Mudcat Café message #4018921 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #166876   Message #4018921
Posted By: Jim Carroll
13-Nov-19 - 12:08 PM
Thread Name: Review: Walter Pardon; Research
Subject: RE: Review: Walter Pardon; Research
I'll cnace my arm again in the hope I'm not overloading the forum
Feel free to tell me I am

Walter Pardon.

Given at Eyam Festival, Derbyshire and at Cecil Sharp House 1996.

Today we’d like to talk to you about our good friend, Walter Pardon, the man we knew and recorded for 20 years, singing and talking about his life and music. Walter died last year at the age of 82 and we are assuming that you know a certain amount about him: his 4 LPS, recorded by Bill Leader and Mike Yates, his TV and radio interviews, his part in a John Cohen film, his trip to the States for the Bi-centenary celebrations, his EFDSS Gold Badge, and all the critical acclaim he received during the 15 years or so he was performing. (If you don’t, the display boards put together by Doc Rowe will certainly help)
We would just point out that the recordings we will be playing of Walter singing and talking about his singing were not made for publication purposes and you will find certain amount of background noise, particularly a clock! And Walter sometimes speaks with his pipe clamped in his teeth which doesn’t help with clarity.

WALTER PARDON was probably the last of a long line of fine Norfolk singers. In the earlier years of this century, collectors like Ralph Vaughan Williams and E.J. Moeran were finding the county a rich source of traditional song: particularly noteworthy was Moeran’s work in the l920 with Harry Cox, the farm worker from Catfield. The BBC’s mopping up campaign in the1950s was still unearthing singers with a wealth of material despite the fact that, by that time, of course, the singing tradition had entered a steep decline and, indeed, had virtually died out, leaving us with a handful of traditional singers and a somewhat larger number of what Ewan MacColl aptly described as ‘song carriers’ people who had not necessarily been part of the singing tradition but, for one reason or another, had clung on to the old songs and music. However, Norfolk gave us three of this country’s most important singers: Harry Cox, fisherman Sam Lamer from Winterton and, lastly, Walter Pardon of Knapton.
Let’s start with Walter’s version of a song collected quite often towards the South West of England and which also appeared on broadsides. Vaughan Williams noted a version in Essex in 1904 but only quotes the first verse in the Folk Song Journal, stating: “The rest of the words are not suitable for publication and have little interest, except, perhaps, in giving a modern example of the kind of rough fun which we find in Chaucer’s Clerke of Oxenforde.” Thank goodness Chaucer idea of humour was more appreciated by the working folk of rural Norfolk. In fact, Walter himself made the same connection with Chaucer. So here is:
Walter was born in 1914 into a family of mainly agricultural workers employed on local farms and also as gardeners and groundsmen at Mundesley Golf Links. He was born and lived all his life in Knapton, a small rural village a couple of miles from the sea at Mundesley and the same distance from the market town of North Walsham.
Knapton has no pub and the only small shop closed years back. When Walter was growing up, the roads were unmade so it meant travelling by donkey cart or bicycle through mud in winter and dust in summer, for shopping for instance. There were travelling salesmen who called with bread, fish, meat, etc. even ice cream Also peddlers with household items and Walter once saw a travelling musician but was told there had been more before his time. As a boy, Walter, along with ether children, helped on the land in the evening and weekends: pulling beet, pitching corn up on to the stacks, etc. At that time, the children’s summer holidays were determined by the dates of the harvest; the farmers told the schools when they were going to start so the holidays then coincided. They worked from dawn to dusk 6 days a week.

Both sides of Walter’s immediate family were born in Knapton: 12 Gees (his mother’s family) and 6 Pardons. Walter was an only child so became the focus of attention not: only of his parents but also the two bachelor uncles (his mother’s brothers) who lived with them. Most of the family lived close by but one uncle emigrated to the United States. Walter told of his great grandfather who was sacked by a farmer, he thought for answering back, which meant instant dismissal in those days, and so was blacklisted locally and forced to go to sea and his family into the workhouse.
Walter was apprenticed as a carpenter in the neighbouring village of Paston when he left school at 14 and he worked mainly locally, probably within a radius of 20 miles, cycling to work each day. He never lived away from Knapton except for his four years in the Army but he didn’t go overseas then, being employed as a carpenter on various Army camps about the country. It was the Army ruined his poor feet: square bashing in boots that were too small for him!

