Welcome to my website
I first got really interested in traditional folk music as a teenager. It set me on a path or should I say paths? that I am still exploring several decades later. It has taken me all over Europe, North America and once, even to China. I have been privileged to meet and hear many great musicians and I have made many friends along the way. It also led to me living in Iceland, where I am one half of the duo Funi, along with my wife Bára Grímsdóttir. We are involved in all sorts of musical activities here in Iceland, and we also travel abroad to perform and lead workshops.
You can visit our website here:
We are always interested to hear from people with ideas for projects and performances. You can contact me direct from over on the contacts page.
Visual Arts & Community Arts Work
Many years ago, I spent five years studying at Art Schools in England. On completing my studies, I set out on my life's journey combining painting and exhibiting with touring as a professional musician. In the late 1970s, I became deeply involved in the emerging UK Community Arts Movement, working with all sorts of groups of people, developing ideas and techniques for making work together, rather than as a solo artist working in isolation, either touring as a solo musician or painting in a studio.
As a community arts worker throughout the 1980s to the 2000s, I worked on a huge variety of both large and small scale projects, with groups of people of all ages and abilities, in both urban and rural settings in England. Projects included painted and mosaic murals, photography exhibitions, screen printing campaign posters, mixed artform events and celebrations, theatre performances and live and recorded music.
I have been living in Iceland since 2004 and since moving here, alongside touring internationally and recording both solo and as the duo FUNI with Bára Grímsdóttir. I have also resumed making studio based art works.
Here in Iceland, with my good friend Linus Orri Gunnarsson Cederborg, I am co-manager, of Þjóðlist ehf (Folk Arts Ltd.), a small folk arts development company that was established by our friend Rúna Ingimundardóttir, some years ago, We took it over in 2019 and our working name is Vökufélag (Vaka Society).
Vökufélag exists to create opportunities to sing, play, dance and listen to Icelandic traditional music, along with folk music from further afield. By creating various opportunities throughout the year, we aim to build a supportive network of people who share a love for Iceland's unique traditional music. A community where those traditions can flourish and grow and carry on into the future in line with Rúna's original concept of Tradition for Tomorrow.
Our annual Vaka Folk Festival, started by Rúna and me in 2015, had to miss two years due to Covid. We are now planning for the next Vaka in 2023. It should be quite a celebration!
We were not idle during 2020 and '21. We started working on a series of seven videos of people singing traditional Icelandic songs. The series is called Kyndilberar (Torch Bearers). It was premiered at the Bíó Paradís cinema in Reykjavík on 14th May 2022. The videos are now being released on You Tube. The first one, featuring Bára Grímsdóttir and Ragga Gröndal is now live on our YouTube channel. Have a look, like and subscribe. We plan to make more videos as we go along.
Linus and I are also actively involved in supporting the monthly Reykjavík Trad Session. Linus has started the mixed voice Kvæðakór (folk choir) in Reykjavík. Along with Bára, I run monthly Söngvaka (song workshop sessions). Bára is chairperson of Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn, the organisation founded in 1929, dedicated to preserving Iceland's song and poetry traditions. All in all there is a growing amount of folk arts activity with more people getting involved all the time. It feels like things are on the move here.
Stuff I've been doing
2021 was a stop / start sort of affair. Quite often, more stopping than starting. I did a few short concert spots, but no full gigs, either solo or duo with Bára in 2021 and the first half of 2022.
It was therefore a very special pleasure for Bára and me to be able to play at the renowned Kaustinen Folk Festival in Finland and the Korrö Folk Festival in Sweden in July. The two events while different in scale and a bit different in style, are among the best I have been to.
We played to full houses and did workshops with enthusiastic participants at both festivals. Our main concert at Korrö was also recorded by Swedish National Radio.
One of the great things about festivals is getting to hear music that we would probably not come across any other way. A real standout moment for me though was the Tuesday afternoon performance in the main arena at Kaustinen. An enormous massed band of children of all ages (there must have been at least a hundred all playing together), most playing fiddles, but also kantele, flutes and other instruments as well as singing gave a 45 minute concert bursting with energy and joy. I said afterwards that maybe only a minority of them will continue playing into adulthood, but I bet that none of them will ever forget the experience of being in that show.
