Mudcat Café message #3893499 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3893499
Posted By: Vic Smith
12-Dec-17 - 06:24 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
The review of this book in fRoots magazine appears on page 65 of the December 2017 issue. In the penultimate sentence of his review, Steve Hunt reaches the same conclusion as Dr. Vic Gammon (above) does in the first sentence of his -

Folk Song In England
Steve Roud
Faber & Faber (ISBN 978-0-571-30971-9)
Pete Seeger, in an interview with The New Republic, once recalled his father saying: "The truth is a rabbit in a bramble patch. And you can't lay your hand on it. All you can do is circle around and point, and say, 'It's in there somewhere'." English folk song is a well-documented subject, yet the truth about its origins, transmission, environment and mechanics often appear contradictorily elu?sive. Originally published by Faber & Faber in 1967, the paperback edition of AL Lloyd's Folk Song In England carried this Melody Maker quote on its back cover. "It is unlikely during your lifetime any book on folk music half so important as this will be published." The arrival, 50 years later, of an identically-titled book from the self-same publisher anticipates something epochal - a book that exists not just to expand previous knowledge but to supplant accepted truths.
With fRoots' resident academics all previously engaged to author lengthy critiques for learned vernacular music publications like Folk Music Review or Metal Hammer, the task of appraising this book has somehow befallen me - a (perhaps) typical folk Joe Soap whose previous study falls well short of extensive research in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, but extends a fair way beyond fleeting Mudcat Cafe visits to confirm the continued absence of singing horses.
Steve Roud is the founder of the Roud Folksong Index (started in 1970 and now standing at 250,000 entries) and co-editor of The New Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs. Folk Song In England, like The Streams Of Lovely Nancy, divides in three parts: "Chart?ing The History Of Folk Study"; "Folk Song In The Wider Musical World" and "Folk Song In Its Natural Habitats", with two chapters (the ones most directly concerned with musical theory) by Julia Bishop. Happily, Roud doesn't view himself as 'an academic' either (he apparently prefers to be thought 'scholarly') so despite the book's daunting scale, it's far more accessible than one might expect or fear. Of course, it's not an airport novel. A typical passage (for those shallow types who like to get straight to the pulse-quickening stuff) reads: "As a rule of thumb, we can suggest three broad divisions characterised by the way the notion of sex is introduced into the song: inference; euphemism; and explicit naming of actions and parts. These three categories can be expanded into seven levels..."
It's that very ability to present complex subjects in easily-digestible, bite-sized pieces that makes Folk Song In England so indispensable. Roud describes his work as "primarily an exercise in evidence-gathering." Whilst that may appear a self-deprecatingly modest assessment, his brilliance is attributable to a long and peerless devotion to the librarian skills of cataloguing, indexing and cross-referencing. Steve Roud has read every one of the publications indexed in this book's 31 page bibliography and for that I thank him most sincerely. In so doing he has enabled me to exponentially expand my understanding of the process of tradition by reading just one.
I'll refrain from calling Folk Song In England "definitive" on the basis that Steve Roud - a man whose entire working life has been driven by the conviction that there is always more to discover, would be appalled by the claim. The plain truth is that there won't be a better or more important book abut English folk song in any of our lifetimes. And you can stick that in your bramble patch and point at it.
Stephen Hunt

Incidently, on that same page as this review is my review of As I Walked Out: Sabine Baring-Gould And The Search For The Folk Songs Of Devon And Cornwall Martin Graebe Signal (ISBN 978-1-909930-53-7)
My final sentence of my review reads This volume will stand alongside Steve Roud's as major studies of traditional song.