The Gees, his mother’s family, were musical - singers and instrumentalists. In the past, they had played fiddles, concertinas and accordeons/melodeons - Walter didn’t differentiate between them - but Walter had only heard his Uncle Walter who played melodeon and Jews Harp. Walter learned songs from his
family; his mother, his Aunt Alice and principally his Uncle Billy. Billy had got a lot of songs from his
father, Tom Gee, who was well known as a singer with a very large repertoire. They obviously learned
songs from anyone and anywhere; Walter knew several Irish songs and he said they learned their songs
because they liked them. The singing was done at Harvest frolics, which died out while Walter was young and at Christmas parties. - Apparently so many people came to the cottage then that they had to have meals in two sittings -. There would be conversation, music, singing and dancing at these parties but always perfect quiet for the songs. The living room had an exposed beam running across the ceiling called the baulk and the shout. would go up, “Our side of the baulk” when someone had sung from one side of the room and they would take turns across the room. They each had their own particular songs for these occasions. For instance: ‘Generals All’ from Billy, his favourite; ‘Jones’s Ale from Uncle Bob, ‘Bonny Bunch of Roses’ from Uncle Tom and so on. Apparently no-one wanted ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’ so that was Walter’s song or sometimes ‘When the Fields Were White with Daisies’. They all knew the tunes but everybody was very protective of their own songs and did not want others to learn them. Walter, the favourite youngster, was the only one Billy Gee would give his songs to but none of Walters contemporaries wanted them anyway; they would only learn new songs as they came out. Walter had to write the songs out to learn them but they were all in Billy’s head; Walter never saw him write any out.


There was no pub singing in Walter’s time but he knew there had been in the past which Billy had taken
part in; the Mitre Tavern in North Walsham in particular at the end of the last century. (Billy was born
in 1863) Walter only heard him sing once in a pub, after an Agricultural Workers’ Union meeting at the
Crown in Trunch, the next village, when he was asked to sing the song about “smoke and fire”. Billy did
not recognise this description but Walter prompted him: it was ‘Generals All’. Here’s Walter singing it:


Walter was very proud of his family’s association with the early Agricultural Union movement; When George Edwards restarted the Agricultural Workers Union in Norfolk in 1907, the first one started by Joseph Arch in the late 19th century having folded, Walter’s father had the second Union card issued, No.1 going to a man from Gimminqham, a nearby village. 40 years later, both men were awarded silver medals for their services to the Union. Walter learned a number of songs, parodies and rhymes connected with the Union; here is one such:


Influenced by his family’s love of song and music, Walter developed a deep interest in the songs – he
said he supposed he’d inherited it - and he used to write down the words on scraps of paper and in
exercise books. One book we got from him is dated 1948, six years after his Uncle Billy’s death. He was
aided in putting together the songs - which he had never sung - by his prodigious memory. He could
remember local lore and events not only from his own experience but which had been recounted to him by his elders. It was sometimes not until later that you realised you had been listening to a tale of something that had happened before Walter was born. He could recall long vanished field names, dialect words and names of animals, farm implements, etc. He related some family toasts: here are two of Tom Gee’s:

“Here’s a toast to Malcolm. May God bless him, the devil miss 'im, the wife kiss 'im and the child piss ‘im”

“Here’s to those who love us and those who don’t love us. To those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts. If he don’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankle bones so we know the buggers when they walk”.

Walter had always read a lot and probably even more so after his father died in 1957 leaving Walter living alone for nearly 40 years. Dickens, Hardy, H.E. Bates, Zane Grey - he had quite catholic tastes, probably with a preference for the Victorian writers but mainly just for a good story and he remembered the stories with amazing clarity. He could quote from a book that he hadn’t read for perhaps 20 years or more. And he got so involved with them. Thomas Hardy was a favourite but -“They shouldn't have done that to Tess - terrible”.

Walter’s cousins’ nephew, Roger Dixon, had been interested in the songs from a boy and endeavoured to persuade him to put some on tape.

Eventually, having bought a tape recorder Walter set about it in the autumn of 1972 and later described to us his efforts at recording himself:


Here is a part that first tape:        -


Roger Dixon passed these tapes to Peter Bellamy, a former pupil of his when he had been teaching and, recognising Walter for the superb singer that he was, Peter introduced him to the world that, as he said, he had no idea existed. Without Roger’s persuasion and involvement, we might never have heard that unique singer, Walter Pardon.

