Albert Lancaster Lloyd was born in London on 29th February, 1908. Lloyd's father worked as a docker, draper's assistant and poultry farmer before serving on the Western Front during the First World War. Badly wounded in the war he died while Lloyd was still a child. Lloyd became an orphan when his mother died of tuberculosis in 1923.
In 1924 Lloyd emigrated to Australia where he worked as a farm labourer in North South Wales. While working as seep shearer Lloyd became interested in folk music and began collecting songs sung by fellow workers. He later wrote: "My conscious interest in folk songs began then. I liked what my fellow station hands and shearers sang, and I kept exercise books for copying songs in."
After ten years in Australia he moved to South Africa before returning to England in 1934. Soon after arriving in London he met A. L. Morton. The two men became close friends and both became active members of the Communist Party.
Unable to find work Lloyd obtained a reader's ticket for the British Museum and spent him time researching Marxism and the history of the British folk song. This included reading Cecil Sharp's English Folksong and the eight volume The Journal of the Folksong Society (1899-1930). He was also deeply influenced by the work of A. L. Morton. This manuscript that was eventually published as the People's History of England.
In 1937 Lloyd moved to Liverpool and found work as a sailor on the whaler Southern Empress. After a seven month trip to the Antarctic he returned to London and in 1938 had his first radio script, The Voice of the Seamen, accepted by the BBC.
Lloyd, a staunch opponent of Adolf Hitler and his government in Germany, was commissioned in 1939 by the BBC to produce a series of programmes on the rise of Nazism. Co-written with the Russian historian Igor Vinogradoff, the Shadow of the Swastika had a major impact on public opinion. Lloyd also wrote articles on the subject for the Reynold's News and Picture Post.
Lloyd continued his interest in folk music and on 21st July 1939 he produced a radio programme for the BBC entitled Saturday Night at the Eel's Foot that featured the singing of Velvet Brightwell. Despite the success of the radio programmes, Lloyd did not have his contract renewed. It is generally believed this was because the BBC was unhappy with Lloyd's involvement with the Communist Party. He was now recruited by Tom Hopkinson to write articles for Picture Post. These were often produced in collaboration with the photographer Bert Hardy.
Lloyd's first book on folk music, The Singing Englishman, was published in 1944. His friend A. L. Morton wrote that the book had "a sparkle and spontaneity and a boldness of attack which make it a model for the application of Marxist ways of thinking to cultural questions. It looks squarely at folk song as music and poetry, the peak of the cultural achievement of the English lower classes."
After the Second World War Lloyd returned to the BBC and worked on the radio series Ballads and Blues. He also edited the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs and published Come All Ye Bold Miners (1952) and Folk Song in England (1967).
Lloyd recorded several records including The Iron Muse (1963), First Person (1966), Leviathan (1968) and The Great Australian Legend (1969).
Albert Lancaster Lloyd died in London on 29th September 1982.
What are now the stock figures of comic pantomime, the villainous baron, the lecherous monk, the miserly miller, were at this time the symbols of a bitter and threefold class oppression, and songs running these down were sure of a good hearing in the kitchens and in the barns and round the campfires as well if they were not sung too loud. It was in the civil struggles of the barons' wars and in the years following that the songs of the people really rose to the surface and crystallised into a style. Then you got ballads like the Robin Hood cycle which was about not only the adventurous life of the outlaw who was almost a guerilla, but also the anger of the downtrodden at the callous luxury of the rich. What strikes most people about English folksongs, once they get to know them, is their deep melancholy. Their style of tune comes from the Church modes of the Middle Ages and it often seems to have stamped them unmistakably with the bitter sadness of the time of the Black Death and the baronial oppression of the 14th century.
From time to time he would drop into our house for a meal, bringing odd records he had discovered or some new-old song that he had picked up and would sing. He was developing his own distinctive singing style in these years, taut and unfussy. On the whole he preferred the traditional English style of unaccompanied song, but he was never pedantic about that or anything else and was prepared to accept an instrumental accompaniment if it seemed to add anything of value. Shortly before the war I took him to the Eel's Foot at Eastbridge in Suffolk, a pub whose regulars had long maintained an excellent song school. Out of this visit came a historic broadcast - historic because it was, I think, the very first in which authentic traditional singers, as distinct from collectors and arrangers, were heard on the air.
It is now 30 years since the publication of A. L. Lloyd's magnum opus, Folk Song in England (1967). Although currently out of print, the book remains the most systematic survey of English traditional song, and the most detailed account of its evolution from the 14th century to the 20th. Essentially, Lloyd broadened, in a legitimate and necessary way, Cecil Sharp's conception of folk music as a product of oral tradition. Lloyd recognized urban and rural song traditions, and explicitly extended the study of traditional music to include ritual songs, carols, sea songs, industrial songs and political songs.
Placing these disparate genres in their social and economic contexts, Lloyd provided the first comprehensive analysis of how they had emerged and developed historically. Although he presumed an interpretation of English social history derived, in the main, from Leslie Morton's. People's History of England (1938), he relied on Morton more for his conceptual framework than for specific historical details.
In America, late in the Depression and early in the War years, traditional song and its topical imitations were coming into vogue, particularly among young radicals, as a consequence of the stresses of the time, and the rumble of newly-found or newly-made 'people's songs' was rolling towards us across the Atlantic. The Workers' Music Association, that admirable but over-modest organization, sensed that similar enthusiasm might spread in England, and they were eager to help in the rediscovery of our own lower-class traditions.
I very much doubt if I sing any of the songs exactly as I originally learnt them. Some I've altered deliberately because I felt some phrases of the tune, some passages of the text, to be not entirely adequate. Others - and this has happened far more often - have become altered involuntarily, sometimes almost out of recognition, in the course of buzzing round in my head for thirty years or so and being sung whenever the buzzing became too insistent. Some people believe it a blasphemy to alter a traditional song, and think one should sing it just as it was sung by the singer from whom it was learnt. Not being an impersonator, I do not feel that. One day a traditional performer sings a song, and the next week he may sing it differently. What you hear is the performance of the moment, merely. So with me: I don't always sing the songs the same. I like to improvise a bit. Of course, in making your changes, voluntarily or involuntarily, you need a proper sense of tradition and a just respect for it, or the song is violated; we hear such violations day by day.