Mudcat Café message #3879264 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3879264
Posted By: Brian Peters
29-Sep-17 - 08:25 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
Perhaps it works better as a dipping-in book than if you try to plough your way through the lot, Mike?

Richard Mellish wrote:
The main (tentative) conclusion that I have drawn so far is that, in the various more-or-less informal / non-commercial settings in which people have sung songs, those songs have typically included some very recent ones and some older ones, but at any given time not very many that were more than a century or so old.

I think your summation is pretty good, Richard. However, it looks to me as though the book is not going to give us a decisive answer to what is 'folk' and what is not. For instance, on p 23 we read: "A singer may take a song from the printed page, or in school, a church, or a theatre, but as soon as he or she starts to sing it, and others take it up, it becomes 'folk'." But that's ambiguous: is it 'folk' the moment the first singer takes it up, or only when it's passed on? Two pages later it looks like it's not just passing it on to your mate in the pub that's important, but that it needs to have been around for about two generations.

But those music hall songs and parlour songs that Sharp and others are criticised for ignoring when they went out with their notebooks in the 1900s were probably composed during the lifetimes of the singers they met (who were predominantly elderly). So had they become 'folk' by that time or not?

On p. 322 we have Flora Thompson describing village pub singing in the 1880s and telling us that the most popular songs 'would have arrived complete with tune from the outer world'. Were these less 'folk' than 'The Outlandish Knight' when it was sung in the same session?

Then on p. 390, Roud quotes farm labourer Fred Kitchen describing the music hall / parlour songs sung by his companions on their way to Martlemass Fair in Doncaster around 1905. At the time these were modern popular songs, but Roud suggests that, by the time American collectors started to note down the same songs in the 1920s / 30s, 'they had had time to bed down as 'folk'.

I know there will be people reading this who will see no point whatsoever in the debate, but since this book is probably the most complete statement we'll ever get on English folk song, it's interesting that there still seem to be quite a few loose ends.