To try and ease your plight, we’ve put together a browsable list of Christmas gifts for folkie types. From books to calendars; from records to gigs; from days out to days in, hiding with your hobby in a dark corner – here are the things we’re hoping someone will buy for us this Yuletide.
Folk culture courses
Rhia Davenport is a one-woman folk wonder. A key member of the fabulous Boss Morris side, she also runs WEVEN, a creative hub (not to mention a real life shop and online shop) where creatives, individuals and families can come together to celebrate the traditional country and folk crafts that continue to thrive across the UK. WEVEN is regularly home to a number of workshops, from gansey knitting to canal art to spoon carving and beyond. New courses are regularly posted on their website or Instagram page, so it’s best to keep refreshing and see what comes up.
Head here: weven.co.uk
Drawing in the Landscape
Halsway Manor, Somerset
Who wouldn’t enjoy the chance to take in the majesty of the Quantock Hills for a few days on a relaxed, arty course? It combines outdoor walking (in an area of outstanding natural beauty) with sketching and drawing. Halsway Manor – National Centre for Folk Arts – is the base for your week-long cosy, country retreat. With all artistic abilities welcomed, this could be the perfect gift for that wannabe David Hockney in your life, or even your nearest and dearest Van Gogh.
Head here: halswaymanor.org.uk
Singing for the Uncertain
Stones Barn, Cumbria
Is there an uncertain singer in your life who needs a little more encouragement? Why not send them on a weekend of music, fun, and home-cooking, all with the inimitable Maddy Prior, and in the beautiful Cumbrian landscape. We’re giving you plenty of notice to get this in your loved one’s diary, because it’s always hugely popular and will sell out in advance (there’s one sooner but you’re already too late for that!).
Head here: tickettailor.com
Weave your own bread proving basket
Dartington Estate, South Devon
Hands up if you know someone who started making sourdough bread during lockdown…? If they’ve stuck with it, perhaps they’re ready to make a willow baneton in which to prove the fruits of their labours on this day-long course, with delicious lunch included, in the heart of the South Devon countryside.
Head here: dartington.org
Beginner and Improvers Fiddle Courses
We have it on good authority that Rachael McShane’s brilliant online courses will be back in the New Year. Whether the fiddle player in your life knows their way around the instrument and wants to develop their technique and sound, or if they’ve just got some basic skills that they’d like to brush up in a friendly environment, these courses will help them get to grips with some new folk tunes in a friendly environment. The best thing? No one on Zoom can hear the wrong notes.
Head here: rachaelmcshane.co.uk
For your walls & surfaces
Nick Hart & Nick Hayes
These beautiful, hand-made re-imaginings of the traditional broadside ballad prints are a collaboration between tradfolk singer, Nick Hart, and illustrator/author, Nick Hayes. The three songs (‘Lemany’, ‘Our Captain Calls’, ‘The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood’) are to appear on Hart’s forthcoming album, scheduled for release in early 2022. Each A3 print is numbered in pencil, underlining their unique nature. A limited run, order them while you can.
Head here: nickhartmusic.com
Folk is a Feminist Issue
Lucy Wright is a passionate contemporary folk artist whose work interrogates some of the more problematic, divisive aspects of folk culture, highlighting the dire need for complete inclusivity. Purchasing from her online shop helps to support the Folk is A Feminist Issue movement. We’re particularly taken with the ‘Folk Fatales’ sticker pack, featuring the Burrywoman, the Straw Mamabear, and a host of other femme folk figures.
Head here: folkisfeminist.com
Rural Britain Calendar
The first run of these calendars sold out in a matter of hours, such is the popularity of Ben Edge‘s work at the moment. He announced a second run last week, so… join the queue. Featuring imagery from his popular Ritual Britain exhibition earlier this year, these calendars list the dates for over 200 folk customs, rituals and ceremonies from around the UK. Never again shall you miss the tar barrels of St Mary Ottery, or the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Competition.
Head here: benedge.co.uk
Food & drink
Sael Projects & SixSeats
Led by Chef Tobyn Excell, Sael Projects is a rural food lab that studies local ecology and pre-industrial food culture, celebrating the food heritage of the place in which you stand. Their SixSeats experience is both profound and delicious. Heading to an old cottage in Kentish woodland, Tobyn takes you on a foraging experience in the immediate vicinity, cooking a meal on your return that is inspired by the ingredients you’ve found and recipes he researched from old monasteries and the British Library. You dine with the six people who happen to have booked in at the same time as you, kindling friendships and food memories around a small table. Understandably, SixSeats is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, but head to their contact page and enquire about pre-booking for the future. You won’t regret it.
