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George Sansome and Sophie Crawford stand in the hall at Cecil Sharp House, posing for the camera while researching their Queer Folk project.

The Queer Folk Interview

Sophie Crawford and George Sansome discuss the Queer Folk project, seeking out LGBTQIA songs that have largely remained hidden.

Sometimes, as an interviewer, it’s best to set the ball rolling and get out of the way. That’s certainly the case with Sophie Crawford and George Sansome, the two musicians behind the Queer Folk project. Having met via a deep dive into the Mainly Norfolk website, they began their exploration into the representation of LGBTQIA people in traditional folk music during lockdown, taking it to Cecil Sharp House and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library late last year, after they were awarded the Alan James Creative Bursary to continue their research.

It’s rare to find two people quite so passionate about what they’re doing, almost fighting over one another to get a word in edgeways, regularly finishing each others sentences. Over the course of 90 minutes, they discussed their project in real depth, digging into songs with explicit references to sexual activities, hypotheses on why so many sailors in traditional songs end up in women’s clothing, techniques for combing through repressed history, discovering queer meaning hiding in plain sight, Robin Hood, looking at songs and traditions in a modern context, getting more diversity into folk clubs, the Ladies of Llangollen, Vesta Tilley, and the freedom of the Music Hall world.

As you might have guessed, this is a vast and sprawling interview, and you’d do well to find yourself a comfy chair. But don’t get too relaxed – there’s a lot to take in. Prepare to have your perspectives rearranged.

I’m sure there have been lots of queer people who have gone into the archives at Cecil Sharp House thinking, “I must be somewhere in these songs.”

George Sansome, Queer Folk

First of all, how did you two meet?

Sophie Crawford: That’s actually a really good question. George, didn’t you get in touch with me?

George Sansome: Yeah. I’d come across Sophie’s music on Mainly Norfolk, that amazing website. I think she had Album of the Year or something.

Which album was that?

SC: Silver Pin, in 2018.

GS: Yeah. So I’ve been aware of Sophie’s music for a while.

Were you looking around on Mainly Norfolk for songs and you found that Sophie had done a version of something you were interested in?

GS: I was looking for songs and found they’d included one of her YouTube videos. I think it was ‘Little Yellow Roses‘. So I listened to her music for a bit and then, when I did my album launch in lockdown in 2020, I did a live stream and I asked people for video submissions. I got four people to do the support spots. I asked Sophie out of the blue. She very kindly said yes, despite not knowing who I am or anything. As I was broadcasting that launch over this livestream, I realised it was great working with her, and I got this feeling that Sophie might be queer.

SC: But then you don’t know and you can’t ask. It was only when you posted something saying you were doing a project researching queer folk songs…

GS: …I sent you an email.

SC: Did you? I saw that you did a post and then I sent you an email saying, “Oh my god, George, this is what I want to do as well!”

GS: Yeah, it was something like that. We had both been independently thinking it’d be great to do something with queer folk songs, and there are a lot of queer people on the folk scene, so we thought we could maybe join the dots.

SC: I think I sent you an email with a recording of ‘Our Captain Calls’ in it and was like, “This is a gay song. There are so many more to find.” So that was how we met. It was mainly Mainly Norfolk, wasn’t it?

GS: Yeah, mainly Mainly Norfolk [laughs].

That’s really interesting. Obviously, Mainly Norfolk inspires a huge amount of folk song research, but I don’t think I’ve heard of people coming together as a collaboration through it before.

SC: I guess it was also because of the lockdown, right? In normal times we would have met at gigs and things.

GS: Yeah, I think I did have a bit more confidence to email you in lockdown because there was nothing else going on. My imagination was running wild in terms of the project. And so it’s just like, “I’ll just ask people – the dream team.”

So when did you actually get together and start the Queer Folk project?

GS: The first time we met in person was last September…

SC: …but we’d been working together for several months before that. We started at some point in 2020, but only got in a room together at the end of 2021. It was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s what you look like!” It’s just so strange. We’ve been working so sensitively together from afar.

GS: We’ve spent a lot of hours on Zoom looking at each other’s heads.

We were going through these songs thinking, “Why are we the people to do this? Are we qualified to do this?”