Alongside getting out and about to sing and play, I am really enjoying being able to see and hear other people's concerts. One rather special concert was given by the Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of the University of Iceland on the 26th of March. It featured a brand new composition marking the 50th anniversary of the choir. The piece titled 'The Time Is Now' was composed by Bára with a text by me.
Work on the new FUNI album is starting to come together nicely. The album, titled Gárur (English - Ripples) features a mix of old texts in new clothes and new texts in old clothes. Some songs are accompanied with our langspil, kantele and various other instruments (but no guitar this time, which is an interesting challenge). Other songs feature Bára's wonderful solo unaccompanied singing. The whole thing is wrapped around with recordings made out in the Icelandic landscape with our friend Buzby Birchall of Hidden Sound.
Over the years, I have done a fair bit of recording, including seven solo albums and two duo albums as FUNI with Bára Grímsdóttir. My most recent solo album, Hadelin was released in March 2017 and one of the tracks was nominated for the best traditional song award in the 2018 BBC Folk Awards. Scroll down to see some reviews.
CD copies of Hadelin and and my 2008 album Outsiders along with downloads of earlier albums and individual songs are available from:
Find out all about my albums on the Albums page, where you can also find all the song lyrics.
My solo music and Icelandic albums with FUNI are also available on all the usual streaming sites.
It is always hard to write about oneself, so I will let a couple of other people say a bit...
“Chris Foster merits legend status, one of the very best in the second wave of the Brit folk revival, as important as Martin Carthy, Dick Gaughan and Nic Jones in the way he has modernised and invested traditional songs with inventive guitar arrangements and potent vocal delivery.”
Colin Irwin – fROOTS
‘The warm tone of Chris’ voice and his captivating guitar playing draws you into the ancient world of storytelling which links generation to generation, culture to culture and humanity back to its humanity.’
Susan Grace - Burton Mail
My latest album 'Hadelin' got some excellent reviews in the folk and world music press.
Here are some extracts.
fROOTS, April 2017
Long-domiciled in Iceland and an infrequent visitor to recording studios, Foster’s new solo release comes as an unexpected pleasure. Actually, it’s not really a ‘solo’ album as he’s accompanied by Jackie Oates (viola), John Kirkpatrick (melodeon), Jim Moray (piano), Trevor Lines (double bass) and Martin Brinsford (tambourine). When they all play ensemble – as on The Faithful Plough and Greensleeves (with Foster on hammered dulcimer) they’re a terrific English country dance band.
Songs, however, are Foster’s stock-in trade, and here he revisits some of the greatest examples of the English canon, starting with the daddy-of-’em-all, The Seeds Of Love. Accompanied by his own guitar and Oates’ viola, it’s an utterly majestic performance. That standard is maintained through the likes of Rosie Ann (an unusual version of Lucy Wan collected by George Gardiner), The Gardener Child (aka Proud Maisrey) and The Holland Handkerchief – which features a beautifully subtle string arrangement. Lines’ bass entwines beautifully with Foster’s guitar on The Trees They Grow So High, which is followed by an inventive vocal arrangement (by Bara Grimsdoittir) of The Trees They’re All Bare with Jim Causley a distinctive addition amongst the singers. Of the three songs that don’t have Roud numbers, two – Once When I Was Young and Who Reaps The Profit? Who Pays The Price? are by Leon Rosselson. Chris Foster is (with all due deference to Messrs Bailey and Carthy) probably my favourite interpreter of Rosselsongs, and the astute booklet notes that reference both Standing Rock, North Dakota, and Hinkley Point, Somerset, further reveal the singer’s empathy with the great songwriter’s work. The final track – Spring Song, is, astonishingly, Foster’s first original composition, proving once and for all the falsity of that old dog/new trick trope.
Huge credit should go to producer Jim Moray for his role in creating an album that marks not just the welcome return of a folk scene favourite but one of the very finest albums of English song by anybody in recent years.
