A Guide to British Folk Music


British folk music has a long and rich history, dating back hundreds of years. It has been shaped by the different regions of the UK, with each area having its own unique style. From the traditional ballads of Scotland to the sea shanties of Cornwall, there is something for every music lover in British folk music.


The origins of British folk music can be traced back to the Celtic tribes who settled in the British Isles before the arrival of the Romans. The Celts had a rich musical tradition and their music often celebrated the natural world, with songs about the elements, animals, and the changing seasons.

As centuries passed, other influences were introduced to British folk music, such as the Anglo-Saxon and Norse music traditions. There was also the influence of the Christian church, as monks would use music in their religious services. By the Middle Ages, a distinct British folk music tradition had developed.

Regional Variations

One of the most fascinating aspects of British folk music is the regional variation. Each area of the UK has its own musical identity, with particular styles, instruments, and songs associated with them.

One of the most well-known regions for folk music is Scotland. Scottish folk music has a strong tradition of ballads and storytelling, often featuring the bagpipes or fiddle. Many of these songs tell of epic battles, supernatural creatures, and the beauty of the Scottish landscape.

In contrast, English folk music often focuses on more everyday themes such as work, love, and family life. There are a variety of instruments used in English folk music, including the concertina, accordion, and the English longsword.

Wales is another region with a rich folk music tradition. Welsh music often features the harp and has a distinctive sound that is known for its haunting melodies. Many Welsh folk songs are sung in the Welsh language, and many tell the stories of Welsh history and mythology.

Other regions of the UK also have their own unique folk music styles. For example, in Cornwall, sea shanties and songs about mining are common, while in Northern Ireland, traditional Celtic music is often played at ceilidhs.

Famous Artists

British folk music has had a lasting influence on popular music, and many famous artists have contributed to the genre over the years.

One of the most renowned figures in British folk music is Ewan MacColl. MacColl was a songwriter, musician, and political activist who helped popularize traditional folk music in the UK. He was known for his powerful voice and his songs often focused on social justice issues.

Another influential artist in British folk music is Shirley Collins. Collins is a folk singer and collector who has spent her career researching and performing traditional songs. She has released numerous albums and has been awarded multiple awards for her contributions to the genre.

Other famous names in British folk music include Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, and Richard Thompson. These artists helped to bring British folk music to a wider audience and their legacy can still be felt today.


British folk music has a long and fascinating history, with each region of the UK contributing its own unique style. From the stunning ballads of Scotland to the lively sea shanties of Cornwall, there is so much to discover in British folk music. By exploring the traditions and artists of the genre, we can gain a deeper understanding of the rich musical heritage of the UK.