Illustrations Aidan Saunders.

Illustrations Aidan Saunders.


Leigh-on-Sea. Thu 27- Sun 30 June 2019.

The Golden Thread Project’s very own Aidan Saunders has appeared at Leigh Folk Festival with his Print Wagon for several years, and his illustrations adorn their website and promo t-shirts.

SO we, ZEEL and Orson, determined to also sample this festival. First we crossed from Hastins in East Sussex all the way into deepest Essex, spanning the lower portion of that vast expanse forming a lower buttock to the southern rump of England. To the north shore of the estuarine Thames we came, all on a fine and sunny Saturday.

To the right we see a young folk-fanatic en route (Orson of sometime folk act Jam Bank) —>

What could be described as semi-pagan donut-babies at the excellent local bakery.

What could be described as semi-pagan donut-babies at the excellent local bakery.


Throughout the four day Leigh Folk Festival, events are well distributed about this charming resort. Beginning at the top of the hill and descending toward the barnacled wharves of Old Leigh.


On These days the musical action took place in the evening at venues like Leigh Community Centre. On Thursday acts included Kitty Macfarlane from Somerset, (her evocative album Namer of Clouds is well worth a listen).

On Friday Justin Hopper & Sharron Kraus appeared, delving into Kentish myth and landscape during a performance of their album Chanctonbury Rings. Also, Leigh plunged into the emotionally raw “Trash-Gospel”- music of Longy, with his sung observations of everyday-folks’ lives.


Library Gardens, perched up in New Leigh hosted several stages offering a range of musical styles; from vaudeville, a smattering of UK folk styles (such as longstanding Leigh fixtures Famous Potatoes), to what could perhaps be described as ‘slightly-wasted-but-very-well-played-good-time-psychedelic-Carlos-Santana–infused-Louis-Prima-and-Xavier-Cugat-covers’ by the Levent Taylor World Band. In an even more ‘good-times’ mode than usual.

The atmosphere lay somewhere between village fete and small town Brueghel-esque bacchanal, with music, pungent food preparation, stalls of fancy goods, records, and art activities for kids.

Orson was able to immortalise a stand-out element of the fun on paper-

He writes of it thus-


While enjoying the folk activities that Leigh-on-Sea had to offer, me and my fellow festival-goers were continually encountered by the strange man below. Dressed in a beige smock, geriatric leggings, leather moccasins, and cloth headgear, the grizzled old boy clenched a tankard of what one would assume to be beer. The man stumbled across the town crying out ancient tales and songs, sometimes stopping families or passersby to drench them in a particular folk story from long ago. Legend has it that the mythical figure has and always will traipse Leigh during the festival

Exhausted by these phantasmagorical sights, we repaired to a sylvan glade to recover our energies as the evening drew in.


Refreshed by the kind hospitality of rustics in the Essex hinterland, we ventured out again on Sunday taking in some of the folk acts in detail, but not before finding out a little more about Old Leigh. Leigh-on-Sea boasts a deep history of gathering fishy bounties from surrounding waters, and more recently, as part of a conurbation of pleasure in the Southend area that extends along the strand from Leigh to Shoeburyness, Flourishing there to serve those seeking escape from the muggy confines of London for a winkle, perhaps a beer, and a paddle among the worm-casts. We found that all manner of fascinating Leigh-on-Sea intel can be gleaned at the local Heritage Centre, a friendly and excellent example of what an enthusiastic historical society can achieve.


Our impressions of the acts that we heard down in Old Leigh that day:-

Tailors Twist playing some lovely Irish folk music, including the Steve Earle song Galway Girl. @ Inside at The Hatch, which was Old Leigh Foundry back in the day..

Illustration of Tailors Twist by ZEEL.

Illustration of Tailors Twist by ZEEL.

Orson writes about Tailors Twist-

‘THE FIDDLERS’: This fruity fiddling band were very much to my liking, their kinetic fingering ‘n’ fretting generated a blithesome atmosphere in the airy cafe which acted as their musical venue. Here are several depictions of them at full-folk-throttle...

Illustrations by Orson

Goodnight Crow playing inside at The Hatch.

This duo, playing with guitar and viola on the songs we heard, were much more from the mould of a contemporary folk band, singing with real love and feeling for the history and heritage of their families and the way of life of working people. Dan Forbes introduced his father Jacks song Starvation Boys. Plus we identified the strains of a stirring folk standard- Blackleg Miner.

