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how important is the label traditional singer?

The Sandman 28 Sep 07 - 07:57 AM
GUEST 28 Sep 07 - 10:12 AM
The Sandman 28 Sep 07 - 10:58 AM
GUEST,Brian Peters 28 Sep 07 - 02:16 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 28 Sep 07 - 02:56 PM
The Sandman 28 Sep 07 - 06:21 PM
Kampervan 28 Sep 07 - 06:45 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 29 Sep 07 - 03:47 AM
The Sandman 29 Sep 07 - 04:39 AM
GUEST, Tom Bliss 29 Sep 07 - 05:31 AM
The Sandman 29 Sep 07 - 05:42 AM
GUEST, Tom Bliss 29 Sep 07 - 07:30 AM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 29 Sep 07 - 08:06 AM
GUEST, Tom Bliss 29 Sep 07 - 09:08 AM
The Sandman 29 Sep 07 - 12:41 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 29 Sep 07 - 03:06 PM
The Sandman 29 Sep 07 - 03:14 PM
Big Al Whittle 29 Sep 07 - 05:03 PM
The Sandman 29 Sep 07 - 06:21 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 30 Sep 07 - 03:20 AM
Big Al Whittle 30 Sep 07 - 03:50 AM
GUEST 30 Sep 07 - 04:01 AM
The Sandman 30 Sep 07 - 04:48 AM
GUEST, Tom Bliss 30 Sep 07 - 05:22 AM
The Sandman 30 Sep 07 - 06:36 AM
Big Al Whittle 30 Sep 07 - 02:58 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 30 Sep 07 - 06:23 PM
GUEST,tom bliss 01 Oct 07 - 04:08 AM
Bryn Pugh 01 Oct 07 - 04:35 AM
The Sandman 01 Oct 07 - 04:59 AM
The Sandman 01 Oct 07 - 05:04 AM
Bryn Pugh 01 Oct 07 - 06:03 AM
GUEST,Brian Peters 01 Oct 07 - 12:22 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 01 Oct 07 - 12:29 PM
Big Al Whittle 01 Oct 07 - 12:38 PM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 01 Oct 07 - 01:42 PM
dick greenhaus 01 Oct 07 - 01:50 PM
GUEST 01 Oct 07 - 03:49 PM
The Sandman 01 Oct 07 - 04:57 PM
The Sandman 01 Oct 07 - 05:09 PM
GUEST 02 Oct 07 - 02:16 AM
The Sandman 02 Oct 07 - 03:29 AM
The Sandman 02 Oct 07 - 08:04 AM
GUEST 02 Oct 07 - 02:57 PM
The Sandman 02 Oct 07 - 03:49 PM
GUEST 03 Oct 07 - 05:32 AM
The Sandman 03 Oct 07 - 05:52 AM
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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Sep 07 - 07:57 AM

I agree folkie dave.
PhilTanner,was a magnificent singer,I also rate very highly Harry Cox,and Jeannie Robertson,in fact I can only think of one traditional singer, I do not like,
I agree with Brian Peters about Bob Lewis ,and would add to his comment Geoff Wesley.
whether the ability to get inside a song[is conscious as in MacColls case],or unconscious, as Jim Carroll I think is suggesting with traditional singers, we shall never know as there are very few traditional singers left,and very few were questioned about this aspect of their singing when they were collected,so Jims assertion can not be verified,[unless he is going to quote Walter Pardon,and that is one instance,and should not be used to generalise from the particular].In the end does it matter[from an aesthetic point of view],if the end effect is the same whether it was conscious or unconscious.
[More often than not traditional singers, no matter what stage in life they have reached, will have retained the nuances of singing, the ability to climb inside a song and make it their own, to re-live it every time they sing it. Listen to Sam Larner or Phil Tanner to hear this at its best. For me, each time they perform (on disc) it is like hearing the song for the first time. What comes across is the complete and utter commitment to the song and the singer's belief in it]
above a quote from Jim Carroll,
When I listen to Bob Blake[Revivalist singer]Louis Killen [singing the Flying Cloud],Maggie Holland singing the murder of BlairPeach, in my opinion they all do this[climb inside the song and make it their own, etc.]
Musical Traditions no 23,has more aggressive/unpleasant letters from Jim Carroll,on reading these I had a feeling of deja vu,and realised that I was not the first person to have been on the rough side of Jim Carrolls tongue.
Jim you have persistently insulted me on this forum,and I am still waiting for an apology.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Sep 07 - 10:12 AM

Cap'n,
I am extremely sorry you are what I said you were.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Sep 07 - 10:58 AM

no comment.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Brian Peters
Date: 28 Sep 07 - 02:16 PM

"I have read extensively many of the articles at Musical Traditions,[an excellent site]including the review of Around the Hills of Clare,and I have read your subsequent hostile letters[enthusiasms no 46]."

