Alfred William “Bob” Roberts was a British folk singer, songwriter, storyteller, bargeman, author, and journalist associated particularly with the Suffolk coast. He was the last captain of a British commercial sailing vessel.
Bob Roberts was brought up in a musical family. Both his parents taught in the local school and his father ran the church choir, played the piano, church organ, melodeon, concertina and fiddle.
He gained a choral scholarship to Wimborne Grammar School, which he left at 17 to become a journalist, eventually working as a sports reporter for the Daily Mail on Fleet Street. However his real love was sailing, both for work and pleasure, and he went on two long sea voyages complete with ship’s cat and melodeon before leaving the newspaper to work as a mate, and then a skipper on a Thames sailing barge.
In the late 1960’s he ran the Cambria sailing boat as an owner-skipper before replacing it with a small motor coaster which he used to carry china clay, coke, soya beans and scrap metal around the UK and over to Europe.
He moved to the Isle of Wight with his wife Toni in the 1970’s and recorded his last two albums.
Working as a bargeman allowed Roberts to collect songs from bargemen and others he met along the East Anglian coast, which he added to his repertoire of his own songs. During this time he carried on writing to supplement his income with books and articles.
He had amassed quite a repertoire of songs by the 1950s and gained a reputation as a great singer and storyteller, respected by musicians and bargemen alike. A meeting with folklorist Peter Kennedy, who was making recordings for the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the BBC, led to them working together recording various musicians for a BBC folk programme.
In 1966, Roberts read five seafaring stories on the BBC children’s programme Jackanory.
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- Collection 1 #27
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