Hadelin is an extremely well considered selection of songs that (in Chris’s own words) “have all sorts of connections with people and places (he) has known over the years”, while referring to “all things that remain a constant, albeit shifting backdrop to the human condition”. Although this is nominally a solo album, Chris has, entirely appropriately, chosen his backing musicians very carefully, to represent the next generation – to whom he’s passing the torch of tradition, as it were – along with others with whom he’s worked over the years, while also inviting Jim Moray to produce the record.
The title, I was intrigued to discover, comes from the lyric of The Trees They Grow So High, which is one of the eight traditional songs thoughtfully reworked by Chris for this new album, and it receives a typically well-researched reading that meaningfully conflates a number of different versions and for which Chris’s intelligent, flowing guitar lines and Trevor Lines’ supple five-string double bass pointing together provide a brilliantly supportive (and genuinely interesting) accompaniment. Other impressive traditionally-sourced offerings here also demonstrate Chris’s gift of adapting and transforming ostensibly familiar material into something fresh-minted and illuminating, both ageless and contemporary. These include Rosie Ann (a particularly compelling version of the Lucy Wan ballad) and The Gardener; both of these boast a rich-toned and exceptionally sympathetic accompaniment from Jackie Oates on five-string viola. ... Elsewhere, the musical setting extends to the full ensemble sound of an authentic English country dance-band, amongst which Chris plays hammered dulcimer and John Kirkpatrick one-row melodeon – firstly on The Faithful Plough, then on an imaginatively sprightly treatment of The Life Of A Man that lifts its celebratory tone by springing delectably into the tune Greensleeves (the one that Cecil Sharp noted from Somerset fiddler Henry Cave). At the other end of the scale the charming The Trees They’re All Bare (originally from the singing of George Townshend) receives a glorious Copper-esque a cappella part-song arrangement (by Bára) involving Chris, Bára, John K, Jackie O, Amy Dawson and (an especially wonderfully present) Jim Causley.
... The remaining pair of non-traditional tracks are compositions by Leon Rosselson, of whose songs Chris has always been a devout champion and superlative interpreter. Once When I Was Young and the more extended commentary Who Reaps The Profit? Who Pays The Price?, written well over three decades ago, are both quintessentially prescient and still eerily relevant today. Chris makes light of Leon’s unique writing style, his often tricky melodies and agility of vocal phrasing.
... to get the measure of (and indeed get the most out of) Chris’s performances the listener needs to treat them with the same degree of respect he himself accords to his source material, to savour every nuance and give them time to work their special magic. For there’s something magical about Chris’s way with a song, what I can only describe as an immediate, “living” breathing interpretation (meticulously considered, yet nowhere artificially pointed) that brings its lyric alive and somehow accentuates its relevance. Eight years on from Outsiders, that special interpretive magic is still there; indeed, it’s possibly even more potent since Chris’s voice now betrays something of the pained vulnerability of age but also its resolute defiance while retaining the essential intimacy of direct communication.
Finally, I must mention that the CD has been produced with exemplary clarity by Jim Moray, assisted by Dylan Fowler, and the whole affair is impeccably packaged, the disc being housed in a beautifully designed digipack with full colour booklet.
I won’t hesitate in recommending this album unreservedly, and it will definitely feature in the year’s best when award-voting comes around.
He (Chris) has lived in Reykjavik for a while now and I was pleased to attend a night a while back on a foggy night at Calver Village Hall when he and Bára Grimsdóttir did a show of largely Icelandic material and at the end he promised more albums of English traditional songs. This is a fine example and it is superb and well worth the wait.
...The quality and content is excellent and the accompanying voices and instruments never crowd the singer’s voice which as ever is perfectly suited to the demands of the particular song. The whole feeling is of a consort moving in harmony and unison... All the lyrics can be found on his web site and the sleeve notes with fine photos and artwork provide ample backgound to the tracks, what they mean to Chris and who performed them.
