Mudcat Café message #715388 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #47842   Message #715388
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
22-May-02 - 11:46 AM
Thread Name: How old is Brit trad of music in pubs?
Subject: RE: How old is Brit trad of music in pubs?
To expand a little on DMcG's comments:

The modern pattern involves a lot more ensemble playing than seems to have been the case in the past (though it will have been more common here than in Ireland, for demographic reasons), and tends to be a planned and regular event involving singers and musicians who are not necessarily regulars at that pub at other times, rather than a spontaneous one generated "organically", if you like, from among those normally present; there are plenty of exceptions to this generalisation, of course. Sometimes one or two musicians are paid to lead the session, which moves it towards the "laid on" entertainment category, though there's a large grey area between the purely "just for fun" type and the paid residency. Oddly enough, the popularity of the "Irish style" session in Britain is actually a revival of the older, indigenous pub tradition that used to be quite widespread here; I doubt if the majority of those who frequent them realise that.

The widespread use of musical instruments does seem to be more common nowadays than in the past; accounts of earlier forms of "session" indicate that most characteristically concentrated on singing, though again there were always exceptions, one such being the Blind Fiddlers of Sheffield (turn of the 18th/19th centuries); their repertoire seems to have been a mix of popular and stage pieces, light "classical" and what we would now call "folk"; they were professionals, though, and the pub entertainer or busker takes us into another of those grey areas, really.

I won't dispute with Greg that musical instruments have at times been more widely played than is often thought (the barber's shop cittern, for example) and indeed, musical literacy was more widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries than it is today; I'd still say, though, that, so far as we can tell, singing has typically formed the greater part of the pub repertoire.

Ginette Dunn's book, mentioned above, deals in some detail with the "men only" issue; that seems primarily to have been just a late 19th/early 20th century thing. Certainly, "men only" bars persisted until 1972 or 73, but by then they were a relatively isolated phenomenon.