Head to: saelprojects.co.uk
Proudfoot & Co
Winchester & online
Living in Hampshire, we’re regular visitors to Winchester’s Proudfoot & Co, a traditional drinks emporium on St Thomas Street. “Preserving the past to innovate for the future”, this wonderful cafe specialises in concoctions that were once found on dinner tables throughout the area, updating them occasionally for modern tastes. You’ll find no noxious aspartame here; all the ingredients are foraged on the South Downs, and Owen, the owner, regularly gives courses on how to do it yourself. If you’re buying gifts for someone living away from Winchester, head to their online shop and order a handmade kitchen sieve, some foraged bullace butter, or perhaps some gorseflower chocolate.
Head to: proudfootco.uk
Books & mags
The Garland King
Matthew Hedley Stoppard
The resurgence in interest in folk customs and rituals has found a natural home on Instagram, where artists like Ben Edge and The Darkest Ooser can really showcase their talents. Poetry, however, is less easily depicted in visual form, so it felt like real luck when we stumbled across the work of Matthew Hedley Stoppard (admittedly via a Ben Edge Instagram story). We’re so glad we did, because he explores that liminal world between ancient traditions and modern anxieties with suitably dark and consuming skill. On these pages, we find depressed mummers, Morris dancers melting in the climate crisis, and a Garland King paralysed by the mores of 21st century society. Not necessarily a jolly read, perhaps add a word of warning to your Christmas gift wrapping tag.
Head here: valleypressuk.com
Jiggery Pokerwork/Foraged Music
By John Spiers
Available in hard copy or as paper-saving PDFs, these two books contain over 150 tunes ranging from well-known traditional to new folk tunes. Each one comes with suggested chords, and where necessary, is transposed into a friendly key for squeezebox players. With so many new tunes, even the most seasoned folkie is sure to find something to occupy them after Christmas lunch. Don’t forget to check whether your Secret Santa can read music though…
Head here: johnspiers.co.uk
The Eliza Carthy Songbook, Volume 1
By Eliza Carthy
A beautiful collection of Eliza Carthy’s song lyrics, illustrated by Cally Calloman. Containing originals from across her career, these are songs of lament, fishes, beds, rogues, pirates… modern songs from an esteemed writer born and raised in tradfolk. As the book is simply the lyrics, it’s a winner for everyone. No sight-reading skills necessary. And while you’re looking around her online shop, why not pick up some of her very fragrant father’s 80th birthday celebrations merch? It’s all there, ready for the perusing.
Head here: eliza-carthy.com
The Brickfields Tunebook
By Granny’s Attic
A lovely companion to The Brickfields album (see below) for anyone who might like to have a bash at either the traditional or original tunes. The downloadable booklet includes information about the tunes and their original sources, as well as behind-the-scenes insights into the album-making process. Chords are helpfully included, but sadly the book doesn’t come with a helping of Granny’s Attic’s enviable talents, so some practice might be required.
Head here: grannysattic.org.uk
The people behind the wonderful Weird Walk magazine specialise in that intersection between traditional arts, rituals, and the landscape. They publish new editions of the magazine when they’re ready (rather than on a regular schedule) and have recently launched a podcast with actor, Charlie Cooper. Get behind what they’re doing by ordering their back catalogue to date as a juicy Christmas present – enough to fill a stocking and under the tree!
Head here: weirdwalk.co.uk
A Secret Stream
Nick Dow, Steve Gardham, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne
Is there anyone in the tradfolk world as busy as Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne these days? In 2021 alone, he released a brilliant new solo record (Rakes & Misfits), an album of tunes with Granny’s Attic, and still found time to contribute to the latest in this wonderful series of books published by Francis Boutle. It’s the first of two volumes of songs collated from the English Gypsy tradition, put together by Nick Dow, with help from his collaborators, Cohen and Steve Gardham. It’ll make a wonderful Christmas present for musicians and folk history geeks alike.
Head here: francisboutle.co.uk
Albums, EPs and Singles
To try and make things a little easier, we’ve picked a handful of our favourite releases from 2021. Remember, if you buy through the artist’s website or their Bandcamp pages, you’ll be helping them more directly than simply streaming on the usual platforms.
I Would Not Live Always
John Francis Flynn
This fine July release from the continuously impressive River Lea Records announced a major new Dublin talent to the world. Cut from the same cloth as Lankum, John Francis Flynn takes an avant garde approach to his chosen songs, bridging the gap between the old and the modern underground. His take on ‘My Son Tim’, with its driving drones and its weird, haunting video, will be a real wake-up call to anyone who thinks tradfolk is something best left in a dusty old wardrobe.
