The American Folklife Center mourns the passing of Anthony Grant “Tony” Barrand, a singer, dancer, teacher, and folklorist who donated the Anthony Grant Barrand Collection of Morris, Sword, and Clog Dancing (AFC 2003/005) to AFC in 2003. [Find it in the catalog here.] In addition to making this collection, Barrand has been a proponent of English folk traditions in America for more than 50 years. He was a longtime dancer as well as a singer and musician with the John Roberts and Tony Barrand duo, and with the quartet Nowell Sing We Clear. Barrand, who was born in Lincolnshire and continued growing up in Buckinghamshire, England, died on January 29, 2022 at age 76 in his adopted home of Brattleboro, Vermont.
To celebrate the American Folklife Center’s acquisition of Barrand’s collection, and his many contributions to the documentation and perpetuation of traditional dance, the American Folklife Center partnered with the Country Dance and Song Society to present two public events at the Library of Congress: on the evening of April 30, 2003, Barrand’s illustrated lecture entitled “But America for a Morris Dance,” on Morris dance team traditions in Britain and the United States; and on May 1, 2003, “Bringing In the May,” an outdoor performance of Morris dancing and sword dancing featuring five local dance teams, led by Barrand and co-hosted by Barrand and Jennifer Cutting, a folklife specialist at the American Folklife Center. Before the evening lecture, Cutting interviewed Barrand for over two hours. The interview covered his personal history, his musical influences, his academic career, his approach to documenting dance, how he organized his collection, the formation of his several dance teams in Marlboro, the history of Morris and sword dancing in America, and the history of the event he founded in 1976, the Marlboro Morris Ale.
The interview was recorded to audio and video tape and is in the AFC archive. See the catalog record here. This post is the first in a series of posts, each of which will present a portion of the interview as transcribed by Jennifer Cutting. Find all the published posts here!
Jennifer Cutting: It’s Wednesday, April 30, 2003. We’re in the Recording Lab in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. It’s May Eve. It’s the day of Tony’s lecture that he’s giving this evening in the Montpelier Room, and the day you ceremonially hand over your collection to us… to the folk archive at the American Folklife Center.
Tony Barrand: It is incredibly wonderful to be doing it on May Eve; it couldn’t be happening on a better day than May 1st and May Eve.
Jennifer Cutting: So we decided to grab you while we could, for a little background about the collection and a little background about your own life, so that we can fill out our knowledge of your life and work. So we’re going to start with the obvious question: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Tony Barrand: I was born in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, in England. In fact, both sides of my family, I think everybody on both sides was born in Gainsborough. And let’s see… And I think, of my grandparents…Well, though, it’s not true because my maternal grandmother was Scottish. So there were some flaws in the family history [laughter]. But certainly, my parents’ families were all Salvation Army people, on both sides. So that’s where I grew up until I was ten. And I had one brother, who’s almost five years older. And when I was ten, my dad, who was an engineer, worked, you know, metal parts and things…That’s what his apprenticeship had been. All of his working life, he’d worked at a company, Rose’s, they made sweets… you probably remember Rose’s. And they made candy wrapping equipment, machinery, Rose’s chocolates. And at some point, he had a brilliant idea of how to make a machine that wrapped chocolates faster than was being done. And I don’t know where this piece of entrepreneurial spirit came from, but he found somebody in the south of England, in fact, not really the south of England, but in South Midlands in Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire, and we moved there, and he moved down there to make this piece of equipment and this new machine of his.
Jennifer Cutting: OK, so you moved from Lincolnshire to Bucks [Buckinghamshire] when you were ten?
Tony Barrand: Well, let’s see, that would have been… so I was born in 1945… April 3rd… right before I think the war ended, because April 3rd, you know, they were scared, basically. So then we moved in 1955 down to Bletchley. And my mother is still there. My mother’s still alive and still in Bletchley in the house that we moved into at that point.
Jennifer Cutting: So where were you first exposed to the traditions that you grew up to continue and to document? Was it in Lincolnshire… or was it in Bucks?
