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Sounding the Century: Bill Leader & Co.: Volume 2 – Horizons For Some: 1956 – 1962

Mike Butler
Matador, 2022, ISBN 978-1-80313-091-0

This is Mike Butler’s second volume, covering 1956 – 1962, in his projected ten volume ‘Sounding the Century,’ the story of record producer Bill Leader and his contemporaries . Record producers are often relegated to obscurity – victims of the success of those they have celebrated. Looking at Bill Leader’s track record, Mike is determined that this will not happen here. Bill was a pivotal figure in the 50s, 60s, 70s folk revival. This volume documents his work with Bert Lloyd, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, skiffle pioneers John Hasted and Russell Quaye, Shirley Collins, Alan Lomax, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott amongst others. Many of these artists might never have been recorded. Via Bill they found their way onto the Topic, Decca and Transatlantic and other labels due to Bill. In the Aldermaston Marches era Topic brought out ‘Songs Against The Bomb’ and Collector Records issued an EP ‘Songs From Aldermaston’ in 1960.

A singular recording that Bill facilitated in 1958 was a transatlantic Paul Robeson concert ‘at’ St Pancras Town Hall. Robson was denied a passport thanks to Senator McCarthy, and Robson’s US performance was relayed by via a telephone line with actor Alfie Bass compering the event. There are many fascinating and humorous cameos, reflections for instance, on Ewan McColl and the adventures of Russell Quaye’s City Ramblers appearing at a World Youth Festival Moscow in 1957. Occasionally an engaging anecdote may conclude with the admission that it may not have happened after all !

This is an excellently produced volume with numerous previously unseen photographs of performers and their times plus striking illustrations by Peter Seal and an Index of ‘Possibly Significant People’. Mike’s convivial conversational approach to the reader should not obscure the fact that this is a work of comprehensive and painstaking scholarship. For Folk aficionados it is essential reading. For a non Folk specialist it is an enthralling social history and Bill Leader’s contribution to it.

Details of the book can be found on Mike’s website :

Or Mike Butler on :

Eddie Little

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