At the age of 6 he won a £1 prize for his singing of “The Gypsy’s Warning”. At the age of 14 he left school to work as a farm labourer for three shillings (£0.15) per week. He learnt his songs from his father and mother, fellow farm workers and travelling families, supplemented with some from printed sources. His repertoire included songs which had been handed-down by the oral tradition from as far back as the era of Samuel Pepys and from the music halls of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
He mainly sang these songs in pubs. Following the war Jordan was working for a blacksmith who heard that Alan Lomax was in the area, searching for songs in the way that Cecil Sharp had some 50 years earlier, and suggested that Lomax should listen to Jordan. Lomax made the first recording of his singing. In 1952 Peter Kennedy, working for the BBC on secondment from the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) made further recordings of Jordan on a farm at Diddlebury. Following these recordings Jordan became nationally recognised in folk music circles and left Shropshire for the first time in his life to sing on BBC programmes and in live performances at venues as significant as London’s Royal Festival Hall. He also toured Scotland at this time.
These performances led to him becoming a popular guest artist at folk clubs through the next two decades and appearing at further large concert venues including the Manchester Free Trade Hall. He continued to work as a casual farm labourer, combining fencing, hedging, ditching and harvesting with his new career as a singer. With the growth of folk festivals he appeared before ever-larger audiences at festivals such as Keele, Cambridge, Bromyard and Sidmouth. His signature song became “The Farmer’s Boy” which usually brought his concerts to an end.
Jordan’s voice was described by Peta Webb as having a “beautiful timbre and vibrato” and that he could “bring out the essence of a song through a wide range of subtle devices”. Derek Schofield described him as having a “subtle and skilful use of melodic ornament". Fred remained unchanged by his success and fame, continuing to live a simple life without radio, television or running water at his primitive cottage in Aston Munslow, near Craven Arms. He grew his own vegetables and was fond of his collection of horse brasses. Jordan left his cottage in 2001 to live in a residential home in Ditton Priors due to poor health.
He died here at the age of 80 on Tuesday 30 July 2002 following a heart attack. Jordan’s local festival was at Bromyard where he established a tradition of singing the final song of the event, usually "A Farmer's Boy". Following his death, the organisers of that festival established the “Fred Jordan Memorial Competition”, to honour Jordan's name and to encourage traditional singers up to 25 years old. Winners so far have included: 2002 Kathryn Turner and Jim Moray 2003 Fiona Bradshaw 2004 Fiona Dunne 2005 Tina Taylor 2006 Elizabeth Hearn 2007 Maz O'Connor 2008 Ffion Mair Thomas and Kate Holland 2009 Niamh Boadle 2010 Kirsty Bromley 2011 Lydia Noble 2012 Rosie Hood 2013 Jo Moore and Cuthbert Noble 2014 Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne Selected discography Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker – Topic Records LP, 12T150 (1966) When the Frost is on the Pumpkin – Topic Records LP, TS 233 (1974) In Course of Time – VWML cassette, 006 (1990) A Shropshire Lad – Veteran Records double CD, VTD148CD Fred Jordan on compilation albums The following CD albums each contain one or more tracks sung by Jordan: Hidden English – Topic Records CD, TSCD600 My Ship Shall Sail The Ocean – Topic Records CD, TSCD652 O’er His Grave The Grass Grew Green – Topic Records CD, TSCD653 First I’m Going To Sing You A Ditty – Topic Records CD, TSCD657 They Ordered Their Pints Of Beer And Bottles Of Sherry – Topic Records CD, TSCD663 There Is A Man Upon The Farm – Topic Records CD, TSCD670 Come All My Lads That Follow the Plough – Topic Records CD, TSCD655 A Century Of Song – EFDSS CD, EFDSSCD02 The Birds Upon The Tree – Musical Traditions Double CD, MTCD333 Classic Ballads of Britain & Ireland Vol. 1 – Rounder Records CD, RCD1775 Old Boys (at Whitby Folk Week) – Whitby Folk Week CD, WFW 26CD. In 2009 Topic Records included in their 70-year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten We Shepherds Are The Best Of Men from Songs of A Shropshire Worker as track twelve on the second CD. Read more on Last.fm.
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