Cartwheel Snakes

Above image, source: Cameron Robertson, Observer, 

Sam Lee, whose extraordinary album Ground of Its Own is nominated for the 2012 Mercury music prize, takes us to Kent to meet one of his musical inspirations, Freda Black, an 85-year-old Romany singer. Sam is on a quest to record ancient folk songs sung by generations of Travellers including Freda, to capture the tradition in its purest form

I met Sam Lee in London in 2011 at an ‘unconference,’ hosted by the social enterprise support charity UnLtd. Mesmerised by his performance with cellist Francesca Terberg at an after party, I later asked Sam and friends if they’d travel north for a gig in the hall in the village where I live.

Throughout that time of getting to know Sam’s music, I read an article in The Guardian by Ed Vulliamy –  Sam Lee: ‘There is a difference in the songs Gypsies sing.’ In the interview with Sam and Freda Black, Freda’s daughter, Freda Bell,  talks about seeing so-called ‘cartwheel’ or ‘whiplash’ snakes. Reading about this was a profound experience for me, it jolted one of my earliest memories: I’d seen a cartwheel snake while camping with my family. I kept the sighting to myself until I started writing 100 People, there’s a chapter where Francesca recounts seeing the cartwheel snake to her grandfather, Rosario.

Below is an audio interview on Soundcloud by Song Collectors London. Sam Lee is director of the SCC (The Song Collectors Collective.)

This is a new community of song-collecting enthusiasts who strive to empower a new generation of collection and distribution of old, orally-transmitted song and wider culture. Despite wide assumption that all the traditional singers have long passed away and no more culture is passed on through the oral tradition, there is in fact a wealth of song held by those unknown by the wider traditional music community. (Song Collectors London.)