The Idle Women

The Idle Women were forged by a shared love of the Oxford Canal and a fondness for close harmony singing, folk music and stories that are carried through song. Working together since 2013, the Oxford trio bring share their diverse musical skills, instrumentation and an intimate knowledge of the life on, and along, the Oxford canal.

They have been, writing new material, re-arranging older songs and spreading their infections fondness for the canal and the waterways. Performing at events such as the canal heritage concert, the Canal festival, the night market in oxford, sessions and open-mics in Oxfordshire and arranging the successful soiree Roses & Castles. The trio are not merely traditional folk singers, they are interested in quirky instrumentation, rich vocal harmonies and strong stories which emerge from the heritage and histroy of the canal.

The Idle women borrow their name from the women who worked the canals as part of the WW2 war effort, the waterways equivalent of the women's land army. 'IW' stands for 'Inland waterways' and every woman who did national service was issued with a badge emblazoned with the IW logo. There are many rumours stipulating where the name 'Idle women' came from... Some folks say the working boaters nick-named the women idle because they were learning and were often getting into scrapes on the canal. Others say that the name was given to Susan Woolfitt by her daughter once she had written her book – published under the name of 'Idle women'.  Wherever it came from the women certainly weren't idle, they worked extremely hard,  lived in extrenely close quarters and learnt a lot about boats, engines and carrying cargo.

We are:
Jane Rouse – Vocals, concertina, accapella
Charlie Henry – Vocals,  Accordion, musical saw, baritone & soprano Ukulele, basic cello
Steph Pirrie – Vocals, piano, whistle, trumpet, flugal horn, arrangement


Jane Rouse...

Has written and produced two albums – one entitled A Life on the Water – a collection of songs and tunes she co-collected and recorded.

She toured the album along the canal – performing at canal-side pubs the length and breadth of Oxford Canal.

She has lived aboard narrowboats since 1995.


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Charlie Henry...


Is a versatile performer who has worked a lot in devised theatre and the London folk circuit.

She has been on a boat since 2012 and she loves the transient nature of life along the canal, the proximity to nature, the seaons and the comradery and community of the boaters. She loves to play lots of things a little bit and she writes and sings songs about canal life.

Steph Pirrie...


Is an accomplished choir-leader, performer and musician. 

She leads the much-loved 80 strong choir the Jericho Singers. When not leading choirs Steph can be found playing trumpet in the Cutting Edge Big band, leading disco ceilidh’s with her brilliant group the Hoolie Band and writing and arranging tunes. Steph has lived in a house in Jericho since 1997 and she is a trustee of the Jericho Wharf Trust the organisation seeking to resurrect a community boat-yard at Jericho Wharf.

What people have said about our show...

"Utterly charming x"

"Made me feel like home'


"A really well thought out programme - In turns funny, moving and touching - which was excellently performed and really drew the audience in."


"Thank you for a wonderful evening's entertainment - can't wait for the album and next year's project! 

Thank you so much"


"It made my heart SWELL (in the best way)"


"Really lovely evening, music, stories and insight into 'boating life'"

© 2018 Steph Pirrie

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