Folk Music in York

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


York has a long and proud tradition of folk music. From the York Waits to the Yorkshire Dales, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy this unique form of music.

Introducing York

York is a historic city in the north of England with a rich heritage and a strong musical tradition. The city has been home to many famous folk musicians over the years, and its vibrant music scene continues to provide opportunities for new and upcoming talent.

If you’re interested in experiencing some of York’s traditional folk music, there are plenty of great venues to choose from. Here are just a few of the best places to enjoy folk music in York:

-The Bean Scene: This popular coffee shop is also one of York’s best live music venues, with a regular schedule of folk, acoustic, and world music performances.
-The Black Swan: This traditional pub is one of the most popular spots for live music in York, with regular folk nights featuring some of the city’s best up-and-coming talent.
-The Fulford Arms: Another great option for live music in York, The Fulford Arms frequently hosts folk nights as well as other genres such as blues and country.

A brief history of folk music in York

Folk music has been an important part of the Yorkshire music scene for many years. The folk Revival of the 1960s led to the formation of many folk clubs in the county, including the White Rose Folk Club in York.

The York Folk Festival was first held in 1977, and has been held annually ever since. It is one of the oldest and largest folk festivals in England, and attracts musicians and music fans from all over the country.

The Yorkshire Dales are home to a number of traditional music festivals, including the Settle Folk Gathering, which has been held annually since 1978. The Dales also have a strong tradition of Morris dancing, and there are several Morris teams based in the area.

The York Waits

The York Waits were a city band in England, employed by the Lord Mayor of York. The organization of waits varied from town to town, but most likely consisted of between four and twelve musicians. The York Waits were first mentioned in a city document dating back to 1498, and they continued to perform until the 18th century. In 1668, the corporation ordered that the waits “shall keep Christmas and Whitsuntide together as they used to do, and also shall attend my Lord Mayor and Sheriffs at their going out and coming in.”

The York Waits played a variety of instruments, including shawms, sackbuts, citterns, recorders, bass viols, lutes, guitars, and drums. They performed for civic occasions such as Lord Mayor’s Day celebrations, as well as for private functions such as weddings and funerals. In addition to playing music, the York Waits were also responsible for keeping the peace at night. They would patrol the streets with their Instruments constantly ready to emit a loud noise should any disturbance occur.

One of the most famous members of the York Waits was William Lawes (1602-1645), a composer and lutenist who wrote much of the band’s repertoire. Other notable members included John Lagden (d. 1660), who wrote an important treatise on shawm playing; Peterbowyer Goodwyn (17th century), who was known for his virtuosic recorder playing; and John Ward (died c. 1708), an accomplished bass viol player.

The York Minster Manuscripts

The York Minster Manuscripts are a collection of over 200 song manuscripts, many of them with accompanying music, dating from the 13th to the early 16th century. They constitute one of the largest and most important collections of folk music in England.

The majority of the manuscripts are from Yorkshire, with a small number from other parts of England and Ireland. Some of the songs are well-known ballads such as “Sir Patrick Spens” and “The Bold Fenian Men”, while others are less well-known but nonetheless interesting and important examples of the folk music tradition.

The manuscripts were discovered in the 19th century by Dr Edward Duyker, then a professor at York Minster. He recognised their potential significance and arranged for them to be donated to the Minster Library, where they remain to this day.

Duyker spent many years cataloguing and studying the manuscripts, and his work remains an important source of information about them. In recent years, further work has been done on the manuscripts by scholars such as Dr Simon Kipling and Dr Kate da Silva Pinto, who have published valuable studies on specific aspects of the collection.

The Copper Family

The Copper Family is a musical family from Sussex, England. Members of the family have been involved in folk music for over six generations, and continue to perform and record traditional songs from the oral tradition. The family is particularly associated with the town of Rottingdean, near Brighton.

The family’s patriarch was James Copper (1784–1862), a farmer and bricklayer who was also a fine singer. James’s son Bob Copper (1845–1924) was the first to make a career in music, singing with travelling shows and dance bands. Bob’s sons Will (1885–1972) and Jim (1887–1954) followed in their father’s footsteps, performing in music halls and variety theatres. Will’s son Bert (1914–2004) was one of the most significant figures in the English folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, helping to rediscover and preserve many traditional songs. Bert’s sons Ashley (b. 1944) and Roy (b. 1946) are also folk musicians, as is Roy’s son Jimbo (b. 1970).

The Morris Dancers of York

The Morris Dancers of York are a local folk group who perform regularly at events and festivals in and around the city. The group was formed in the late 1960s by a group of enthusiasts who wanted to revive the traditional Morris dancing style of the English Midlands.

The Morris Dancers of York wear distinctive costumes of white shirts and black trousers, with red or blue waistcoats. They dance with handkerchiefs and sticks, and sometimes with bells attached to their clothing. The dances are energetic and lively, often involving acrobatic leaps and turns.

The Morris Dancers of York perform a wide range of dances from different parts of England, as well as some original compositions. They often accompany their dances with traditional folk songs, played on a variety of instruments including fiddles, guitars, accordions and drums.

If you’re interested in seeing the Morris Dancers of York in action, they perform regularly at public events such as the Yorkshire Folk Festival and the Great Yorkshire Show. You can also catch them at private functions and parties – just get in touch with the group to find out more.

The York Folk Club

The York Folk Club is a non-profit, member-run organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of traditional and contemporary folk music in York, Pennsylvania. The club hosts weekly open mic nights and monthly concerts featuring local, regional, and national touring acts. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in folk music, and members receive discounts on tickets to club events as well as access to a lending library of folk music CDs and DVDs.

The Yorkshire Folk Singers

The Yorkshire Folk Singers, who were founded in 1974, perform a wide variety of traditional songs from the British Isles and America. They have a large repertoire of songs, which they perform both a cappella and with accompaniment on guitar, fiddle, mandolin, penny whistle, and drums. The group has performed at various venues in York, including the National Centre for Early Music and the Festival of Folk Arts.

The Folk Music Archive at the University of York

The Folk Music Archive at the University of York collects, preserves, generates and disseminates a broad range of resources relating to all aspects of traditional and contemporary song, instrumental music, dance and storytelling drawn from cultures around the world.

The Archive has a wide variety of audio-visual materials, printed items, ephemera and realia. The primary focus is on field recordings made by both professional and amateur collectors which date from the late-19th century to the present day. The collections also include commercial sound recordings, radio broadcasts, concert and festival recordings along with an important collection of Bensons & Hedges Folk Awards winners tapes.

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