Sophie Crawford, Queer Folk

So, you spent five days in September, 2021, in Cecil Sharp House, exploring the archives for traditional songs with explicit queer references. Did your findings surprise you?

SC: There were just loads of them. That was what was so shocking. Our project came directly before Angeline Morrison’s, and we were chatting about it. It was so interesting. She was like, “I’m absolutely scrabbling. There’s nothing here.” So, her project has become about making and creating. But in terms of queer stuff, there is an unbelievable wealth of material. We were going through these songs thinking, “Why are we the people to do this? Are we qualified to do this?” We were looking at it all and there was just so much. And once you scratch the surface… it was just insane.

When you say so much, do you have a rough idea of the number of songs you found?

GS: I have a list…

SC: …and on that list alone, there are probably at least 70 songs, and that’s very much broad brushstrokes. That’s like every song that has people gender-bending, songs that have people expressing desire for the same sex, broadside ballads that talk about actual incidents of female husbands.

GS: Yeah, it definitely was a surprise. I was thinking we might not find any explicitly queer songs, and that’s OK, and there’s going to be loads with the potential for queering or, like, maybe some slight themes. But we found songs that were like… my god! What was the candle one?

SC: The candle one! We’re still trying to work out what to do with it. I don’t know. It’s about a maid who has sex with her mistresses using candles. And it’s like, wow, OK…!

GS: And then there’s the fiddle one, which is 18th century, and it’s an explicit reference to anal sex…

SC: …with a fiddle!

Probed by a fiddle?! A whole fiddle? Just the bow?

GS: Well, the idea is that the fiddle, in a lot of traditional songs, is like a euphemism for a phallic object. Or the penis, being the most phallic object of all objects [laughs]. And the idea is that there’s this beautiful fiddle on a chair, this gorgeous fiddle, and then someone with a great masculine bum comes and sits on it. Those are literally the words that he uses: “a great masculine bum”. And then, at the end of the song, it says something like, “You critics of deep penetration, don’t fear, this is all just a joke.” So, not only is it a euphemistic reference, but then in the song itself, it explicitly says what it’s actually about, which is bonkers.

How much work must have gone into repressing this? How much work must have gone into edging this stuff out?

Sophie Crawford, Queer Folk

SC: There was so much stuff that actually astonished me. I just thought, “How much work must have gone into repressing this? How much work must have gone into edging this stuff out?” Because, clearly, everyone was sleeping with everyone else, and gay people have existed forever. What a mammoth editing job someone had to do.

I don’t want to sound naive, but what makes you so sure that these homosexual references are not just a sort of bawdy humour? And did you find any evidence of the collectors editing these songs, since we know that some of them had Victorian sensibilities when it came to sex in traditional songs?

SC: I’m not conscious of any specific collectors editing particular songs, and I think that avenue of exploration would have probably been a closed door, considering how much editing was happening in those cases anyway.

GS: In terms of the bawdy question, sometimes we had to do an amount of reframing in our heads. For example, there’s a woman who dresses up as a sailor and goes off to sea. Yeah, it could just be that, but there are gender-bending elements.

SC: There’s a queering within that, yeah.

GS: I’ve got a totally unproven theory about all these sailors songs, like ‘Canadee-I-O‘ or whatever, or the ones where the sailor ends up in a woman’s outfit, like ‘Barrack Street‘. If you were gender-non-conforming and someone discovered you, you could be arrested. Some of them might try to get out of it by saying, “Oh, this woman came and stole my clothes and just left me hers, and now look at me.” I think maybe there’s evidence of people saying that sort of thing in court. And in these songs, I don’t know, I feel that there’s maybe a knowing excuse in there that’s like, “Oh, it was this mysterious woman who came and stole my clothes. Wink, wink.”

SC: In terms of our readings of these songs being homosexual or queer, I guess we’re coming at it with our perception and understanding, which is fairly backed up in history, that there have always been gay people, homosexual people, gender-non-conforming people, but that their expression has always been completely repressed. So, any fragments and readings we can find, we’re thinking, “Well, this could be…”

That’s the technique that’s used a lot in reference to lesbians in the past, because obviously that’s been something people pretended didn’t exist for the longest time. A lot of historians looking at the medieval period, when looking at sources, will say, “We’re dealing with something that is so invisible and so unspoken about, and if we went purely off the historical sources that are available, then maybe there were only five lesbians in 1,000 years, right? That cannot be true.” So, when looking at early medieval history, they do something where they say, “Let’s look for examples of lesbian-like behaviour, or examples where there’s lesbian opportunity. Let’s look at those avenues.”