The first track, The Seeds Of Love, is a classic ... The symbolism of flowers and their fragility beautifully sums up the vagaries of love but ends with hope and optimism for the young man as the plants trampled underfoot can rise again and so the cycle goes on.
... The tune for a widespread harvest song The Faithful Plough came to him from Velvet Brightwell (1865 - 1960), recorded in Leiston, Suffolk by Peter Kennedy in 1953, where several singers had repertoires learned from older singers. The ensemble play along like an old country band to this tale of the communal and national dependency on the ploughman and those who work the land. It is a lively processional song that deserves a Molly Dance.
Once When I Was Young is a Leon Rosselson composition about dissociation from nature and love in a world of glass, granite and concrete, which shows what we have to fight to retain human values in a world of corporate greed and control. Never more apt than today as the forces of nationalism and fascism are on the rise again. Who Reaps the Profits? Who Pays The Price? is another Rosselson song that I remember from the album Nuclear Power No Thanks in 1981, and the
issues it addresses about the assault on the biosphere and human communities are increasingly relevant today as the scrabble for fossil fuels and nuclear power continues until we see the sense of renewable and ambient energy sources.
Rosie Ann is a version of Lucy Wan that was collected in Hampshire in 1908. Frank Harrington sang only one verse of this tale: “You know the brother was the father of his sister’s child”. Frank Purslow compiled the rest from broadside sources to give a gripping tale of incest, rejection and murder by the brother who spins a tale to explain the blood on his sword. Songs such as this must have had a powerful effect on listeners over many years and conjured conflicting emotions.
The Holland Handkerchief is a version of very old and widespread ballad in which the young couple in love are barred by the girl’s family and ride away. The lover takes sick and she binds his head with a white cloth. After his death and burial it transpires that his body is preserved and the white handkerchief stays fresh and uncorrupted. Almost a tale of a relic as in a religious book of saints. The rich combination of strings weaves a magical effect.
The Trees They Grow So High has a strange slant on child marriage where the young boy is wedded, gives his wife a child and dies all within a few years. “She made for him a shroud of hadelin so fine” and will mourn him. The word is not in the dictionary and maybe Sharp misheard the song, although the use of three syllables, often nasal consonants, which is an old singer's ornamentation, rather than the two in Holland, the name of the cloth, is a common one in traditional singing. Strangely, Chris found that there is a Saint Hadelin whose day is the third of February, which was the day on which he collected his CDs!
The Trees They're All Bare was recorded in Lewes, Sussex in 1960 from George Townshend b.1882, and paints pictures of winter scenes as in old prints and Christmas cards. With some adjustment and repeated lines, the song comes out like a very satisfying Copper Family type song in the Sussex tradition and I’m sure will gain a place in local traditions at Christmas. Bára made the fine vocal arrangement and some fine voices sing it.
The Life Of A Man likens our time here like the leaves on a tree and was collected by Chris from Jumbo Brightwell in Leiston. The shift of gear at the end of this version was inspired by New
Orleans marching bands at funerals and lifts the solemnity into an apt optimism as they get a move on. The instrumental version of Greensleeves that follows was from a Somerset fiddler in 1907 and continues the notion that death is the beginning of another natural cycle; so why should we grieve?
Well, we do grieve for loved ones who pass on but then, as Chris sings in his self composed Spring Song, “it’s good to be alive” and things get better with time as it turns. I was surprised to find this was his first ever composition, in which he was given encouragement by Sheffield’s Green champion and poet Sally Goldsmith. This is another great song in the traditional idiom that should be widely taken up and sung by enthusiasts and I'm sure it will. These home thoughts from abroad must have sustained the singer in a cold climate and have led to a fine album to remind and inspire another generation of lovers of folk and traditional song and music. My favourite album for a long time and one I will treasure and tell people about.
