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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Frank Hamilton Ewan MacColl ...Folk Friend Or Foe? (182* d) RE: Ewan MacColl ...Folk Friend Or Foe? 07 Jul 06

Don Firth bring up an interesting point. It would be phony for him to try to be someone he's not. I think that those of us who are interested in folk music have to come to terms with how we fit in. For example, Pete Seeger is a highly educated New Englander who lived mostly in New York and got most of his work around the big cities. And yet, he embodies the "image" of the backwoods banjo picker. He plays ninth and thirteenth chords on the banjo and at one time was a tenor banjo player who knew all the words to the popular music of his day.

Peggy, Ewan's wife, played a sophisticated style of banjo which would not be the norm in say the collected works of Hobart Smith. Her guitar work on "I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again" is a lovely arrangement that has all the earmarks of an "Art song". Not from the Southern Mountain field recordings.

When I traveled through the South with Jack Elliott and Guy Carawan, Ted Sutton (Maggie's Old Man) from Maggie Valley Gap was excited because I played the banjo "Californy style".

I think we accept the Seegers because they do bring their own backgrounds and tradition to the music but they understand it and have studied it sufficiently well enough to do it their way.

The idea of being slavish to performing a song by imitating the way a traditional performer on a field recording sings it is specious and phony. It's possible that it's a good learning tool but to present oneself as being from a specific tradition or the best exponent of it doesn't make any sense. Somewhere, the artist appears bringing into it their individual stamp.

I think Ewan was upset by the lack of knowledge or empathy that some of the pop skiffle types in England at the time were displaying. They simply weren't enough in touch with American music to make it credible. I think it was a reaction. OTOH Peggy and Ewan have written songs that come from their own experience which may or may not have been influenced by traditional ethnic folk music.

I happened to enjoy Roberta Flack's cover of their song because for one thing, it's a damn fine song and the proof is that it can be performed outside of the context of the original environment and people will and did like it. it didn't invalidate the song one bit.

The "Seeger Sessions" are another example. It's a hootenanny at the local pub. It's loud, it's fun and there's some good music in it. Is it Pete? Of course not. How could it be?
To Bruce's credit, he doesn't try to go there. He does it his way. Is it great? Who knows and frankly who cares? I enjoyed it.

The same can be said for any of the so-called "commericializers" of folk music. The KT knew how to entertain people and make them happy. They brought the public the folk music that hadn't surfaced beyond college students, collectors or academics. Were they great? Who cares? They were fun.

Many fine musicians were part of the Folk Scare. Some of them understood folk music better than others I maintain that the ones who really understood it will prevail over the decades.

This business of trying to force an artist into a trad-ethnic pigeonhole is not only a waste of time but actually degrades the appreciation of folk music by inhibiting it so that those who are not acquainted with it can enjoy it.

Ewan was a "popularizer" of sorts. He brought the Scottish Ballad to the stage in a way that some people were moved and accepted it. But the important thing here is that he brought with his performance an understanding, an empathy and a familiarity with that tradition whether he came from it or not.

I remember Josh White being criticized because he didn't do the blues like a Texas convict or honky-tonk belter. He didn't do it like Son House or Leadbelly. Josh brought the blues to a Cafe Society audience who learned to love it because he was a great artist and did his own thing with it. Leading Blind Lemon Jefferson around gave him some "folk cred" but he reflected more the tradition of some of the pop music of his day as well as his stints with the Golden Gate Quartet and the Carolinians (who were highly arranged). But through Josh, many people began to see the tradition of the blues.

Ewan was not a foe to folk music. He was intolerant of the shallowness of some of the pop performers in his country at the time.

You need the Alan Lomaxes and the Ewan McColls as well as the KT and the PPand M's.
They all serve an important function in the cultural lives of their countries.

Frank Hamilton

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