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Phoebe Smith

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Phoebe Smith (1913-2001) is thought by many to have been one of England’s greatest traditional singers. She had a style and delivery that stunned an audience into silence, and to hear her in full flight at the end of her CD “The Yellow Handkerchief” is a revelation.

She was born in 1913 in Faversham, Kent, and was one of the daughters of Bill Scamp and his wife Ann Jones. She was raised in a large Gypsy family and spent much of her early life picking fruit in Kent. Having married Joe Smith, a scrap dealer, she moved around Kent and Essex before setting in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Phoebe learnt many of her songs as a young girl from her elder sisters. Her uncle, Oliver Scamp, a Kentish horse-dealer, was also an important source of songs. Joe Smith played the fiddle and Phoebe loved to step-dance to her husband’s music.

Phoebe spent much of her life on the road - Essex for sugar-beeting, Kent for cherries, plums and pears, then up to the Fens for the potatoes and it was there she would meet her own and other families and possibly swap a song or two.

Her CD “The Yellow Handkerchief” contains a classic mixture of ballads like ‘Green Bushes’, A Blacksmith Courted Me’ and ‘Barbara Allen’ as well as the traveller’s anthem ‘Romany Rye’ and even a stepdance to the music of Irish fiddler Martin Byrnes.

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