Mudcat Café message #3885952 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162917   Message #3885952
Posted By: Jim Carroll
31-Oct-17 - 09:46 AM
Thread Name: What is Happening to our Folk Clubs
Subject: RE: What is Happening to our Folk Clubs
It occurs to me that one of the great contributors to our enjoyment of folk song should have a say in all this - this may take some time - apologies in advance
Walter Pardon was born in 1914 into a family of mainly agricultural workers employed on local farms, he was an only child and was brought up in a household made up of his parents and two elderly uncles, all singers, the most notable one being his Uncle, Billy Gee
He spent his time at home in the company of the old men, in a mobile shepherds hut used as a shed, where they would sing him songs as long as he would listen, Walter was the only one they would give their songs to.
The only time he heard them sing outside the bounds of the family was at Agricultural Workers Union Meetings, through te window because he wasn't allowed in
They had learned their songs in the latter half of the nineteenth century, if they had any 'modern' ones, they never sang them to him
Walter's only contact with a wider singing tradition was as a child, when he attended a couple of 'Harvest Suppers' at the farm where the family worked
When the farm closed, the only singing was at home, at Christmas and family birthdays, it was the only place Walter ever sang publicly, 'The Dark Eyed Sailor' because "nobody else wanted that".
He described to us how he and his contemporaries, cousins, parted company in musical taste in the 20s and 30s when they went for the modern stuff and he still stuck to the "old folk songs" (his term, which he probably picked up from equating the family songs with what was taught as school through the Sharp, 'Folksongs for Schools project'

When Walter returned from the army in 1946 both his uncles had died, so he set about gathering his family songs in a couple of hard-backed exercise books, we have them here, dated 1946 and 1947.
Although Walter knew many dozens of music hall songs, Victorian parlour ballads and popular songs of the day, tanks to his Dyson-like memory, none were include in the books
He went around various family members piecing the songs together and he memorised the tunes on an old melodeon, the condition of which probably accounts for his unique tunes.
After his parents died he lived alone in the family home playing the tunes and singing the songs to himself right up to the 1970s when a nephew, Roger Dixon, who was Peter Bellamy's tutor in college, persuaded him to put them down on tape, he bought a tape recorder and did so, the rest is history.
WE have the tape he made archived here, some of his best songs along with a hilarious story from him of how he made it.

Walter later filled in texts of the parts of songs he had gathered with the help of various friends in the revival.
In all Walter had around 120 folk songs and broadsides, he could have added dozens of music hall, Victorian and early pop songs to that list, but was reluctant to do so, he didn't rate them as folk or important
The last song he pieced together from memory was
'The Steam Arm' a music hall piece he had learned from local man, Harry Sexton, who had picked it up in a Middlesbrough Music Hall   
He was a Hardy nut and took 'The Tramp-woman's Tragedy' and put a tune to it

Walter was one of the most thoughtful and articulate people on the subject I have ever encountered' he had no problem in distinguishing between the different genres of song in his repertoire, unlike many here.
These ate some of some of the opinions we recorded from him, he gave us many more, sitting in his kitchen over twenty years that we never recorded
Walter was not unique among the old singers we met, but he was the most articulate
All these excepts are from an article Pat and I wrote for a festschrift to our late friend, Tom Munnelly
We entitled it, 'A Simple Countryman', in response to a response by a well-known folkie who told us that he must have been 'got at' because he was only "a simple.."

On folk clubs:
"I had a vague idea they had folk clubs of some description: all these doctors, solicitors etcetera, would go and sing in someone's big house. I never realised, you see, working people done that, never knew a single thing about it".

Walter took to the folk clubs like a duck to water and the clubs took to him with the same enthusiasm

Walter maintained that a good imagination was essential to the singer and felt that his singing had matured in this respect since his first public performances:

....put more expression in probably; I think so. Well, you take these, what we call the old type... the old folk song, they're not like the music hall song, are they, or a stage song, There's a lot of difference in them; it all depend what and how you're singing. Some of them go to nice lively, quick tunes, and others are....... well, if there's a sad old song you don't go through that very quick; UP TO THE RIGS is the opposite way about.
I mean, we must put expression in, you can't sing them all alike. Well, most of the stage songs you could, if you understand what I mean. According to what the song is, you put the expression in or that's not worth hearing; well, that's what I think anyhow."

Walter's always thoughtful evaluation of songs was interesting. He said that, if he performed before a big crowd, he liked to sing THE PRETTY PLOUGHBOY: "because it ends happily; so many ended with being transported or shot or something going wrong; like VAN DIEMAN'S LAND - a sad old song". He also said it "was a long old song but it was a long old journey", an indication of the strength of his sympathy and identification with the story.

J. C.    When you're singing in a club or at a festival, what do you see when you're singing?
W. P.   Actually what I'm singing about; like reading a book. You can always imagine you can see what's happening there; you might as well not read it.
P. M.   How do you see it, as a moving thing or as a..?
W. P.   That's right. The pretty ploughboy was always ploughing in the fields over there; that's where that was supposed to be.
J. C.    How about VAN DIEMAN'S LAND?
W. P. Well, that's sort of imagination what that was really like; I mean, Warwickshire; going across, you know, to Australia; seeing them chained to a harrow and plough and that sort of thing; chained hand-to-hand, all that. You must have imagination to see, I think so.            
That's the same as reading a book: you must have imagination to see where that is, I think so; well I do anyhow.
P. M.   But you never shut your eyes when you're singing, do you?
W. P.   No, no.
P. M.   So if you haven't got a microphone to concentrate on; if you're singing in front of an audience, where do you look?
W. P.   Down my nose, like that!

Walter's ability to differentiate between the various types of song in his repertoire belied the popular perception of the traditional singer as being totally non-discriminatory. This is how he explained how he judged the age of his tunes with the aid of his accordeon:

.....Well yes, because there's a difference in the types of the music, that's another point. You can tell VAN DIEMAN'S LAND is fairly old by the sound, the music, and IRISH MOLLY and MARBLE ARCH is shortened up; they shortened them in the Victorian times. And so they did more so in the Edwardian times. Some songs then, you'd hardly start before you'd finish, you see; you'd only a four line verse, two verses and a four line chorus and that'd finish. You'd get that done in half a minute; and the music wasn't as good. Yes, the style has altered. You can nearly tell by THE BROOMFIELD HILL, that's an old tune; THE TREES THEY DO GROW HIGH, you can tell, and GENERALS ALL.
Nine times out of ten, I can get an old fashioned ten keyed accordion, German tuned, you can nearly tell what is an old song. Of course, that doesn't matter what modern songs there is, the bellows always close when that finish, like that. And you go right back to the beginning of the nineteenth and eighteenth [century], they finish this way, pulled out, look. You take notice how GENERALS ALL, that got an old style of finishing, so have THE TREES THEY DO GROW HIGH, so have THE GALLANT SEA FIGHT, in other words, A SHIP TO OLD ENGLAND CAME, that is the title, THE GALLANT SEA FIGHT. You can tell they're old by the drawn out note at the finish. Well, a lot of them you'll find, what date back years and years, there's a difference in the style of writing the music. Like up into Victorian times, you've got OLD BROWN'S DAUGHTER; well that style started altering, they started shortening the songs up, everything shortened up, faster and quicker, and the more new they get, the more faster they get, the styles alter. I think you'll find if you check on that, that's right".

Hope this isn't too long; it probably is, but when it comes to Walter, I'm, always reluctant to leave anything out
Jim Carroll