Joe Stead started singing folk songs over 40 years ago at his rugby club the Old Askeans in South East London. As a disciple of Pete Seeger he had discovered folk music in the late 1950’s visiting the many now infamous folk clubs that had sprung up around Soho at the time.
Since those very early days Joe has played at all the major folk festivals in Britain and has toured America more times than he can count. In 1998 he performed for the Philadelphia Folk Song Society, which is probably the most prestigious folk song society in America. Bob Cohen (who is currently the society president) wrote the following in the Philadelphia Folk Song Society News Letter prior to his arrival..........
“We are thrilled to start this years house concert series with an evening's encounter with Joe Stead, one of Great Britain's greatest folk musicians, collectors, teachers, recorders and performers. He is truly one of the Godfathers of British music - a true world asset. Joe wrote "I first saw Pete Seeger at St Pancras Town Hall Theatre on October 4th 1959. I was already a folk music enthusiast, but this performance by Pete totally locked me on." Joe started singing professionally in 1966 and has not stopped since. He has played all the major festivals in Great Britain, illustrious venues such as The Albert Hall and Festival Hall and has toured America more times than he can remember. He ran Sweet Folk All Recordings from 1974-1989, recording such people as Pete Seeger, Martin Carthy, Martyn Wyndham Read, Phil Beer, Alex Campbell, Stan Hugill, Jeremy Taylor and Philadelphia's own Jim Couza. Joe has invented a wonderful way to do many of his concerts. He gives the audience a list of subjects about which he can comment in song. - America, Biblical, City Life, Comical, Death, Environmental, Failure, Fishing, Friendship, Heroes etc etc - and asks them to choose. What follows is a wonderful warm evening of wit, deep thought, sadness, humour laughter and every other emotion one can imagine - a true "musical feast". In an evening Joe "willingly and delightfully shares his unexpected perspective on life." If you miss this concert, you will be very sorry after you talk to those who attended. Short of travelling to England yourself this is your chance to see a real master”. Dr Bob Cohen - House Concert Chair, Philadelphia Folk Song Society.
Joe has now added an additional dimension to his repertoire. A couple of years ago he released an album of sea shanties that incorporates a trip from Liverpool to Valparaiso in 1860 in which he and the crew sing all the necessary shanties to complete the voyage. This album has subsequently been commissioned by the RNLI and is available from all their outlets. A proportion of the profits from all sales are also sent to the RNLI. The album, which in itself is a story in song, has received accolades from such luminaries in the folk world as Cyril Tawney and Roy Harris. The CD has been performed on stage at many festivals and clubs around Britain and America including Chippenham, Cleckheaton, Bradford, Fylde, Letchworth, Maryport, Newcastle, Rochester, Shrewsbury, Tenterden, Whitby, and of course Philadelphia where it was premiered.
Two typical reviews follow:-
“Joe Stead has been doing lectures on maritime music for some time and has come up with the idea of putting one on to a CD. Lecture is a rather formal word, for this is a dramatically written and performed description of a clipper ship voyage from Liverpool to Valparaiso in the 1860’s. Joe sings appropriate shanties for every stage of the trip, joined by a large crew of singers, mercifully free on unnecessary harmonies or fancy arrangements. The narration is well paced and clearly spoken, making full use of sailors’ jargon and giving all kinds of fascinating information. This is a splendid production, well suited to educational purposes, but worthy of a place on anyone’s shelf for sheer entertainment value”. Roy Harris - Taplas
“This is a terrific album which is surely an essential purchase for anyone seriously interested in sea shanties. It’s also a good buy for anyone like me who just enjoys them.
The collection is based on the songs of Stan Hugill, the last authentic shanty singer who worked undersail at the beginning of the twentieth century and published his wealth of traditional shanties in two volumes, ‘Shanties from the Seven Seas’ and ‘ Songs of the sea’. Stan recorded some of his songs and this cd is drawn from Joe Stead’s own personal relationship with Stan, and from these publications and recordings.
The result is absolutely first class, a volume of superbly sung shanties mostly unaccompanied, but with subtle touches of violin put in very carefully to accentuate here and there, but never allowed to take over. Joe Stead’s fine voice is backed with a very strong and balanced chorus including a superb basso profundo. Apparently these harmonies were unlikely to be sung on board, but this does not spoil the enjoyment.
Perhaps the most fascinating part about this album is the commentary. Joe Stead ‘talks’ the listener through a four-month sea voyage, explaining the strict code determining which songs would have been sung when. Shanties were seamen’s work songs and each one had a specific rhythm paced exactly to the job in hand, to help the men work together on these gruelling tasks. I thought when I first heard this album that I would quickly get sick of the narration, but far from it. This is an intriguing mine of information about the origin of terms like ‘Davy Jones’ Locker’ and ‘Mother Carey’s Chickens’ as well as giving snippets of folklore and tradition. Without doubt this is an exceptional album and is available from A Private Label’. – Beth Webb.
But do not be fooled into thinking that all Joe sings are sea shanties and sea songs. Here in Britain he has made numerous TV appearances in such gems as Hollyoaks, Coronation Street, Emerdale, At home with the Braithwaites, Merseybeat, Pheonix Nights and Last of the Summer Wine. He also auditioned and got down to the last 2 for the new advertisement of Captain Birdseye!
