Decent Scrapers

This is the web site for the band Decent Scrapers. Last performance was at the John Clare Festival 2017. You may have missed performances at Billericay Folk club, Islington Folk Club, Bishops Stortford Folk Club, the Harwich Arts Festival 2016 and the Blaxhall Ship in Suffolk. If you want to be informed of future performances or book us for your event email us at Decent Scrapers or to cubbin.sue@gmail.com

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The poet John Clare and his music

John Clare was born into a farm labourer’s family in Helpstone (later spelt Helpston) in Northamptonshire in 1793. He played the fiddle and wrote down tunes in his notebooks. Some were popular village tunes, some he learned from the gypsies “by the ear”, and some he copied from books “to get new tunes for my fiddle”. In all there are 263 tunes in two notebooks (some are duplicates and variants). He also embarked on a project to make a collection of songs sung by the ordinary people of the village for publication. The publication never happened but there are lists of songs and some texts in his letters and notebooks. John Clare was not able to take down a tune from a singer (as were people like Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams) so many of the songs are not written with tunes, but he was able to write down a tune if he could play it.

John Clare was also an exceptional poet. Four volumes of his poetry were published in his lifetime, in 1820, 1821, 1835 and 1835. But his mental health began to deteriorate and in 1837 he was admitted to an asylum in Essex where he stayed until 1841 when he walked away and walked home to Northborough where the family then lived, and in December that year he was admitted to Northampton County Asylum where he stayed until his death in 1864.

Assessments of the life and works of John Clare are often dominated by the knowledge of his madness and various causes ascribed, from the behaviour of the literary elite, the bankruptcy of his publisher, the class structure in the countryside, enclosure, hard work and ill health, and in his own day “excessive poetising”. Our best guess, according to his biographer Jonathan Bate, is that he suffered from bi-polar disorder at a time when there was no treatment for mental illness. He had the great good fortune nevertheless to be housed in the most modern, progressive asylums of the time.

A few of us had been, separately, to see a play about John Clare and in the pub afterwards agreed that, despite the honesty and originality of the production, we were disappointed in the lack of poetry and music in a consideration of the life of John Clare. We agreed to meet and play some of the tunes from George Deacon’s book John Clare and the Folk Tradition, and read some of the poems. We were struck again and again by how important music was to him and just how good these tunes are. The more we met and worked on this the more we realised we had undertaken a project. And since music needs to be recreated in performance we devised an entertainment based on the music and words of John Clare. We have aimed for the spirit and style of those “merry makings”. He described himself as “a desent scraper” (yes, that’s how he spelt it) and in his honour we call ourselves Decent Scrapers (although half of us aren’t scrapers).

As a source of Clare's music we used George Deacon's admirable book John Clare and the Folk Tradition.

Listen to the music

derived from photo by Rodney Burton

Our CD The John Clare Project contains our interpretation of this music and songs.







You can use the links on this web site to find out more about the band, read the track notes for the CD, and contact us to order copies of the CD. (It costs £10 plus £1.50 p&p)