John Roberts Bio

Welcome to the page of John Roberts, singer of folksongs from the British Isles. Born and raised in Worcestershire, England, of a Welsh family, I currently live in Schenectady, NY. I came to the USA many years ago to go to graduate school at Cornell, but, as they say, it didn’t take. And so I became more of a folksinger than I was already.  

Singing solo, I often accompany the songs with banjo or concertina, or sing them a cappella, depending on how I feel the song.  Singing with others, I’m often the one covering the bass harmony. I’m probably best known for my work with Tony Barrand, another ex-pat Brit who arrived at Cornell at the same time as I did. So we became the two lively Brits who sang folksongs, often wore funny hats, and went on to sing at folk festivals such as Fox Hollow, Mariposa, Philadelphia, Hudson River Revival, and Old Songs. With Tony I became part of Nowell Sing We Clear, and over 40 years this ‘different’ Christmas show featuring pub carols, midwinter customs, a death-and-resurrection mummers’ play, visiting customs and their songs, as well as the story of Jesus as seen through the lens of folksong, became something of a tradition among our loyal audiences in New England and beyond. Tony and I recorded a lot of our songs on LPs and then CDs. You can see them all, and listen to samples, at Golden Hind Music and Bandcamp. There are also six Nowell Sing We Clear CDs, and these, as well as  the new Nowell Sing We Clear book of songs and carols, are available at the NSWC website

When Tony founded the Marlboro VT morris dance team in 1974, I was the musician. I soon became a dancer as well as a musician, dancing and playing with Marlboro Morris & Sword, the Green Mountain Mummers, and later, Thames Valley International Morris. These days my preferred exercise is English Country Dancing, Playford style, though I still play occasionally for morris. 

With Tony, and on my own, I have taught folksong and folksinging at various camps and summer schools including Pinewoods, Mendocino, and Augusta at Elkins WV. 

As a solo I have performed at various folk festivals including the Mystic Sea Music Festival, the Newfoundland Folk Festival, New Bedford’s Summerfest and Working Waterfront Festivals, the San Francisco Sea Music Festival, the Fox Valley (IL) Festival, and the Old Songs Festival, close to home in the Capital Region of NY. You might infer from this list that the music of the sea is one of my specialities; you would be correct. As well as a solo CD, Sea Fever, I have recorded sea songs albums with Tony Barrand (Across the Western Ocean) and with the trio Ye Mariners All - all available from Golden Hind Music and Bandcamp. 

Sadly, Tony passed away in early 2022. These days I mostly perform solo, or sometimes with my longtime partner Lisa Preston, who also accompanied me on harp on my Sea Fever album. I also perform in tandem with Debra Cowan, an American singer of both traditional and more recently composed songs, with strong ties to the British Isles. We did a tour of English Folk Clubs in 2011. Debra and I do not consider ourselves a duo, though we often support each other’s songs vocally and instrumentally; we also recorded a CD together - Ballads Long & Short, which people have said nice things about.