Main content

Scarborough Fair

Episode 4 of 5

An exploration of the mystery and emotional ties of the folk song Scarborough Fair. With Martin Carthy. From May 2015.

"Tomorrow we're going in search of a song and in search of a dream of England which has travelled right around the world" - Will Parsons

No one can be sure of the true origins of the song Scarborough Fair. It's a melody of mystery, of voices of old, of ancient days. It's travelled through land and time, drawing singers and listeners in where ever they maybe.

For Will Parsons and Guy Hayward it's a song that has inspired a pilgrimage through a landscape that is embodied in the lyrics. Setting off from Whitby Abbey, they journey to Scarborough on foot, sensing the song as they go, learning to sing it, interpreting it in a new way just as thousands of traditional singers have done throughout time.

This too is the landscape of Martin Carthy, the 'father of folk' who has made his home along the Yorkshire coast. It was from this legendary singer that Paul Simon first learnt Scarborough Fair, creating a version that came to represent a generation continuing its journey far and wide, weaving its spell in many different guises, never truly being pinned down.

Decades on Harpist Claire Jones recorded a version of her own. Arranged by her husband, the composer Chris Marshall, hers is a very personal journey through unexpected illness to recovery. Whilst for Mike Masheder it is a song that brings memories of his wife Sally, who approached the journey of life with love and equanimity.

"It can change or stay the same. And the more it changes, the more it stays the same" - Martin Carthy

With expert contribution from Sandra Kerr, musician and lecturer at Newcastle University School of Arts and Culture.

Producer: Nicola Humphries

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in May 2015

Available now

30 minutes

Last on

Wed 23 Mar 2022 00:30


  • Tue 5 May 2015 11:30
  • Sat 20 Jun 2015 15:30
  • Fri 13 Oct 2017 18:30
  • Sat 14 Oct 2017 00:30
  • Tue 22 Mar 2022 18:30
  • Wed 23 Mar 2022 00:30

Why Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' became a Civil Rights anthem

Why Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' became a Civil Rights anthem

Watch the animation - Professor Mary King describes how the song became a symbol of hope.

Podcasts and Downloads

Podcasts and Downloads

Subscribe to this programme or download individual episodes.