It is perhaps surprising that the collectors working in Norfolk missed such a family of singers like the Gees but it was certainly quite phenomenal that, out of the blue, appeared a singer of such ability with such a large, rich and varied repertoire and such splendid tunes. For Walter Pardon was very special. The ease and conviction with which he handled his material, ,either classic ballads, bawdy songs, Victorian parlour ballads, union or Music Hall songs was striking, as was the informed, intelligent and emotional response to his songs, particularly the depth of emotional involvement with ALL his songs. It has been said that his style was impersonal but this was far from the case. His understanding of and feeling for the songs was highly personal and it showed.
While he did not necessarily place a greater value on any category, he was articulate in defining the different types of songs. This ability to differentiate was once scoffed at by a noted folklorist in conversation with us: “How could he do that - a simple countryman?”
When asked to choose 6 songs to sing, it is interesting to note Walter’s selection:


Walter maintained that a good imagination was essential to the singer; just listen to this - an artist describing his art:


Walter’s always thoughtful evaluation of songs was interesting. He said that, if he performed before a big crowd (which he did at a Fairfield Hall concert), he liked to sing The Pretty Ploughboy because it ends happily; so many ended with being transported or shot or something going wrong. Like Van Dieman’s Land - a SAD old song. He also said it “was a LONG old song but it was a long old journey - a marvelous analysis of it.
Walter had only fragments and tunes of several songs so he put them together from books and broadsheets, for example ‘Rakish Young Fellow’ and ‘Down by the Dark Arches’. He had two verses, chorus and tune for ‘Dark Arches’ and he asked us to try and get him a text. Mike Yates kindly supplied a broadsheet copy but this had no chorus, and the words of the verses he had did not match. He virtually reconstructed the song to fit his tune and chorus. He said he had to “cut the words to fit his tune; he “liked the words to go out with the nice flow of the tune”. This is a recording made by Sam Richards at the Torquay Folk Club in 1982.


Welter learned a few songs in the Army but said that most he heard were “rubbish - outright rude”. In fact the version of ‘The Topman and the Afterguard’ he heard in the Army was “obscene’, so he had to learn a new text for that. This next song is one of the parodies he learned at that time. The 39/45 Star was a medal awarded to everyone who served in the War and was apparently treated with a degree of contempt by its recipients. It was known as the NAAFI or SPAM medal; Walter wasn’t sure which.

THE 39/45 STAR

The only song which, to our knowledge, was completely new to Walter was, in fact, a poem. He had done a World Service interview with the Music broadcaster, John Amis, who subsequently sent him a book of Thomas Hardy’s poems. Walter made a tune for The Trampwoman’s Tragedy, which is written in ballad form, and sang it to us - from the book so we don’t think he ever learned the words. Here is a sample of it:


Walter did learn some songs from gramophone records, 78s, for example, ‘When The Fields were White with Daisies’ and ‘The Old Rustic Bridge By the Mill’. Some Music Hall material he learned from a family friend, Harry Sexton, who was quite a character. A local Jack of All Trades, Harry went north to work at one period and often visited Middlesborough Music Hall. This is song ‘The Steam Arm’ that Walter got from Harry who, in turn got it from a local man, which Walter sang to us with a description of the performance at a Christmas gathering, complete with the necessary gestures, like this:


Here he is parodying the way Harry Sexton sang:


Including fragments, we recorded from Walter Pardon some 200 odd songs. With a solid base of some 100 songs, largely traditional, it is interesting to study Walter’s tunes which are often similar to familiar versions but subtly different. It is difficult to say that this is exactly how he learned them, although Walter thought so; or have they been ‘Walterised”? During the long period of not hearing them - at least 20 years, as Walter went into the Army in 1942 which was the, year his Uncle Billy died and the last Christmas party was 1952 when his mother died - he kept the songs alive for himself by playing the tunes on the melodeon. Did they perhaps get changed then? Were certain phrases easier for him to play on the Melodeon? Or was it simply his own creativity? That he preferred certain musical phrases to others? We’ll never know, of course, but certainly Walter’s tunes are that bit different and very recognisable. And he did say he could tell the age of songs by the tunes; listen to this:


Walter gave a lot of thought to his singing as you have heard and, although he always stressed the importance of singing NATURALLY, as you spoke, - this was a carefully thought out response, quite the opposite to commonly held views – aired at some length in Dance and Song on one occasion - that singing is as natural to the “peasantry” as to the birds; you just open your mouth and this beautiful music flows forth all by itself.
Walter had his own positive ideas about singing and he did get very disturbed at the way in which a lot of audiences would completely ignore, for instance, the speed at which he was singing and would draw out the choruses painfully slowly so that Walter was way ahead and trying to adapt to the audience.        He considered, quite rightly, that this was very discourteous if nothing else. He actually dropped one song from his working repertoire for that reason. He        told us that his
Uncle Billy, his greatest influence, sang quite steady and straightforwardly and, although Walter did not think he sang as fast, he must have been affected by Billy’s style to a degree. Listen to
the way he paces ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’; he always resisted the temptation to drag out ballads.


