If you know British folk music, you certainly know the Child Ballads.
Until the end of the 19th century “folk music” was less a celebrated musical form in England than it was a means of actual communication between British people. Like “folk” around the world, British “folk” sang while working, while celebrating, while sad. In the late 1800s American ethnomusicologist Francis Child begin to document the ballads of the British Isles; his “Child Ballads” are an essential document of English and Scottish folk. For centuries musicians have performed variations of the Child Ballads, leaping forth from the originals to build new songs based upon their melodies and lyrical themes. For example, Child Ballad 81, “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard” — a “Child ballad” that’s a tale of intrigue and injury not appropriate for children — inspired myriad variants over the years. One of the most popular is “Matty Groves.” Watch British folk legends Fairport Convention — the 2012 version of the band — perform their version, using the melody of the American folk song “Shady Grove.” (Listen to them singing it with a much earlier lineup, in 1969.)