Goodnight Crow are Dan Forbes (vocals and guitar) and Kate Waterfield (vocals, strings and concertina).

Illustration by ZEEL

Illustration by ZEEL

Lunatraktors playing at Strand Wharf

Illustration by ZEEL

Illustration by ZEEL

You could say that this band has ‘divided the critics’ at Golden Thread Project HQ, with some being challenged somewhat, and others feeling open to the spirit of adventure and experimentation within this Margate Duo and their nascent style. Percussionist Carli Jefferson began their performance with a humorous plea for the audience to lend her some Clog-dancing shoes in her size, as she had left hers at home. It seems that this follows the spirit of folk community, ever social and conversational. Musically Lunatraktors are certainly trying their very best to experiment and bring out new facets of traditional folk tunes, with percussion being struck from any possible surface, and Clair Le Couteur singing from phrase to phrase in the voices of legion channelled spirits, one second reminiscent of Richard Thompson, the next Shirley Collins, Anthony Hegarty, or even Paul Robeson perhaps? Lunatraktors describe themselves thus - “Broken folk experiments by Clair Le Couteur (vocals, loops) and Carli Jefferson (vocals, percussion)”.  


Lastly The Hoy Shanty Crew singing at the Hoy Stage were our favourites, presenting shanties in exactly the right context, on a wharf, in the sun, with beer and goodwill.

Illustrations by Orson, He writes-

SHANTY SINGING SAILOR BOIS: Ale in hand, skin crisp from the midday sun, and voice boxes guttural, the disorderly crew of sea laddies chanted many a classic tune about adventures upon the salty sea for more than half an hour. The audience made of Old Leigh denizens and folk fanatics enjoyed the set so much that they warranted an encore!
Illustration by ZEEL

Illustration by ZEEL

The Hoy Crew’s rendition of “A Drop of Nelsons Blood” was particularly efficacious. It is not known whether any of them are real ‘Boys ashore’, as elderly fishers are known in Hastings. According to their charming website: “The Hoy Shanty Crew was formed several years ago, originally based on regular members of The Hoy at Anchor Folk Club….. The Crew has a well-earned reputation for gutsy and passionate rendering of shanties as well as other chorus songs, particularly if they involve the partaking of beer”. Their encore was a treat in itself, the wonderful Chicken on a Raft.


We only had the time to skim the surface of this fine, well organised and (largely) FREE festival. There is a heap of great music and dancing to experience at Leigh Folk Festival and it would be great to try and dig a bit deeper into it next time…

Illustrations by Aidan Saunders

Illustrations by Aidan Saunders



Illustrator Karolina ‘Jonc’ Buczek delivers the second part of her personal guide to some folk superstitions from her native land, Poland.

Welcome Back!

Coming back home straight after having already left the house

If you are a forgetful person - you are living your life always on the short straw. Scenario: you leave the house and then realise you forgot something important, like your headphones to separate you from the hell of commuting on a busy morning bus full of screaming children and come back to pick them up. Consequences: you just broke up a magical circle of life, you silly head. Now you can be showered with all of the unlucky plagues known to mankind!

Fear not, there is a solution to that - you either have to sit down for at least 10 seconds, (Mama Anita’s personal recommendation) or spin around a couple of times, to seal back the broken circle of life. What a simple, yet powerful magic you just performed.
And also, you are now probably late for your bus…

Quick sweep before we finish

I thought some of the zabobons are worth mentioning even though there is no explanation behind them, even an explanation as lame as a magical circle of life.

An unmarried lady cannot sit on the corner of the table because she will be forever alone and become an old maid. I remember my grandma shouting at me to move if I sat in the wrong place - I think she believed I will turn into one since she was always asking me about the boys (“So, is there any attractive young man in your life, miss? Is he going to the church?”). I was more interested in Finnish rock bands though. Bonus - a single lady also should not sing during the dinner otherwise her future husband will be stupid.



There is a whole range of fortune-telling techniques that divine the future through the sensations in your body.
- itchy right hand - you will greet someone kind
- itchy left hand - you will be counting money
- itchy nose - argument
- itchy left eyebrow - a good friend is coming over unexpectedly
- itchy left eye - a good friend will bring some pleasant news
- itchy right eye - something unpleasant will happen (e.g. spot on your tongue) - to avoid, pirch a new shirt with a needle three times.
- ringing in left ear - good news, in the right one - bad news


If you think your Tinder date is 'the one', do not ever choose shoes or watches as a gift - he might leave you in those espadrilles you gave him, and a stupidly expensive designer watch might countdown the time left until the end of your relationship.





