26 January 2022



The Young Man’s First Visit To Goose Fair is a story I have been telling at every opportunity over the past couple of years for reasons which will become apparent shortly. It is in my Nottinghamshire Folk Tales book (published by The History Press 2012) 

Take 5 minutes to listen to me telling it at: CLICK HERE  

When I was researching for the book I came across a set of pamphlets called Nottinghamshire Facts & Fictions by John Potter Briscoe who was a local librarian and antiquary in the 1870s. There were several useful bits in them and when I found this story I immediately knew that it would go in the book and also, probably, into my repertoire. I assumed it was a tale which was circulating around Nottingham at the time, or else one he had made up. Either way it was a good one.

I included it in the book and the book was published and I did various gigs to plug it. I included this story in most of them. And then… months, perhaps even a year, later I was Googling something entirely different and I came upon the same story, but not set in 19th century Nottingham, it was in 14th century Florence!

It is a story from Day 4 of The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, written in Italy around 1350. I remember the Decameron from A-level English when we were doing Keats and learned that his poem Isabella and the Pot of Basil was based on a story taken from The Decameron. A decade later I discovered that the folk song Bruton Town, which I sing, is another retelling of the same tale. 

The Decameron is a set of stories—folk tales—and the frame story, the excuse for telling them, is that Florence was in the grip of a pandemic—the Black Death—so a group of wealthy young people self-isolated themselves in a remote mansion and spent their time eating and drinking and telling stories. Does that sound familiar! The book was very influential and the stories circulated all around Europe. Before Keats, Chaucer and Shakespeare dipped into it.

 Here is a slightly shortened version of Boccaccio’s version of the Goose Fair story:

When Filippo Balducci lost his wife to death, he resolved to devote himself and his young son to God. Consequently he gave his worldly possessions to charity, then took his little son to the slopes of Mount Asinaio, where they lived together in a cave, completely secluded from the ways and temptations of the world. In this remote sanctuary, Filippo taught his son about God and the saints, protecting him always from distractions and sin.

Only after the boy reached the age of eighteen did the father feel it safe to expose him to the outside world. So, the two of them, father and son, set off for the city of Florence.

Everything was new and amazing for the son: houses, palaces, churches, horses, and people. Filled with amazement, he asked his father about every unfamiliar thing, and Filippo dutifully provided names and explanations for all that they saw, that is, until they happened upon a party of beautiful young women. The boy, who until now had never beheld such a sight, could not take his eyes from them.

"Do not look at them," warned Filippo.

"But what are they?" asked the son.

"Oh, they are just geese," replied Filippo, wanting to divert the boy's attention from the young women.

"Please, father," begged the boy, "let me have one of those geese. I could put something into its bill.

"No!" exclaimed the father. "Their bills are not where you think they are, and they require special feeding. And furthermore they are evil!"

Poor Filippo now regretted having taken his son from his protective sanctuary, for even as he spoke, he realized that however clever his responses were, they were no match for the boy's natural inclinations.



It turns out that ‘my’ Goose Fair story is well known all over Europe. Here is a version from Germany:



A hermit once took a young monk to the city. He had raised him since childhood, and the old monk now wanted to put the young one to a test. Arriving in the city, they saw a number of women walking to and fro. Filled with amazement, the young monk stared at them with calf's eyes. Until now he had never seen a woman, for since his earliest childhood he had been raised in a monastery.

He asked the old monk what these things were.

The old monk answered, saying, "They are geese." The women were wearing white veils and white cloaks. 

The young monk left good enough alone and said nothing more. Afterward, when the two were back at their monastery, the young monk began to cry bitterly.

The old monk asked him why he was crying.

The young monk replied, "Father, why should I not be crying! I wanted every so badly to have a goose!"

I mentioned this discovery to a Jewish friend who lived in Nottingham and he wasn’t at all surprised. “Oh yes” he said “We have that story too, but we call them ‘the Children of Satan’!”


The Children of Satan

There was once a king to whom a son was born. Wise men advised that he should be locked away from the world until he was 14 years old so the boy grew up in that room and never saw any human being except his nurse until he reached that age and was entrusted to the wise men, who undertook his education. The prince was taught many things about God and the world, paradise and hell, angels and demons, virtue and sin. He was also made acquainted with all creatures inhabiting the world, and he saw for the first time in his life sheep and oxen, dogs, cats, birds, fishes, and insects. The wise men told him the names of all these creatures. When the prince saw women and asked what they were called, one of his masters jokingly replied, "They are called the Children of Satan."

