When you think about traditional British folk music you don’t think of the black experience in this country, but one Cornwall based musician is attempting to change that.

Last October, Angeline Morrison quietly released her album The Sorrow Songs (Folk Songs of the Black British Experience) to much critical acclaim.

In December it was crowned The Guardian newspaper and website’s folk album of the year and has just been released on vinyl.

“I’ve always been very aware, as black English, that I’m one of a very small, but growing number, of black people in folk music,” she tells the Packet. “It is something I’ve always been aware of and I’m always looking for evidence of the black experience in the folk songs.

"But up until quite recently, what people would say is that you won’t find them because there weren’t any black people in the UK up until the 1940s and the Windrush generation.

Falmouth Packet: Angeline Morrison is influenced by the Cornish landscapeAngeline Morrison is influenced by the Cornish landscape (Image: Supplied)

“That’s a misconception and since about the mid-80s scholars and historians have been researching this and there are quite a few publications showing we have an historic black presence in Britain going back 2,000 years.”

Growing up in Birmingham where lots of music was played all the time and people sang all the time she heard lots of different styles of music but folk wasn’t one of them.

Until one day she was playing while her parents had the radio on quietly in the background when she was suddenly transfixed by an extraordinary voice coming out of it

“It was so pure and sweet,” she said. “An unaccompanied human voice singing a very strange, very compelling melody and cadences I’d never heard before in an archaic language that I didn’t recognise and I had to stand still to drink in this sound and it was Shirley Collins.

“That was a really transcendent moment for me hearing that traditional music for the first time I decided I wanted to find out as much as I could about this.”

She says the catalyst for the album was the murder of George Floyd in America which seemed to open up conversations and people started asking questions.

She decided to set about restoring the history of black people in the UK that are mostly missing from the folk songs by writing her own in the same sonic style that would be recognised as a British folk song.

Falmouth Packet: The album has just been released on vinylThe album has just been released on vinyl (Image: Supplied)

Among the songs she wrote for the album are two about real black people in Cornwall. ‘Unknown African boy (circa 1830)’ is about a child washed ashore when a ship was wrecked off St Martins where he is buried.

“It seemed he was already enslaved or was destined to be sold,” says Angeline. “He was washed up on shore and, along with body, were a lot of precious goods, boxes of gold, boxes of elephant tusks, silver dollars.”

The story of Evaristo Muchovela, who is buried in the same grave with his former master Thomas Johns at Wendron, is told in Slave No More.

Johns was a miner who went to Brazil after saving up his money to start a new life. Once there he purchased seven-year-old Evaristo from Mozambique.

Records show he was kind to Evaristo, despite being his slave, and, when he fell seriously ill in his fifties and wanted to die at home, he gave Evaristo, then in his 30s, a choice: either stay in Brazil by himself and he would give him his freedom or go back to Cornwall with him. He chose the latter and returned to Cornwall with Johns where it was no longer legal to own slaves so he became his servant.

“Before he died, Johns made provision for Evaristo to have somewhere to live and retrain as a cabinet maker,” says Angeline. “Which he did and he worked on Redruth High Street as a cabinet maker in the 1860s and was very good at his job.”

Angeline, who has lived in Cornwall since 2002, says she has a very strong affinity for Cornwall and a very deep connection with the landscape.

“It definitely gets into my music,” she says. “I spend so much time outside by water or by trees composing because that’s where the inspiration comes to me.

“Cornwall has many ancient stones so I go to those too, so land very important to me.”

She says she has been overwhelmed at the reception for the album.

“It’s been wonderful,” she says. “People have been so kind, receptive and generous. It’s been lovely.

“What I wanted to do with the album was to spend a period of time researching the lives of real black people who lived in Britain and create songs about them.

“The best compliment anybody can give me is if they say the songs sound like they’re traditional, to create songs that sounded like lost old songs.

“My biggest hope for it is that people would want to sing them. I consciously recorded these songs with choruses and refrains people can pick up.

“People who are remembered are the people that we sing about and I’d love it if these songs were sung in folk clubs and the stories told and re-told.”