Sewing up someone’s mind

For the finishing dish - my favourite superstition of them all!

 Practised by Mama Anita to this day…

This superstition forbids you to sew up any piece of clothing you or another person is currently wearing, because you are creating a risk of sewing up one’s mind. Simply put - you are about to make yourself or someone else stupid.


There is not much explanation behind that - other than this belief is fueled by other zabobons in which sharp objects are considered “evil” in general (which sounds a bit feng shui to me). Therefore, you should never give any scissors or needles as a gift, as you might “cut down” or “pierce” the relationship with the person whom you gave the present to.

There is, of course, a counterspell - just put a piece of string in the mouth of the person having their clothes stitched up and their brain will be fine.

Clumsy as I am, Mama Anita sometimes still mends my clothes on me, so I sit quietly with a piece of strand hanging off my lips, and wonder how much I love my silly Mum.


Words by Jonc and ZEEL, all images copyright Karolina ‘Jonc’ Buczek


Illustrator Karolina ‘Jonc’ (pronounced Yonce!) Buczek brings us the first part of her personal thoughts on some folklore favourites from Poland.

ZABOBON (zah-boh-bon) - translated from Polish simply as “superstition” is a term that is unsubstantiated, stubbornly maintained and invulnerable to any scientific argumentation. It is derived from belief in the cause-and-effect relationship between aspects of everyday life, mostly deriving from stereotypes rooting in tradition and culture. It’s irrational and impossible to verify in its effectiveness or truthfulness.

The word “zabobon” comes from a verbal noun “bobonienie” which describes inaudible mumbling performed by druids during cult solemnities and ceremonies.



Being kindly asked to ‘spill some tea’ about Polish folklore, my mind first erupted with images of Lowicz flowers (it also turns out first thing to come out in Google images under Polish folk), Cracovian costumes, a song about rosemary and Disco Polo. Whether the last one is a part of folklore or not (I recommend a little venture to YouTube on the subject).

Yes, I could write about these - but since the flights to Cracow are still cheap and so is the town as a holiday destination, having heard stories of many British friends almost drinking themselves to death on reasonably priced spirits in Cracovian bars and buying badly made reproductions of Polish art and craft as souvenirs; I feel like Brit peeps have already familiarised themselves with a somewhat stereotypical understanding of Polish folklore and there is nothing more for me to say about this, other than being sarcastic (to be frank).

Therefore, I would like to tell you about some of my favourite Polish superstitions - zabobons, if you like. This subject is dear to me, thanks to my mum, Mama Anita. Who, coming from a long line of zabobon believers, has made me forever wary of the evil eye, made sure I never sit on the corner of the table, tells the future with anomalies in my body, and has helped me choose gifts for my boyfriend more carefully, in order to avoid relationship disasters.

So- Sit up, have shot of vodka, a gulp of orange juice, bite of a sour gherkin and/or bread - here we go.





Seeing a Chimney Sweep.

y family home is one of the left-overs of the Prussian industrial reforms which resulted in hundreds of worker colony houses (so-called familok), and contrary to more recent Soviet brutalist concrete tower blocks still have a chimney of the old fashion. Therefore I remember, as a child, seeing a chimney sweep, and frantically looking for a button on my outfit to hold on to, wishing for the newest Furby to appear magically in my room.

This superstition comes from the times when the clean chimney meant a warm house, and so the chimney sweeper became a guard of hearth and home. We still believe seeing one of them brings luck. Why must you hold the button when you see a sweep?; Buttons have been an amulet since the 13th century, thus grabbing one after the appearance of the chimney sweeper while simultaneously making a wish, was believed to ensure the wish is granted.



The ”Bad Gaze” (evil eye), and a red ribbon on the buggy of a newborn child.

Did you know you can bewitch a child with a BAD GAZE?

Fear not, the red ribbon will save it from the spell!

I remember my Mum, holding my sister screaming the heart out of her lungs because she did not get the My Little Pony toy she wanted. But Mama Anita told me it had happened because someone on the street had given her a bad gaze. She remembered a woman looking dodgily at her, a blond woman with red framed glasses. I was thinking my sister is just being spoilt, but what do I know?