One day the king asked his son which of the creatures he had seen pleased him most, and the boy replied that of all the living creatures he had now seen he found most pleasure in the Children of Satan.

The king, on being subsequently told that by the Children of Satan his son had meant women, said to him, "Beware of them, for they may lead you into hell."

 The moral of the story is that one’s ‘natural inclinations’ will always come out. In this case it is assumed that the boy will be heterosexual but it puts the lie to those people who claim they can ‘educate’ people out of being gay through ’conversion therapy’ or what have you. Why would they want to?

For more of my stories and traditional songs see my You Tube channel 

Pete's You Tube

 and have a look at my web site where you will find out about what I've done, what I'm doing and so on and can buy my books and CDs and subscribe to Facts & Fiction, the storytelling magazine I edit.

Pete's web site




17 November 2021


 A while ago I read an article about the early days of the folk scene in Scotland (in Living Tradition #137). It made me think about my first visit to Scottish clubs which happened a bit later but included many of the clubs mentioned.

I gave up my job and went professional on the folk scene in 1978 and in the next couple of years managed to get to most of England between Cornwall and Kent and as far north as Newcastle. I might have even been into Wales, fleetingly. Scotland seemed another world though. I’d never been there, not even on holiday!


Then, I played at the Poynton Folk Centre, just south of Manchester. It was a place I’d been to several times, to both their club and the annual festival. I think it must have been at the festival in 1979 when I did my evening spot and was greeted by a very enthusiastic, slightly tipsy, Scotsman. He said I’d go down a storm in Scotland and his mate could fix me up a tour. Was I interested? Well, of course I was, but I didn’t really expect anything to come of it. It’s the kind of thing people often say late at night when they’ve had a bit to drink, but I gave him my details. To my surprise, a few weeks later, I was contacted by someone called John Barrow in Edinburgh. He could offer me a two week tour the following spring. I didn’t know John Barrow or that he was on the way to becoming one of the biggest names amongst agents and organisers north of the border! All I knew was that he seemed efficient and trust-worthy and was offering me work!

So, in April 1980, I set off on a tour that included clubs in Edinburgh, Milnathort, Aberdeen, Dundee, Linlithgow, St Andrews and Glasgow (not necessarily in that order). To fill in the vacant nights John had also arranged a couple of shared gigs or floor spots in return for a bed, so my whole fortnight was sorted out. It was all a great experience.

It’s a long drive from Luton where I was living then, so I managed to get an extra gig in NE England to break the journey but I was amazed how far it is from Teeside to Edinburgh!

I loved Edinburgh and spent a few days there and have been there for gigs and things several times since. I stuck a card in my scrap book. That first time I stayed at Gillvale Guest House, Corstorphine Rd. I can’t remember it at all so it can’t have been particularly good or particularly bad! I think it must have been near the zoo because I visited that and was appalled by the... bear or lion? I can’t remember, in a tiny cell just inside the entrance. I walked out and don’t think I’ve been to a zoo since!

 One lunchtime someone who was looking after me said “You must come to Sandy Bell’s.” I had no idea what it was but we went, although it all went over my head. A missed opportunity!

Other memories from that tour include an atmospheric drive through Glen Shee to Aberdeen where Lizzie Higgins dropped in to do a floor spot which made me feel a real impostor!

And St Andrews which was interesting: staying near the Old Course and having a walk round there first thing in the morning. I have no interest in golf but it was worth seeing. St Andrews was also the only place in Scotland I was aware of kilts—mainly worn by men with very middle class English accents!

By contrast, in Glasgow I stayed with Arthur Johnstone and played at the Star Club—could that be more  different to St Andrews! I was amazed to find the club venue standing alone in the middle of a demolished wasteland. Again, I knew nothing of the background but knew that there was a political element to it so I tweaked my set accordingly.

Sadly, I have very little to show for the tour in the way of souvenirs—half a dozen rather blurry photos (the Forth Bridge, the Tay Bridge, Glen Shee…) the card for Gillvale Guest House, and a newsletter for St Andrews Folk Club, is about the sum total.

St Andrews said: ‘April 20th: Pete Castle. A young singer/guitarist from south of the border making his first visit to the club.’

I was followed by Audrey Duncan, Mike Maran, Wendy Grossman, Heritage, Fraser Lamont, Cilla Fisher and Archie Trezise, and Finn McCuill—some good names there!