Tony Barrand: If I can, there are two pieces that I think after that story. The documenting piece comes later, because that actually didn’t happen…in terms of being exposed to any of the dance materials that I have studied now since the ‘70s… didn’t happen until I came to America. Interesting. And I did not see English… let’s call it folk dancing… didn’t see Morris or Sword or any of these dances until I got to the States. But, my mother was a singer. And my dad told recitations. When we were just walking down here to the studio, David Taylor in the Folklife Center said… “Don’t ask him about, you know, “On ‘is ‘orse, with ‘is ‘awk in ‘is ‘and,” which is one of the old Stanley Holloway recitations that I do, having learned them from my dad. So in a lot of ways, the kind of thing that I that I now do was very much in my family. My mother had songs that she sang at holidays all the time. And, of course, we did a lot of singing in the Sally Army. And then when I was four or five, they moved to the other side of Gainsborough and became Methodists. And the Methodist singing, they were famous singers. So I did a lot of singing in church choir-type things and in services. So I think of my interest in the folk song piece as having been really based out of a family,
Jennifer Cutting: Out of a family, and the affiliation with the Salvation Army, and then later the Methodist Church?
Tony Barrand: Yes, if I could just tell one more little story about that… What was interesting was after… with my singing partner now of 35 years, John Roberts, after we put out our first LP here, when we were still in graduate school, I sent a copy home and my mother wrote back and she said, “Well, there must have been some nice songs you could have sung, you know, I wish there was more music to it”… because most of it was unaccompanied singing. So for years, I wondered, “Where did it come from?” It’s interesting, you know, it’s like they had the songs, but it’s like, “Where in the family is this from?” And when my dad died in 1993, the morning of his funeral, I got back to the house after going out to pick up a newspaper, and there were two old ladies that I didn’t know, sitting on the couch in my mother’s living room. And my mother introduced them to me as my father’s two younger sisters. It turned out that, as a child, we only visited my mother’s family, for various interesting family reasons that I don’t fully understand, like one of the aunts was married to a drunk. And these were all Salvation Army people, so we didn’t associate with them. So I’m sitting with them, with some photographs from my life in the States… and one of the photographs is of a band I sing with that we call Nowell Sing We Clear, that’s a Christmas show that we do with my friend John Roberts and Fred Breunig and Andy Davis. And my friend John is holding a small concertina, an Anglo concertina, and my aunt Nellie looks at it, and she says, “Oh… my dad used to play one of those.” And I said…”My Granddad Barrand used to play a concertina?” “Played it all the time around the house,” she said, “and sang.” I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And she looks at Andy Davis, who’s playing an accordion…a piano accordion… and she says, “He played one of those too. Wasn’t like that, though. Didn’t have keys, it had buttons.” And I said, “My Granddad Barrand played a button accordion?” “Oh, yeah. Famous around Gainsborough for that,” she said. “Yeah,” she said; “And your dad used to play banjo with him.” Now, I played banjo for years… and my dad knew that… never said a word. My dad went with me to buy my first concertina at Harry Crabb’s shop in London.
Jennifer Cutting: That’s where I got mine!
Tony Barrand: Exactly. Never said a word. Never. My dad never said a word. And his dad played concertina. So, it was clearly on that side of the family… on the Barrand side of the family… that there was this family singing and playing instruments piece that I didn’t really know about. But there was enough of it between the recitations and… you know, my dad used to sing in operatic things… so that’s where the singing piece really came from.
Jennifer Cutting: What about Salvation Army bands, were you exposed to those?
Tony Barrand: Well, I was, because my mother’s oldest sister and aunt and her husband, that I spent a lot of time with in my late middle years, and then as a teenager, because they had no kids, so I would go and spend summers with them. She was a captain in the Salvation Army… equivalent of a sort of pastor. And so she would lead going out in the streets on Sunday mornings, you know, would lead where they’d have concertina bands, people bringing out the concertinas…and tambourines… and I remember being at citadels and, you know, the single women in the back of the hall playing tambourines. And so, yeah, I went out with the concertina bands and small brass bands out doing services, and used to go out with them Sunday morning. So that was very much a part of… it did fill my ears. That was very much a part of that. But interestingly, well, it’s certainly this is a standard story that you hear all the time talking to people. It was a bit… it was too close to me. So that when I went to college, what was I doing? Oh, you know, what was coming in when I was still in, you know, still 16 and 17, was skiffle. Lonnie Donegan and skiffle bands.
