Mudcat Café message #2158461 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #104731   Message #2158461
Posted By: GUEST,Wendy
27-Sep-07 - 08:53 AM
Thread Name: how important is the label traditional singer?
Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
Jim, Cap'n ... please stop! The thread asked 'how important is the label 'traditional singer', not 'Are source singers more important than revival ones'. I am a person who came to folk music through folk rock initially (Steeleye, Fairport etc) then, when my imagination had been fired and I wanted to learn more, I sought out the clubs and revival singers, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, Maddy Prior etc. As the years have progressed, so has my understanding of the legacy of the music and so I have become far more interested in the 'source' singers and the work of collectors. As with many complex and wonderful things in life, folk music is a subject which is revealed to be more immense and unfathomable the more you discover about it in my experience!

For someone like me, the label 'Traditional' IS important, but not suffiently specific. 'Source singer' and 'Singer of traditional songs' may do the job better - for me, at least, it is important to know whether a person's repertoire has been handed down in the old fashioned way or learned for the purpose of entertainment in the revival. But the real trouble is that the edges are too blurred to make the distinction in every case (which I think is what Dick is trying to suggest). Many of our 'source singers' had songs in their repertoire which were the equivalent of the chart hits of their day. I am sure they knew the difference between the songs that had been in their family for generations and the song they heard at the local musical hall, but they were happy to sing both if the song itself appealed. Similarly, many of our revival singers have songs that their parents or grandparents sung, passed down in the old fashioned way, but because modern society makes more exacting demands in therms of the entertainment factor of performance, we can be guilty of dismissing these contributions to the tradition, assuming them to be made for commercial reasons.

If I see the word 'traditional' in the publicity of a performer utherwise unknown to me, I am far more likely to attend the event than if the contemporary aspects of a persons repertoire are stressed. Many revival singers are wonderful to listen to. They have great respect for the tradition, have extensive knowledge of the history of the songs they sing and are able to express the story behind the song in an absorbing and enlightening way. In addition they are usually competant to hold the tune and remember the words, which makes the listening pleasurable as well as enlightening. The same can be said of many of the performances & recordings of source singers of course. I am not prepared to say which is better. I can listen to someone like Sheila Stewart describing how she learned her mother's songs - the demands that were made on her, the attention to detail, the almost reverant way the songs were handled - and feel that I have no right to sing because I can never have that history. But then I can also listen to some mediocre folk/rock ensemble murdering a ballad and think 'thank god for the revival singers who are doing their best to look after our legacy'. But at least if the word 'traditional' is there, then there is a good chance that there will some merit in the performance.

I can't help but wonder ... if the source singers that are so respected were born into today's world, would they not be learning and singing songs in the same way as our revival singers? We are (sadly) unable to stop modern progress and I'm not sure we can establish how Walter Pardon or Harry Cox etc would seem if they were young men now.

For my money Dick makes a damn good job of singing traditional songs and is always careful to acknowledge his sources and the history of the songs. Many people do worse. And Jim's work over the last few decades is invalulable and unique and I greatly respect his knowledge of the tradition. You are both fighting the corner for our great legacy of traditional music. You have a common enemy in this throwaway modern world of lowest common denominator entertainment and five second attention spans. Fight that, not each other. please!