ONE of the Britain’s most famous folk singers has penned a new tribute to the Tolpuddle Martyrs as part of a music project to celebrate the history of British democracy.
Nancy Kerr, who holds the prestigious BBC folk singer of the year title, is one of six artists taking part in the Sweet Liberties tour, part of Parliament’s cultural programme to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.
Speaking to the Morning Star ahead of the first concert in Cambridge tonight, Ms Kerr revealed her highly personal interest in the martyrs’ story.
She said: “I’ve written the Tolpuddle piece because my husband is Australian and his ancestor was transported for swearing an illegal oath.
“We think that was almost certainly to a trade union.
“You wonder if we need another song about Tolpuddle, but there’s always a new way to tell that story. I’ve gone for something quite personal.”
The six farm workers now known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were transported to Australia for the same “crime” — effectively joining a trade union — in 1834, before their return was secured by huge demonstrations.
Ms Kerr added: “People used to hide their convict ancestry, but this is a lot of people’s heritage. That’s a massive piece of working-class history and it’s still very close in people’s ancestral memory.”
Ms Kerr will also perform a new song about a Suffragette who hired a hot-air balloon to drop leaflets over Westminster during in 1909.
Describing her new songs as “serious, sometimes quite dark and tragic,” she hopes they will have a “galvanising effect and make people want to get involved in politics.
“I’m a kind of fledgling as a overtly political artist, but I think the time is right for this,” she added.