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In this image, we see two people, The Folk Detectives, during what appears to be a live performance or presentation. The person on the left is holding up a sign that reads "SIGH," possibly indicating a cue for the audience to react, or it might be part of a storytelling technique. They’re dressed somewhat formally, with a vest and glasses, which gives a touch of theatrical flair to their presentation. The person on the right is playing an accordion and seems to be focused on their performance. The presence of microphones and music stands suggests a musical or theatrical event. This scene has a cozy, intimate atmosphere that's often found in small live venues or during storytelling sessions.

Undercover with The Folk Detectives

Uncover the bold, ridiculed truth with The Folk Detectives. Secret interviews, folklore mysteries, and live danger await...

This week, we were lucky to secure an interview with The Folk Detectives. They are a suspicious duo, accustomed to their ‘bold’ views being ridiculed – or worse – by the folklore establishment. But they’re touring this year with a new show (festivals at Chippenham, Sidmouth, Broadstairs, FolkEast and Moseley Folk, plus gigs in London in May and other venues in the autumn) and we wanted audiences to be warned about what those appearances might involve. 

So, after weeks of negotiation, and a lawyer’s statement to affirm we had no link with EFDSS or the National Trust – or, especially, Radio Four’s Front Row –  we made our way to an Esso garage in Wiltshire, from where we were blindfolded and driven to a secret location – a potting shed close to what sounded like a pig farm – where we sat down for a face-to-face interview with Matthew Crampton and Paul Hutchinson, aka The Folk Detectives.

This image seems like it's designed as a promotional poster. It features two characters holding an open book, peering over it with expressive looks. They're wearing classic detective hats, suggesting a theme of mystery and investigation. The bold, stylized text "The Folk Detectives" indicates that these characters might be part of a show or a book series focused on unraveling folk tales or myths. The subtitle "They’re upholding the lore!" reinforces the idea that their mission involves preserving or solving mysteries related to traditional stories. The red and black color scheme creates a striking contrast, drawing attention to the main elements of the design.

Why the secrecy?

Matthew Crampton: We’ve learnt the hard way. As The Folk Detectives, we’re dedicated to uncovering the truth about folklore, and that often means ruffling feathers. 

Paul Hutchinson: Like that jiffy bag we were sent.

What do you mean?

MC: Last year, we started getting anonymous phone calls. Heavy breathing, and in the background, the faint sound of a melodeon. 

PH: That’s the best kind of melodeon. Faint.

MC: Then strange stuff arrived in the post, always anonymous. There was this jiffy bag…

PH: It was soggy…

MC: Yes, it felt damp, with something unpleasant inside. When we opened it, it was full of chicken feathers, caked in blood, and within them was a bell, its clanger ripped out.

That’s awful.   

MC: And Paul, you remember that time your tyres were slashed after a gig?

PH: In fairness, it wasn’t a very good gig.

MC: That’s not the point. Someone had carved the letters C and S into them. And we thought, whose name has those initials? And then we thought of the big house of folk arts in London, and we realised these were all warnings. And they were saying…

PH: … Don’t Mess With The Morris!

You mean Morris dancers?

PH: Of course. We’d clearly upset the folk dance establishment and now they were telling us to back off. 

What was it you said?

MC: (to Paul) Shall I explain?

PH: You might as well.

MC: Let me set some context. For years, the origins of Morris dancing in Britain have been opaque. It’s never been clear where the practice originated. It may be medieval; it may derive from the Moors, who came from North Africa. 

PH: That’s different from the Yorkshire Moors… 

MC: …who came from Northallerton. And there are parallels between today’s Morris and mediaeval dances: attaching bells to the body, obscuring gender, painting the face….

PH: … and the use of body odour as a prophylactic.

MC: Indeed. But we think Morris dancing goes back further. A lot further. And this is where things get controversial. This is where we discovered the truth – the truth you’ll never find revealed at Cecil Sharp House

Can you share it now with our readers?

MC: Well we can, but you’ve got to be careful with this kind of information. Just publishing it on your website or magazine may bring repercussions. There are some fanatical folklore trolls out there. 


MC: Here goes. Let’s start with the Moors. Who else came from North Africa? A bit earlier.

PH: A lot earlier.

MC: This is something which is best explained musically – which we do in our show. Paul plays a tune which he actually transcribed from some hieroglyphs. 

Is that difficult?

PH: Not really. I’ve been playing the accordion for years.