So, scholars of the early medieval period might look at the texts and say, “OK, well, there are a lot of women who are defining themselves as single women. There are a lot of women who are going into convents and becoming very expressive about their love for Christ’s wounds,” which some people say look a bit like vaginas. So they become quite creative. And if that’s what’s going on amongst historians of queer history, we have to apply the same level of creativity and open-mindedness in reference to our source material, because we’re dealing with something that was dangerous and people were executed for up until unbelievably recently.

A lot of people explore traditional song and bring all these meanings to it through a cis heteronormative lens, so why can’t we do the same?

George Sansome, Queer Folk

So, yes, I know detractors will think it’s barely there, but you’re dealing with a history that has been very heavily suppressed. So, when we’re reading about fiddles doing that or candles doing this, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of making a reference to other sexual practices that were definitely going on. It’s just about finding these little fragments.

GS: I guess it’s because everything is framed through the lens of cis heteronormativity. So, when you flip that on its head, then you can view these things in a completely different way. A song can be the exact same song, but just by kind of flipping a switch in here [taps the head], it just opens up a whole new load of avenues. A lot of people explore traditional song and bring all these meanings to it through a cis heteronormative lens, so why can’t we do the same?

SC: Yeah, I was thinking about that the other day when we were doing ‘Willie O’Winsbury’, and, obviously, that’s got the really obvious verse that everyone talks about. Whenever we talk about the project, everyone goes, “What about ‘Willie O’Winsbury’?

Can you explain to our readers what that verse you’re referring to is?

Yeah. It’s got this verse where the king basically says to his daughter, “I really fancy your boyfriend. If I was a woman I’d go out with him.” That’s a really important verse, but I think there’s also something about another verse where he’s asking her who has got her pregnant. He’s going through all these different people, and she says, “It wasn’t them. It was this person. I couldn’t bear to be alone anymore.” For me, it felt a bit like coming out, where it’s like, “I couldn’t bear to be alone anymore. It was none of these people that you think are acceptable, but this was the person that I had to be with. And even though you’re going to try and murder them, they’re great.” So, I think there are a lot of queer readings that we can take from unexpected places.

GS: I think that any reading of a traditional song, really, is a valid reading. Regardless of gender or sexuality. People interpret a lot of songs with no context, and that’s fine. They can do that. In ‘Willie O’Winsbury’, when you’re talking about her saying she couldn’t be alone, and the shame of that baby, and her being pregnant, to me it’s reminiscent of queer shame. There are so many different levels on which it can resonate. And it might not be obvious at first. Sometimes it’s just a feeling. You look at stories of Robin Hood and you’re like…

SC: …Oh… my… god! I could do a deep dive into Robin Hood! It’s mad! I was reading about these 13th century plays with all these guys dressing up as girls and then being picked up by dudes just because they fancied them so much.

GS: Living in the wood with his merry man. It’s like, come on!

SC: Yeah, once you start looking at it you’re like… OK.

If you can’t find it explicitly, you start looking for areas of chaos, areas of misrule, areas of disobedience. Once you start going down that avenue, you get to the Rebecca Riots, with Welshmen dressing up as women. Then you get to Molly dancing, which is closely linked to rioting. So this gender-bending is getting associated with misrule and disobedience. And Robin Hood was banned in Scotland. What’s going on there? So these are the avenues we went down. It feels like it’s hidden in plain sight in the folk world. It’s really there.

Just spinning back a bit, you talked about having met Angeline Morrison. In her research, she found no songs that depicted the black experience in anything other than derogatory terms, so she has had to go and write the songs herself so that black history is represented in the folk repertoire. WIth your project, you found lots of songs dealing with a variety of experiences. Did you find that the songs were positive in their message, or did you find that they were, again, derogatory? Or was it mixed?

SC: I mean, some of the really explicit ones I mentioned earlier, they’re negative, aren’t they? The female husband one, and even the candle stick, we could only ever use the first two verses because then it becomes a song about why you need a man and how they can’t ever compare, and it becomes dodgy. So that is sad. The ones that explicitly acknowledge what we would really think of as queer or LGBTIA, or alternative sexual expression, are quite negative.

