Three Score and Ten

Three Score and Ten: A Voice to the People is a multi-CD box set album issued by Topic Records in 2009 to celebrate 70 years as an independent British record label.

Three Score & Ten: A Voice to the People
Three Score and Ten Album Image.jpg
Box set by
Various Artists
Released14 September 2009 (2009-09-14)[1]
Recorded1939 - 2009
ProducerDavid Suff

The album consists of a hardback book containing the seven CDs and a paper insert detailing the Topic release list, complemented by a card insert to balance the release list.

The boxed set provides examples of recordings from the beginning of the label in 1939. Topic Records headlines their web site as Traditional and Contemporary Folk from the British Isles[2] but in its history many other genres have appeared on the label. The album provides many examples including tracks from British Music Hall, blues, roots and World Music amongst others.

The album was curated, researched and produced by David Suff[3]:108 of Fledg'ling Records.


David Suff gave an interview to Simon Holland for Properganda on 27 July which included details of the research and length of time involved in compiling the boxed set.[4] Simon then interviewed Tony Engle on 7 August about the album and the work of Topic records.[5] This interview included a track from each of the CDs in the boxed set.

Mike Harding interviewed Tony Engle about the album and anniversary on 2 September 2009 on his BBC Radio 2 folk music show.

Topic Records co-hosted three concerts at London's South Bank to celebrate the 70 year anniversary and promote the boxed set.[6] These were held on Friday 11 September 2009 at the Royal Festival Hall featuring The Waterson Family and the Eliza Carthy Band,[7] Thursday 17 September 2009 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall featuring the Martin Simpson Big Band and Friday 18 September 2009 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall featuring June Tabor.

There were 2 additional concerts as part of this celebration. Saturday 19 September 2009 at the Purcell Rooms featuring Folklahoma and the Magpies Nest. Friday 25 September 2009 at the Kalamazoo Klub at the Union Chapel, London featuring Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick.

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
The Guardian     [8]
The Telegraph     [9]
Observer Music Monthly     [9]
Allmusic     [10]

The box set was received with a lot of very positive comment by the general and specialist press


Songlines review by Tim Cumming said "its one of the finest boxed sets I have ever seen".[11]

Robin Denselow in the Guardian said "the oldest truly independent record label in the world, and the most important company in the story of British folk music, celebrates its 70th birthday this summer, and this fascinating, thoughtfully produced seven-CD set and 108-page hardback book marks the anniversary in style".[8]

The Doug Spencer on Australian ABC Radio National's Weekend Planet said "This is one of the more remarkable boxed compilations, ever. It has many English gems, but not only English ones".[12]

Redlick said "This is obviously a huge labour of love and a wonderful tribute to a record label respected the world over".[13]

Charles de Lint in the Green Man review said "This is timeless music that will undoubtedly sound just as good and relevant in another seventy years".[14]


The album won fRoots Reissues and Compilations of the Year and Best Packaged Album of the Year in 2009.[15]


The package consists of a 108-page hard-backed book with 4 CDs in the front cover and 3 CDs in the back cover together with a booklet cataloguing all the recordings issued by Topic up to the publication in 2009 and a card insert to balance the recordings list.

The dust jacket shows a photograph of Louis Killen and Frankie Armstrong and the book cover shows Reg Hall and Scan Tester.

The book details the history of Topic records with a number of spotlight studies of key albums, and brief biographies relating to Topic of artists and other personnel involved in the record label from the start up to the date of issue of the album.[16]

Hardback bookEdit


The hardback book provides a history of Topic Records from its start as a subscription label run by the Workers Music Association issuing 78rpm shellac records, through the introduction of vinyl and its associated formats to CDs and subsequent to the boxed set the release of some of the older albums as downloads. The book contains pictures of album covers and artists that recorded them for Topic with a chronological history of the label up to 2009.

As part of this history there are spotlight studies of classic records and short biographies of key personnel and performers.