Jennifer Cutting: That’s because all those people were listening to Archive of Folk Culture field recordings [laughter].
Tony Barrand: They were all listening to the Archive of Folk Culture field recordings! It was Woody Guthrie, and it was Leadbelly and all those people, exactly, that’s what it was. You remember that. It was just exciting being in England, with that music, that energy at that period of time in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
Jennifer Cutting: Were you still in Bletchley then?
Tony Barrand: I was still in Bletchley then until high school, and then I went, when I was 18, to the University of Keele, in Stoke-on-Trent (Newcastle-under-Lyme, actually). But up in Stoke. And when I was up there, then what I did was I not only discovered that, but of course Bob Dylan was coming out right around then, and I just thought that was great. And, I got involved playing rhythm and blues and was singing and playing harmonica in a rhythm and blues band.
Jennifer Cutting: So harmonica was your instrument… What else?
Tony Barrand: Not really, I wasn’t very good at it… No… I was a great tambourine player.
Jennifer Cutting: But interesting that you took up a free reed, isn’t it?
Tony Barrand: It is interesting that I took up a free reed, given the hidden history of the reeds in the family, that’s right. Might have been a concertina, but… So I went to Keele, and there, the Keele Folk Club was there, but you know what they were doing… they were doing a Ewan MacColl: they were singing unaccompanied and holding their ear. I mean, my favorite… there’s a man called Enoch Kent lives up in Toronto who used to sing like that, and he said he did it because he only liked half the songs he sang [laughter]. Yeah, so I used to go to the folk clubs but really to hear the American singers… not the English singers; I really didn’t like them. The sound of their singing unaccompanied seemed to me too difficult.
Jennifer Cutting: So, early on, an attraction to America, and American culture.
Tony Barrand: Absolutely. And, I got very involved with singing in this rhythm and blues band. So… Keele is a four-year college, and between my third and fourth years at Keele, I went to Swarthmore College as an exchange student. Because… two reasons: One, I was really invested, I was really involved in computers at the time, and America was the Land of Computers. And, I loved American folk music. So it was like, that seemed like a good thing to do. So I got over here, and the only songs I knew that I would have sung in public were American. They were Bob Dylan songs. They were skiffle songs, and everybody said, “Those are American songs; don’t you know any English songs?” I was really embarrassed. Really embarrassed. Here’s this working-class kid, and I didn’t know any English songs.
Jennifer Cutting: And you were supposed to be a cultural ambassador…
Tony Barrand: There I was, and I didn’t know any English [songs]… So what did I know? I actually knew songs that my mother had sung… my family… and I knew the recitations from my dad. And I knew songs from growing up in school, because we had Cecil Sharp’s folksong books in school, that we’d all sing, so I knew oh… …you know…
Jennifer Cutting: What were some songs that your mother sang that you remembered back then?
Tony Barrand: She sang, [sings]:
Oats and beans and barley grows
As you and I and everyone knows
You and I and everyone knows
Where oats and beans and barley grows
Oh…waiting for a partner
Open the ring and take one in
And kiss them when you get them in.
First the farmer sows the seed
Then the farmer takes his ease
Stamps his foot and claps his hand
And turns around to view the land
Oh… waiting for a partner.
Open the ring and take one in
And kiss them when you get them in
[speaks] and of course… one gets your Poacher!
[sings the first line of “The Lincolnshire Poacher”:]
“When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire
Full well I served me master for more than seven year.”
So, there were those songs that were there from home. I had a few, and immediately set about going to try and find more, and I remembered the songs that we’d learned in school as the Sharp books. And, actually, while I was at Swarthmore, started really… Well, we’d done some professional jobs with the rhythm and blues band in ‘66 when I was at Keele, and in ‘67, I had a trio at Swarthmore. And we did some English songs and some American songs and, of course, ’67, it was a war protest kind of time.
Jennifer Cutting: And that’s the year that you visited the Archive of Folk Culture!
Tony Barrand: And I just discovered today that I came on February 1st of 1967 and visited the Archive of Folk Culture. And I had no memory of that.
Jennifer Cutting: Thanks to Joe’s guest book.
Tony Barrand: Yep… Joe Hickerson’s guest book.
