John Howson: Tribute to Suffolk folk music faithful

Published:
19.00 16 October 2022



Tributes have been paid to well-known Suffolk folk musician John Howson.

Mr. Howson, who has died aged 72, was a folk musician and singer and field worker who collected songs and music from across the region and released it on his label, Veteran.

His wife Katie Howson said John was “entertaining company” with “a story for every occasion and a passion for food and drink as well as good music” and “a great sense of humour.”


John plays the banjo and Katie plays the melodeon at a festival in Essex, 2012.

John plays the banjo and Katie plays the melodeon at a festival in Essex, 2012.
– Credit: Susan Bell

Katie said her husband was well known in pubs around Stowmarket – while many folk musicians remember encouragement from John early in their careers.

During his teenage years, Mr. Howson in folk clubs in Liverpool before taking up singing and becoming a resident singer and co-founder of the Liverpool Folk Club in the Miter pub.

Mr Howson was born in Liverpool, the only child of Lilian and Arthur Howson – who owned a grocer’s shop in the Kensington area.

He attended Newsham Secondary School and went on to study engineering, but at 21 he suffered a severely damaged right hand in an industrial accident.


John & Katie running the Veteran CD stall at Dartmoor Folk Festival, Devon, 2011

John & Katie running the Veteran CD stall at Dartmoor Folk Festival, Devon, 2011.
– Credit: Alan Quick

He retrained as a craft and design teacher and in 1977 met Katie Hayward at the Bothy folk club in Southport. They moved to Suffolk in 1978, later marrying in 1979.

Mr. Howson worked at Stowmarket High School until 1987 – leaving to focus on his record label and other projects.

John collected folk songs from around Suffolk and founded the Veteran record label to release recordings – and wrote Songs Sung in Suffolk (1992) and Many a Good Horseman (1985) about local traditional singers and musicians.


Reg Reader, John Howson, Katie Howson, Jeannie Harris, Adrian Turner outside the Blaxhall Ship, 1980.

from right to right: Reg Reader (with dulcimer), John Howson, Katie Howson, Jeannie Harris (with melodeon), Adrian Turner outside the Blaxhall nave, 1980.
– Credit: Katie Howson

John’s original field recordings are held by the British Library Sound Archive in their World and Traditional Music Collection. The label and website will be maintained by Katie.

He also helped arrange for musicians to visit festivals including the Sidmouth Folk Festival – while performing at local events, concerts and festivals across the UK with Katie.

Locally, John was involved in several projects including Old Hat Music Nights – free, informal evenings of traditional folk songs, music and tap dancing – which took place in pubs in mid and high Suffolk.


Carole Pegg, Jeannie Harris, Fred Whiting, Katie Howson, Adrian Turner, John Howson, Reg Reader, Font Whatling.

Left to right: Carole Pegg, Jeannie Harris, Fred Whiting, Katie Howson, Adrian Turner, John Howson, Reg Reader (with his great grandfather’s dulcimer on the table), Font Whatling at Brundish Crown, 1981.
– Credit: EADT


A Suffolk excursion to the National Folk Festival near Loughborough in the mid-1980s.

Back row left to right: Reg Reader, Tony Harvey, John Howson (with cap), Katie Howson. Front Row: Ted Chaplin, Clem Pearson, Charlie Stringer, Cyril Barber. A Suffolk excursion to the National Folk Festival near Loughborough in the mid-1980s.
– Credit: Derek Schofield

Mr. Howson also founded the Old Hat Concert Party, which was an informal group of multi-generational Suffolk and Norfolk singers, musicians and tap dancers who performed throughout the region and as far afield as Devon, Gateshead and London’s South Bank.

John also played banjo and guitar and with wife Katie (melodeon and mouth organ) were well known locally in ceilidh bands such as Suffolk Bell & Horseshoe Band, Old Hat Band, Katie’s Quartet and Valiant Dance Band.

They were also in demand nationally as the Old Hat Dance Band in the 1980s and 90s.

Mr. Howson also had a lifelong passion for the iconic traditional instrument of the East Anglian region, the dulcimer.

He built a website dedicated to the history of the instrument, photographing and analyzing about 100 antique instruments while Katie worked on the historical research.


John played the banjo at the 2006 Traditional Music Day, held at the Museum of East Anglian Life.

John played the banjo at the 2006 Traditional Music Day, held at the Museum of East Anglian Life.
– Credit: Katie Howson

In 2001 the couple founded the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust, spreading knowledge of local traditions through local events and projects and educational work – including an annual traditional music day in Stowmarket.

After 16 years at the helm, they retired in 2017, where thousands of people had attended, participated and learned about tap dancing, playing instruments, singing with local songs.

Millions more had found out through TV and radio coverage, including features on ‘Escape to the Country’ and BBC Radio 1,2,3 and 4, as well as BBC Radio Suffolk, where Lesley Dolphin and Mark Murphy were among patrons of EATMT.

Katie and John both received the highest folk music award, The English Folk Dance & Song Society’s Gold Badge Award, in 2010.

In The Living Tradition obituary, author Vic Smith said, “Few couples can have achieved as much collectively or individually with strong partner support as this couple has.”

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