Spotlight Studies of Classic RecordsEdit

Title Artist(s) Reference Year
Her Mantle so Green Margaret Barry and Michael Gorman 12T123 1965
The Iron Muse A Panorama of Industrial Folk Music Various Artists 12T86 1963
Frost and Fire The Watersons 12T163 1965
Paddy in the Smoke Irish Music from a London Pub Various Artists 12T176 1968
For Pence and Spicy Ale The Watersons 12T265 1975
Penguin Eggs Nic Jones 12TS411 1980
Handful of Earth Dick Gaughan 12TS419 1981
Aqaba June Tabor 12TS449 1988
Waterson:Carthy Waterson–Carthy (Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy) TSCD475 1994
Unity John Tams TSCD508 2000
the Voice of the People Various Artists TSCD651 – 670 1998
Anglicana Eliza Carthy TSCD539 2002
Prodigal Son Martin Simpson TSCD567 2007


Name Reason for Inclusion
Alan Bush Helped found the WMA in 1936 and was elected the first president of the association in 1941
A L Lloyd Was appointed artistic director of Topic records which was officially only for one year but was a powerful influence over many years with Ewan MacColl.
Ewan MacColl With Bert Lloyd was a driving force behind the folk revival after the second world war.
Bill Leader Recording engineer and producer who recorded a lot for Topic records and other companies before setting up his own record company with 2 labels, Leader and Trailer.
Dick Swettenham Electronics engineer who worked with Bill Leader and developed the first transistorised control desk in the world
Gerry Sharp Accountant and business manager who kept the business on a financial even keel in its early days
Reg Hall[17] Musician associated with Topic records since 1963 as an accompanist, compiler and annotator of many recordings.
Tony Engle Joined Topic in 1963 and took over the label in 1973 following Gerry Sharp’s death

Catalogue of releasesEdit

The catalogue details all the releases from the first record through to 2009. Each record is assigned a number starting from 1 with a prefix that denotes the format of issue.

Prefix Format First Issue Last Issue Comments
TRC (Topic Record Club 78rpm record 1939 1958
TRL 12 Inch Long Playing Record 1956 1956
12T 12 Inch Long Playing Record 1958 1990 an S after the T signifies a stereo recording
10T 10 Inch Long Playing Record 1957 1960
T 10 Inch Long Playing Record 1956 1956
8T 8 Inch Long Playing Record 1957 1957
7T 7 Inch microgroove LP (playing at 33 1/3rpm) 1957 1958 Only 3 records issued
TOP 7 Inch microgroove EP 1958 1958 S prefix indicates a stereo record. This prefix was used in 2014 for a special issue. Some of the titles appear to be single records.
TPS Sampler 1964 1973 Length and size not specified
12TFRS Free Reed label recordings 1975 1977
SPD Special Delivery 1987 1995
TSCD Compact disk 1990 present day If the album was originally issued as a record then the number is re-used

The catalogue details The Voice of the People series separately.

Ewan MacColl’s Radio Ballads which were originally issued by Argos are listed as they are available though Topic.

A separate section details the Topic World Series CDs. A section details the only recording issued under the WMA heading.

Three further sections detail the Impact and String labels.

Track listingEdit

The seven CDs are themed covering different aspects of the Topic catalogue with a title appropriate to the content. The composer of the track will be displayed under the track name with Traditional when appropriate. A reference to external numbering systems for songs will be used where identified for traditional songs. The references are from the three major numbering schemes for folk songs, the Roud Folk Song Index, Child Ballad Numbers originating from Francis James Child and the Laws Numbers from the George Malcolm Laws numbering system. The original recordings are detailed in the listings. Many of these were not available at the time of issue but are now available as downloads from the usual sources with the original sleeve notes being made available by Topic from their web site.

Disk one – . . . a selection of treasures from the Topic catalogueEdit

The disk contains a range of the music from various parts of the English speaking world that Topic Records has issued over its 70-year history. These include English folk songs, instrumentals including dance music, American blues, music hall and a recent composition that is regularly played by Irish folk groups. Track 2 is an instrumental issued as part of a joint album with Alexis Korner. This track and track 4 are now available as digital downloads of either the track or the full recording. Track 3 is a dance tune played on the Jew's Harp. Track 10 is from an album in the series "The Voice of the People" and is from a traditional English singer as is track 13. Track 12 was originally issued by Fontana in 1969 and is licensed to Topic by Polygram through Gama Records. The tracks are mainly from recordings issued in a variety for formats by Topic with track 15 from a Special Delivery album.

