Sam Lee, the Dalston saviour of our old songs

Broadway: Broadway Markt Lon E8 Sam Lee, singer, 270413 ©
Romany singer Freda Black talks to collector-singer Sam Lee @ St Mark's Dalston Lon E8 26 Jan 2013 ©
Venerable Romany singer Freda Black, and above, top right, Sam Lee, striding by on Broadway (Market)

SAM LEE is is more than a singer. He is also a promoter who has set up a company to host folk-music shows and discussions around the UK.

More importantly, perhaps, he has been helping to save Britain’s musical heritage by searching the nooks and crannies of these islands for lost ballads.

Among the most valuable are those who call themselves the travellers: the Romanies and Scottish Tinkers, and the non-Gypsy Irish Travellers.

Based in an ecclesiastical-style house perched atop a stone staircase next to the great church of Dalston, Lee has chosen the best way to learn about these people of the social margins. Instead of consulting the wordy books of non-Traveller academics, he has found Romanies and travellers who will talk directly to him, perhaps even sing some old songs.

SamLee: Folksinger Sam Lee @ ex verger's house St Mark's church Dalston Lon E8 ©
Creative coffee break: Lee on the steps of his home

Now he has a new album out, The Fade In Time, his second since 2012’s Ground of its own, so we’re going to hear a lot about him as he sets about promoting it with the help of his Nest Collective, and his band, Sam Lee and Friends.

Helping him, too, will be Freda Black, a Romany in her eighties who travelled from her home on the south coast in January 2013 to take part in a Sam Lee masterclass in musical ethnology. St Mark’s hall in London E8 had never heard such songs as Lee coaxed out of her.

David Altheer 160315

* Sam Lee and Friends will launch the new album at St Mark’s church hall (good disabled access but blind people can expect obstacles in the street outside), Hackney E8 2LG on Tues 17 Mar 2015 at 8pm, tickets£15, are all sold but other concerts will be held around London

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