in a documentary called The Ballad and the Source.

His songs included classic ballads, music-hall songs, and several rare songs from the early days of the Agricultural Workers Union.

Noted folk record producer Bill Leader recorded Mr Pardon singing at his Knapton cottage and issued his first two LPs in the 1970s called A Proper Sort and Our Side of the Baulk.

He died on June 1996 and an obituary said Mr Pardon’s style of singing reflected his personality - a sensitive private man, whose singing let the song speak for itself.

The weekend music event at the Atrium in North Walsham was held to remember Walter Pardon, who spent his life in the same cottage on Hall Lane, Knapton.

Mr Pardon’s talent was only discovered when he was 59-years-old, but he turned out to be one of the most important traditional English singers.

He was buried at Swafield Church in 1996 and would have turned 100 this year.

Retired clergyman Roger Dixon, 80, whose father was a cousin of Mr Pardon, led the commemoration at the musician’s grave.

Mr Dixon, who grew up in Knapton but now lives in Wales, said: “I remember Walter’s music as part of family life. All the family was musical. We used to have great Christmas gatherings.

“The whole weekend has been a tremendous success. This quiet commemoration at Walter’s grave was a fitting way to bring it to a close.

“Walter’s fame took him by surprise. He was quite a modest man and yet accepted his fame quite easily.”

The outdoor service was watched by a small group of people, including top English folk star Martin Carthy. As well as prayers, it included stories about Mr Pardon and singing.

Mr Dixon, a former Fakenham curate and teacher at the old Fakenham Grammar School, helped people discover the musical talent.

“Walter didn’t want his songs to die,” he added.

A tape of music was given to folk performer Peter Bellamy – a former pupil of Mr Dixon’s. Before that Mr Pardon had never sung in public.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he recorded about 150 songs on five albums and performed in folk festivals and clubs in America as well as Britain.

He liked to perform at the Orchard Gardens in North Walsham.

Mr Carthy, who sang at Mr Pardon’s funeral, said: “What made him different was that he was the last singer with a huge repertoire of very old songs.

He was an example of steadfastness, passion and dedication. He was an extraordinary man.”

Do you have an interesting music story from north Norfolk? Email sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk

3 comments

  • Great songs, would have liked to meet Walter Pardon.

    Report this comment

    Brian

    Monday, March 3, 2014

  • Great songs, would have liked to meet Walter Pardon.

    Report this comment

    Brian

    Monday, March 3, 2014

  • Great songs, would have liked to meet Walter Pardon.

    Report this comment

    Brian

    Monday, March 3, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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