Mudcat Café message #3888268 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3888268
Posted By: Jim Carroll
13-Nov-17 - 03:58 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
I'm reluctant to let this slip out of sight without a final word on my position on this subject, so here goes
I have yet to read Roud's book from cover to cover, personal commitments have prevented me from doing so, but I will do in the near future
I do feel I have read enough to form an opinion on some of the subjects covered to have drawn some conclusions.

I'm not an academic, but I have always been an avid reader on folksong pretty well from the mid-sixties and have acquired a substantial library on the subject - fully read.
It seems to me based on that reading that one of the points of Roud's book turns one of my gained opinions on its head - that we can no longer believe folk song to be 'the voice of the people' it was previously believed to be, but that it was created by proven unskilled, desk bound urban hacks scribbling verse for money.
A pretty serious claim and one I'm not prepared to accept without full explanation or at least, minute examination on my part - I have no right to demand an explanation from anybody.

There has always been a tendency from some quarters to suggest that 'the folk' were not skilful enough to have written the ballads, mots clearly put in Phillips Barry's statement in 1939 that To put it in a single phrase, memory not invention is the function of the folk?.   
Now that attitude has spread to include to include virtually all our folk songs - a serious charge, and one too important to let though on the nod.

All our folk literature has, as far as I can make out, regarded that our folk songs were created by the agricultural working people - Child, Sharp, Lomax, Gummere, Wimberley....
Child dismissed the broadsides out of hand, Sharp wrote at length about their malign influence.
From the large number of broadside collections we have on our shelves here I think the quality of hack writing makes it nigh impossible that they could have been the authors of the songs found in collections like Sharp, Greig, Buchan, Child.... dry crumbly chalk compared to fine cheese.

When I have attempted to debate this with one of the main proponents of this argument I have been met with evasion, feeble excuses and often on-the-spot inventions - "English workers were too busy earning a living to make songs", ""hack" doesn't really mean bad writing", "broadside writers gained their knowledge of working practices by serving time at sea or working on the land", "Child was beginning to change his mind about broadsides"....
Examples of working people actually making songs were passed off as "the scribblings of retired people"

Our personal researches over thirty odd years, both in England and Ireland, comprised initially collecting songs, but eventually in interviewing our sources to see where they stood on their art.
In Ireland, we uncovered a large number of local songmakers making songs on any subject that caught their fancy, from local day-to-day experiences to national events viewed locally
That was swept aside by, "it was different in Ireland" - another excuse when you consider that Ireland was under English influence for eight centuries and her song repertoire is loaded with songs and particularly ballads that originated in England and Scotland.

In 1985. Dave Harket published 'Fakesong', a work largely setting our to undermine the work of early collectors by taking it out of context of the time it was carried out.
As the title makes clear, it questions the existence of folk song as a genuine workers culture.
It seems to me that setting out to show that our folk songs originated on the broadside presses is a further step along that road.
It is a serious stap and one that needs carful consideration
Jim Carroll