Without wishing to get sucked into the highly detailed, largely academic and often vituperative exchanges over MT's review of "Around The Hills of Clare", I must say that - as a regular CD reviewer myself - I've always believed strongly that it's the critic's duty to review the actual music first, with any comments concerning liner notes, cover art, etc. having strictly secondary importance. I learnt almost nothing about the musical content of the Clare recordings from MT's review; instead I read a staggering 8,000 words devoted almost entirely to criticism of Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie's accompanying booklet. Whether the criticisms were justified or not is beyond my expertise, but that does seem an astonishing ordering of priorities - as was pointed out in several of the letters that followed the review (see MT's "Enthusiasms #46").

Perhaps it should not be so astonishing that the tiny number of people on the planet with a passion for traditional song should be so determined to tear lumps out of each other but, nonetheless, I am astonished. The same goes for this thread. Calm down, dears.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Sep 07 - 02:56 PM

Thank you Brian for bringing a bit of sanity to all this.
Cap'n,
Can we please stop this now?
Brian and Wendy are right; there are far more important things to be spending our time on than "tearing lumps out of each other".
If all it takes is an apology - I apologise unreservedly; now let's get on with the rest of our lives.
To save your wasting further time, perhaps I could offer the information that I am never embarrassed by anything I've written. I wrote what I wrote because I believed them and thought them correct at the time; if I was later proved wrong, as far as I'm concerned it's all part of the learning curve.
So you won't have to search through the various archives, and by way of a peace offering, perhaps I could be of some assistance. In Jan. 2000 Pat and I wrote a long letter to The Living Tradition entitled 'Where Have All The Folk Songs Gone"; that ruffled a few feathers (I'm proud to say). (I'm afraid somebody rather spoiled the effect of this by writing an article saying nice things about us in either the next issue or the one after).
If you search the Musical Traditions archive you will find my comments on the story that Ewan MacColl stole Shoals of Herring from a traditional singer (this was round about the time of the CD re-issue of Singing The Fishing). More recently there was the set-to about our involvement with the Walter Pardon CD World Without Horses produced by Topic.
Somewhere in MTs letter archive you will find and extremely acrimonious exchange regarding a poison-pen campaign by 2 MT reviewers on the Mudcat and Irtrad forums (last year I think - sorry I can't be more specific).
I think the last contentious article I wrote (somewhere in Enthusiasms section on MT) was 'By Any Other Name', a reply to Mike Yates' 'The Other Songs' (might have both of these titles wrong, you'll have to check.)
I was a little embarrassed by an article I wrote for The Folk Song Journal back in 1975 on Travellers, but it was a long time ago and I was a little náive in those days.
Now can we agree to differ and get on with discussing important things
Best wishes,
Jim


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Sep 07 - 06:21 PM

Apology accepted.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: Kampervan
Date: 28 Sep 07 - 06:45 PM

Amen


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 03:47 AM

Meanwhile - back at the ranch.
Walter Pardon did indeed have the ability to climb into a song, he spoke at length to us about how he saw the characters and locations of the songs.
He was certainly not the only singer to do so. We did the same work with several singers, notably Kerry Traveller, Mikeen McCarthy, with the same result.
Unfortunately not a lot of work appears to have been done on this; probably the best example is to be found on the Rounder, Texas Gladden CD where she talks about the ballad 'Mary Hamilton', with a description of the execution - powerful stuff:

"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, I 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."

For me, the clue to whether the song is working lies in the phrasing. Unlike many revival singers, a traditional singer tends not to break up words unnecessarily or to breath in inappropriate places - Clare singer Tom Lenihan told us that you should sing the song the way you would speak it, where the tune allowed you to do so. He said that singing was storytelling with tunes.
In the West of Ireland they talk about "telling a song".
Makes sense to me.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 04:39 AM

I agree with this phrase of yours.For me, the clue to whether the song is working lies in the phrasing.
The same criticism could be applied to many whistle,and flute players[Both young and old traditional or revival]who breathe in innappropriate places[eg a middle of a musical phrase].
I agree with your next phrase too, IMO many revival singers would do well to think about their phrasing.
Furthermore the introduction of guitar instrumentals in a long ballad, as far as I am concerned only adds as a distraction.
Burl Ives[Revival singer]appeared to have the same attitude as Texas Gladden,When he describes the man in the song Barbara.Allen.
I[Burl Ives] always have the same picture of the man and the room,where he lay dying.

In the world of Irish/Scottish/ Northumbrian traditional instrumental music,there doesnt seem to be the same concern with traditional or revival labels,People just do it,sometimes well, sometimes not so well.http://www.dickmiles.com


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST, Tom Bliss
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 05:31 AM

I'm having real difficulty understanding this argument - (I mean the musicalogical one).

