Innocence and experience: John Fox’s songs

Regular readers (thank you for your interest) will know my admiration and affection for John Fox, Sue Gill and the extended family of Welfare State International. Their work caught my imagination 40 years ago, and remains a source of inspiration, perhaps because of its differences with my own. If you haven’t come across them, you might start with this earlier post. John and Sue have both marked their eightieth years, in characteristic fashion, with art, family and friends, and, as will surprise no one who has encountered them, both continue to create new work and reflect on past experiences. Sue’s memoir of a life entwined in art was published earlier this year, and now comes John’s songs of innocence and experience, drawn from fifty years of collaborations with composers and musicians.

I read music as easily as I decipher Cyrillic (painfully, with a dictionary) so I can’t say much about that side of this chest of treasures. On the other hand, I’ve always loved John’s way with words, in poems and lyrics especially. His poetry is like flint, that remarkable stone that defies carving but can shatter and split, giving off the sparks of life, and can be built with if you bring care and ingenuity. Flint is found in chalk, its blackness held in soft friable white, that symbol of the English landmass and themedium of schoolroom instruction. John’s words are tough, rough and tender all at once—hard and soft, black and white, innocence and experience, never one without the other. Whether you want to play these songs or read the lyrics, I heartily recommend ordering a copy of Foxy’s Song Book. It is as enduring as flint and as welcoming as a chalk down.

  • Buy Foxy’s Song Book, ‘a manual for individuals and groups to sing from. It contains 51 songs with lyrics by John Fox and his drawings, mainly light-hearted. Designed for the piano with clear and simple arrangements for every song, a few for choirs.’ – £12 +£3 UK P&P
  • Buy In All My Born Days, Sue Gill’s ‘vivid picture of an industrious and contented life, a portrait of a woman who values the extraordinary in the everyday, who loves and celebrates her family and friends and her own very particular place in the world’ –£14.99 +£3 UK P&P


  1. Another wonderful post, thanks to you. Will have a little treat of Sue’s book in the New Year! Also, thanks so much for all your amazing posts during the year – they have kept me going – always inspiring and so much to think on. I have the podcasts to hand to listen over the festive period. Bests Griselda

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