Newborns are at the highest risk of enchantment. You may still see buggies with red ribbon dangling above a child’s head in today’s Poland. The red colour is supposed to protect from dark magic (as the ancient Romans claimed), bad influence, spells and evil. A kid crying for hours is just one of the results of these maledictions (mostly caused by the bad gaze) - but other, more serious hexes can result in death!

Thank you, Mum, for making me forever paranoid.


You must never shake hands over the doorstep.

 A doorstep is not only a piece of wood – it is the border between a safe home and the evil outside world. It was not only believed by Slavs but also the people of China and India (and it is still believed by me, a practising introvert). Therefore, if two people were to shake each other’s hands over the doorstep, there was a risk of making a breach through which evil forces can make their way into the house.
However, there is an antidote - one of the greeting people have to stand on the top of the doorstep and the breach is sealed.
Pretty useless superstition if you ask my personal opinion!


In part two of ZABOBONS, Jonc gives us a guide to what various itches mean, Sweeps up some bits and bobs, and introduces us to her all time favourite superstition....

Words by Jonc and ZEEL, all images copyright Karolina ‘Jonc’ Buczek

MURRI Celebrates the Golden Thread: Making and Music Day

28/6/18 brought our first ever official GTP music event. At the home of English folk dance and song, (EFDSS, the English Folk Dance and Song Society) Cecil Sharp House went very well indeed ! It supported our simultaneous exhibition THE GOLDEN THREAD PROJECT UK-USA (read about that here).


Busy workshops included-

Stephen Fowler: Rubber Stamp Broadside Printing Workshop
Broadside Ballads were published during the sixteenth and up to the nineteenth centuries. They were a single sheet of printed matter consisting of type and woodcut images. This popular print format explored all manner of subject matter including love, religion, drinking-songs, legends, and current events of the day such as disasters, political events and signs, wonders and prodigies.
During Fowler's workshop attendees had the chance of a number of printed ballads to illustrate through the technique of hand carved rubber stamp print. By the end of the workshop all participants were able to go home with an edition of the group’s broadside ballads.

Harriet Vine: Jewellery Making Workshop
Harriet Vine, creative director and co-founder of Tatty Devine, ran a jewellery making workshop to celebrate The Golden Thread Project. Turning lyrics and imagery from favourite songs into brooches and necklaces made from laser cut wood and leather, incorporating print and painting to make your favourite music into a wearable conversation piece.

Desdemona McCannons: Pilgrim Badge Workshop
For this workshop we first thought of places that are a significant destination for us as a starting point. Then designed and made a cloth patch or badge (to be attached to a bag or item of clothing) using applique and simple printmaking and embroidery techniques.


MURRI music nite!

Despite competing with a key world cup match fixture, a very hearty and healthy crowd REALLY enjoyed the GTP Murri music nite, in all its beauty (Lisa Knapp), twangy twiddly bluesy goodness (Drew Webster), corvid whimsy (The Crow /Nick White) and crazed glory (Orson Coupland and Jim Stoten, aka Jam Bank)!The evening finished off with appalachian style clog dancing from Jake Jones and Dan Eccles with violinist Goode. They proceeded to galvanise the crowd to dance as if they were St Vitus himself.

It was really cool to be greeted by our poster in the official notice board of Cecil Sharp House , the actual and real Heart of English Folk Music!

It was really cool to be greeted by our poster in the official notice board of Cecil Sharp House , the actual and real Heart of English Folk Music!

The Story of Redhead the Whale Man (Iceland).

Illustrator Victoria Willmott (www.victoriawillmott.com) brings us a visual report on her contribution to Folklore Exhibition ‘Illustrated Stories of the World’ at Hamilton House, Bristol. 

This ancient legend tells us of men risking their lives to hunt for Greak Auks in southern Iceland. One unlucky young fisherman lost his way and found himself stranded on a rocky island in the company of elves. He made a life there with an elf woman who gave birth to his son but he longed to live back in his home village. The elf woman granted him his way home with one condition that he would baptize his elf child in the village church. When the time came the man betrayed the elf woman and disregarded his baby who was found in a cradle outside the church. The elf woman punished him for his betrayal and transformed him into a huge whale. For the rest of his days he haunted the sailors and fishermen at sea. He was easy to recognise, as at the time of the curse he was wearing a red cap, so as a whale he had a red head. 



