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Howard Jones New Book: Folk Song in England (2094* d) RE: New Book: Folk Song in England 06 Jul 18


If Roud's choice if title, deliberately echoing AL Lloyd's, was meant to be provocative, he has certainly succeeded.

Leaving aside any implications in the title, Roud is clear that he is writing a social history setting out the context in which what we broadly term 'folk song' existed. That included other forms of song which existed alongside and in some cases became transformed into folk song. He acknowledges the difficulty, indeed the impossibility, of finding a hard-and-fast definition of folk song, while at the same time finding that some sort of definition is required. Like everyone else, he has had to fudge it, because like any genre of music it is incapable of precise definition.

The overheated debate about broadsides has perhaps obscured the real point. Whether the broadsides were original songs or recycled folk songs created by the people, the broadside printers would not have bothered publishing them if they did not believe there was a market for them. Irrespective of the origins of the songs, this suggests that broadsides played a significant part in disseminating the songs more widely into the oral tradition, whether they had originally come from there or from other sources. The unsingable ones, by definition, would not have made it into the tradition.

I don't think anyone has seriously disagreed with Jim's point about the ability of the folk to create their own songs, and I take his point him that the songs of social commentary in particular are most likely to have been composed by the folk themselves. However there are other songs in the canon, and many others may well have originated on the stage or written for broadside publication.

It is I think well established that the creativity within folk songs comes not only from original composition but also how singers moulded and changed songs once they came into their possession - some would say the latter is the more important. Folk music can be considered 'the voice of the people' because it incorporates both elements. The creation of a folk song is an ongoing process in which the original composition is only the start. The difference between an 18th century stage song which has been absorbed into the tradition and a 19th century music hall song is that this process has not had time to work on the latter. Given time these too might have become folk songs.


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