Over the next decade or so I made more trips to Scotland under my own steam. I don’t know whether John Barrow would have been willing to arrange them but I don’t think I asked him. (Another missed opportunity!) I did most of those clubs from the first tour again and some became regulars. I also added a few more—Ayr, I seem to remember, and another tiny place in that direction that no-one had ever heard of!

Gradually though, I found it increasingly difficult to put together enough gigs to make the trip worthwhile. I could get three or four bookings but they were spread over two or three weeks, which isn’t practical. It was due to changing tastes. Scottish clubs were increasingly looking for Scottish music. This was summed up on what was, I think, my last solo trip.

It was for the Glasgow Folk Festival some time around 2000, a really successful, enjoyable event. Two things stand out for me: one was being one of two judges for a traditional singer contest. The other judge was a Welsh woman (Siwsann George?). I think they had deliberately chosen ‘neutral’ judges and this was born out by the fact that afterwards they made a point of thanking us for our choice. We had gone for a young woman who seemed to have great potential rather than an older man. The organisers said that he won every year and thought it was his right!

The other memory was a concert in a big greenhouse on the banks of the Clyde. It was a lovely venue with all the plants around, good acoustics, and I sang well. But, halfway through my set someone yelled ‘Get off you Sassenach and let’s hear some good Scots music!” He was quickly ‘escorted’ from the building and later came and apologised— “It was just the drink talking.” It didn’t worry me although it has stuck in my memory for more than 20 years!

The last time I was in Scotland was with my occasional Anglo-Romanian band Popeluc. I can’t understand why I can find no mention of it in my scrap books, but I know it wasn’t a figment of my imagination! It was probably a last minute addition to a hectic tour so a lot of it has been lost in the haze! We played in a beautiful old theatre in the centre of Edinburgh—raked stage, audience in boxes, good PA. Generally a memorable event. Except that I can’t!

The other abiding memory from my early trips is of someone commenting on my repertoire: “We really love your unusual English versions of our songs.” I don’t know which ones she particularly meant although at that time one of my most popular songs was an English version of The Jovial Beggar and when I wanted a good chorus I did a Scottish song called ‘Gruel’ which I had translated into English! So instead of ‘The very first nicht that he got wed, He sat and grat for gruel’ .mine came out as: ‘The very first night that he got wed, He sat and cried for gruel…. Etc

Well, I couldn’t sing ‘nicht’ and ‘grat’ could I? ‘Gruel’ was foreign enough!

Nowadays people would accuse me of ‘cultural appropriation’!

 Left: a self produced cassette album I was selling around the time of my first Scottish trip which contains The Jovial Beggar

Pete Castle written during Lockdown in February 2021



4 October 2021


 A look back at recordings I made over my career.

Part 27  OYSTER GIRLS & HOVELLING BOYS  Steel Carpet Music MATS027  CD 2008 Folk Songs from Kent Volume 3
Pete Castle, Bob Kenward, Andy Turner, Marian Button, The Millen Family and Dave Mason

 I said in the previous post that Poor Old Horse was my last CD. It was, apart from this one which we made at about the same time.

This was the 3rd album of folk songs from Kent. It was the same core of performers and styles but it continued the development. Bob did a solo song and brought in his singing partner Roger Resch for another (Roger also sang on the choruses.) Andy had a throat problem at the time so was limited to playing not singing, which was a pity, although his tunes are good. Marian Button is a well known Kentish singer and we were pleased to have her, and the Millen Family are a local family with their own repertoire of glees which are very different to anything we’d had before. They should be better known but I think they are content to do their own thing away from the folk clubs and the like. Dave Mason is a poet who was a regular at local events.

We finished the album with everyone contributing to the Whitstable May Song which, I suspect, was ‘pinched’ from Bedfordshire at some time—whether by the 60s folk revival or a Victorian vicar I don’t know.

My three songs haven’t really settled in my repertoire. I’ve done The Oyster Girl and Love is Pleasing a few times but I don’t think I’ve ever sung A Sailor Cut Down in His Prime live, even though everyone praised it and it has had a lot of views on You Tube.

 Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gi9zfE-S8k


A review:

The Kent revival continues apace. This is the third of Pete Castle and friends’ albums from the county. There are songs collected by post war collectors alongside more recent compositions, tunes from an 18th century manuscript, and two songs direct from family tradition.
This is the best thing about the album. I’ve long been a fan of the Millen Family and their ‘glee-singing’. I’m delighted that these fine traditional singers are celebrated here, and their two tracks should bring them to a bigger audience.
The other outstanding tracks for me are Andy Turner’s sets of tunes. Pete Castle performs local versions of standards with his usual warmth. Marian Button, a fine singer, has two unaccompanied songs. Songwriter Bob Kenward contributes songs about local history, one performed solo, the other with Roger Resch. There is also a poem by Dave Mason, of Tenterden Folk Club, and the album closes with a rollicking collective take on the ‘Whitstable May Song.’  Paul Cowdell in Folk London


The Oyster Girl (Pete)

The Deal Hoveller’s Song (Bob)

The Dark Eyed Sailor (Marian)

In Yonder Old Oak (Millen Family)

General Toast/The Rose/Black Joke (Andy)

A Sailor Cut Down in His Prime (Pete)

The Kentish Woman’s Way (poem) (Dave)

Chalk and Cheese (Marian)

The Straggling Bine (Bob and Roger)

The Old Owl (Millen Family)

Aldridge’s Allemande/The Charming Fellow (Andy)

Love is Pleasing (Pete)

Whitstable May Song (The Company)


Perhaps I should explain that Hovelling Boys rowed from the shore out to ships anchored off the coast to transport goods and supplies to and fro.



 A look back at recordings I made over my career.

Part 28  POOR OLD HORSE  Steel Carpet Music MATS026  CD 2008
Pete Castle with Sarah Matthews: fiddle, viola, vocals; Doug Eunson: melodeon, vocals; Edmund Hunt: whistles, Northumbrian pipes; Sue Castle: vocals.

There had been a five year gap since my previous recordings (for a whole variety of reasons) so this appeared with a whole new line up. During that time Lucy had been forced to give up playing because of ongoing health problems, and I’d lost track of Bing and Trevor. Luckily I was able to recruit Sarah and Doug who were making a name for themselves on the folk scene and Edmund, who is becoming a name in the classical world as a composer, was introduced to me by a mutual friend. Putting them all together we came up with a very satisfactory mix. We recorded it at Meadow Farm Studio just up the road from where we live in Belper. 

I am very pleased with the album even though it hasn’t sold anywhere near as well as it should have. That’s largely down to the fact that people aren’t buying CDs as much these days—they want downloads. I’d love to do another CD, I love the process of recording, and I have enough new material but I guess Poor Old Horse is probably my last one. But it’s not a bad one to finish on.

It contains a good, representative mixture of the material I was doing—and still am doing. 10 songs, 2 stories and a tune which was to give the musicians a chance to show off! Of the songs the title track is associated with Derbyshire, and In Sheffield Park and Barbara Allen have Kentish connections. Nightingales Sing, and Poor Sally… are from books I’d had from my very early days on the folk scene. I’d probably tried them countless times but not actually learned them. I sang Firelock Stile back in the 1980s but gave it a very different treatment this time, similarly the Female Servingman. Virginia is an early transportation ballad from before Australia was discovered. (Other people have actually sung it as 'Australia') And then there was a bit of Shakespeare: When That I Was A Little Tiny Boy is the final ‘speech’ from Twelfth Night. Many people picked it out as a highlight of the album. The two stories are very different: Like Meat Loves Salt is one of my favourite Derbyshire tales and is a cross between King Lear and Cinderella, and The Storytelling Stone is a Native American story which explains where all the stories and songs we know came from.

“Pete's latterly celebrated 30 years as a folk professional, and he's achieved this longevity through a combination of genuine talent, integrity and sheer hard work, reliably ploughing his own steady furrow where tradition is the starting-point for his own musical exploration rather than a constraint on his imagination. Although the true extent of Pete's prowess and the full measure of his easy-going nature necessarily comes through best in live performance, his CDs have always been a source of delight and have satisfied enough to be returned to more often than you might think.”  David Kidman in Stirrings

[Below: recording at Meadow Farm studios]


Poor Old Horse

Nightingales Sing/The Soldier’s Jig

Female Servingman

Like Meat Loves Salt (story)

In Sheffield Park

Barbara Allen

Firelock Stile


Poor Sally Sits a-Weeping

Opera Reel

The Storytelling Stone

When That I Was a Little Tiny Boy


Listen to Poor Old Horse   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64mnpU81JCM

And Little Tiny Boy…  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NTe7m4R3U4

 And, although I said this was probably my last CD, there is one more but it’s another ‘group’ album...