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GUEST,Len Wallace I sing ' Wild Rover' and am proud of it! (42) RE: I sing ' Wild Rover' and am proud of it! 22 Oct 09


Do I sing The Wild Rover? Yes. Am I proud of it? I'm not sure prides
enters into it.

Let me begin by recounting a personal experience and one that was
replicated a good number of times with other musicians of a type over the years.

For over 25 years I've performed Irish and Scottish songs for many years (these days often referred to under the broad genre of "Celtic" music). It's not the only music I perform, but the Irish pub scene has often proven an economic mainstay and necessity.

I performed in a trio one evening at an Irish pub out of town. The "The Wild Rover" was but one song amongst 50 other songs I performed along with sets of reels and hornpipes.

The next morning a local musician touted as an "all Ireland champion" on his instrument came in to set up for his performance. Trying to be friendly I decided to introduce myself and discovered some commonality in the musicians we performed with over the years. It was a week or two just past the mayhem of marathon hours of St. Paddy's Day gigs I played


"St. Patrick's Day?" he said. "I don't bother with it. I don't do THAT
anymore or sing "The Wild Rover" and songs like THAT! I do the more
serious stuff".

I bit my tongue. Did her realize how personally insulting he was? I thought to myself, "You're a little condescending snob!" I quickly withdrew from any further conversation.

An hour later I sat down to listen to this all-Ireland master perform.
After 20 minutes I could take no more. It was a bad performance.

I've had this same type of conversation many a time with musicians
considering themselves just too good, too pure to sing songs like THAT. It's an attitude that shows no respect for the song, no respect for the performer and no respect for the audience.

1. Respect for the song:

The Wild Rover is a folk song. It's part of a tradition. Versions of it
have been sung for several hundred years.

It's a good song following an accepted format telling a tale. People
like it because it does have a simple yet wonderful melody. They like it
because of its message - being the person going into a pub and being
refused service, having the ability to pull out the needed money and
basically telling the owner (in this case the landlady) "here's the
damned money, give me a drink!" People identify with the message.

2. Respect for the Audience:

Let's make a distinction between the performer who must sing the song
and an audience that does not get a chance to hear it every night naor
perform it. And let us not assume that the audience is a monolithic mass of uncultured barbarians who know nothing about good music. Do not assume that the person requesting to hear "The Wild Rover" knows little of music. And I have had many a fine performer of "the serious stuff" request it of me as well.

3. Respect for the Performer

The song is part of "the book" one must know to perform on the pub
scene. The musicians who perform well are deserving of praise and
applause if they work hard playing for a live audience even if they must play "The Wild Rover".

Would I perform it onstage at Lincoln Centre? (and I have) Of course
not! Would I do it at a folk festival? (and I've played many) No. But
if requested to perform it in a pub, I will. That's what the audience
wants. It's something familiar. It's something they can sing to.
It's a song that engages them. I am paid in part to give them that.

Yes, I perform "The Wild Rover". I don't go out of my way to do it.
I've just sung it too many times just like Loudon Wainright has sung
"Dead Skunk in the Middle of Road" too many times. But for every time I
have performed "The Wild Rover" I manage to draw the audience in to
listen to the songs I wish to sing, those more "serious songs".

Do I draw the line? Yes. There are songs I won't perform in pubs anymore such as "Seven Drunken Nights" when some audience members got into the nasty habit of shouting out after the words "So I says to my wife, Hey wife . . ." their nasty addition, "You bitch, you slut, you whore!" That put an end to me doing the song because it was suddenly turned into a song of mindless verbal abuse.

I will gladly listen to a good musician and singer who can perform well and sing "The Wild Rover" well any day over any puffed up snob who performs "the serious stuff" poorly.

By the way, I learned "The Wild Rover" listening to old albums of Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. And there's ten bucks in my pocket for anyone who will go up to Liam Clancy today to tell him it's just not good enough to perform anymore.

Len Wallace


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