Mudcat Café message #3900352 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3900352
Posted By: Sue Allan
18-Jan-18 - 12:26 PM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
From my researches into the broadside and chapbook ballad trade and ballad singers and sellers in Cumbria (I know, a very limited field: but nonetheless presumably not untypical of some other areas in the country), where there were small-town printers and stationers aplenty in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century not only re-publishing material from presses elswhere, but also actively collecting songs for chapbook collections - from, for example, dialect poet and musician Robert Anderson - as well as distributing broadsides and chapbooks from elsewhere.
Later in the nineteenth century printers were often commissioned to print ballads written by local ballad singers/hawkers (notably Jimmy Dyer) in order for them to make a few pennies by hawing them around country fairs and markets.
I think we need to remember that we are not always talking of city v. country, but a whole range of small country towns and villages where books,songs, elections sheets and playbills were printed and where ballad singers wrote and sang printed ballads - and many people bought them.
Admittedly there was a very high literacy rate in nineteenth century Cumberland (as in Scotland), which might explain the plethora of small printers, but on the other hand you actually do only need one person in a pub to be able to read a ballad and others can learn it from them. We need to remember too that almost all the tunes were passed on orally.
The countryside was also home to a much more diverse society of artisans and tradesmen - hand weavers, tailors, cobblers, smiths, carpenters, masons, shop-keepers, dancing teachers, fiddlers etc - than we often think of today: not everyone was a ploughman or a milkmaid. This heterogeneity, and a notable degree of interaction between towns and countryside, is, to my mind, celebrated in the wide range of folk songs we have. Some come from commercial sources, some written by people in the community - including some they endeavoured to printed locally, or which were learned by ballad singers and sellers in order to provide new material to broadside printers. It's a wonderfully heterogeneous, lively scene!
Money certainly did change hands at times - Anderson and Dyer were always broke and on the look-out for more ways to make some cash through their words and music. There are so many shades of grey ...
I do hope this thread can be laid to rest now - if people could just agree to disagree on proportions of songs from the broadside presses.
(Sorry if the above is rather incoherent: it's a bit of a stream of consciousness, born out of frustration that this thread, which should have been a celebration of Steve Roud's book, has instead has become a somewhat ungainly, and at times unseemly, argument.