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GUEST,Jim Carroll how important is the label traditional singer? (254* d) RE: how important is the label traditional singer? 29 Sep 07

Didn't intend to give the impression (re Walter's singing) about source singers. My belief (unproven but tested to some extent) is that most traditional singers 'saw their songs'.
Irish Traveller, Mikeen McCarthy said it was like sitting in the cinema when he sang. Walter had full descriptions of all the personnel in his songs. He once pointed out of his window and told us that the field opposite is house was where the Pretty Ploughboy ploughed.
He also drew inspiration from reading, (in his case, Dickens and Hardy mainly), for instance, using Charles Reade's book on transportation (can't remember the title) for Van Deiman's Land. I'll dig up a transcript of the interview (don't think I'm explaining this too well).
In my experience as an ex-revival singer, people learn songs for a whole load of reasons: good tune, nice poetry, special occasions (we used to do feature evenings in the clubs I was resident at), even an isolated line that takes your fancy. The trick is keeping them alive for yourself if you wish to go on singing them.
I was always under the impression that traditional singers never had this problem. Sam Larner sang the same song every week through most of his life (Butter and Cheese and All) at his local singing session, yetit always remained fresh. When he talked about the song he always told the listener about the big chimneys in his village where the young men hid to escape the press gangs.
I agree with you totally about maintaining a balance, but if you can get a song to click while you're working on it, you have always got that to fall back on.
One of the most skillful singers we recorded was a blind Travelling woman, Mary Delaney. She constantly had difficulty in controlling her emotions when she sang, describing a song, for instance, as "too heavy" (not referring to technique but emotion), and her humourous songs were murder to record (Kilkenny Louse House, Donnelly, Buckled I'd Like To Be) because she constantly burst out laughing in them.
I seldom get anything like that level of involvement from listening to revival singers, quite often coming away with the impression that I have been listening to technique.
Interpretation (ie the passing on of your understanding of a song) is like any other aspect of performance, (articulation, accompaniment etc) can damage a song if overdone. This doesn't negate the value of interpretation any more than it does those other aspects.
Breath and pitch control and voice production are basic to all forms of singing.
As far as Eddie Lenihan is concerned, he rates in my estimation as one of the worst storytellers I have ever heard - personally I couldn't stand him for 20 seconds, never mind twenty minutes. On the other hand, I have listened to a well-sung twenty minute ballad (and a well -told two-hour story) with no effort at all. The music of the ballad is merely the device with which it is communicated.
Jim Carroll

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