Mudcat Café message #3264798 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #141683   Message #3264798
Posted By: Brian Peters
28-Nov-11 - 10:49 AM
Thread Name: Chorus songs for ballad singers
Subject: RE: Chorus songs for ballad singers
I think Laura hits the nail on the head when she says:

For me one of the best and most beautiful things about folk clubs and singarounds is the feeling of everyone singing together

I remember a conversation years ago in the Topic Folk Club in Bradford, with a chap who was a self-confessed heavy metal fan, leather jacket, shoulder-length hair, etc. He was completely bowled over by the harmony singing in the club. "How do they do it? Do they practice? Is it like this every week?"

On the other hand I remember another conversation - again a long time ago - with the great Roy Harris who, at the time, had acquired a reputation as a singer of 'chorus songs'. What he said to me (I was interviewing him) was "There is no such thing as a 'chorus song' - there is a song, which might or might not have a chorus." He then went on to say how fed up he was getting with certain audiences who were so focussed on producing wonderful harmonies that they couldn't wait for each verse to finish, so that they could get on with the next chorus. I suspect that's why people like Shimrod and Jim Carroll are suggesting a degree of caution about singing along with ballads - in which you really want to be hearing the story. There many ballads without any refrain, in which a 'pin drop' atmosphere can be achieved, if you're lucky. But where the ballad usually one of the older ones - does have a refrain (and like Shimrod, I distinguish 'refrain' from 'chorus', even though they are often used interchangeably), it's there for a reason. Deloney was writing in the late 16th century about a group of young women performing a ballad with two singing the song and the rest joining in with the 'burden' (i.e. refrain), and others have suggested that refrains were part of a tradition of singing and dancing the early ballads. I'm sure they were put there to be sung; and in a modern setting they tie in the audience with the performer, and with the ballad.

My experience is that most folk audiences are sensitive to the needs of the song, and pretty good at catching the mood. Only occasionally can I remember audience singing detracting from a particular song, and that's usually because the 'room' wants to slow the chorus down too much, or perhaps wants to sing its own version instead of your. I'd hate to think that ballads are such delicate creatures that they can't take a bit of joining-in.

Exhibit Z is the famous recording of Cyril Poacher singing 'Green Broom' at the Blaxhall Ship in the 1950s. There you have a magical ballad, full of drama and mystery, subverted and turned into a raucous pub sing-song by the addition of a repeat of the last two lines and the totally bizarre 'Hold the Wheel' line. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, Laura, I hope you've got a few practical ideas out from amidst all the argument!