Mervyn Plunkett Collection

Mervyn Plunkett Collection

About Mervyn Plunkett

Mervyn Plunkett was one of the pioneers of the post World War Two folk revival. As a collector he recorded singers and musicians in Sussex while living in West Hoathly in the late 1950s. He discovered many of the best known traditional performers in the county. Mervyn Plunkett (1920-1986) was born in Scotland, but spent most of his adult life in England, living in Devon, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, and elsewhere. It was while living in West Hoathly in Sussex in the 1950s that Mervyn discovered a wealth of traditional song and music in the area. With characteristic energy and enthusiasm, and working closely with Reg Hall, he set out to find, encourage and record old-style singers and musicians. He had an almost uncanny knack of locating the right people. His ‘finds’ included ‘Pop’ Maynard, George Spicer and Scan Tester, to name only the best-known. Mervyn and Reg’s work inspired other collectors who were active in the field a short time afterwards, who between them ensured that Sussex is better represented in the recorded history of the time than any other region, apart from East Anglia.

Mervyn also knew and recorded other well-known traditional performers – most notably Harry Cox and Walter Bulwer in Norfolk, and Charlie Wills in Dorset.

Mervyn and Reg produced Ethnic, a short-lived but very influential periodical dealing with traditional music, but Mervyn’s views were so sharply at odds with the burgeoning Folk Revival of the time, and his personality not always easy to get along with, that he withdrew from active participation in traditional music in the early 1960s and remained in ‘retirement’ until a brief re-awakening in the late 1970s.

As with many of his generation, Mervyn did not keep all his material, nor, by modern standards, did he take proper care of his tapes. He was often far too involved in the good times to worry about the sound quality of a recording. But more than enough has survived to provide an invaluable insight into traditional performance of the time, and to secure Mervyn's position as one of the most important figures of his generation in our field.

Mervyn’s tapes are in private ownership, but some of his recordings appear on the British Library’s Traditional Music in England website (accessible through our Sussex Traditions database) and some are among recordings released by the Topic label.