Here is something pretty special, very much a contender for the song of the month. And with it comes a pretty special artist backstory. Angeline Morrison was first enchanted by folk music when she heard Shirley Collins on the radio as a small child. The purity and beauty of the music had a profound effect on her, resulting in a deep love of folk traditions. Angeline lives in Cornwall, where she moved after falling in love with the living traditions of May Day practised there – particularly the Padstow Obby Oss. And there we have both the power of radio and the power of folk music to shape lives.
‘Unknown African Boy (D. 1830)‘ comes from the new album ‘The Sorrow Songs‘ which carries the sub-title ‘Folk Songs Of Black British Experience‘ which is out on the prestigious Topic Records on October 7th, distributed by Proper Records. A vinyl release is planned for 2023. The album was produced by Eliza Carthy who also plays and sings on it (you can hear her background vocals and fiddle on this very song), but it is the “re-storying” of folk songs that Angeline Morrison has achieved that is the most remarkable. She explains that: “The traditional songs of the UK are rich with storytelling, and you can find songs with examples of almost any kind of situation or person you can think of. But whilst people of the African diaspora have been present in these islands since at least Roman times, their histories are little known – and these histories don’t tend to appear in the folk songs of these islands.”
The album is being released in Black History Month and it is Angeline Morrison’s aim to turn the stories of the remarkable lives of Black Britons into a musical form that fully reflects the British Folk tradition. It’s an aim that is admirably successful. Further to that it is also important to Angeline Morrison that these songs should have a life of their own: “What I would really love is for people to want to sing these songs. I wrote each song with a chorus or refrain that I hope will be singable, so that people might want to sing them in folk clubs, and in doing so these stories will continue to be re-told in song.”
Speaking very specifically to today’s song Angeline has said: “This was the very first of ‘The Sorrow Songs.’ It came to me as I paced up and down my local beach, wrestling with the tragic story I had just read. Many slave ships passed by the Isles of Scilly during the era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (1526 – 1867 approx). The tricky waters in this area meant that many ships were wrecked. In the case of this ship, the exhausted captain mistook the day mark of St Martin’s for the lighthouse of St Agnes, and the ship was wrecked. A local newspaper article of the time lists some of the items washed up on shore. The list includes palm oil, several hundred elephant tusks, a box of silver dollars, two boxes of gold dust, and the body of an unknown ‘West African boy’, estimated age around 8. The boy is buried in St Martin’s churchyard, Isles of Scilly. This song is from the perspective of his mother”