Ancient sea shanties will play again

Songs once commonplace in a long-lost fishing community are being brought back to the life through one of Britain's most famous composers.

Songs once commonplace in a long-lost fishing community are being brought back to the life through one of Britain's most famous composers.

This year his Lark Ascending was voted the top piece of classical music in a radio poll - the first time a British composer has won the annual Classic FM Hall of Fame vote.

And now Ralph Vaughan Williams' work is helping bring back to life some of the old folk and shanty songs sung by fishermen and sailors in King's Lynn's North End until as recently as the 1960s.

In a special project between the BBC Radio Norfolk and the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust folk, songs which inspired the composer's music, including his Norfolk Rhapsodies, Pastoral Symphony and Sea Symphony, will be recorded in a special documentary including anecdotes and memories of the Northenders community as part of a special weekend of events in June.

An influential English composer, Williams started collecting folk songs as inspiration for his symphonies and travelled to King's Lynn in 1905.

And despite being told not to bother going there he found a treasure trove of songs, sung to him by fishermen and sailors, such as James Carter and Charles Crisp, who were then in their 70s.

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Tony Mallion, who has been in charge of the project for the BBC, said: “It is a big thing for us and really very exciting.

“Vaughan Williams had been told not to bother wasting your time going to King's Lynn.

“But he did and the rest is history.

“He published a lot of folk songs that he found, and he took their melodies and used them in his material. Some of it is absolutely beautiful.

“There was a whole movement of that at the time across Europe. It was a crucial time because mass education and the first world war and movement of population would have meant a lot of this would have been lost.”

It has also been discovered that one song, sung to him by Joe Anderson, found its way into a 1906 publication of his and can be found in no. 562, a piece with words by the poet G K Chesterton.

As part of the weekend of events there will be an adult workshop to learn some of the songs which will then be part of a Celebrate North End concert, live broadcasting from King's Lynn by the BBC and a radio documentary.

The music trust has also been working with schools in the area on songs, which will be performed and filmed on April 30 at the Shakespeare Barn in the town's Arts Centre.

Recordings made by the BBC will go towards a modern sound archive of North End voices for the museum, building on the work of Pat Midgley, its founder.

Katie Howson, director of the seven-year-old Music Trust, based in Stowmarket, said: “Many of the old songs are sung unaccompanied

so people think they are simple, but some of the melodies are fairly complex.

“It was the complexity and charm of the melodies which drew Vaughan Williams and it is part of their attraction.”

Anyone who wants to take part or submit material should contact Katie Howson on 01449 771090.

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