Tony Barrand: And I must have… I probably… I don’t know whether I met Joe at the time. First time I remember meeting Joe was when I was at Cornell and came down for the first time.
Jennifer Cutting: So you were there for the one year at Swarthmore…
Tony Barrand: I was there at Swarthmore for the one year, then went back.
Jennifer Cutting: Because you signed the guestbook “University of Keele.”
Tony Barrand: I signed it University of Keele rather than, interestingly, Swarthmore College, because I thought of myself very much as a Keele student.
Jennifer Cutting: So you went back…
Tony Barrand: So I went back to graduate, but…while I was at Swarthmore, I had got just fascinated by perception psychology, which is what my original academic training is in. And I’d met this man called Hans Wallach, at Swarthmore College. He was a Gestalt psychologist, he’d come over in the ‘30s to the States with his professor, his major advisor, a man called Köhler, Wolfgang Köhler, and who had taught at Swarthmore as well. And then when Köhler died, Wallach took over his position teaching perception there, and I just got turned on to this stuff. You know, it’s one of those great… I think of them as St.-Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moments, when — you know — something happens, you meet somebody, and something happens, and you’re off in the next direction. And so when I was at Keele, what I really wanted to do was come back to the States, because I loved how there was this sense that all of the best kinds of music… including, by the way, English music… was over here. You know, Louis Killen was over here. So it’s like the best of all kinds of music. Plus, the major thing was, from having grown up working class in England, there was very much a, you know… not a glass ceiling, but a class ceiling in England. There was a limit to how much somebody coming out of my background could actually achieve. Although… Maggie Thatcher proved us all wrong with that, didn’t she. That was later… But, so I loved how in this country, there was the sense that you could get the best of any kind of music you wanted. And somebody with the spirit and inventive ideas, you could do anything you wanted, really. So I really wanted to come back, and I really wanted to come back to graduate school to study this perception stuff. Plus, I was really hooked on being an academic, because you get these great summers. I mean, what a gig it is, being an academic! You get to show up for eight months, and then they give you four months off! It’s really great… I mean, I still love that. And this is the last week of classes [laughter]. Tomorrow, I’m missing my last day of classes.
Jennifer Cutting: We appreciate your being here!
Tony Barrand: No, I appreciate being given the opportunity to miss the last one, that was good! [Laughter.]
Jennifer Cutting: Did you find a perception psychologist that you were excited about studying with over here, then?
Tony Barrand: Well, the same guy. Well, sort of. He said, “No… no…do this.” And he said, “You have to go to Cornell. James Gibson is the person; you want to study perception, that’s what to do now.” So I went to Cornell because this man James Gibson, who became my — I sort of adopted him really, as my — you know, my sort of intellectual, but also emotional father. He was really my mentor, first mentor.
Jennifer Cutting: Can I just butt in for a second… jump in to ask for a real brief definition of perception psychology for those of us who are not familiar…
Tony Barrand: Well, I’ll give the brief one I use when I’m teaching perception… that I think of it as the means by which people discover their relationship to the environment. And themselves, they discover… It’s essentially a way of getting answers to questions about the environment, about yourself, and about your relationship to the environment. And you can do that by looking for things: listening, smelling, tasting; although, classically, perception is what people think of as the five senses. But with my teacher, Gibson, he didn’t talk about the sensations or sensing, he talked about perceiving, and of perceptual systems. And there are many of them that don’t always have introspectable sensations associated with them. And it’s basically the ways that you maintain yourself in relation to the environment and get the knowledge… get information you need, about the environment; about yourself and your relationship to it. And what happens with most people, as I did, was you focus upon vision. It’s the most dramatic of the perceptual systems, and the one for which all of the language and the theory has really evolved. And I ended up doing my PhD on the means by which we see. You know, everybody, everything that has eyes has two eyes. And we have eyes that overlap and enable us to do things like thread a needle.
Jennifer Cutting: Binocular vision?
Tony Barrand: Right, but a horse, for example, has eyes that are set around here and enable them basically to see almost 360 degrees as does a rabbit, or a flounder. An owl, of course, has tubular eyes set right in the front of its head, and it’s able to dive down and get a mouse, you know, and so on. So it was about binocular perception, really.
Jennifer Cutting: So that was your dissertation?
