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KS Ken Stubbs Field Collection

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Ken Stubbs Field Collection
Ken Stubbs Collection (KS)

1317 digital mp3 audio files
Date created

Field recordings of traditional singers and musicians recorded by Ken Stubbs and others and copied onto reel-to-reel tapes. The collection of reel-to-reel tapes is still held in private hands, therefore the VWML collection is a digital audio collection only. The original tapes are numbered 1 - 22, including an 18 and 18c (signifying a 'continuation'), but tape 15 is missing.

The contents of Ken Stubbs' surviving tapes is of a miscellaneous character, containing field recordings made by him and others in Sussex, Kent, and Surrey, radio programmes recorded off-air, dubs from commercial records, and other related material. He copied, and re-copied tracks for various purposes, and individual performances can appear in several places in the collection, often in fragmentary form. Only the field recordings, made by Ken and others, have been selected for the VWML collection. (Hence why tape 10 is not included, as well as numerous tape tracks. Ommission of recordings has been indicated where relevant).

The field recordings are mainly of two types - domestic recordings made in people's homes, under relatively controlled conditions, and those made in pubs. The latter, in particular, are often difficult to listen to, as conditions were rarely conducive to good recording practice. The microphone was rarely in the best place, the background noise is often overpowering, performances are often fragmentary, and the starts of the songs routinely missed. Technically, Ken was not particularly skilled in making recordings, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that in the 'collecting' situation he was more concerned with making the event successful than with making 'good recordings'. He was usually involved as organiser, singer and musician, rather than as a professional recordist. Nor was his equipment of good quality, and the tapes as they have survived are all 'four-track', which is far from ideal, but was highly economical at the time. In this system, four separate tracks are squeezed onto a quarter-inch tape, and a small difference in alignment of the tape-recorder heads at recording, playing back, copying, or digitisation, results in two tracks being heard at the same time (often with one of them playing backwards). Where possible, this has been eliminated at digitisation stage, but in some cases nothing can be done, and listening is severely compromised.

With all its technical limitations, Ken Stubbs' collection is extremely valuable as a record of singing and playing in the period, and much pleasure and information can be gained from it. It includes recordings of well-known performers such as Pop Maynard and Scan Tester, useful as comparative performances. The domestic recordings of ordinary people are undeniably valuable in documenting repertoires and styles which would otherwise have been lost to us.

During his lifetime, several people made copies of Ken's tapes - most notably Jim Ward in the late 1970s. Before he died, Ken gave his original tapes, with the power to use them as they saw fit, to Chris and Jean Addison, by whose kind permission the collection is presented here. Paul Marsh has undertaken the digitisation of the tracks, from the originals, and Steve Roud has indexed them. Other people whose assistance is gratefully acknowledged include Molly Barrett, David Nuttall, Steve Pennells and Jim Ward.

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Close Ken Stubbs

Kenneth Charles Stubbs (1923-2008)

Born in Beckenham, Kent in 1923, Ken had started to train as an engraver/letter cutter but the war put an end to that. After serving in the Army during the war he spent two years in Palestine, where he was introduced to communism by his Army Education Officer.

On his return to England he trained as a primary school teacher and moved to East Grinstead, Sussex. He taught in Gravesend and it was in Gravesend that he went to a folk song club and dances run by Fred and Reg Hall. He also attended the folk club in East Grinstead, one of the first, which was run by members of the local branch of the Communist Party including Mervyn Plunkett and Peter Grant.

The Communist Party was seen as the only real alternative to fascism. Many of those involved in the post-war folk revival were members but left in disgust after the Soviet Union's brutal crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

In the mid 1950s Ken had attended a Party lecture on the need to preserve the music and songs of ‘the people’. Inspired he then proceeded to carry out this directive with great enthusiasm. For the first few years he noted down the song texts and memorised the tunes. Around 1959 he began to make location recordings on 'portable' reel-to-reel tape recorders.

Mervyn Plunkett, Peter Kennedy and Brian Matthews were also collecting in the area around that time, but Ken still noted a great number of songs from over 40 known and previously unknown performers, in their homes and public houses, mainly in Sussex, Kent and Surrey. Ken was living at Lingfield and later at Edenbridge when he made his recordings. A non-driver, his collecting trips were carried out by public transport or bicycle.

Many of the people Ken collected songs and tunes from attended his “folk music parties”, as he liked to call them, that he organised in several pubs on the Sussex, Surrey and Kent borders. He sent out hand-written invitations on postcards, and his parties were attended by both folk enthusiasts and local traditional singers and musicians. Regular locations included The Abergavenny Arms, Copthorne; The Cherry Tree, Copthorne; The Plough, Three Bridges; The Oak, Ardingly; The Plough Inn, Cuckfield; The Gun, Horsmonden; The Crown, Edenbridge and “Elsie’s” at The Queen’s Arms, Cowden.

Ken did hardly any collecting after 1971, but still ran his folk music parties. In 1980 he went to the USA to live and work on an organic farm and his friends Jean and Chris Addison took over the running of the “Elsie’s” evenings, which they continued to run for over twenty-five years.

Before he left Ken gave his tapes to Chris, knowing they would be in safe hands, with the wish that he should make the recordings available. He also gave Chris copyright to the recordings, in writing, should he wish to issue any of them in the future.

Ken was a genuine enthusiast, who did his utmost to continue the tradition and the memory of the singers he had known and so admired, by singing the old songs he had collected from them. A kind-hearted, generous, unassuming man, Ken was always willing to share his recordings.

In 1970 The Life of a Man, 50 songs collected by Ken Stubbs, was published by EFDS Publications Ltd. Some of his recordings have been issued on Boscastle Breakdown (LP 12T240 1974); Ye Subjects of England (LP 12T286 1976) and the Voice of the People 20 CD series (TSCD651-670 1998), but the vast majority of his collection has not been issued.

He returned to live to the UK in 1985 and settled in Norwich where he continued to support and perform at folk events.

Ken was pleased to know that all of his recordings were being digitised, and that his complete collection would eventually be made freely available. Sadly, he did not live to see this. He died in November 2008, aged 84.