GS: There are loads of songs where, say, there’s some gender-non-conforming, where it often ends with a woman dressing up as a soldier to go to war and finding her husband.

It’s certainly interesting that the man she ends up marrying finds her attractive, initially, in her male disguise. He’s essentially got the hots for what he believes to be another male sailor, and that’s rarely commented on. It’s just accepted as a natural part of the plot. But I suppose a lot of those songs are moralistic, aren’t they? The woman dresses up and goes to sea, but it’s through becoming a man that they find their destiny, so to speak.

GS: Yeah, it is very much framed through a kind of misogynistic lens. But then, the fact that it is there at all, I think, is still a powerful thing.

The song that really jumped out to me, and we’ve already mentioned it a couple of times today, was a broadside ballad called ‘The Female Husband‘. This honestly blew my mind.

SC: It’s not a very nice song, but it references actual historical events. It’s about a female husband, which, I guess, is the way they described trans men.

I think, probably, the difference between our project and Angeline’s is that coding has been such a big part of queer culture. Looking at the use of flowers and stuff like that, we’re able to say, “Oh, maybe this could be queer.” But in the case of Angelina, she’s between a rock and hard place. Because if they’re claiming that someone’s skin is not that colour, what can you do with that? That’s just denial, and that’s erasure on a very violent scale. And I guess we’re trying to look at our project and think, “OK, you’ve tried to say these people don’t exist. There are incidences in the courts which prove that they do. And we know that there’s a system of people trying to talk about this in very euphemistic ways.”

History is not one homogeneous set of views.

George Sansome, Queer Folk

GS: There was one instance where Angeline was involved in a Twitter exchange. She shared the words of a song called ‘The Bonny Brown Girl’. There was like a Twitter pile-on. Someone said, “How do you know this doesn’t just mean someone who’s white but has a tan?” And I think, I think to some extent, you don’t. But we can read it how we want to read it, right? So, if the song exists and someone sings it now, we can hear it in a contemporary context. A similarity between our projects is that sometimes there are ambiguities, and there are things that are open to two readings, but one reading has the weight of history forever behind it…

SC: …and some people choose to keep it that way. But other people are now saying, “Hold on, people of colour have existed forever in this country. Queer people have existed forever in this country. The chances are that it could be your reading, but let’s also be open to the fact that it really could be this reading, too.”

GS: And to some extent – not to say that the history and context of songs don’t matter; I think that’s important stuff – but if someone wants to sing that song and have it mean someone of colour, then why not? I think it’s more about current context – what it might mean to sing that song or those words today; how meanings change and can be interpreted differently to the dominant narrative, or even to their original historical context and still be a valid interpretation – still be a clear part of the folk tradition.

Take Morris dancing for example. When people paint their faces black for Morris dancing – that shouldn’t happen. It’s racist. People always lean into the origins and they’re like, “Oh, it was a disguise”, or, “It’s just the soot from being a chimney sweep.” It doesn’t matter.

SC: It’s a disregard for the context of history. It’s funny. They won’t accept you saying, “OK, that could be a gay person, that could be a queer person”, because of inference. But they also can’t accept that you might say, “Hey, let’s think about minstrelsy. Let’s think about that impact on your form and how that has a racist origin.” And they’re going, “No, but that history doesn’t count. That history is not real.” For me, it’s totally a choice.

GS: When people are trying to defend Morris dancers wearing blackface paint, it’s like, OK, you can dredge up whatever you want from history, but that’s not going to change the fact that now it’s racist and people perceive it that way, and you’re not going to change people’s cultural concepts.

SC: That’s what I find really stressful about their use of history. They weaponize it. And I want more history. I want loads and loads of history! The whole point of our two projects, Angelina’s and ours, is to say, “More history! Give us more!” Because we’re looking at people that haven’t been acknowledged in history. But people are saying, “Use this version of history, the one that we’ve had so far,” and they sort of bash us around the head and say, “What you’re making isn’t real and it’s not right.” No! Come on! Give us more. There were people that you don’t know about.

GS: History is not one homogeneous set of views.