The villagers were afraid of going near the sea. Many lives were lost as the Redhead Whale-Man raged against them in vain, killing hundreds of sailors and fishermen. A sorcerer and his daughter were the only ones left to save what they had left of the village.

VictoriaWillmott whale 2.jpeg


Using magic they led the whale from the sea towards the river where the waters were so narrow there was hardly any water.


VictoriaWillmott whale 3.jpeg

The whale was entranced by their spell and followed them, tiring as he swam. They reached a waterfall and the whale leaped and landed in the river above. The sorcerer didn’t stop walking until they reached the end of the river, the whale was so exhausted his heart broke under stress and he sank to the bottom of the lake. All but a red cap remains of what was left of the Redhead Whale-Man, the terror of the sea.

VictoriaWillmott whale 4.jpeg


Victorias version is based on Jon Arnason 1, 81-82  from the book:- J.M. Bedell, 'Hildur, Queen of the Elves and Other Icelandic Legends', 2006, Interlink Publishing Group.

Like all fairy tales and folk tales with vivid descriptions and metaphors, there is always a lot left for the imagination to conjure up. I found this story fascinating and the specifics of the red head from the red cap a funny detail that makes the story interesting in my eyes. I edited the ending as the original says ‘And in any case you doubt the truth of this story, you should know that mighty whale bones were found washed ashore on the beaches of Lake Hvalsnes.’  Whereas I wanted to include the red cap as the pivotal evidence that this story might in fact be true.  

My illustrations are made from lino carving stamps. I have made a whole lunchbox full of lino stamps from the story that means I can re-create the fairy tale in parts or as a whole wherever or whenever I please. I have focused in on one part of the story where the whale-man is terrorizing the fishermen in its new form as an enormous whale. Its red head a flicker of the life it had before.

The folklore exhibition ‘Illustrated Stories of the World’ at Hamilton House was an Open Call exhibition curated by Gordy Wright who invited illustrators from all over the social media world to apply. An invitation on Twitter gathered a collection of artists from the UK to USA, Canada to Argentina and beyond, with folktales from all over the world to be illustrated. Illustrators and artists responded to their favourite folklore, myth or legend in whichever way they wanted to represent their chosen narrative. Each culture has their own unique stories which have been passed down through their history; leading to an endless diverse choice of inspiration.  The show brought together a variety of illustrators and their different styles and influences with an underlining thread of folklore to tie it all together. A golden thread of folklore, I should say.

Artists included in the show:

Janie Anderson, Patrick Atkins, Abi Bailey, Ballawaves, Mhairi Braden, Josh Burgess, Shafer Brown, James Boswell, Camilla Cacciari, Robbie Cathro, Allissa Chan, Geov Chouteau, Elisa Cunningham, Lisa Marie Davies, Draw James Draw, Chloe Dominique, Owen Gent, Jack Goddard, Akhran Girmay, Freya Hartas, Rachel V Hillis, Lara Hawthorne, Ruby Hinton, Lean Hound, Matt Hayton, Jessica Heitzenrater, Jesse Hodgson, Hanna Lee Joshi, Grace Kim, Molley May, Harriet Lee Merrion, Of Ink and Earth, Haejin Park, Adam Pritchett, Ang Hui Qing, Bailie Rosenlund, Simon H Reid, Sophie Robin, Eli Spencer, Eoin O Sullivan, Heather Savage, Ed Stockham, Marcos Santos, Mish Scott, Jay Arthur Simpson, Kim Tillyer, Raven Warner, Victoria Willmott, Louis Wood, Gordy Wright.

The exhibition ran from 6th April to 18th April 2018 at Hamilton House, Bristol


Victoria Willmott is a printmaker and artist educator, she runs arts workshops for children and jointly set up Bristol Print Collective who deliver printmaking workshops for adults and children across the South West of England.

Vicky at work.

The Golden Thread Project launches here!

After two years of working on the first phase of The Golden Thread Project we officially launched an exhibition celebrating the English/American folk songs collected by Cecil Sharp and Maude Karpeles one hundred years ago. It was a huge success! people travelled from far and wide to see the hard work of 28 artists and illustrators who paid homage to fantastic songs of love and violence and enjoyed a night of art, wine and music.

With records played by Mike Gavin of Harmonia Mundi, and Murri Maestro Stephen ‘Nervous’ G Fowler , and performances from King Toad aka Artist Peter Lloyd, Jonny Hannah and the Sharps folk club, it was merry event to kick off this endeavour with.