The work that Paul Wilson and Marilyn Tucker have done for English folk music with the charity Wren Music at grass roots level has now received national recognition with a prestigious Gold Badge award from the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). They’ll be presented with the badge at a special event at the Cygnet Theatre in Exeter on 22 July.
Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson set up Wren Music in Okehampton, West Devon, 33 years ago, since when it has reached out to pretty much every city, town and village in the county. In fact, Wren has spread its wings further afield to touch communities in the wider South West – but Devon is and always has been its heartland and it’s where, on a participant session basis, it reaches 30,000 people each year.
Paul and Marilyn’s initial vision in 1983 was to form a small team of professional musicians to take music into communities. Since then it has grown to a team of 12 – seven in the permanent team and five who help out in a ‘pool’.
The award also recognises their achievements as performers in their own right and their work in collecting old West Country folk songs, including the long-hidden Baring-Gould collection. Making these songs available has helped to keep traditional music very much alive and kicking in the far South West: visit a pub in rural Devon and the chances are you’ll hear some of the songs being sung.
When Paul and Marilyn collect their EFDSS Gold Badge from Eliza Carthy, they’ll be in good company. The list of Gold Badge recipients since the first two were presented in 1922 reads like a who’s who of folk. Three of them will be at the award ceremony: Eliza Carthy is presenting the award, Doc Rowe is reading the citation, and US folk legend Peggy Seeger, a patron of Wren, will be performing. Previous recipients include Maddy Prior, Ewan MacColl and Cecil Sharp.
Marilyn said she was “astounded” when she heard they were to receive the award: “Because of where we are, we can fall under the radar sometimes when it comes to coverage and also, with the sort of work we do, Paul and I aren’t exactly household names, we aren’t folk superstars. We’ve taken a radically different view of the work, engaging people in communities. To be recognised for that work by the national body for folk music and to be given their highest award is a huge honour.”
Paul agrees that it’s the recognition of the value of their work that means the most to him: “The award validates the work we do and that’s the most important thing to me. We were talking to Peggy [Seeger] after her brother Pete died, and she said to us: ‘You two are what Pete was all about. You’ve reached the community, which is what Pete did’. And that sums it up, I guess.
The EFDSS Gold Badge award evening is a ticketed event – contact Wren Music for information.