Chris Foster’s status as one of British folk music’s major players is secure. His two records for Topic in the late 1970s (Layers and All Things In Common) ensured him a place alongside the likes of Martin Simpson, June Tabor and Nic Jones as one of the leading lights of the acoustic boom of that period. Although music took a back seat in the 1980s as he followed other artistic projects, he continued to release solo albums, his last being Outsiders (2008). Foster will be 70 next year, and after a shapeshifting career, he could be forgiven for settling down and producing something a little more prosaic. But that is not his style, and Hadelin sees him once again pushing the boundaries of traditional music.
Most of the songs here are traditional, but Foster is at pains to point out that they are not meant to be museum pieces. Indeed, the album opens with a recording of birdsong, giving the impression before we even hear the first note that Foster is concerned with new life, seasonal change and vernal fertility. Fittingly, the song itself, The Seeds Of Love, was first collected over a hundred years ago and first sung by Foster in the 1960s. It is an object lesson in how things change and how they stay the same. Foster’s voice has the recognisable crack of age, but even this gives the song a new kind of life, and the subject matter carries more than a hint of the timelessness of music and of love and the universality of natural processes.
... Hadelin ends with Spring Song, and it will come as some surprise to the casual listener that this is the first and only song that Foster has ever written, especially given that it sounds so natural, so universal that it could almost be a traditional piece. ‘Hail the hum of hedge and hive, it’s good to be alive,’ he sings with a combination of verbal freedom and authorial control that many seasoned songwriters would envy. Spring Song ends the album just as The Seeds Of Love started it: with birdsong. Time, Foster seems to be saying, is circular rather than linear, and to celebrate its passing in song is the most natural thing in the world. He has the uncanny ability to make everything he does appear easy, assembling or arranging songs like an artisan builds a drystone wall – a piece at a time, and with the gaps and cracks providing as much of the character as the solid, tangible elements. And like drystone walls, these striking songs will become part of their surroundings, and will surely stand the test of time.
Way back when, I used to look on a Chris Foster set as something extra-special, where you came away really energised and totally convinced that you had your good moneysworth. Then Chris emigrated to Iceland, where he married the traditional singer Bára Grímsdóttir and settled in the capital city of Reykjavik, where he and Bára play as the English-Icelandic duo Funi and conduct workshops and week-long courses on the fascinating, ancient and mysterious Icelandic music and song, which remained hidden and obscured by the other, stronger higher-profile folk cultures. Now Chris has come back with a mighty bang and has released the wonderful album Hadelin; it was recorded in Dylan Fowler's marvellous green oak Stwdio Felin Fach in Abergavenny, with producer Jim Moray playing and Dylan engineering, and the 11 tracks include John Kirkpatrick, Martin Brinsford, Jim's sister Jackie Oates, Jim Causley, Dylan's partner Gillian Stevens, five-string double bassist Trevor Lines, Bára, Amy Dawson and Simon and Libby Metson as among the stellar musicians. It seems as though Chris's sojourn in The Land Of Ice And Fire has generated into a stunning collection of mesmerising pieces which will grab you by the throat and just demand to be listened - that's how good they are.
From Bára's beautiful arrangement of 'The Holland Handkerchief', via the incest-murder ballad 'Rosie Ann' (sung by Frank Harrington in 1908) to Chris's life-affirming 'Spring Song' optimism, this is an album that just cannot be beat.
Chris has emerged from the fastnesses of his Icelandic home with a CD that’s heavily redolent of his Somerset roots. Most of the tracks are traditional, together with a couple by Leon Rosselson, and with one self-penned number to conclude the recording. Judging by the notes on the tracks (in a very professional booklet) many of the others have been on his radar, if not in his repertoire, for decades, so that this excellent CD is, in many ways, a distillation of what makes his singing what it is.
And it really is good; these are real, meaty songs that tell strong stories, and Chris’s distinctive voice and engaging phrasing enhance the quality of his material. It is in the nature of story-songs to be lengthy, and with songs like The Holland Handkerchief and Rosselson’s Who Reaps the Profit? Who Pays the Price? it takes a singer of considerable ability to hold his audience for the length of the song, let alone for the duration of a CD that includes several such songs. This never appears to be a challenge for Chris, whose ability to ‘carry’ a song has only improved over the years.
