thu 25/07/2024

Listed: Linda Thompson's Top 10 Traditional Songs | reviews, news & interviews

Listed: Linda Thompson's Top 10 Traditional Songs

Listed: Linda Thompson's Top 10 Traditional Songs

British folk queen picks her favourite trad tracks

Source singer: Linda Thompson's new album draws on traditional music

"I’m up to my ass in traditional songs," Linda Thompson says in the extensive Q&A published today on theartsdesk. When she talked to me she also discussed her early adventures in traditional folk music. "I was already interested in folk singing in Glasgow," she said. "Great people like Archie Fisher.

When I came to London I got friendly with Sandy Denny, who was singing at The Troubadour. I’d been singing seriously since I was 18, in folk clubs, with Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson, all those people. I really liked the music. I’d grown up with American music, so had never heard anyone sing with a British accent. And I started to do that, it just seemed the right thing to do."

While claiming to know "22,000" traditional songs, she managed to whittle down a list of ten favourite performances, in no particular order. Where available, a YouTube performance accompanies each of her choices. 

1. “Bogey’s Bonny Belle" by Sheila Stewart

We know about the Stewart family. They were tinkers, they liked to be called Tinkers in Scotland, not Romanies or Gypsies. They were amazing singers and this is a great song.

Watch Sheila Stewart singing "Mill O' Tifty's Annie" in this snippet of film of the Stewarts of Blairgowrie

2. “Banks of the Nile” by Sandy Denny

Because it’s the best vocal ever. The most incredible vocal, and a beautiful, beautiful melody. I can’t believe it when I hear her sing that. It’s so fantastic.

3. “Wantonness” by Ian Benzie

I don’t even know who he is, I just head it on a record my Cajun friend Ann Savoy sent me. It’s absolutely beautiful.

4. “The Slave’s Lament” by Waterson Carthy

I could have done a whole 10 of Waterson Carthy. A fantastic song. I don’t know a lot about it. “The Slave’s Lament” – it speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

5. “I Wonder What’s Keeping My True Love Tonight” by Kate Rusby

Because it’s a beautiful song and she has such a pretty, pretty voice. It’s a lovely sound. And I particularly love that song.

6. “Jock O Hazeldean” by Dick Gaughan

A great, great Scottish singer, just one of my favourite singers ever, and it’s such a good song. The bride runs off at the end of the song with Jock O Hazeldean. And he sings it with so many gracenotes, Dick Gaughan, it’s an incredible, virtuoso piece of singing.

7. “Are You Going to Leave Me?” by Shirley and Dolly Collins

I love Shirley, obviously, and I love Dolly, I was so privileged to have known Dolly, because she died very young. She’s been dead a long, long time now. She was an incredible person and an incredible musicologist and she was pretty solemn as well, I remember. Shirley and Dolly – Dolly had the black hair, Shirley had this blonde hair. They were polar opposites. I didn’t used to like the Shirley and Dolly stuff half as much as I like it now. What I like about it is that they let the song speak for itself. Shirley sings very plainly, it’s like she’s not even singing, you just hear the purity of the song, and I’ve come to appreciate that a lot.

Walter Pardon8. “The Poacher’s Fate” by Walter Pardon

I could have picked any number of Walter Pardon’s songs. He’s from Norfolk and Martin Carthy – if any of this is wrong, he’ll be writing in. I love Walter Pardon, one of those very old guys. He was alive and signing when I was around. The funny thing was, I didn’t like it so much at the time – it all sounded a but random to me. But of course it’s not. It’s a primal thing, almost. And of course I can remember what real men were like, I mean I don’t know many real men. I’m talking about women too. People who used to grow their food and eat it, and if it was meat they’d kill it, there’s something incredible about those people, that when you see them standing on the ground, they seem as if they’re part of it. Nothing poncy about Walter Parson, or Bob Copper, or any of those guys.

9. “Sovay” by Martin Carthy

It’s a great song and lots of people have sung it, and it has an exquisitely difficult time sequence.

10. “Pony Blues” by Charlie Patton

Because he’s the best blues man that ever was, he’s as traditional as anybody else. Everybody raves about Robert Johnson, but Charlie Patton, I think, was really the man. Not that Robert Johnson was chopped liver. He wasn’t. But Charlie Patton was something else.

Everybody raves about Robert Johnson, but Charlie Patton, I think, was really the man

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Well - choice number one is magnificent. Sheila Stewart is one of the truly great traditional singers and the film taken in the Stewarts' house in Yeaman St, brings back very many happy memories of times spent there. However, it is disappointing that the song has been incorrectly named. Sheila is singing "Mill O' Tifty's Annie" and not "“Bogey’s Bonny Bell" and even the wrong title is wrong as that song is about a beautiful woman a "belle" and not something that is rung.

Thank you Vic - we have added an 'e' to Bell.

We were aware that this is not the song that Sheila Stewart is singing in the clip, but perhaps the caption could have made that clearer. Hopefully it is clear now.



"Linda Thompson's Top 10 Traditional Songs" and yet selections 3 "“Wantonness” and 4 "The Slave's Lament" are not traditional songs - both having been composed by Robert Burns.

Any song over 60 years old after the composer has passes away is considered traditional. Anyway it's the style of songwriter becomes traditional

I know very little about the folk scene, but I do know from what I've heard so far that June Tabor has a better right to the title of 'British folk queen', and I'm surprised she's not among the choices.

Clearly you don't.........

Oh wow.....Banks of the Nile would be my number one.....haunting beauty......voice of an absolute angel.

yes, you are right sandy denny did have the voice of an angel and her life was far to short,and she is now up there with the angels

ime glad sandy denny was in linda,s top ten, spot would have been great,but i will settle for no.2 spot with the wonderfull banks of the nile,she could do no wrong in my eyes,and wrote some great songs,i still miss her so much.glad linda included shirley and dolly collins,kate russby,martin carthy and swarb although i might have picked different songs from them.

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