“Authentic Magic”: Angela Carter’s Folksong and Music Session

Sunday 5 March

Angela Carter is best known as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century, but she was also a singer and musician who played an important role in the national Folk Revival of the 1960s while living in Bristol. For the first time in fifty years, singers who knew Angela Carter performed songs sinister and comic, ribald and romantic to recreate a typical session of ‘Folksong and Ballad’, which took place once a fortnight at the Lansdown, Bristol. As her friend and fellow singer Chris Molan noted:

“Communal as it was, all of us who performed there knew it was Angela’s club!”

Angela’s curiosity in folk music was sparked in 1959 when accompanying her first husband, Paul Carter, a singer and sound-recordist for Topic Records, on his field-recording trips to singing pubs in Sussex. Recordings of authentic singing styles – then on the wane – were driving a 1960s folksong ‘revival’. These rare tapes, stored at their new home in Bristol, inspired Angela’s study of early folksong texts at Bristol University. In 1964 – the same year that she was writing her undergraduate dissertation on the etymology of the English folksong text ‘The Streams of Lovely Nancy’- Angela’s article ‘Now is The Time for Singing’ appeared in Bristol University magazine Nonesuch:

“It is difficult to sing without love and knowledge of the form… the revival is in such an infant form that it has produced only a handful of singers who have worked hard enough… to learn the authentic magic that transmutes old songs from books into songs freshly new-minted” (Angela Carter)

Angela Carter Folk Song Poster RWA 2017

Here, performing Angela’s songs are successors of that revival; the musicians playing on traditional acoustic instruments in the spirit of the Bristol folk club which Angela and Paul founded. Her interest in the creative potential of oral traditions grew alongside her expanding repertoire of song material.  Her ingenuity with the folk-tale may be traced back to this time in Bristol where she developed her understanding of traditional folksong through performance.

Singers and Musicians:

Marianne McAleer, Danny and Rod Stradling, Rosie Upton, Polly Paulusma,  Christine Molan, Tom Randall and The Hotwells Howlers Band: Harry Langston, Brian Ainley, John Shaw, Geoff Woolfe.


This was live concert accompanying the RWA exhibition Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter which commemorates this neglected episode in her life and where the only known recording of her singing and playing can be heard.

PDF of the programme

IMAGE: © Christine Molan / Country dance tunes, Reg Hall and friends / Oil Painting/ 2012