Tony Barrand: That was my dissertation at Cornell, but… want me to keep going from there?
Jennifer Cutting: Well, you know what I’m wondering, which is how did you get to be a professor of anthropology?
Tony Barrand: Yeah, well, that’s another whole long story. I’ll do a shorter version of the story. At Cornell, we arrived at Cornell — This is when the Ford Foundation was giving out really lots of grants for, for example, graduate study — And I was lucky enough to arrive at Cornell and get four years’ worth of Ford Foundation money. And part of which was being research assistant to James Gibson. And I arrived at Cornell on the first day, and much to my dismay, I hear another English voice. And it’s another Midlands voice.
Jennifer Cutting: What are the chances?
Tony Barrand: What are the chances of that? And it turned out to be this man, John Roberts, who had been on the English equivalent of the Peace Corps, VSO, in India, teaching English kids how to speak English, teaching them how to sing, “Old Keeper would a hunting go… under his cloak he carried a bow… all for to shoot at a merry little doe, among the leaves so green, oh. Jackie, boy, Master sing you well, very well…” Anyway, so John had arrived… Somebody, one of the Peace Corps guys had said, “You know, you should go to graduate school in the States; they give you money to do it.” So John said, “Oh, that sounds good.” So he applied for, and got into Cornell. So there I arrive, you know, you get away from there, you leave England, to get away from the English, right? So, John is there… Well, it turns out, we’re both English, right? We have to room together. One, he’s got a guitar, and I had a guitar, and it turned out, but the real thing that John had, apart from having a wonderful baritone voice, was he had reel-to-reel tapes of field recordings of English singers. Well, this was my own little walking Library of Congress, right? Archive of Folk Culture was John Roberts’s collection of tapes.
Jennifer Cutting: Where did he get them? Without getting him in trouble… [laughter].
Tony Barrand: No, I don’t know the answer to that question! Maybe it’s Cecil Sharp House? Some of them, which must have been purloined, somehow… but there were, you know, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Jennifer Cutting: Okay. But he had them. And which source singers did he have?
Tony Barrand: Copper Family… Had a lot of Copper Family people, and because there were two of us, those with a sort of bass and a tenor… and so we learned a lot of the Copper Family songs. And he had, what other singers did he have? Gosh, I don’t know… I’m forgetting now what singers he had, but he had a lot of ballad singers; singers from all over England. English singers mostly, I don’t remember Scottish singers. I don’t remember him having Welsh or even Irish, I think he had mostly English singers. So we listened to these. And, at the end of our first… so we were rooming together. And we had… my trio came down from… the guys who were actually still at Swarthmore, when I was in my fourth year there…they were freshmen at Swarthmore. So they came down and we did a couple of concerts at Cornell and got John up on stage to sing with us, at some point singing some of those songs. So the end of that first year at Cornell, we got invited to go separately, to sing at a local, you know, a farm for juvenile delinquents. It was just outside Cornell, our first gig. They were kids from out of New York City, and it was a farm for them; a rural experience for them. We had to be entertaining! And we decided since we were both going together, we’d learn some songs together. Well, what was funny was that John’s solo repertoire was blues, and Woody Guthrie things… sort of similar to mine. So we learned things together. We learned Copper Family songs, and we learned, you know:
[Sings] Here’s good luck to the pint pot, good luck to the Barley Mow.
You know, we learned some English drinking songs and things. So that was our immediate repertoire that we learned together that both of us really, were actually interested in that as well. It was most interesting to us.
Jennifer Cutting: You had this bi-national repertoire, and did you did you mix them in the set?
Tony Barrand: Initially… and then right away at Cornell, there was this show called Bound for Glory, which was three hours on a Sunday night, run by a man called Phil Shapiro, that is still running. It was running in 1967, and it’s still going. And what he had… this sort of a winning format, really… he’d play records for 30 minutes, and then there’d be a live set for 30 minutes. And so a singer would show up, and you’d get to do three 30-minute sets. And over the three years that John and I played together, the last three years while we were at Cornell, we must have played on there three times a year and never repeated a song in three years. So we used it as a way of learning repertoire a lot. And I remember back then, we did occasionally mix in a few American songs. That was really gone by the time we had left Cornell, I think. But you know, there it was.
