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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Jim Carroll how important is the label traditional singer? (254* d) RE: how important is the label traditional singer? 27 Sep 07


Cap'n,
(Promised myself I wouldn't do this....)
From the time I have been involved with this forum I couldn't help but notice that you have never lost an opportunity to have a pop at traditional singers.
Way back it was claims that you were entitled to call yourself a traditional singer you seem to have retreated from that stance.
Later it was how beholden traditional singers were to us revivalists for giving them a place to sing. When it was pointed out that the vast majority of traditional singers had never seen the inside of a folk club you (reluctantly) back-pedalled from that one.
At one time you were claiming that traditional singers should be open to the same level of criticism as revival singers are.
Then it was how well they were treated at the clubs.
Then again, it was how we should only judge their contribution if they were good singers.
Now it's how important is the description 'traditional singer'.
On a number of occasions, when traditional singers have been mentioned, you have blundered in with your own list of your own revival favourites in order, apparently, to diminish their contribution.
I quoted Lomax's summation of traditional singers as follows (this time in full):
"Here then are the ancient ballads of Britain, recorded from the lips of traditional singers in all parts of the islands, singing in the ways of their forefathers. Some of the performers have fine voices; others have voices that are old or hoarse. But all possess the true ballad art in some respect - the way of spinning the story and the poem together, not with the crude drama of the concert singer, but with the subtle nuance and understatement that is fitting to ballad art. The past speaks through their lips, but if you listen with attention you will discover fantasy patterns important to the present as well".
Your reaction to compare them with seasoned revival performers well used to singing before an audience of strangers.
As well as your constant sniping at our source singers, you have persistently attempted to rubbish the definition of folk song (without, I couldn't help noticing, offering your own alternative).
Is it me being over-sensitive or do I detect a pattern here? I think I take your point you don't like traditional singers, or, at the very least, you don't recognise the fact that the folk-song revival has been built on the material they have been generous enough to pass on to us. You appear not to have the faintest clue as to what the tradition is and how it works, yet you go on endlessly repeating the same arguments again and again (somewhat like your near-namesake Cap'n Flint Long John Silver's Parrot).
It has been my experience that nearly all the revival singers I have met who sing traditional songs have been fulsome in their praise of source singers and more than happy to recognise their contribution to our pleasure and our knowledge; this includes all the singers you mentioned. Whatever I might think of his singing, I have to take my hat off to Martin Carthy's constantly referring to his sources and telling his audiences to go and listen to them (I assume you are aware that he was a friend and great admirer of Walter Pardon).
To my recollection you are the only singer I know of who consistently knocks traditional singers and who is apparently incapable of acknowledging the debt you owe to the people who have provided you with much of the raw material by which you make your living.
It seems to me that if you don't like, them the very least and decent thing you can do is to leave them alone to rest in peace.
As far as I'm concerned, these are the people who have filled most of my life with songs to sing and to listen to and I hope that will continue to be the case to the end of it.
Never having heard you sing, I don't know how good a singer you are; I strongly suspect from your abysmal, oft-displayed ignorance of the tradition and its carriers, that you won't ring too many of my bells. However, should the opportunity come my way, taking a leaf from your own book, I will feel totally at liberty to give as free and honest and open an opinion of you as a performer as I am capable of.
In the meantime, I leave you with MacColl's summing up of the tradition at the end of what I regard to have been the best series of programmes on folk song ever - The Song Carriers:
"Well, there they are; the songs of our people. Some of them have been centuries in the making; some were undoubtedly born on the broadside presses. Some have the marvelous perfection of stones shaped by the sea's movement; others are as brash as a cup-final crowd.
They were made by professional bards and by unknown poets of the plough-stilts and the hand-loom.
They are tender, harsh, passionate, ironical, simple, profound; as varied indeed as the landscape of this island.
We are all indebted to the Harry Coxs and Phil Tanners, to Colm Keane and Maggie McDonagh, to Belle Stewart and Jessie Murray and all the sweet and raucous unknown singers who have helped to carry our peoples' songs across the centuries".
Jim Carroll


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