Disc two - England Arise!Edit

The second disk contains English folk music and includes a number of traditional singers providing a link to the time when this music was the popular music of the country. The disk has the first of two tracks from "The Sweet Primeroses". Track 1 features an excerpt from the music used for an English folk custom dance performed each Easter in Bacup. All the recordings were originally issued on Topic albums either vinyl or as a CD.

Disk three - Ireland Boys, HurrahEdit

The third disk concentrates on the Folk music of Ireland, including traditional musicians from all the provinces. The disk features more instrumental tracks that the other national disks. A number of the tracks were recorded outside Ireland from members of the Irish diaspora. Track 8 features an unnamed slow air before the Blackbird. Track 23 features the unusual folk music instrument the hammer dulcimer. All the recordings were originally issued on Topic 12 inch vinyl albums except track 9 which was issued on a 10-inch vinyl record.

Disk four - Scotia The BraveEdit

This disk covers Scottish folk music with both traditional and revival artists included. All the recordings are from Topic releases in a variety of formats from singles through vinyl albums to CDs.

Disk five - The Singer & The SongEdit

This disk concentrates on compositions in a traditional style with the composer often singing the song. All the recordings were issued on either Topic or Special Delivery.

Disk six - The People’s FlagEdit

This disk covers the music that closely reflects the origins of Topic records with the Workers Music Association. Both sides of the original record issued by Topic are featured on this disk as track 1 and track 8. Versions of track 3, Joe Hill, are the third most popular selection on the radio show Desert Island Discs for British Labour Party Politicians, with this version being selected by Ed Miliband.[18] Track 11 is the second track from the Sweet Primeroses album in the compilation. The title track of the album by the Watersons is on this CD with the original album available as a download. All the recordings were issued on either Topic or Special Delivery.

Disk seven - . . . even more treasures from the Topic catalogueEdit

The seventh and last disk in the set contains more tracks from the Topic records catalogue and features a number from non-English speaking countries. Three of the tracks feature music from the Balkans, two of the albums collected by A. L. Lloyd and one by Wolf Dietrich. Acts from the United States are well represented. All the recordings were issued on Topic except track 18 which was issued on a Free Reed album. and include 1 of the Topic World Series Albums.


  1. ^ "Mainly Norfolk Review". Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  2. ^ "Topic Records Home page". Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  3. ^ Three Score and Ten acknowledgements
  4. ^ Holland, Simon (27 July 2009). "David Suff interview with Properganda magazine". Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  5. ^ Holland, Simon (7 August 2009). "Tony Engle interview for Properganda magazine". Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  6. ^ "Topic Records 70 Anniversary Concerts". Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  7. ^ Denselow, Robin (15 September 2009). "Guardian Review of Topic 70th Anniversary Concert with the Waterson Family". Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  8. ^ a b Denselow, Robin (11 September 2009). "Guardian Review". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  9. ^ a b "Wordpress summary of reviews". Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  10. ^ Anderson, Rick. Allmusic Three Score and Ten Review at AllMusic. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  11. ^ Cumming, Tim (October 2009), "World's oldest indie gives itself a birthday present", Songlines Magazine, 63 (October 2009): 72
  12. ^ Spencer, Doug (21 November 2009). "ABC Radio National Review Topic Records:Three Score and Ten". Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  13. ^ "Relick Mail-Order Site Review". Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  14. ^ de Lint, Charles. "Green Man Review". Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  15. ^ "wordpress announcement of fRoots awards to the album". Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Topic Records Catalogue notes". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  17. ^ "Reg Hall biography". Topic Records. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  18. ^ Kettle, Martin (21 November 2014). "Will Theresa May toe party line on Desert Island Discs?". Guardian newspaper. Retrieved 28 January 2015.