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Doc Rowe, the folklorist from Britain, videos the Abbots Bromley horn dancers in action.
Doc Rowe in action. Photo via the John Adams website

Preserving the Legacy of Doc Rowe: A Crowdfunding Initiative

Crowdfunding campaign announced as we present exclusive first trailer for a new documentary on Britain's greatest folklorist.

If you thought the artist, Ben Edge, was the first person to start filming and documenting British customs and rituals, think again. In the realm of these folk traditions, there is a name that has continued to resonate with enthusiasts and scholars alike for over six decades. Doc Rowe has dedicated his life to documenting the rich tapestry of seasonal events in the British Isles, and his collection of irreplaceable audiovisual material is a treasure trove of cultural heritage, capturing the essence of these unique customs. However, in the face of time and technology, his collection is at risk of fading away. That’s where a new documentary, a heritage lottery fund application, and a crowdfunding initiative come into play.

A teaser video of the brand new documentary, previewing today here on Tradfolk.

The brainchild of filmmakers Rob Curry and Tim Plester, known for their work on The Ballad of Shirley Collins and Way of the Morris, the documentary project chronicles Doc Rowe’s extraordinary journey. The film captures the essence of a year in Doc’s life like no other, starting in May 2021. What sets this year apart is the disruption caused by the outbreak of Covid-19, which interfered with his perennial ramblings.

The film paints a poignant picture of Doc Rowe’s life, highlighting the challenges he faces personally and professionally. In his quest to return to documenting the folk customs he cherishes, Doc encounters personal setbacks and imposed lockdowns. Moreover, he grapples with the sheer volume of his audiovisual archive, a collection so vast it has become unwieldy for him to manage alone. This documentary takes us on a journey as Doc seeks a permanent home for his life’s work, preserving not just his legacy but also the customs he’s dedicated his life to documenting.

Doc Rowe and the Burryman

Doc Rowe’s unique perspective on British folk traditions stems from his involvement in the art-school scene of the 1960s. This period marked a democratization of culture, where everyday people were empowered to shape discourse and heritage. For Doc, it’s not just the mythology and heritage of these festivals that excites him; it’s the sense of togetherness and community that blooms at these events.

Doc’s commitment to communal responsibility extends beyond documenting customs. He was involved in significant movements like the anti-apartheid and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). His approach to documenting these social movements mirrored his work on calendar customs – driven by a strong work ethic and an inclusive spirit.

Throughout his life, Doc Rowe chose the freedom to travel the country and document its traditions over a conventional career. Remarkably, he achieved this without ever learning to drive, relying on hitchhiking and a bagful of kit salvaged from BBC skips. The result of his dedication is an unparalleled and priceless resource that enriches our understanding of British traditions and customs.

Now, here’s where you can be part of Doc Rowe’s legacy and help preserve this invaluable heritage. Rob Curry and Tim Plester are launching a crowdfunding initiative to finance the completion of the documentary about Doc Rowe. But the initiative goes a step further. The filmmakers plan to digitize the calendrical events archive using the funds raised. This will not only aid in creating the documentary but also contribute to the vital process of digitizing and future-proofing some of this invaluable source material.

Doc’s archive contains a huge amount of material on traditional song, and politics, but the focus here is on his material related to folk traditions – and it’s several hundred hours of material. The extent of digitization achievable will depend on the funds raised, but the initial aim is to focus on the events material and collate them online to archive standard. The digitisation will both secure the materials for the future, but also make it easier to share the contents with the communities represented in it and the public more widely.

This initiative was inspired by a successful Heritage Lottery Fund application by Barbara Santi of awen productions CIC to return Doc’s Padstow material to Cornwall, demonstrating the growing recognition of the importance of his work in preserving British cultural heritage. Your support through the crowdfunding initiative will complement the HLF application, strengthening the chances of preserving this invaluable archive.

In a time when the world is grappling with uncertainties, this new documentary stands as a timely celebration of the resilient working-class communities that continue to uphold the weird and wonderful traditions that Doc has championed throughout his life. It offers hope and a sense of togetherness during a turbulent period of fracture and renewal. Your contribution to the crowdfunding initiative is an opportunity to be a part of this legacy, ensuring that Doc Rowe’s life’s work continues to inspire and educate generations to come. Let’s come together to ensure that this extraordinary piece of British cultural heritage remains alive and accessible for all.

The crowdfunding initiative begins on October 19th. For more info, head to: fifthcolumn.org.uk/doc-rowe