IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Can you help track down this track?

Music lover’s search for the artist who recorded Mother, one of his own mother’s favourite songs

17 July, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Walter Roberts

THE discovery of a tattered book of old folk songs hidden away for decades has sparked a treasure hunt for a lost tune, last heard through a wireless radio set in 1950s India.

Walter Roberts’ love of music was born in 1950s Bangalore, where he grew up listening to old folk tunes played through the family’s wireless radio via the BBC’s World Service.

He told the Tribune his mother, Maria, loved to sing along, and would write down her favourite songs in an old notebook for her children.

Once the family moved to London the book disappeared, and was thought lost forever. But one song stayed in Mr Roberts’ mind through the decades, and he would often hum the melody to himself and wonder who the artist was.

Recently, with his mother seriously ill, Mr Roberts was astonished to find the old song book tucked away among other keepsakes in his home on the Brecknock Road estate, and was delighted to find the song he always remembered.

But, despite the lyrics and title written down in the book, Mr Roberts says he still cannot find out who the artist is.

“She wrote down these old songs for us,” he told the Tribune.

“My mother had such a wonderful voice. She could hit all the high notes and had a beautiful sense of tone.

“All the songs she wrote down for us were very evocative melodies. They brought life and hope and joy to our home.

The lyrics to Mother written in a notebook by Mr Roberts’ mother

“But the book went missing for 50 years. It got mixed up in some other keepsakes and possessions.

“I always remembered that one song, called Mother, and I started looking for it. The melody was always stuck in my mind this whole time.”

A few years ago Mr Roberts tried to track down the song, using various internet searches and forums. He even approached the British Library in the hope that they would have a record of English songs, but didn’t get a response.

He hoped the discovery of the old book would help his search, and said he would love to hear the song played again before his mother passes away.

“I opened the song book, and there it was,” he said. “It was called Mother, and it must have meant something to her as she had written it down all those years ago. But even with it written down, it’s not easy.”

Some of the lyrics written down by his mother include the lines: “There’s a little old lady with silvery hair – who sits by herself in an old rocking chair / She’s had plenty of troubles and plenty of strife / but she’s worked very hard to give me a good life.”

Mr Roberts has come across someone else online seeking the same song, but has so far had no luck in tracking it down.

“So many songs have been lost from that time,” he said.

“It was before the mass production of records, and many songs have been forgotten.

“It’s such a shame, and I think there should be some effort to remember them. Maybe the British Library or the British Sound Archives should do more. These songs meant so much to so many people, but those people won’t be around for ever and the songs will be lost.

“For me, it would mean the world if we could track down this song. Some things matter more to people than just history. It wasn’t just about the lifestyle of the time; these songs were the zeitgeist of that time.

“As we’ve gone from generation to generation we’ve lost the closeness of the past, and some of the old familial bonds. These songs are a link to my mother’s generation, and they should be cherished.”

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