My first writing was a piece about the nascent Electric Phoenix, pitched to the contemporary music journal Contact. Editor Keith Potter (no relation) declined it (too similar to the earlier Contact article on Tim Souster’s band OdB that had inspired mine), but he asked me to review some concerts of Xenakis and Ferneyhough. It was a one-off and formative experience: I realised I knew far too much about the messy nitty gritty of performing ever to be able to write an objective review. I was happier to accept an invitation from The Composer to write about singing with electronics. I was then too busy with performance projects until I began my PhD. This yielded an article on Louis Armstrong for the OU Graduates Association and a piece for Popular Music on women singers as composer-poets. Then in 1998 Cambridge University Press published Vocal Authority, a re-working of my PhD thesis (which had been supervised by the legendary Richard Middleton) which outlined a Gramscian theory of vocal style and has remained my most quoted book.
CUP then asked me to edit The Cambridge Companion to Singing, to which I also contributed chapters on ensemble singing and jazz (the latter when my chosen author didn’t deliver). Various articles and reviews for musical journals followed, and then Yale commissioned Tenor: History of a Voice. A longer term project was A History of Singing which I co-wrote for Cambridge University Press with my York colleague Neil Sorrell. I contributed to two Cambridge Histories, and a piece for History Today with Jez Wells on the organ of Notre Dame on the occasion of the fire. I have increasingly felt that academic writing needlessly limits itself to a very small readership, and was delighted to be asked by Yale to write a book on song that would be aimed beyond the academic bubble.
Song: a History in 12 Parts
I’m sometimes asked if I’d still write Vocal Authority today. My usual answer is a cautious yes, but with the proviso that it was aimed beyond the academic bubble in which most of my stuff lives. During lockdown I had a go, and wrote From Leonin to Led Zeppelin: adventures in Old and New Music. It dealt with many of the issues raised in my first book but in the context of a musical memoir that covered everything from life as a chorister to Berio and Stockhausen, the Hilliards’ Officium and singing songs given to me by Sting, Tony Banks and John Paul Jones. It turned out to be still too academic for the trade press and not academic enough for my usual publishers so it’s currently on the back burner.
But to my great surprise and delight, Yale University Press then asked me to write a book on song; not an ‘academic’ tome but one that was actually readable. After some discussion about the title and format, and some favourable and creative reports from peer reviewers, Song was the result.
It was huge fun to write. Once you get away from the pseudo-objectivity of academia you start to tell a story that means something to you personally, as a human being. I didn’t want to analyse the music (though there’s a bit of that), but rather to share thoughts on who wrote it, where, when and why. If I had a model (I don’t really) I’d go for Helen Waddell on medieval Latin poets, or Fiona Maddocks on Hildegard von Bingen (or more recently and slightly tangentially Charlotte Higgins’ Under Another Sky). These authors love their subjects and aren’t afraid to tell you so, without losing sight of the broader context. Song is a personal history based largely on what I’ve sung, so there are big gaps and you may not agree with my choices (or what I say about them...).
I was especially pleased to have endorsements from Manfred Eicher, for whom I’ve recorded for many decades; Sting, whose music embraces the past, present and future; my old Swingle colleague soprano and broadcaster Catherine Bott; Kerry Andrew, multi-talented author, composer and singer, and the great saxophonist and composer John Surman.
Articles, book chapters, liner notes etc
‘Pier Francesco Tosi: Opinioni de’ cantori antichi, e moderni’
MFAE Lexicon (2023)
‘Gavin Byars and the Voice’
Gavin Bryars Kahn & Averill (2023)
Matthew Boyden The Tenor: a Cultural History
The Record Collector (March 2022)
'Making Early Music: Present in the Past'
Soanyway 9 June 2021
Trio Mediaeval Solacium: Hymns & Lullabies
Lindberg Lyd 2L-165-SABD (2021)
‘British Tenors before Peter Pears’
The Record Collector December 2020
‘Listening to Josquin’s Lute’
Jacob Heringman: Josquin Vol 2
Resonus Classics INV1004 (2020)
‘Artefacts and Rituals’
Arve Henriksen: the Timeless Nowhere
Rune Grammofon RLP 3210 (2019)
Jez Wells & John Potter
‘The Lost Voice of Notre Dame’
History Today 69/7 July 2019
‘Issues in the modern performance of medieval music’
Cambridge History of Medieval Music ed Mark
Everist & Thomas Forrest Kelly (Cambridge University Press 2018)
‘Voice, genre, species? How the tenor voice has been defined since the first recordings’
Der Tenor: Mythos Geschichte Gegenwart ed Corinna Herr
(Königshausen & Neumann 2017)
‘In my End is my Music’
Officium: Twenty Years
Programme booklet King’s College Cambridge 6.12.2014
Richard Wistreich & John Potter
‘Singing Early Music: a Conversation’
Early Music (February 2013)
‘Vocal performance in the long eighteenth century'
The Cambridge History of Musical Performance
ed Colin Lawson & Robin Stowell (Cambridge University Press 2012)
‘Almost as Good as Presley’: Caruso the Pop Idol
Public Domain Review February 2012
‘Early Music Discoveries and Experiments’
Horizons Touched: the Music of ECM
ed Steve Lake & Paul Griffiths (Granta Books, 2007)
‘The tenor-castrato connection’
Early Music XXXV/1 (February 2007)
‘The Communicative Rest’
Music & Silence ed. Losseff & Doctor (Ashgate, 2007)
‘‘Beggar at the Door’: the Rise and Fall of Portamento’
Music & Letters 87/4 (2006) reprinted in
Classical and Romantic Music ed David Milsom (Routledge, 2011)
‘Magister Leoninus: the First Great Polyphonist‘
Goldberg October 2005
‘Arvo Pärt and the Hilliard Ensemble: a Harmonious Meeting’
Programme booklet Durham University 15.10.2003
ABRSM Handbook ed Anthony Burton
(London, ABRSM, 2003)
‘Past perfect & future fictions’
Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis XXVI (2002)
Songlines (Gramophone Publications) Summer 1999
‘Performance in Practice’
Gramophone Early Music Autumn 1999
'Reconstructing Lost Voices'
Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music ed Knighton & Fallows
(Dent 1992, rpr OUP 1998)
'Speaking in Tongues'
Dance Theatre Journal 13/1 (1996)
The Singer not the Song: Women Singers as Composer-poets’
Popular Music 13/2 (1994)
All four books are now available in paperback.
View titles on Amazon >
Concerts & Bookings
For concerts worldwide, John Potter, The Alternative History Quartet and The Dowland Project are represented by:
Robert White Artist Management
182 Moselle Avenue
LONDON N22 6EX
Tel: + 44 (0)208 881 6914
Email John Potter
For all other enquiries please email John Potter directly using the contact form below: