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About Doc

 Doc Rowe in typical pose
 Peggy Seeger
 Norma Waterson
 Hamish Henderson
 Punkie Night, Somerset
 Fred Jordan
 Paddy Tunney
 Abbots Bromley Horn Dancers
 Packie Byrne
 Martin Carthy

Also in this section:

EFDSS Gold Badge Citation
"The Archive Hour" radio programme

Academic career

David R. Rowe (or Doc, as he has always been known) was born in Torquay, Devon. He attended Torquay Boys Grammar School, followed by Newton Abbot College of Art, Leeds Regional College of Art and Hornsey College of Art where he gained a first degree in Fine Art, and finished a post-graduate year at University of London in 1971. His academic career has continued with teaching a wide range of subjects including film, drama, music and traditional culture.

"Radio Ballads" – MacColl, Seeger and Parker

With an early interest in traditional song – stemming largely from 1950s BBC radio broadcasts – from the 1960s Doc was concerned with collecting local folklore and folksong material. Performing on the folk club circuit from 1963, he met BBC producer Charles Parker who, with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, was working on the BBC "Radio Ballads" (1957-64) - probably the biggest influence on his life. This contact developed his personal credo regarding the relevance of the oral tradition, the importance and potential of recording technology and an overall concern to document popular culture and the vernacular 'folk arts'. A working relationship with Charles, Ewan and Peggy over a number of years included work on a variety of folksong and drama related projects including Philip Donnellan's TV versions of the "Radio Ballads", as well as being a joint editorial advisor on "The Other Music" (BBC2, 1981).

Padstow May Day, the Devon Tradition Group

An equally important and parallel experience was a visit to Padstow in Cornwall and its May Day in 1963 – which was the first of a regular annual visit and documentation of that event. This started an overwhelming involvement specifically with seasonal events and popular cultural traditions. An outcome of this was that in 1964 he founded the Devon Tradition Group with local people researching and collecting material on West Country traditions, history, songs and stories.

Radical politics and the oral tradition – "Hackney People’s Autobiographies”, Centreprise Bookshop, the Park House Convention, the Combine Theatre Group

In 1968 Doc was active in the student protest and the 'sit-in' at Hornsey college of Art and he travelled to Bradford and Cambridge to talk to student groups there. In the 1970s he worked on "Hackney People's Autobiographies"– an oral testimony based project (Centreprise Bookshop) with Raphael Samuel, Anna Davin and Ken Worpole. He was a founder member of Park House Convention (1972) - a group who believed the modes of expression found in the oral tradition are tailor-made for contemporary artists. He helped co-ordinate a number of conferences associated with this and produced a newsletter. In 1974, as a member of Combine Theatre Group at "The Knave of Clubs" - with ex-members of Ewan MacColl's Critics Group - he performed shows which used mixed media, live actors and song to highlight local issues and political themes.

Media educator

Throughout the seventies Doc worked in education for Inner London Education Authority, both as teacher and in a variety of media advisory roles; finally working for The American School in London and later Hackney College, as Head of Media.

CECTAL, the Heritage Museum, the Traditional Drama and Contemporary Legend conferences, the London History Workshop Centre, the Doc Rowe Archive, committee memberships

In 1979 he moved to Sheffield to concentrate on field work and became a full-time volunteer at CECTAL (the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, now the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition), helping to design and implement indexing schemes and classifications for the archive collection there. Also, he worked regularly with Paul Smith on a variety of events (including the Traditional Drama and Contemporary Legend conferences) created regular exhibitions and worked on the Heritage Museum site in Ecclesall Road. After organising the English Country Music weekend in Stannington in 1985, Doc left to take up directorship of The London History Workshop Centre. Since 1991 - apart from a regular weekly reminiscence class at two day-centres in Islington and irregular work of lectures, broadcasting, artwork and photography - he has concentrated on his own archive which is currently housed in Whitby. He is a Committee member of the Folklore Society, the Oral History Society and the Traditional Song Forum.

Doc becomes a Doc, EFDSS Gold badge award

Doc Rowe was awarded an honorary doctorate in music from University of Sheffield in 2002 for his research work into vernacular culture and traditional music, and in 2005 was awarded the English Folk Dance and Song Society's Gold Badge for his documentation of traditional Song and Dance.


Doc Rowe's publications include:

We'll Call Once More Unto Your House [Padstow Eko 1982]

Comes the Morris Dancer In [Morris Ring 1984] ISBN 0950340227

Room, Room, Ladies and Gentlemen: An Introduction to the English Mummers' Play (ed. Malcolm Taylor & Doc Rowe) [EFDSS in association with the Folklore Society, 2002] ISBN 0-854181-85-7

A series of educational resource packs [EFDSS 2003-2005]

May Day: The Coming of Spring [English Heritage 2006] ISBN 1850749833

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This page last updated 24 May, 2012

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