Keith Summers

Collector and recorder of folk-song and traditional music

Early in the 1980s, it became apparent that Britain was producing periodicals about the musical condition that people abroad regarded as models. The magazine
Musical Traditions, edited by Keith Summers, was one of those.

Keith Summers, writer, recorder of traditional music and accountant: born London 11 December 1948; died Southend-on-Sea, Essex 30 March 2004.

Early in the 1980s, it became apparent that Britain was producing periodicals about the musical condition that people abroad regarded as models. The magazine Musical Traditions, edited by Keith Summers, was one of those.

The first issue of Musical Traditions, dated "mid 1983", laid out Summers's stall. Amongst its writing were articles on the Armenian musician Reuben Sarkasian, the Irish piper and folklorist Séamus Ennis, the Nigerian juju musician I.K. Dairo and the traditional singer Walter Pardon of Norfolk. It survived for 12 issues and still lives on in an online edition. Summers's Keskidee, devoted to black music traditions, lasted three issues.

Keith Summers was born on the top deck of a bus outside Hackney General Hospital in east London. In due course his family, which included a younger brother Roy, moved from Enfield to Southend-on-Sea in Essex, where he picked up a life-long Southend United habit and a love of sea-fishing. Music was his third passion, especially traditionally based music.

He was no musical snob; his tastes extended far beyond the indigenous music of the British Isles. He absorbed the music of Lonnie Donegan, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, the Beatles, the Animals, Rev Gary Davis and Champion Jack Dupree. However, two multi-volume LP sets proved particularly informative and influential. First Harry Smith's monumental Anthology of American Folk Music for Folkways, then Caedmon/Topic's Folk Songs of Britain uncorked his mind. Through Caedmon/Topic's set, Summers was turned on to English traditional song and music-making.

In 1969 he attended the National Folk Festival at Loughborough, where he encountered the septuagenarian Percy Webb, whose song "Flash Company" went into the repertoires of Martin Simpson, June Tabor and Waterson:Carthy. Summers arranged to record Webb. On the way to Webb's home in Tunstall he spotted a signpost for Blaxhall, a place hailed as Suffolk's folk Mecca, so, after recording Webb, he popped down to the Ship there. That life-transforming trip to Blaxhall led to his involvement in Topic recordings of Jumbo Brightwell, the Lings of Blaxhall and Cyril Poacher, cornerstones all of East Anglian vernacular culture.

Summers financed his musical passions through work as an accountant. Having one client in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, gave him the expenses excuse to mix cost-accountancy and traditional music. In 1978, searching for a pub television so that he could watch the Peru-Scotland match, kismet drew him to Tempo, a small Fermanagh town where Maggie and Sarah Chambers had been recorded singing "The Auld Beggarman" for the fifth volume of The Folk Songs of Britain (1961). Fortified by lager and football, he asked after the Chambers. Several children were recruited to make enquiries. Before long he was having a tête-à-tête with the by then married Maggie Murphy.

He later disparaged himself as a "non-expert in Irish singing", but Summers's instincts were formidable and he captured some of the finest performances of Northern Irish folk-song ever. He lived to see his two-CD harvest of recordings made between 1977 and 1983 released as The Hardy Sons of Dan (2004) shortly before his death from cancer. Its subtitle is "Football, Hunting and Other Traditional Songs from around Lough Erne's Shore".

The folk writer Derek Schofield once said insightfully of Summers, "He was never a song collector, always a recorder of people singing songs."

Ken Hunt



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