SC: My god, no! It’s about disrupting this narrative. But that’s what’s so interesting because folk is all about disruption, and I’m so shocked whenever we come up against these hard and fast perspectives because. It’s like, dudes, you’re putting on dresses, you’re at festivals, and you’re doing what the hell you want, having moments of freedom and carnival. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re just showing that it was more expansive than you’ve maybe had an idea about before.

GS: This is something that has wound me up no end. I’ve said this a few times. If I stand up and sing the song, ‘Gilderoy’, I’m singing a song about how much I, the narrator, loves this man. The number of times I’ve had people come up to me after a gig and say, “It’s so nice to hear a song from a woman’s perspective.” But, in that song, there is no mention of a woman. The pronouns that are used are “he” for Gilderoy and “I” for the narrator. People just have that assumption, even when it’s a song with no mention of any kind of heterosexual stuff happening. People just have that position as the default, they hear these songs in a cis heteronomative way, and they don’t have to.

And maybe I’m slightly going off on one now, but it kind of annoys me when people change pronouns in a song so that they don’t sound queer. It’s a classic thing that people do in folk clubs.

SC: That’s also part of competition singing. I didn’t know this. I run a singaround and there’s this woman who’s super trad. She told me she was was singing in a competition, but they were only allowed to sing songs that were for “the right gender”. That’s happening now! It’s crazy!

GS: The right gender?!

SC: So, women can’t sing men’s songs! You’re a grown up. Are you OK?! I don’t know.

What’s so important is shifting the mindset for the young people who are going to folk cubs or encountering folk singing. We need them to see that it’s alright to be however you want. We’re young. I’m 30. George is even younger than I am. For the longest time, even though I’m a gay woman and I feel comfortable looking like this, whenever I went to folk clubs I felt I had to wear long, flowing, flowery dress. These were the concepts in my head. Just to authentically feel part of this, I needed to pander to a sort of 70s heteronormative idyl. And if that’s me – quite open-minded, quite comfortable in my sexuality – and I’ve felt that for a long time, then god knows that you must feel like growing up and not seeing people that look different.

This might sound like a really obvious question, and you asked it yourselves at the beginning of this interview, but why are you the only ones who have done this?

GS: We probably aren’t the only ones who’ve been interested. There was a person during the second revival who put song books together – a gay man at a time when being a gay man would get you arrested. This was someone who was combing through archives to put song books together. So he definitely would have had all of this somewhere in his mind.

SC: That awareness of alternative desire.

GS: Yes. And then having to repress that because of not wanting to out himself. There will be lots of instances of that. I’m sure there have been lots of queer people who have gone into the archives at Cecil Sharp House thinking, “I must be somewhere in these songs.” And then self-censoring, probably, and not singing them because of the persecution.

SC: I think it has a lot to do with the atmosphere that exists now. I think people have probably been trying to do it for ages, but there’s essentially much more will to listen now, in a way that maybe there hasn’t been before. We’ve become a critical mass and our voices are a lot louder than they used to be. But also, what’s interesting is we’ve got the language now in a way that I think people didn’t have before, and there’s a lot of strength in that.

Language is unbelievably powerful. If you don’t have the words for something, then in history, to some extent, that will maybe look like it didn’t exist.

George Sansome, Queer Folk

I had a very brief, quite frightening chat with Peggy Seeger [laughs] and it was interesting talking to her because she doesn’t use any of these words in reference to herself at all, and it’s her perogative to do so. She was talking about a member of her family who lived with someone of the same gender. She said, “She was probably gay, but no one in our family ever spoke of it. No one even acknowledged that it was happening. And that’s just how we grew up and thought of it.”

GS: It was like the Ladies of Llangollen.

SC: Oh, my god! I got obsessed with those people. I had to go to Wales to find out more. They were these 18th-century women who were gay. They lived together. They had to dress up as men to escape, to run away and be together. They never said they were lesbians, so they were held up as this perfect example of romantic friendship. We have words now, and that is very powerful.

GS: Language is unbelievably powerful. If you don’t have the words for something, then in history, to some extent, that will maybe look like it didn’t exist.

