Joseph Taylor (folk singer)

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Joseph Taylor
Joseph Taylor in booklet from 'Percy Grainger's Collection of English Folk-Songs sung by Genuine Peasant Performers'.png
Facsimile of the insert from the 1908 HMV release 'Percy Grainger's Collection of English Folk-Songs sung by Genuine Peasant Performers'
Background information
Bornc. 1832
OriginSaxby-All-Saints, Lincolnshire, England
Saxby All Saints Lincolnshire
GenresEnglish folk music

Joseph Taylor (born c. 1832,[1] death date unknown) was a folk singer from Saxby-All-Saints, Lincolnshire, England, who became known due to the attention of the pianist, composer and musicologist, Percy Grainger.[2]


Taylor worked as a farm bailiff, and sang for pleasure, as well as in his local church choir, and in competitions.[3]

Some time between 1906 and 1908, Grainger visited Norfolk and recorded Taylor, who was already in his 70s,[1] and other singers of traditional songs, onto wax cylinders, using an Edison Bell-made phonograph.[2]

Label of one of the HMV gramophone records

In 1908, Grainger was instrumental in the Gramophone Company inviting Taylor to London, where a dozen of his songs were recorded, with nine subsequently being released on a series of seven gramophone discs, on the "His Master's Voice label,[2] as part of a series billed as "Percy Grainger's Collection of English Folk-Songs sung by Genuine Peasant Performers".[4] In the accompanying booklet, Grainger wrote:[4]

Mr. Joseph Taylor is in most respects the most exceptional folksinger I have yet heard. Although he is 75 years of age, his lovely tenor voice is as fresh as a young man's, while the ease and ring of the high notes, the freshness of his rhythmic attack, his clear intonation of modal intervals, and his finished execution of ornamental turns and twiddles (in which so many folk-singers abound) are typical of all that is best in the vocal art of the peasant traditional-singers of these islands.

Though his memory for the texts of songs was not uncommonly good, his mind was a seemingly unlimited store-house of melodies, which he swiftly recalled at the merest mention of their titles. His versions were generally distinguished by the beauty of their melodic curves and by the symmetry of their construction. He relied more upon purely vocal effects than almost any folk-singer I ever heard. His dialect and his treatment of narrative points were not so exceptional, but his effortless high notes, sturdy rhythms, clean unmistakable intervals and his twiddles and ‘bleating’ ornaments (invariably executed with unfailing grace and neatness) were irresistible.

The British Library Sound Archive describes these releases as:[2]

a first in our field, and decades before any other attempt to issue real traditional singing on record for public consumption.

Grainger's recordings and transcriptions of Taylors's singing came to the attention of the composer Frederick Delius, who requested and secured permission to use Grainger's harmonies in his own arrangement of one of Taylor's songs, Brigg Fair. Taylor was a guest at the first performance, at the Queen's Hall in London, and reputedly stood to sing along.[1] Grainger's own folksong-inspired Lincolnshire Posy (1940) was dedicated by the composer, to "the singers who sang so sweetly to me".[1]

Later releases and archives[edit]

Ten of Taylor's Gramophone Company recordings were released, as Brigg Fair: Joseph Taylor and Other Traditional Lincolnshire Singers (Leader LEA4050) by Leader Records in 1972, alongside recordings, of Taylor and others, transferred from Grainger's wax cylinders.[1]

Grainger's wax cylinders were copied onto lacquer discs by the Library of Congress in around 1940. The British Library digitised their set of these discs in 2018 and has made them available online.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Taylor had a son, John, and a daughter, Mary.[3] Mary was interviewed about her father's singing by Peter Kennedy in 1953.[3] The recording is kept by the British Library and is available online.[3]


Some of the songs performed by Taylor and recorded by Grainger became part of the canon of the British folk revival. Martin Carthy recorded several.[1]


Songs performed by Taylor, and recorded by Grainger, included:[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Joseph Taylor". Mainly Norfolk. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Percy Grainger's collection of ethnographic wax cylinders". British Library. 20 February 2018. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Mary Taylor (daughter of Joseph Taylor), Saxby All Saints, Lincolnshire 1953 - Peter Kennedy Collection - World and traditional music". British Library. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  4. ^ a b "A Study of English Folksong - Grainger, Delius, Sharp &Taylor". Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  5. ^ "Percy Grainger ethnographic wax cylinders - World and traditional music". British Library. Retrieved 22 February 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Greig, Ruairidh (2004). "Joseph Taylor from Lincolnshire: a biography of a singer". In David, Atkinson; Ian, Russell. Folk Song Tradition, Revival, and Re-Creation. Occasional Publications (3). Aberdeen: The Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen. pp. 386–392. ISBN 0-9545682-0-6.

Other media[edit]

External links[edit]