Walter always showed a natural professionalism on stage. To him it was a job to be done properly and for which he prepared so that he did not forget words, or pitch wrongly in performance, and he only ever drank shandies,- slowly. And this was a man who became a public performer in his sixties after living a fairly sheltered or insular life, probably never having seen many live performances; suddenly propelled into this strange new world, which he took calmly and modestly in his stride. However, he did find performance quite draining so, at the age of 75, he felt it was getting rather too much for him and difficult for him to keep to the high standards he set himself so he decided to stop singing in public. Walter was always very definite about his decisions; no umming or ahhing - just a straightforward Yes or No.

We first met Walter in 1975 or 76; can’t remember exactly but we became very close over the following 20 years. He was a wonderful companion - a real delight. A very humourous, gentle, kind man, incredible generous with his material and his time. The first time we called on him as complete strangers, we had only been chatting for a short while when he asked, “Have you a tape recorder with you”?

He really wanted to share his material. He couldn’t understand when he heard two singers arguing about who should sing one of his songs; “they’re not my songs” he said, “They belong to everybody.” A rather different attitude to his forebears.
We gave him an exercise book once and asked him, if he had time, would he write down some of the local sayings, proverbs, stories, dialect words, etc. Well, he filled that with close writing - no gaps -filled every page completely; then went out and bought a couple more and filled them in the same way. He had his pride but he was not above laughing at himself. He was getting quite irate once at the media taking the mickey out of country people, you know, Mummerset accents, and he said they always make out country people say “oo aar” to everything. Well, I said to him, gently as possible, “But you say oo aar sometimes, Walter”. He just looked at me, thought for a moment and quite seriously said “oo aar”. Then realising what he had said, he just burst into laughter. That was Walter pardon for you.

We are in the process of putting together a double CD of recordings of Walter, singing and talking, which Topic will be producing next year. It will probably be called THE RIGHT STROOK. S-t-r-o-o-k, which according to Walter is an old Norfolk expression. It is not easy to explain completely but pace certainly comes into it. Walter said the old singers “always sang fairly steady”. “A lot of them now is in too much of a hurry to get through a song”. He said it was the same with playing music - too fast nowadays, no-one can keep up. Must play the right strook or step dancers, for example, couldn’t get all their steps in. But it’s more than just pace. We recorded an Irish singer, Tom Lenihan, in Co. Clare and he said you had to “Put the Blas on it”. He also equated it with speed, not too fast but not drag it out either. He always maintained that the story was the most important aspect of a song; like Walter saying you must have imagination. It’s putting yourself in the song, believing in it, getting involved in it and therefore you tell the story at the right pace to communicate it.


Texas Gladden quote:

Texas Gladden spoke of having an image in her mind for every one of these old stories. “I have a perfect mental picture of every song I sing. I have a perfect picture of every person I learned it from, very few people I don’t remember. When I sing a song, a person pops up, and it's a very beautiful story. I can see Mary Hamilton, l can see where the old Queen came down to the kitchen, can see them all gathered around, and I can hear her tell Mary Hamilton to get ready. I can see the whole story, I can see them as they pass through the gate, I can see the ladies looking over their casements, I can see her as she goes up the parliament steps, and I can see her when she goes to the gallows. I can hear her last words, and I can see all just the most beautiful picture.”

Some of the images conveyed so vividly through the ballads have been passed on in this way for more than five hundred years. Today we have Texas Gladden's mental images, which were transmitted via the acetate discs recorded by Alan Lomax in I942, now entering a new millennium on digital CD.

Lomax quote:
Alan Lomax makes some stunning characterisations of Gladden's singing, reflecting his long concern with traditional singing styles. In the notes to the I948 Disc album Texas Gladden Sings Blue Ridge Mountain Ballads, he wrote “Texas sings her antique ballads in the fashion of ballad singers from time immemorial. The emotions are held in reserve: the singer does not colour the story with heavy vocal under-scoring; she allows the story to tell itself and the members of her audience to receive and interpret it in accordance with their own emotions.”