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The series was first issued in 1988 as 20 CDs, compiled by Dr Reg Hall, a visiting fellow at Sussex University. A second series was issued in 2012 consisting of four volumes (7 CDs) compiled by Shirley Collins, Steve Roud and Rod Stradling. The singers were celebrities within their own community but unknown to the world at large until collectors arrived with portable tape recorders in the 1950s and 60s. A few of them recorded enough material for an entire album. Most are known for a couple of songs. A few scraps of biographical notes are given in booklets that accompany the discs. Every one of them led working-class lives. Volumes 9 and 19 are collections of instrumentals. In a few cases the singers used song books or ballad sheets to supplement their repertoire, but in most cases their versions are from oral tradition. This collection is the UK equivalent of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music.
The following is a selection of songs from the whole series with cross-reference to entries in Wikipedia. The titles are those used by the singers. The references in parentheses are to the coding schemes for ballads by Francis James Child and George Malcolm Laws.
Volume 1: Come Let Us Buy the Licence - Songs of Courtship & Marriage
Volume 2: My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean - Songs of Tempest & Sea Battles, Sailor Lads & Fishermen
Volume 3: O’er His Grave the Grass Grew Green - Tragic Ballads
Volume 4: Farewell, My Own Dear Native Land - Songs of Exile & Emigration.
Volume 5: Come All My Lads That Follow the Plough - The Life of Rural Working Men & Women
Volume 6: Tonight I'll Make You My Bride - Ballads of True & False Lovers
Volume 7: First I'm Going To Sing You a Ditty - Rural Fun & Frolics
Volume 8: A Story I'm Just About To Tell - Local Events & National Issues
Volume 9: Rig-A-Jig-Jig - Dance Music of the South of England
Volume 10: Who's That at my Bedroom Window? - Songs of Love & Amorous Encounters
Volume 11: My Father's the King of the Gypsies - English and Welsh Travellers & Gypsies
Volume 12: We've Received Orders to Sail - Jackie Tar at Sea & on Shore
Volume 13: They Ordered Their Pints of Beer & Bottle of Sherry - The Joys and Curse of Drink
Volume 14: Troubles They Are But Few - Dance Tunes & Ditties
Volume 15: As Me and My Love Sat Courting - Songs of Love, Courtship & Marriage
Volume 16: You Lazy Lot of Boneshakers - Songs & Dance Tunes of Seasonal Events
Volume 17: It Fell on a Day, a Bonny Summer Day - Ballads
Volume 18: To Catch a Fine Buck Was My Delight - Songs of Hunting & Poaching
Volume 19: Ranting & Reeling - Dance Music of the North of England
Volume 20: There is a Man Upon the Farm - Working Men & Women in Song
TSCD671 You Never Heard So Sweet : Songs by Southern English Traditional Singers.
TSCD672D I’m a Romani Rai : Songs by Southern English Gypsy Traditional Singers.
TSCD673T Good People, Take Warning : Ballads by British and Irish Traditional Singers.
TSCD674 Sarah Makem : The Heart Is True
Brian Peters wrote in "Roots World" as "the crème de la crème of Britain's traditional singers and musicians.". "Veteran Records" said it was "the greatest set of CDs of English, Irish and Scottish singing and music ever produced."