Joe Stead – Curriculum Vitae
1959 – Summer – Met and sang with Paul Robeson at private garden party in Blackheath
1965 – September – First professional engagement with Ralph McTell
1969 – June – Appeared in Concert at The Albert Hall, London with Don Partridge.
1973 – Recorded first LP on ‘Westward’ label
1974 – Started my own recording company and would later record such luminaries as Pete Seeger, Martin Carthy MBE, Max Collie, The McCalmans, Jeremy Taylor, Stan Hugill, Alex Campbell, Paul Downes, Phil Beer, Johnny Collins, Jim Mageean, Martyn Wyndham Read, Bill Keith, Roger Watson, Shep Woolley, Stan Arnold, John Kirkpatrick, Mick Doonan, Wilson Family and Illapu.
1975 – Recorded my second LP live in Concert in theatre near Milton Keynes.
1977 – Recorded third LP and appeared at Cambridge Folk Festival
1979 - First singing tour of the East Coast of USA. (Have subsequently toured America more times than I can remember)
1979-1985 – Arranged all folk concerts for London Borough of Greenwich including shows with Spinners, Louden Wainright 3rd, Jasper Carrot, Tom Rush and the Infamous Joe Stead Birthday Party gigs that ran for 6 years and attracted 1,000 people/concert, plus Thames TV who filmed.
1981- Was filmed by TV in Philadelphia for a programme on British Music
1982 – Recorded fourth LP and appeared at both Sidmouth and Cambridge Folk Festivals.
1983 – Appeared at Philadelphia Folk Song Society Festival together with Martin Carthy, The Watersons and Rae Fisher.
1984 – Appeared at Festival Hall in special tribute concert for Ewan MacColl.
1985 – Recorded Pete Seeger at Festival Hall in benefit concert for Chile and again two days later in a studio in West London the morning he flew back to do a concert in Baltimore!
1986 – Recorded Fifth LP
1987 – Asked by Pete Seeger to appraise his book “Where have all the flowers gone” prior to printing.
1993 – Released first CD – Hearts on Fire
1995 – April - Flew to America to appear in concert in Cape May, New Jersey with Pete Seeger for Delaware Valley River Project.
1996 – Released second CD – Extravagant Schemes
1997 – Concert tour of Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
1998 – November – Concert
in New York with Pete Seeger for Roasalie Sorrels Benefit
2000 – Recorded fourth CD ‘Valparaiso round the Horn’ to critical acclaim.
2001 – Summer - Formed sea shanty group ‘Kimber’s Men’, commenced work on CD.
2001- Autumn – Auditioned for Captain Birdseye Advert. Got down to last 2.
2002 – January – ‘Valparaiso Round the Horn’ commissioned by RNLI
2002 – June - Release of Kimber’s Men CD ‘See you when the sun goes down’
2003 – January – Worked with Kimber’s Men and Holy Trinity School Halifax and All Saints Catholic High School Huddersfield in concert at Halifax Square Chapel Theatre.
2003 – July – ‘See you when the sun goes down’ commissioned by RNLI
2003 – Autumn – Seven week tour of North America, Chile and Argentina. Was the first and only British Act to be invited to the first Valparaiso Festival of the Sea. Trip sponsored by the British Council.
2004 - November - Worked with Kimber's Men and Crossley Grammar School and Siddal and St Mary's Primary Schools to promote the folk opera 'Valparaiso round the Horn' at THe Square Chapel Theatre in Halifax.
2005 - February - Worked with Kimber's Men and Burnley Road Primary School and Holy Trinity Senior School to promote the folk opera 'Valparaiso round the Horn' at The Square Chapel Theatre in Halifax.
2005 - November - Worked with Kimber's Men and Cullingworth, Bolton Brow, and Lightcliffe Primary Schools to promote the folk opera 'Valparaiso round the Horn' at The Square Chapel Theatre in Halifax.
2006 - November - Worked
with Kimber's Men and Christ Church, Norland and New Road
Sowerby Bridge Primary Schools to promote the folk opera
'Valparaiso round the Horn' at The Square Chapel Theatre in
2009 - "Farewell tour to America" seven weeks taking in gigs in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Arizona where worked with Kingston Trio.
2011 - Worked in numerous prisons during October lecturing on Paul Robeson.
The lecture ‘Valparaiso round the Horn’ has already been successfully staged at:-
Priddy Folk Fayre
Recent TV includes National TV in Chile and News Programmes in both Cumbria and Jersey.
Have had small parts on TV in Coronation Street, At home with the Braithwaites, Emmerdale, Last of the Summer Wine, The Royal, Hollyoaks, Suspicion, Nice Guy Eddie, Diamond Geezer, Heartbeat, The Street, Garfield 2 The Movie, The Magnificent Seven.
I play the five string banjo and a hybrid instrument especially manufactured in 1973 and of original design called a bandoline (A cross between a five string banjo and a mandolin).
Joe has a repertoire of over 100 songs.