Working with Sing Yonder

Some regular folk fans will be aware of the Sing Yonder book series that is the brainchild of Karl Sinfield. For those who don't know them, in 2021 Karl wanted to learn more folk songs so he decided to use the Roud Index (a beyond huge list of thousands of folk songs collated by the researcher Steve Roud) in a numerical fashion. Because why take on a small project when you can take on an insurmountable one, right?

Karl wanted to sing and play simple versions of the songs and soon realised that others might want to do the same, especially if they were less than confident musicians. So he put the first 10 songs from the Roud Index in a book, along with a short informative piece about each song. In Karl's words “I have tried to be concise with story and modernise the language where appropriate, since this project is about making the songs more accessible rather than being totally definitive or authentic to sources hundreds of years old.”  

The book was an instant hit among members of the folk community and it was at that point I became aware of the project. And became a huge fan. I had recently started working on my own folk music project of discovering old folk songs with no known tunes, where necessary rewriting parts of them to modernise them, and then composing tunes for them in order that they might be brought back into ‘singability’. Although my brain has always dreamt up random tunes and lyrics, this folk song project started after I discovered a part of a song from the 1790s which related to the building of our local canal that runs between our village and the next. Only the first verse remained - no tune and no other lyrics - so I wrote two more verses and a tune. Some time later I recorded it especially for Trad Song Tuesday on Twitter ( ) as that particular week Tom Kitching, the author, folk musician, and canal fan was a guest. It became addictive and I did more songs. So Karl and I were working separately on ideas that involved bringing folk songs to audiences - his involved bringing new people into folk music, mine involved bringing unsung old songs to new audiences.

Spurred on by the enthusiasm in the folk world for volume 1 of Sing Yonder, Karl immediately set on further volumes, unearthing lesser known versions of popular folk songs, and sharing known and unknown musicians' work. Whatever song he did, the version in the books had to fit the A5 page and still be readable. Great for most songs, especially those with a chorus which only need printing once but that was a big NO to a 36 (or more) verse ballad! This meant that the shorter versions of ballads were used, with the added bonus that they were a great way of getting newer performers to try them out - they could always move on to longer versions once their confidence had grown. Or not, if they're anything like me!

All was going swimmingly for Karl, until Roud numbers 65 and 66. The song lyrics were in the Roud Index (corresponding to Child Ballads 101 and 109) but little more was known and both songs were very long, wordy and full of dialect. So Karl, who knew about my project and had heard some of my compositions/rewritings of songs, asked me to come on board and work on the songs to bring them back to life. With a few provisos: that the songs must be singable to all levels of ability; and song lyrics needed to be reduced from their current many verses, into an absolute maximum of 16 verses that would fit on a single page of the Sing Yonder books.

And I'll tell you how I did that in further posts!

Karl's Sing Yonder series is available from Bandcamp at

You can subscribe to the Sing Yonder Substack, which contains far more in depth information about each song at

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