Mudcat Café message #3946383 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3946383
Posted By: Phil Edwards
26-Aug-18 - 04:33 PM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
Evening all.

Brian: My opinion on this rhythmic irregularity is that it wasn't a matter of consistent 'broken rhythm', but more a case of single phrases sung in consistent rhythm, but with extended gaps at the ends of the phrases.

I think that's a big part of it. I also think - just from my own experience singing songs unaccompanied - that it gets to be quite natural to add a beat, or (perhaps more frequently) drop a beat, if a particular line doesn't have the right number of syllables. If you're accompanied there's a lot more pressure to keep a steady rhythm, if necessary by compressing two syllables or stretching out one.

Being a latecomer to this whole thing, I learned The Holland Handkerchief from the Waterson:Carthy recording. Initially I sang it exactly as Norma did, but without guitar accompaniment to hold the shape it sounded forced and artificial. It only came alive for me when I let the words drive the tune, dropping or adding beats where necessary. (The tune's still there, it just doesn't sound exactly the same each time round.) A friend asked if I'd got it from Packie Byrne, which I took as a compliment!

The other pitfall for unaccompanied singers - and one which may account for the impression that folk songs aren't foot-tappers - is the equal and opposite danger of learning a song note for note, and stress for stress, from somebody who's already buggered about with it (technical term). Peter Bellamy, God rest him, is a terrible source for song tunes - wonderful to listen to, but you try singing them and very often what you learn won't actually be the original tune at all. Several times now I've got a song off pat from a Bellamy version, only to realise some time later that there's a simpler - and more metrically regular - tune lurking in there somewhere.