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Family Business

How much has the way in which the family used to sing - at home and in the pub - affected the type of songs which found their way into the repertoire and stayed, or got left out. There aren't a lot of murder ballads, for instance.

B.C. We're a happy family, and we come from a very happy part of the country. Going back to my grandfather's generation and even before that, I'm sure, going back to the late 16th century, the farm at Rottingdean was run by different generations of a Quaker family. Even the farmer when I was a boy, who'd taken over about 1890, he kept up the same tradition. They looked after their men wonderfully well, they never stood anybody off in the winter, they made jobs for them to keep them on and fully paid. In the Luddite times, threshing machines being busted and all that sort of thing, I think you'll find Captain Swing went through Sussex to the north of here - he couldn't go south, of course, 'cause he'd have been in the bloody sea! - but our little pocket down here, nobody wanted to know. They were happy people. My mother, who was a Londoner who came down to service at a big house; if old Billy Brown (who was very much a gentleman farmer) come to the back door to ask Dad to do something, and Dad would be all "Yes, Mr Brown, Sir", mum would say "Why do you kow-tow to him so much? We don't owe him nothing." Don't you worry about that", he'd say, "the guv'nor looks after us very well. Rain or shine, winter or summer, he looks after us, we don't go short of nothing. The Lord above knows where we'd be without 'im." That was the attitude, and it went for a happy village, generally speaking. I suppose that is reflected in the songs.

J.C. There was no great oppression going on, that was the thing. The older I get, the more I realise that at the time, before the turn of the century, nearly any country village had a tremendous amount of oppression going on; people were being manipulated all the time. We seem to have escaped it, and people can't understand why we've got this extraordinary attitude that our songs reflect - very tolerant of the landed gentry and everything which went with that. There are lots of other places in Sussex like it as well.

B.C. At the same time in Dorset and East Anglia, for instance, they had terrible times. Farm workers were really impoverished and lived on a turnip out of the fields.

This feature first appeared in issue 20 of The Southern Rag (the original title of fRoots) in April 1984.


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