Paul Graney


Historian, Climber, Collector, Pipe fitter, Pace egger, Photographer, Much more’

Paul Graney’s business card

This Nelson lad was a pioneer of oral history. He experienced the Jarrow and Hunger Marches, mass trespasses, and Mosley and his Blackshirts. With his trusty tape recorder, he was a folk song and local history collector, who recorded almost everything, from 1960s BBC programmes on Lancashire dialect to bootlegs of folk clubs and meetings of the Northern folk revival’s inner circle. The Paul Graney Archive is a treasure trove of priceless social history.

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Paul Graney was born in 1908 in Manchester. The family moved to Rochdale, and then on to Nelson. Like many children in 1920s Lancashire, Paul started as a half-timer, attending school half the day, and working in the mill the other half. Before long, Paul was full timing at the mill with his mother and his sister, minding the looms.

After going between a few jobs, he then found himself ‘on tramp’ for work after feeling the bite of the Means Test. His business card lists him as ‘Historian, Climber, Collector, Pipe fitter, Pace egger, Photographer, Much more’.

He took his reel-to-reel recorder to hundreds of folk gigs in the 1960s and 1970s. His Archive has an astonishing mixture of recordings. There are Italian operas, Botswana Land folk songs, a tape entitled “Christmas at Mike Harding’s house”, Appalachian songs, bird songs and so much more.

He knew a lot of the performers from the 1960s folk revival and would write songs based on Lancashire and Manchester’s industrial heritage or find them information out of the library archive that they could use in future concerts. Paul would also find information and songs out of “The Archive” which is what Paul called his collection of tapes.

Paul was a pioneer of oral history and he recognised the value of people’s experiences and memories, and the importance of getting these ‘on record’, whether it was people talking about their childhood, their work, their town, or their music.

Paul Graney died in 1982 and his friends ensured that his extraordinary archive was saved. There’s a remarkable set of handwritten notes on Manchester’s history and song lyrics, some of which were made by Paul in the Central Library.

This extract is by Jennifer Reid. Read her full blog post on Paul Graney here.

For Pendle Radicals

Jennifer Reid, singer and researcher of industrial ballads, developed a Lancashire dialect group inspired by Paul during 2019/2020.  The group sessions have concluded now, but we hope to organise a visit to the Paul Graney Archive at Manchester Central Library – watch for news.

Explore further

The Paul Graney Archive at Manchester Central Library can be visited by appointment, you can find a taste of it HERE.

One Bloke, Paul’s own story of his inter-war years, is available in paperback, published by Bluecoat Press.