Saturday, January 26, 2019

Dr Samuel Greenfield (1899–1952) aka Sam Carson - Belfast's Orange, Folk and Sacred singer

I grew up with 1960s reissues of Sam Carson’s Orange songs, on LPs or cassettes which used to knock about around the living rooms of various relatives. There are more recent reissues. To be honest the tacky presentation and design of these greatly diminished my sense of how important the recordings were as cultural artefacts. As you can see from the YouTube clip graphics below. But at least this kept the recordings available - you can now get them on Amazon here.

Carson's real name was actually Dr Samuel Greenfield, born in North Queen Street in north Belfast in November 1899. He went to Queen’s University Belfast, served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I, then was appointed to Purdysburn Fever Hospital before setting up his own GP practice in the house he was born in.

He was also an accomplished singer; in the 1920s he was taking part in and winning folk song singing contests at music festivals. At some stage in the 1930s he began singing on BBC radio broadcasts and soon was recording 78s for a number of record companies, of Orange ballads, Irish folk songs (as either ‘Dan Quinn’ or ‘Barney O’Leary’) and also popular hymns.

He was President of Castleton Male Voice Choir, a member of Fortwilliam Golf Club, Whitehead Golf Lub, and County Antrim Yacht Club at Whitehead. He died at his home at 56 Cable Road in May 1952, with his funeral service being held at St John’s Church, Ballycarry.

His wife was Kathleen Alexander from Whitehead; their children were John, Geoffrey and Mary. Kathleen became the first woman chairman of Whitehead Urban Council, she died in 1967.

I am pretty sure that his original recordings were just a bit earlier than the more celebrated ones by Larne man Richard Hayward (1898–1964) who was probably a more accomplished singer, writer, broadcaster and playwright with broader cultural interests than Greenfield, all of which would have helped keep Hayward’s profile high. This Belfast Telegraph advert from 18 November 1932 includes Carson’s rendition of ’The Hat My Father Wore’.

This web page has a list of Carson recordings for the Regal Zonophone label among others which were issued in October & November 1933. This page has another Regal issued in 1933. There’s another selection here for Regal in 1934 with some as Barney O’Leary. There are some hymns listed here on Columbia in 1936.

PS: His father Robert Greenfield was celebrated in the Belfast Telegraph of 19 December 1946 as ‘our oldest bather’ - aged 86, he was a frequent swimmer in the sea at Whitehead.

• Advert from the Belfast Telegraph, July 1936

• An interesting 1938 article

• 1934 advert from a County Wicklow newspaper