The entire CD is complemented by musical input from a stellar cast of musicians ranging from John Kirkpatrick to Jackie Oates, and chorus input from Chris’s partner Bára Grímsdóttir and Jim Causley among others – evidently Mr Foster generates a good deal of respect across the folk world. I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing him sing ‘live’ for some years, but I’ll make sure I don’t miss him next time he’s touring. I suggest you do the same – you certainly will if you’ve heard this CD.
I didn't know what to expect from this album, certainly not a set predominantly of English ballads with two Leon Rosselson songs to add extra spice. Nor did I expect to find Jim Moray in the producer's chair and the cast of luminaries, including Jackie Oates, John Kirkpatrick and Jim Causley, called in to assist.
It was the second track that really made me sit up and take notice. The full band arrangement of 'The Faithful Plough' could have been lifted from Battle of the Field and Chris pays a similar homage later with the unaccompanied 'The Trees They're All Bare', arranged in the style of the Coppers for six voices by Bára Grímsdóttir.
Chris performs a remarkable feat by rescuing 'The Life of a Man' from its usual fate as a lugubrious dirge and the two Rosselson songs, especially the dystopian 'Once When I Was Young' are still as pertinent as they ever were.´
EDS - five stars
Chris Foster made his first album in 1977; Hadelin is his seventh. Fromthe opening bars, it is apparent that Chris' guitar playing and voice continue to develop; the renditions are as strong as ever. His first love, English traditional music, remains his passion.
This album will be a joy for all who value the storytelling element of English songs. Throughout, the lyrics are clear. Chris's rich voice narrates the story, while his innovative guitar accompaniment sounds deceptively simple,adding a subtle dimension difficult to achieve. These elements are particularly effective on the opening track, The Seeds of Love, and Rosie Anne. Jackie Oates plays the 5-string viola on both.
Of the 11 songs, eight are traditional, two are written by Leon Rosselson, and one by Chris. The themes reflect the lives of the people - timeless, recurrent, diverse themes.
Chris is joined by a number of talented friends, giving vitality to some songs, adding harmony and depth to ohters. Credit is due to producer Jim Moray.
English folk ballads don’t get much attention these days on a musical stage saturated with grunge-hip-techno-disco-pop. But here to give them the attention they deserve is Chris Foster, a Somerset native who has lived in Reykjavík since 2004. Chris’s work preserving and promoting traditional Icelandic music—and reviving old Icelandic instruments such as the langspil and fiðla—is worthy of praise in its own right, but for his upcoming album release concert at Mengi, Chris returns to his roots. At the artsy venue just off Skólavörðustígur, Chris will debut ‘Hadelin’, his first solo album in nine years and a tour-de-force of heart-tugging, story-laden song.
Though pop culture’s obsession with all that is glitzy, ostentatious and cacophonous threatens to relegate the ballad as a form to dusty Oxford archives, Chris insists ... that these songs “are not museum pieces.” Instead, “they refer to the natural world, the rhythm of the seasons, birth, life, death, love, betrayal, the ebb and flow of the struggle for justice and human rights.” In digging up old songs and painting them in a new light, Chris effectively reclaims the ballad and insists they are worthy of singing.
... In a world beset by wars and oppression, the ballads open a window into how we might mourn. Take this verse, for example, from “The Trees They Grow So High,” the seventh track on Chris’s album:
She made for him a shroud of the hadelin so fine
and every stitch she put in it, her tears came trickling down,
“Once I had a bonny boy, but now I have got never a one,
so fare you well my bonny boy forever.
The song tells of an arranged marriage between a woman of 21 and a man of 16, whose sudden death leaves his widow stricken. Though the lyrics may appear antiquated at first glance, the song’s power lies in the rawness of its emotions and its capacity to bring grief to the surface of life. Ballads force us to confront our own darkness as well as the darkness of the world, and in that way can function as instruments of healing.
Chris sings with such deftness that you can hear in his voice his sense of home, his drive for justice and his deep love of life. He is an artist in the truest sense: one who is dedicated to his craft, who understands the power of story and song.