Mudcat Café message #3935630 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3935630
Posted By: Brian Peters
06-Jul-18 - 04:49 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
Come on, Joe, surely this thread isn't deserving of closure? I can remember ferocious 'what is folk?' discussions on here in which people were calling each other mentally ill and threatening physical violence!

I think Pseudonymous has made some very useful contributions by approaching the Roud book without preconceptions. I notice that he(?) mentioned the review by Clinton Heylin in The Spectator. Heylin is not exclusively a folk/rock specialist, having written a well-researched if sometimes tendentious book about Child 243, entitled 'Dylan's Demon Lover', a few years ago. However, his review of Roud is incoherent, factually inaccurate in several respects and full of petty point-scoring. He actually attempts to be patronising in his dismissals of Roud, which is rather like a toddler kicking a professional rugby forward on the shins.

When Heylin states "when a man has written at such length on English folk song and still has the chutzpah to pronounce that ‘origins do not matter’", he is damning Roud for being open-minded. It's been well-established on this thread that we cannot be certain that a given broadside is the origin of a particular song, only that it is the earliest extant version - though of course we may hold strong and informed opinions on the matter. All Roud is doing in saying that "origins do not matter" is trying to avoid the kind of intractable dispute we have seen here. What interests him is how the songs were used in popular culture.

Heylin believes that "the more interesting story, which still needs to be told" is that of "the centuries when English folk song was part of a vibrant, largely oral, British tradition". By this I assume he means the centuries prior to the 17th, when the earliest recognizable ballads begin to appear in print. However, those centuries represent precisely the era for which we have little conclusive data, and aren't likely to get much more.

Personally I find the matter of 'what people actually sang' two or three hundred years ago of great interest, whether or not it conforms to my or Cecil Sharp's definition of whether it was 'folk song'. I do think, though (and I attempted to raise this near the beginning of the thread) that Roud tries to have it both ways in accepting on the one hand that (as Pseudonymous again noted above) a song needs to have been passed on through a couple of generations to be considered 'folk', while on the other, criticizing Edwardian collectors for ignoring (say) Music hall material that was of recent origin.

Both of the folk revivals of the 20th century more or less accepted the corpus of songs as defined by Sharp and others. The point about that corpus was that it wasn't defined simply by whether the songs had passed into participatory popular culture (as things like football chants undoubtedly have), but also by a time period. Sharpian folk song derives mostly from a period from (maybe) 1750 to 1850. It has its own textual and musical characteristics, and it simply sounds different from the music of a later era like Music Hall or minstrelsey. Many - though by no means all - of us who have been part of the second folk revival recognize those characteristics and warm to them. Some Mudcat debates over the years might have been simplified if that had been acknowledged.