I mean, transcribing it from hieroglyphs

PH: Oh. Well, I found the musical equivalent to the Rosetta Stone – it’s called the Cotswold Splinter – and that helped me translate it.

MC: Anyway, Paul plays this music, which is recognisably ‘The Nutting Girl’ – a classic Morris tune – but with distinct traces of ancient Egypt.

You mean, Morris music came from the land of the Pharaohs?

MC: Yes. 

And Morris dancing too?

MC: Of course! Just consider the facts. Pyramids were built by teams of six or eight. Each team would work on one ‘side’ of the pyramid. They carried handkerchiefs, because it was hot. And they would use sticks to knock the stones into place. 

PH: There were a lot of snakes in the desert – and one of the best ways to deter snakes is by wearing bells. 

MC: You can see where this leads. We had uncovered the fact that Morris dancing originated in ancient Egypt. And they don’t teach you that at Cecil Sharp House.

Wow. That’s quite an assertion.

MC: Even better, we’ve found the tradition has survived in Egypt to this day. And on stage, at our shows, we recreate this ancient cousin to Morris dancing. Yes, we demonstrate to folk festival audiences, for probably the first ever time, the traditional Sand Dance, in Morris style.

You actually perform it yourself?

MC: Not ourselves. We’re not dancers. But we rely on some of the greatest Morris dancers in the country. At least, we invite them.

PH: They don’t usually turn up.

So, what do you do?

MC: You’ll have to come along to the show to find out. 

I understand you’ve had a lot of guests not turning up at your concerts. 

MC: They’re not really concerts. They’re pilot recordings of our podcast. 

Is your podcast available to listen to?

MC: It will be, as soon as we’ve successfully recorded a pilot. 

And that would mean a guest has to turn up.

PH: Yes. We’ve been really unlucky. Like at Sidmouth last year. We were all scheduled to have Sting join us. He was going to talk about shanties, Geordie nursery rhymes, and the truth about the Wilsons…

MC: … but unfortunately his caravan jack-knifed on a contraflow on the A30 outside Honiton, and he couldn’t make the show. 

PH: That was a shame. But this summer we’ve lined up an incredible array of guests, under firm contracts, so there’s no chance of them not turning up. 

I hear you like experiments

PH: We’re very scientific in our research and we like to involve the audience in our unique re-enactments of folklore truths. They’re a big part of the show.

Do you re-enact ballads?

MC: We like to re-enact ballads, but there have been a few health and safety issues. We were up in Scotland doing ‘Clyde’s Water’ and the guy playing ‘Sweet William’ got pneumonia.

PH: And there was that time we were doing ‘The Cruel Mother’ and someone called social services…

MC: …Oh that was a nightmare. Perhaps the worst was re-enacting ‘Rufford Park Poachers’. We were in Mansfield (near where it’s set) and we’d recruited football fans from Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest to play poachers and gamekeepers for the battle. It all got a bit ultra. Then we had a real-life judge commit four of them to transportation. 

PH: Only to the Isle of Wight. 

MC: We couldn’t afford Australia. 

So, no more re-enactments?

MC: Maybe. We’re currently working on a version of ‘Polly Vaughan’, but we have to hire swan costumes, and it’s hard getting the blood out of them. So this summer’s shows probably won’t feature any re-ballading, as we like to call it.

What can audiences expect at a Folk Detectives show?

PH: Danger. Surprise. Wonder.

MC: And the truth.

PH: We ask you to sign disclaimers, and it’s best to come in old clothes. 

MC: We used to do merch afterwards, but we had to stop as it was turning nasty. You see, our shows create a lot of strong feeling. 

Why do festivals book you?

PH: God knows. They’re just laying themselves open to all manner of trouble. 

Why do you do it?

MC: We have to. We’re The Folk Detectives. We’re determined to uphold the lore… 

PH: The folklore.

At this point the interview was abruptly terminated when the owner of the potting shed returned. The Folk Detectives appear at… 

  • 27 May, Chippenham Folk Festival
  • 29 May, London Water Rats
  • 2-6 Aug, Sidmouth Folk Festival
  • 14 Aug, Broadstairs Folk Festival
  • 16-18 Aug, FolkEast
  • 30 Aug-1 Sept, Moseley Folk & Arts Festival
  • 1 Nov, Norwich Folk Club
  • 29 Nov, Hornblotton Village Hall 

More autumn dates to be announced on thefolkdetectives.com.