Mudcat Café message #2280086 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #109111   Message #2280086
Posted By: GUEST,Shimrod
05-Mar-08 - 08:50 AM
Thread Name: Folk terminology
Subject: RE: Folk terminology
Wow! This has turned into a fascinating thread. The contributions by Don Firth, Rowan and Nerd are much appreciated - more!

Has anyone read Julia C. Bishop's paper, 'Bell Duncan: The greatest ballad singer of all time?' in 'Folk Song: Tradition, Revival and re-Creation' ed. Ian Russell and David Atkinson (Elphinstone Institute, 2004)? Bishop considers James Carpenter's informant, Bell Duncan who gave him "sixty-five Child ballads with tunes, never a single reference to manuscript." After examining Duncan's repertoire in detail Bishop goes on to suggest that this last assertion of Carpenter's may not be true and that, "Bell Duncan, or someone in the train of transmission to Bell Duncan, must have learned the ballads from print rather than from oral transmission ..."

In fact it seems to me that the relationship between printed material and oral transmission, for the past couple of centuries - or even longer, has been much more complex (not to say enigmatic) than we tend to give it credit for. The other example which I think is intriguing is 'Tam Lin'. I have often heard it asserted that this is probably a 'literary' ballad, but if so how did fragments of it, with tunes, get into the repertoires of the Scots Traveller singers, Betsy Johnston and Willie Whyte ( see 'The Muckle Sangs: Classic Scots Ballads', Greentrax Records, 1992)?

Oh yes, on the 'finger-in-the-ear' question, I serendipitously came across another paper in the book cited above, called 'The ballad singer and seller in the works of William Hogarth' by Andrew C. Rouse. One of the illustrations in this paper is called, 'The Idle'Prentice Executed at Tyburn'. Depicted in the forefront of the crowd at the "'Prentice's" execution is a woman holding a ballad sheet in her right hand and a baby in the crook of her right arm. Her mouth is open as if in song (or possibly bawling her wares) and her left hand is cupped behind her left ear. I would guess that this illustration dates from around the 1730s.