Jennifer Cutting: Do you think the tapes exist of those broadcasts?
Tony Barrand: Oh, I know some of them do. And we made our first LP with Phil Shapiro, which was all English song at that point. So, then we graduated, and John and I were with a third friend from Cornell, name of Tom Toleno, had got interested by that point in perceptual aesthetics; and understanding, as an audience member, you’re listening to somebody sing a song, you’re watching a dancer, you’re at a play, you’re looking at a painting. And there’s clearly some sort of relationship gets established between the artistic activity, performance, whatever it is, and you the observer. And that perceptual encounter just became really interesting to me, in particular, and when we left Cornell, decided we wanted to try and teach a program in this.
Jennifer Cutting: So you’re leaving Cornell with a PhD?
Tony Barrand: No, None of us were, actually. No, at that point in time at Cornell, you only got a Master’s when they failed you. A Master’s was a failing degree, when they kicked you out of the PhD program. So we left, and persuaded this small college in Vermont, Marlboro College, to hire us to teach this program that we called Psychology and the Arts. The theory being that, to this point in time, the study of aesthetics by psychologists had been by psychologists who knew beans about the arts, actually; they were not performers or artists themselves. So they tried to do work. And what they did was, try and break art down to the tiniest little bits, and then build it all back up… it was very clear that you had to go in at the meaning level. And that had also been our training in perception, that you didn’t begin at the small building blocks of perception, you began at meaning. So the theory was, that we were going to try and get young artists in college. So John and I were going to model working in some area of the arts: there we were, nicely calling folk music “the arts,” you know. And so we were gonna try and persuade them. So three of us got one job: John and I were quarter time, and this other guy was half time. And John and I made the rest of our livings going out doing concerts as early as… We did sort of 200 concerts a year to try and persuade young artists that we will try to work with artists, and we’re gonna try and teach them to be psychologists, perception psychologists, and ask good questions about their own artistic activity. It was a miserable failure. Because their art teachers didn’t want them doing the psychology. Right? So we didn’t have any students. So in order to get students to teach, I started teaching the arts areas that I knew, which was singing ballads, singing bawdy songs, telling recitations…
Jennifer Cutting: Wait a minute now… You didn’t learn the bawdy songs in your family…
Tony Barrand: This is true. I’d learned them by this point in time. That’s actually true, but I’d been a rugby player in England. So I actually had learned some of those songs.
Jennifer Cutting: …which you wouldn’t take back home and sing in front of your family?
Tony Barrand: Certainly not. My dad did come with me to a couple of rugby games actually, though… seemed to enjoy the whole singing piece just fine. My mother wouldn’t have though [laughter]. So at that point I started teaching classes in folk song and storytelling, and dance.
Jennifer Cutting: And you’re in Vermont by now?
Tony Barrand: By now I’m in Marlboro, Vermont, which is just west of Brattleboro (we currently live in Brattleboro).
This is wonderful! Can’t wait to read more! We’ve admired and loved Tony for decades, and it’s so great to learn
more about him!
I first heard John and Tony sing at the Fox Hollow Festival of Traditional Music and Art, in August, 1972. Their Seaman’s Hymn made it onto the vinyl recording of the 1972 festival highlights, so my memory of 49 years ago is accurate. John and Tony, together and separately, had a tremendous influence on countless people, among them myself and my two oldest sons, Michael and David, both of whom learned to play concertinas and sing. We all became Cotswold morris dancers, and learned from Tony. David took up sword dancing, and started Cutting Edge Sword, in the District of Columbia. Tony didn’t talk about himself, and I never asked: this is a fine interview. I look forward to the second half.
I was introduced to John and Tony in the 1960s by their performances at the Tryworks Coffeehouse in my hometown of New Bedford, MA. I was entranced by their harmonies and encyclopedic repertoire, especially sea shanties and British drinking songs. I was a Cornell undergraduate at the time they were grad students. I was president of the Cornell Folk Song Club, which had been founded a decade or so earlier by undergrad Peter Yarrow. As I was leaving, Tony and John took over the club. In 1963, when I was 15, I was doing research in the Library with Joe Hickerson’s help, when I had the pleasure of meeting Judy Collins, the only other person doing research there at the time.