Head to: roughtraderecords.com
The High Priestess and the Hierophant
The high priestesses of drone folk, Burd Ellen, returned in late November with a follow-up to last year’s excellent, Says the Never Beyond. Exploring the connections between divination and traditional song, ‘The High Priestess and the Hierophant’ is a version of ‘Fair Annie’ (another song that they do exquisitely) that touches on patriarchy, arranged marriage, and the bonds of sisterhood. Available as a download and a 7-inch, backed with ‘Mother, Go and Make My Bed’. A real treat for anyone who likes their folk dark and dangerous.
Head to: burdellen.bandcamp.com
Still as Your Sleeping
Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan
Utterly spellbinding. This collaboration between folk and jazz giants (Polwart and Milligan, respectively) is one of 2021’s genuine gems. Gentle, heartfelt, inspired – it’s hard not to get lost in superlatives, so we’ll just say this: buy one for each of your loved ones, and then an extra one for yourself. You’re bound to wear out a single copy.
Head to: hudsonrecords.co.uk
Stand Up Now
The Landworkers Alliance
A great collection of songs, old and new, that celebrate life on the land and underline our collective struggle for a better world. Put together by the Landworkers Alliance (“a trade union of food, fuel, and fibre producers working across our contested nation”), the album was produced by Humphrey Lloyd and Sid Goldsmith, and features some of our favourite tradfolk performers. Listen out for The Norfolk Broads, Owen Shiers, Nick Hart, Ewan McClennan, Amy Cox and Maddy Yarwood. Great stuff, and it’s always a delight to be able to help a good cause while filling a loved one’s stocking.
Head to: landworkersalliance.org.uk
Henry Parker has learnt a lot from those he grew up listening to, but he’s pooled those influences, made them his own, and turned out an album that plenty of others could learn from in the future. If you’re buying for someone that likes their folk albums influenced by the likes of Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch, here’s a collection that will fill out their playlists very nicely for years to come.
Head to: henryparker.bandcamp.com
A great, stripped-down album, capturing a tight band of friends taking traditional music as a jumping-off point for their own flights of superb fancy. It’s rare to find an album of traditional and original tunes that stitch so seamlessly together. On Granny’s Attic’s latest, they’ve sewn together something quite special indeed.
Head to: grannysattic.org.uk
Winter Hill Trespass
There’s an admirable doggedness about Johnny Campbell. Like a modern-day Billy Bragg, he’s all about the fight – and when the fight is against anyone threatening the land and our rights of way, he’s there on the frontline. This year’s ‘Winter Hill Trespass’ single recognises the 125th anniversary of Britain’s largest rights of way dispute, an occasion that saw 10,000 working people occupy Winter Hill, Bolton, in an attempt to liberate an ancient footpath. Campbell is as earnest as they come, and the production of this single makes it sound as though it came from a 1970s Topic Records compilation.
For Tradfolk.co readers, Johnny Campbell has a special deal: use tradfolk10 as a code on the shopping cart and you’ll receive 10% off, up until December 20th, 2021.
Head to: johnnycampbell.co.uk
Tours are being added and (unfortunately) cancelled all the time, and it would take all our spare time trying to run a full gig guide. However, there has been one constant throughout these difficult pandemic times that we feel deserve a very special mention…
Live to your Living Room
It’s surprisingly difficult to remember the pre-2020 world where Live to Your Living Room weren’t doing amazing work, bringing top folk bands and artists directly to your TV or computer. Live music may well be back, but Cat and the team are continuing these streamed gigs, increasing access to your favourite tradfolk musicians from wherever you are in the world. Why not treat your geographically-challenged friendship group to the same gig? It’ll be like you’re all in the same room at the same time for once (except no one will know if you’re in your pyjamas…)
Head to: livetoyourlivingroom.com
Perhaps you’ve already got plenty of ‘stuff’ in your stockings and under the tree, and what you’re really looking for is a gift that keeps on giving? Becoming a member or friend of your favourite organisation or venue is a great way to help them keep doing what they’re good at, and in return, they’ll usually keep you up-to-date with their plans. You might even get something in return, like early-bird booking or discounts throughout the year.
Check out your favourite places to see what they offer, but here are a few starters for ten:
EFDSS Membership – Perks include a quarterly magazine and access to an exclusive section of the website.
Halsway Manor Membership – Perks include a newsletter, access to the library and archive, and a much-coveted Halsway car sticker.
Tradfolk.co Subscription – We’re working on perks, but for the moment your giftee (yes, that’s a word) will be comforted in the knowledge that they are supporting a new and thriving traditional folk publication. Deep pride!
Main image: Taken from the cover of A Secret Steam: Folksongs Collected from English Gypsies
Check out Hedingham Fair (hedinghamfair.co.uk) too. Karen Cater’s linocuts are great, including a cracking calendar of traditional customs every year, folkie Christmas/yule cards and t-shirts