Sam Lee celebrates unsung Brighton folk legend in special Nightingale walk

Mercury Prize nominated folk singer and song collector Sam Lee is paying homage to the late Mary Ann Haynes – a legendary Brighton-based Romany gypsy singer – as part of his award-winning Nightingale Walks (Tuesday 19, Wednesday 20 and Thursday 21 May from 9pm) at Brighton Festival 2015.

Born in 1905 in a Faversham wagon parked behind The Coach and Horses in Portsmouth, Mary Ann Haynes settled in Brighton where she worked as a flower-seller on the waterfront, earning enough to support her family but never achieving success as a singer in her lifetime. After her death in 1977 she was discovered by renowned folk recordist Mike Yates and her legacy of many hundreds of songs have now entered into the folk revival repertoire and adopted by self –confessed song collector Sam Lee.

‘I first discovered Mary Ann Haynes while I was indexing the Sound Archives at The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library about 10 years ago. I was set to work on the Mike Yates archive - he was the one who discovered her and recorded her singing, so I got the privilege of listening to all the songs he recorded beyond the ones that were publicly released on Topic Records in the 70s,’ explains Lee.

‘I think her songs have been a go--to repertoire as she had wonderful full and melodically interesting versions of some classic songs, and had that unique gypsy modal style that gave her tunes this wonderfully exotic twist to them.. I think it was some years before the taste for these versions came more popular, hence her possible lack of featuring in the revival festivals and folk clubs.’

In a recent concert at Brighton Dome Corn Exchange Lee met Betty Date, Mary Ann Haynes’ only surviving child who had seen him talk about his love of Hayne’s music at the launch of Brighton Festival 2013.

Sam Lee will perform Haynes’ Trees they Do grow High, Colour of Amber, Lovely Johnny and The Tanyard Side during his Brighton Festival event; a one-of-a-kind promenade performance taking place in ‘a melodius plot of beechen green’ out on the South Downs. In the dead silence of the night, accompanied by musicians, Sam will sing traditional songs to the nightingales as they sing back to him from the thickets in what promises to be a spellbinding and unforgettable call-and-response collaboration between man and bird.