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  • Musical Memories
  • Vic Gammon (bio)

I first saw Alun at a conference, I think in 1976. I had read his early Ruskin pamphlet Whitsun in 19th century Oxfordshire and knew immediately this was the sort of history I wanted to do. He joined Sussex University in 1976 and we met at a party. I was doing an MA and tutors at Sussex had been very supportive of my work – the difference with Alun was that, because of his interest in traditional music and culture, he really understood what I was trying to do. I switched from being an early modernist to being a nineteenthcentury specialist and did my MA thesis and doctorate with him supervising. His supervision was excellent, light touch but critically helpful when needed.

Meeting him was also the start of our musical association. Alun had a strong musical background from his home life, his experience of the folk music revival, and his encounters with performers through his oral history work. Alun joined our group, the Pump and Pluck Band, as a singer, banjo player then percussionist. He was a great person to have in a band, a wonderfully positive character and an excellent singer in the traditional style. Ian Russell, fellow band member, wrote 'I still have vivid memories of the days when he fronted Pump and Pluck, of his good humour and the conviction with which he sang the songs'. It was interesting having an expert agricultural historian when we went on to Wealden farms to play barn dances – the English peasantry never totally died out! Our spiritual base was a regular monthly music session at the Ram at Firle, a village boozer hanging on from a previous age: the landlady's family had run the pub for a couple of centuries. The audience grew greatly and Alun was central to the success of those sessions.

I also performed with him as a duo and sometimes as a trio with concertina player and singer, Will Duke. We had some great times, he had the ability to turn every event into a special occasion. We performed at concerts, folk clubs, day schools, illustrated lectures, political events, benefits, anywhere that would have us and that did not involve too much travelling. Accompanying him was never a routine process, it was like a being on a white-water ride as he was never totally predictable as a singer, but he was enormously exciting, a consummate performer. I have so many good memories of times spent with him, he was one of a very few people with whom I have had a totally intuitive musical relationship, the ability to work together in a seamless way.

There were other sides to Alun's musical work. Because of his historical understanding of vernacular music, he attracted a number of research [End Page 321] students, people of the calibre of Reg Hall, who produced ground breaking work on Irish music in London, and Andrew King who completed a unique study of sound recording in the early folk music revival. Steve Roud, author of Folk Song in England, and a leading folksong scholar, wrote to me: 'I was sorry to hear about Alun's death. I never really met him, but was a great admirer of his research and publications, and counted him as something of a mentor. I hope he realised that he was held in high esteem by people in our field'. The experience of song and music, visceral rather than simply archival, was integral to Alun's being and his historical work.

Then there was the radio and TV, not just the excellent programmes on rural history. He had a good understanding of the contradictions of revivalism and scripted an excellent TV documentary on the Folk Revival, 'The Other Music' made by Phillip Donnellan for the BBC (1981). I remember working with him on a 1985 film about William Morris called 'Memories of the Future' (directed by Michael Dibb) and recording some of Morris's rather wordy songs in one of Alun's bedrooms – the crew waiting for the aircraft noise to stop so we could start. Not so long before his death he and I both contributed to a film...


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