SC: Yeah, totally. So I reckon we’re not the first. We’re just lucky that we’ve arrived at this point in history that we can do it. Not to be rude about the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, but people got in touch with me when we said that we were doing this. Someone said, when they were making the indexes, she had wanted to put more in so that it could cover queer subject matter. And she was told she couldn’t. So there’s a will and willingness to engage with these things in these terms now. We’re lucky we’ve arrived at this time.

Is there anywhere that we can listen to all of these songs you’re finding in one place? Have your done a Queer Folk Spotify playlist?

GS: There is a community-generated Spotify playlist that’s called Queer Trad Folk Ballads.

SC: Part of what we’re doing this week is pulling together loads of stuff we found and making it publicly available so that people can comb through the songs on Mainly Norfolk and go, “Ah, ‘The Tailor’s Britches’, eh? I’ll look that up.”

As part of your project, you also looked at the lives of performers, didn’t you, particularly in Music Hall. Was that particularly revealing?

SC: It was amazing. It was incredible. Musical Hall was this area where living a queer life, particularly for trans people, or people who are considered trans now, was sort of celebrated and allowed. There were some amazing characters that I came across – people who fully lived their lives in the way that they wanted to. And it was safe in this environment. And that sort of led neatly onto Harlem Renaissance stuff, because you had American performers coming over to England, obviously a bit later, and performing in Music Hall, and then you had this back and forth.

Harlem Renaissance was a massively open gay environment. You had jazz singers openly talking about their love for another woman or another man. And Music Hall, too, felt like a sort of safe place where that sort of stuff could be expressed.

I have a huge list of people who have performed in drag and who are really celebrated. What I find so interesting is that these people – drag queens, although I don’t know how they would’ve defined themselves – they were pinups for soldiers! They were these beautiful, beautiful people. It’s a really interesting example of an area where acceptance existed – where you were allowed to exist and be celebrated.

Three images of the Victorian male impersonator, Vesta Tilley, presented in a picture frame.

GS: Yeah, people like Vesta Tilley, the male impersonator, who a lot of people now are unaware of.

Vesta Tilley?

SC: Vesta Tilley was a male impersonator who performed for the Queen. The establishment loved it. This is what I find so interesting. They were like, “Oh, that’s fine.” So it shows you how little this double standard thing makes sense.

GS: It’s fine if you do it on stage, but not if you want to do it in the street…

SC: …and yet, they probably were because they were so convincing. This is the thing. So Music Hall was a really great example of people living how they wanted to.

GS: At the Bromyard Folk Festival, maybe three years ago, there was a Morris side that basically did Queen’s ‘I Want to Break Free’ video as a Morris dance. So they all dressed up with the Hoovers and whatever. And that was amazing. But, yeah, as you say, it’s this double standard of what’s acceptable and what’s not. I’m sure there are people who do it as a joke or just for fun. But, also, there’s definitely people who are like, “Actually, I really enjoy this, I feel comfortable, and this is something that I can express about myself that I can’t in any other way.” And I think that’s pretty powerful.

SC: There’s continuity when thinking about some of these areas of misrule, as I mentioned earlier. For me, there’s total continuity between Robin Hood and Music Hall, and Shakespeare and Music Hall, the Rebecca Riots and Music Hall, Molly dancing and Music Hall. The fact that you’ve got this stuff going on and you’ve got a society saying, “We don’t like it, and we’re going to try and make it stop. But we cannot contain it. We cannot stop people doing this stuff. So we’re going to try and make different spaces. On May Day, you can all dress up in dresses if you want to. Or on that male swearing-in day, anything goes.” So they’re creating these release valves because they recognise that it cannot be contained. And that, for me, is what Music Hall is. “We’ll make this space. You can do it here.”

It’s isolating being a person who isn’t made to feel like they’re present in history.

Sophie Crawford, Queer Folk

So, what do you see as being your role in the continuation of this conversation?

GS: I think the way we’re kind of seeing our role is to be like, “Hey, maybe rethink this. Flip that switch in your mind, ask questions, and dig deeper.” There’s loads of stuff out there, and we’ll hardly scratch the surface. Hopefully, we want to open the gates to this material and then, I don’t know, give other people the tools to find out more about queer traditional music…

SC: …acknowledging that it exists, and that it exists all over the world. And that you should feel empowered to go and find it, because it’s there.

