Sam Lee burst onto the music scene in 2012 with his aptly named debut album, ‘Ground of its Own’. This startlingly original work garnered instant acclaim, an Album of the Year nomination from the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, 3 x BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominations and was awarded fRoots Magazine Album of the Year. The recording was a musical manifesto, reflecting the unusual artistic journey Sam has taken so far.
Now in his early 30s, singing was relatively new to Sam until his first encounter with folk song nearly 10 years ago. This discovery of a new world, and a naturally gifted voice, compelled him to abandon his work as a trained visual artist, teacher of wilderness survival, and part-time burlesque dancer to embark on a journey into the old songs of The British Isles. London born and bred, Samʼs musical training came via a unique four year apprenticeship under the legendary, late Scottish Traveller Stanley Robertson – last of the great ballad singers. Sam became the musical ʻnext of kinʼ to Stanleyʼs vast repertoire of songs and an ancient, idiosyncratic Traveller singing craft. Sam has also spent time researching and documenting the music and stories of the Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller communities.
Sam Lee’s impact on the music scene began several years before his emergence as a singer in his role as an award-winning promoter and live events producer. Under the banner of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ Club of the Year, ‘The Magpie’s Nest’ (now ‘The Nest Collective’), Sam and his team played a key role in the resurgence of the current thriving live folk music scene and most crucially, fired up interest in traditional music amongst younger performers and audiences. The Nest Collective continues to be behind many innovative concerts in London and on festival stages throughout the UK.
Regarded as something of a provocateur by some, many see Sam as a pioneer. In 2011, Sam was presented with an Arts Foundation Award by artist Grayson Perry, which for the first time recognised and honoured folk music amongst the art forms. Likewise, his band, Sam Lee and Friends, carve a new acoustic sound with their often homemade instrumentation using unconventional and contemporary arrangements. Together they challenge preconceptions of what ʻtraditional folkʼ should sound like.
In his time, Sam has also been a teacher at Newcastle University, Goldsmiths College, the EFDSS and holds the accolade of being the first folk singer ever to teach and sing at the Royal College of Music. In 2009, Sam starred in the 9 minute folk-popvideo ʻThe Gainsborough Packetʼ, an art film directed by Beckʼs Futures winner Matt Stokes. In July 2011 Sam was featured in a piece on the rise of folk music in the UK edition of Vogue Magazine. He was also a main contributor to the 8-part Sky TV series ʻTravellerʼs Got Talentʻ which aired in November 2011, as well as being the musical director for the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of the postal service aired in December 2011. In 2012, Sam performed a showcase at WOMEX, where his impact was such that it has helped lead to work all over Europe, as well as Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Sweden and Finland.
Sam has continued to reinterpret the stories and songs of the Scottish, Irish Traveller and English Gypsy communities. With his band, the Friends, their distinctive sound has led to collaborations with Secret Cinema and Laura Marling. Sam has participated in talks at 5 x 15, has a regular show on Resonance FM radio and he’s also made an appearance in the BBC’s recent series ‘Peaky Blinders’; all of which have propelled Sam Lee and Friends into new and uncharted territories, where they have flourished.
Ahead of the release of his much anticipated second album, Sam Lee and Friends released a taster 4-track EP in May, ‘More For To Rise’. Developed from songs collected by Sam from diverse parts of the Gypsy and Traveller community, ‘More For To Rise’ was recorded at Imogen Heap’s studio and was produced by Penguin Cafe’s Arthur Jeffes together with Jamie Orchard-Lisle.