A hymn for our waterways

Acclaimed UK folk musician Jim Ghedi shares his childhood memories of rivers and the water-related books and music that have inspired him over the years

Jim Ghedi by James Albion


Singer-songwriter Jim Ghedi often sets his sonorous, 21st-century take on classic folk in the British countryside. MOJO magazine praised his most recent album A Hymn For Ancient Land by calling it “Melodically sublime and infused with tradition”, while The Financial Times said “This is landscape music… landscape art.”

Jim was born in Sheffield and grew up in Derbyshire, Shropshire and Scotland, before returning to Yorkshire to live in his current home in the Moss Valley. Drawing on a palette of guitar, double bass, violin, cello, harp and piano, Jim creates a sound-world strongly rooted in a sense of place. His track titles include ‘Bramley Moor’ and ‘Home For Moss Valley’, but he has also recorded a delightful version of the Irish traditional song ‘Banks of Mulroy Bay’, a piece of music he connected to via his family history in County Mayo in Ireland.

“I was born in Sheffield and for the first few years of my life lived with my grandparents in an area of the city called Crookes. My closest and most favoured river was the Rivelin, which runs along a woodland valley before joining the River Loxley. In the past the Rivelin was heavily industrialised and in my childhood it was something of great wonder to spot a grey heron or, if we were really lucky, a kingfisher. We then moved to southwest Sheffield, to an area called Moss Valley. Access to nature was hugely influential to my upbringing – exploring the woods and fields. Historically, the River Moss was also heavily used for industry – with waterwheels, dams, mines and widespread clearances of ancient woodland, all of which destroyed the river’s natural habitats for many years. More recently, amazing conservation work has taken place, but cleaning up the river continues to be a challenge. I help out with some conservation work myself, though very menial, mainly litter-picking whilst floundering around in my wellies.

“An important water-related book for me was Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, which I came across through reading a book by Robert Macfarlane. Waterlog really changed my perspective on rivers – with the accounts of wild swimming and generally making me feel more connected to rivers, more immersed, sometimes literally. Another water-related book I’m keen on is a book on local history called Ford Valley by Amos Bright. It’s connected with the Moss Valley and the pen name is an attempt at a comical localised pun – ‘A Mossbright’ meaning someone from the Moss area. The book was given to me by a local blacksmith and copies are incredibly hard to find as there was only a very small local print run. The book describes the history of the waterwheels, industries, communities and legends associated with the rivers Moss and Ford.

“One of my favourite water-related poems is by John Clare, called ‘The Lamentations Of Round-Oak Waters’. I’ve been immersed in Clare’s poetry for the past few months, as I’ve been drawing his work into ideas for a song. After his death in the 19th century he was labelled the ‘The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet’, and Clare’s story is one of great sadness and despair, but also of great social significance in English history. He was the son of a farm labourer and wrote beautifully about the countryside and things that affected people living on the land, such as the enclosure acts that brought about enclosure of common land. I’m also very interested in a poem by another 19th-century poet, Ebenezer Elliott – ‘The Rivers Of Hallamshire, from his collection ‘The Village Patriarch’. He was a South Yorkshire poet known as ‘The Corn Law Rhymer’, because he was prominent in the fight to repeal the Corn Laws, which were causing hardship among the poor. The poem is a beautiful description of Sheffield’s rivers, and a reminder of the relation between man and nature.

“I was brought up listening to traditional folk music, where there are many songs relating to water – often a ballad about the murdering of some unfortunate character by a riverside. Two of my favourite old waterside folk songs are the version of ‘Clyde Water’ by the London folk singer Nic Jones, and the rendition of ‘Blackwaterside’ by the Nottinghamshire singer Anne Briggs. Both songs have such atmosphere and sense of place, but are also brutal and poetic. ‘Clyde Water’ is a story of two lovers who die in the river. In ‘Blackwaterside’ two lovers spend an evening by the waterside, the man full of promises but leaving her in the morning. Anne Briggs’s voice encapsulates so much – entangled stories and glorious melodies.

“Since I moved back to the Moss Valley a couple of years ago, I try and walk by the river most mornings. While I’ve been away on tour over the autumn the local wildlife and conservation groups have been having a big clean-up of the river and I’m told there are even now fish back in the waters.”

For safety advice on open water swimming plus links to find the nearest club visit our website.

James Albon