GS: The point is that queer people have always existed. LGBTQIA people have always existed. When we’re listening to a source singer, or when we’re looking at transcriptions of songs that have been collected by the Victorian collectors, regardless of the song, there’s no way you can say one way or the other what this person’s sexuality is. It’s an unknown and it’s a never-will-be-known because they’re not here and you can’t ask them…

SC: …so let’s make the most of that ambiguity. Use it for whatever you need. I think the whole point of this project is to empower people and build networks. It’s about community building, and for Queer Folk to be enormous with thousands of people in it.

What kind of response have you had so far?

SC: It has been amazing.

GS: We’ve not really put that much out there, but we’ve had people reaching out and saying they’re interested or want to be involved. “Anything I can do to help, let me know.” I think there is a need for it and there’s a need for lots of people to be doing it.

SC: The fact is that it’s isolating. It’s isolating being a person who isn’t made to feel like they’re present in history. So, as soon as people see this stuff, they’re like, “Yes! I’m a folkie person that happens to be gay.” It’s that bit of company; a bit of acknowledgement. I think it will just keep growing.

You’ve got events coming up, haven’t you? You’re holding a Queer Ceilidh at Cecil Sharp House.

SC: Yeah. That’s a bit like our launch, isn’t it? Just to let people know where we are.

GS: It’s the evening of February 24th. It’s called the Queer Ceilidh Dance Party. We’re working with a caller called Lisa Hayward, a pioneer in gender-free calling, accessible dances, and making ceilidh more inclusive. The idea is that we want to try and fill Cecil Sharp House with queer people who maybe haven’t been to a ceilidh before because of all the things that can happen if you currently go to a ceilidh, like being misgendered or being told you’re dancing with the wrong person…

SC: …or dancing on the wrong side.

GS: For a lot of queer people, going to ceilidh is, in some ways, like a violent attack on identity. A lot of ceilidh organisers think that it’s being inclusive – they’re like, “We welcome everyone here, and if we say we need to find you a man to dance with, then it just means that we’re trying to be nice to you.” Lisa is doing a lot to change that.

SC: Then we’ve got Nat Brookes and Beth Gifford, who are a lovely queer ceilidh band. So that’ll be great.

GS: And then we’ve got an amazing band called BOYZ [laughs].

SC: I run drag king queer club nights. The queer club scene is so open – everyone’s coming in and who gives a damn! And that, for me, is the spirit of ceilidh. Just go for it and have a great time. BOYZ will be performing in that bit in the middle where usually you have a Morris side. They’ll be doing some fun boy-band dancing, just to make it sort of silly and fun.

People are like, “Oh, but I don’t understand the dance”. PS, you will and you’ll have a great time. The end.

Sophie Crawford, Queer Folk

That’s the other thing I think is so crucial: that it’s fun. The more you get people involved, the more fun it’ll be. And I think that’s hopefully what this queer ceilidh will show, because I’ve been at conferences and discussions about gender-free calling and people get so bogged down, like, “Oh, but I don’t understand the dance”. PS, you will and you’ll have a great time. The end.

And will you be doing something with these songs yourselves, as musicians?

GS: We’ve been airing some of the songs on social media, but I think we’re very keen to stress that Queer Folk is not the name of a duo. We’ve got a couple of things lined up with the two of us playing together, just going out as George Sansome and Sophie Crawford discussing queer folk. We want to join up queer musicians who are already out there doing stuff. And we’ve got some funding applications on the go because we want to pay them for their time and work. The big thing for us is to give this music to people and say, “Do what you want with it as it is, or if you want to change a few things or even write a new song inspired by this, do so.”

SC: We’re going to road-test it in Newcastle at The Sage, at a residency called Foundary. We’re doing that at the end of February, and that’s where, fingers crossed, we’re going to get involved with some local musicians, but also work with the students doing the folk degree at Newcastle University. We just want to see what it’s like if you just give people a stack of what we’ve found and say, “Go away, make what you like, see what happens.” So, that’s sort of like a small version of what we hope we can keep doing, which is just building up bigger and bigger projects.

For more information on Queer Folk, head to queerfolk.co.uk. Click the following link for more info on the Queer Ceilidh Dance Party. Sophie Crawford and George Sansome will be discussing their project and performing the songs they’ve found at Sidmouth Folk Festival, summer 2022.