Mudcat Café message #3975224 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3975224
Posted By: Jim Carroll
07-Feb-19 - 03:32 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
"I get the impression that most of these contributions to the folk canon started off in London as one might expect, the song cellars, glee clubs, Music Halls, pleasure gardens...."
Nobody can say with any certainty who made our folk songs - nobody knows who did and probably never will so we can only rely on what little we do know and common sense to even approach the question   
The suggestion that our folk songs, dealing with the real lives of real people, as they do, originated from the pens of city dwelling entertainers whose lives were as far from those depicted in the songs flies in the face of over a century's scholarship and research and in the face of logic.
The published collections of unsingable songs by bad poets - (HACKS) - who churned out their wares at a rate of knots indiucate that they are the least likely to have made them - they had neither the experience to handle the subject matter nor the creative ability to pen the deathless pieces of social history that make up our folk song repertoire - Ashton, Hindley, Bagford Holloway and Black, Euing.... all fairly convincing proof, as far as I'm concerned, that they could not have made our folk songs.

The 19th century popular songmakers, represented by the mammoth 'Universal Songster' and the pastiche outpourings of Dibden, stand out as examples of poor and often extremely patonising (sometimes denigrating) representations of working peoples' lives, next to the insightful and sympathetic realities of the poaching and transportation songs, or the broken-token pieces describing the popular practice of exchanging 'gimmel rings', or the songs depicting the 'camp-following' women who accompanied men into battle.

Over a century of scholarship unswervingly attributed the making of these songs to the people whose lives and experiences they described
Child named them "popular" (belonging to the people) while at the same time writing off the commercial products that occasionally included the occasional folksong as "veritable dunghills"
Motherwell sharply warned against tampering with the people creations by "improving" and rewriting them   
Sharp went to great lengths to analyse their structure.
Up to comparatively recently, there has been no doubt as to who made our folk songs...
Topic Records, which dedicated its existence to making available folk songs, chose as the title of its monumental and ongoing set'The Voice of the People', just as Lloyd, four decades earlier, entitle his 13 programme presentation for schools, 'The Songs of the People'
How could so many clever and experienced people have got it so wrong for so wrong?   

Pat Mackenzie and I dedicated thirty years of our lives to finding out what the remaining bearers of our 'folk songs' considered the songs they sang and how they compared them to 'The Other Songs" (Mike Yates's phrase) they also sang - apparently they got it wrong too.
Walter Pardon went to great lengths to describe the difference between his "old folk songs" and "them other old things" - his opinions were swept aside by giving everything hie sang Roud numbers

I looked forward to Steve Roud's book with some anticipation, hoping it might correct some of the previous flaws in our understanding - in removing the uniqueness of our folk songs by lumping hem in with the long rejected popular songs, the parlour ballads and the rest, Steve Roud's book has blurred the lines between many genres of song
Despite the fact that Roud's work is larger and far more widespread in its approach and gos into far greater detail, in my opinion it measures small next to Lloyd's book of the same name written all those years ago.
In my opinion, despite Bert's flaws and idiosyncrasies his 'Folk Song in England has a far greater understanding of the uniqueness of the genre than does the latest condenser for the title .

What we learned by our field work, especially among the non-literate Travellers and the Irish singers who were still singing their songs socially up to the middle of the twentieth century was that the communities they came from produced instinctive songmakers who constantly reflected their experiences and emotions in verse whenever the occasion arose
A discussion going on at present on this forum concerning the Peterloo massacre clearly indicates that English workers were probably as prolific in songmaking.
We owe the survival of many of our greatest ballads to a cultural group who have yet to accept literacy as part of their lives      
Over the last decade or so there have been many claims that we no longer know what folk song is - little wonder, considering what has happened to the clubs.
Now, it seems, that confusion has spread to the world of research.
For me, and many like me, what "folk" means has never been in dispute
Folk song is as researched and analysed as any other cultural form - there may have been disputes following the singer-songwriter phase inspired by the protest song-maker that once was, Bob Dylan,   as to what wasn't a folk song, in my experience, there has been little doubt as to what a folk song was
For me, the answer lies in the two terms "tradition and folk", often treated as separate entities but in fact two sides of the same coin
the "Folk" were the people who almost certainly made and remade the songs to suit their lives and record their personal experiences, "tradition" is the process they used to do so - I don't believe it ever gets more complicated than that.

Perhaps we might discuss this without the aggressiveness (on all sides), as people with a mutual love and objective rather than opponents this time?
That is my intention anyway
Jim Carroll