Carpenter In The North

In 1931 American song collector James Madison Carpenter visited and collected old ballads and sea songs in the Highlands and Moray. He recorded over 100 songs from singers, in Latheron, Balintore and Shandwick, Lochcarron, Keith, Fochabers, Portgordon and several other places. His recordings were made on a small Dictaphone machine, then transferred onto discs which became scratched. They are now very hard listening, but the lyrics and his information about the people who sang to him are invaluable information. Some of his recordings have unique versions of the songs. This website tells of some of the singers and their songs, and how you could find recordings local to where you live. We have made connections with some descendants of the singers, and are sharing them on this website.   

Below are some of Carpenter's original 1931 recordings. These ones are audible, but many of Carpenter's recordings are so badly scratched or distorted it can be impossible to even tell what song is being sung, or which singer it is!

We are still keen to find more about some 1931 singers. We have made a page listing the singers. Please click on our Looking For Singers page above and see if you can kindly help us.

The James Madison Carpenter Collection is held by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, Washington DC.
This website is partly funded through a kind grant from Tasgadh.

The Sheffield University catalogue lists places and entries [at] but to see his transcripts of lyrics and tunes, or hear the scratchy and sometimes hardly audible cylinder recordings, go to To search more easily, click inside the Search box and in the dropdown list on the left first choose ‘Select/deselect all’, then tick ‘Song indexes’. Now you can input the place, song or singer you seek.

Because Carpenter's original recordings are short and hard to listen to, we have
1] added recordings of the some of the same ballads from Tobar An Dualchais, the online archive of School of Scottish Studies recordings.
2] got permission from current Scots singers of old ballads to make links to their Youtube versions.
See our Old Ballads page for details.

We have searched the places in Highlands and Moray where Carpenter recorded, and found very interested and pleased family members for several singers.
Particular thanks to
Folk Song researcher and Carpenter expert Julia Bishop
ace reporter Susy MacAulay of the Press & Journal.

Image and recordings are used courtesy of the James Madison Carpenter Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.