I agree that there is a spectrum of communication you'll encounter in the singing of songs.

At one end there is almost a kind ot telepathy. A sharing of ideas, a level of spiritual communiciation between the singer and the listener, which imparts far more emotion and information than the mere words and tune would suggest - and, yes, this has nothing to do with technical ability, tunefuless or quality of voice.

Likewise there is another end, where you just get the words and the tune - and this also has nothing to do with 'quality.'

But which end of the spectrum you encounter when someone sings to you is down to a lot more factors than just how the singer learned the song, surely?

The technical skill of the singer, the depth of ownership he feels for the song, his ability to visualise and empathise with the story, and reflect all this in his delivery - plus your own mood and personality, your own preconceptions of the song, the situation you're listening in - and many other factors will all influence how well your two minds are tuned into eachother, and therefore how much you enjoy the show (even if it's at someone kitchen table).

You can get the 'good' end from a poor singer, a great singer, a new song, an old song, a collected song, a source singer - in fact anyone, if that communion is there. And you can fail to get it from all those as well if it isn't.

It has nothing to with performance per se, but how well that perfomance fits into where you, personally, happen to be.

To suggest that 'traditional singers' - I prefer the term 'source singers' (because that is a clear definition that we all agree on, I think!) are somehow intrinsically better at getting inside a song because they learned it orally (supposedly) than anyone who learns it from them (presumably from a recording or a book) seems a little strange to me.

MacColl could definately do it, as you say, Jim, and so can dozens of contemporary revivalists (is that the correct term?) such as our own Brian here. And it doesn't matter if the song is new or old. The singer either has sympathy, and is prepared to go to the edge, to follow the journey of the song, even if the road is dangerous, or he isn't. How theatrical or understated or whatever the singing may be is not the issue, it's how well that performance (for it surely always is one, by definition) clicks with you, in that situation, at that moment.

There is an entirely understandbale romance around source singers, their role as song carriers, their 'hotline' back into history, and their humility as well as their ability to make songs work for their own audience (which is what was happeneing at the moment of collection, of course). And we should indeed respect and celebrate these lovely folks' essential and vital contribution.

But at the end of the day there are two things that matter most: The song (for which we have to thank the writer and the editors over the years, including perhaps the source himself), which may touch you or not touch you according to personal taste, and the performance - which gain may touch you or not, according to personal taste.

If you get the double touch, then that's wonderful, and what it's all about. But it can happen any time any place, by anyone of any ability or background, whether they wrote the song, heard it from a chum, got it off a record, at Great Grandma's deathbed, on the radio, or were given it by a passing minstrel.

Am I not right, or am I wrong?

Tom


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 05:42 AM

Tom,I agree,very well put.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST, Tom Bliss
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 07:30 AM

Actually, may I hazard another thought about perfomance and understatement?

While agreeig entirely that phrasing is one of the most important tools to achieve the effect we're discussing, there is also the crucial issue of scale. (Size, not notes).

In my old day job, I often found myself putting actors in front of a camera who had learned their trades on a stage, and my first words were usually along the lines of - "please just say the line, ok. Don't act" because they were used to emoting on a scale suitable for an audience of 500 people, whereas a camera is just one person, and not very far away. If they 'performed' to the camera as they would to a theatre audience they just looked silly.

Likewise, much of what we enjoy about source recordings is the intimacy of the performace - which was often done at home on a one-to-one basis. And singers who were used to small 'family' audiences might feel quite comfortable with this scale of delivery, and so recordings of them work particularly well.

On the other hand, many 'revivialist' singers have, like my actors, developed their trades in the concert hall - so may perhaps have a tendency to over-emote in the studio (something I know I'm guilty of - a desire to compensate for the lack of an audience makes me quite desperate at times!), or even in small, intimate clubs (again, guilty milud, but I just get carried away)!

A good singer will scale his performance to the size and type of audience (live or recorded) - regardless of how he learned the song, whether he's being paid or not, whether he's reworked the material or is being failthful to a learned version, whether it touches him or not, or whether he's just handing on a song and wanting to do it justice.

Some source singers may have been perfectly happy singing to a big room, and might have changed their delivery to something bigger to suit. Others might not - but as many collections were done on the domestic scale, in many cases, we may never know.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 08:06 AM

Tom,
Thanks for your thoughtful posting; plenty to think about - will go off and think.
In the meantime, MacColl argued that the only way to get an audience to feel the song was for the singers to feel it themselves. This appeared to be part of the traditional singers art, but not that of the revival. Unfortunately, we do not have enough evidence to say this for certain, only bits and pieces from singers like Walter Pardon, Tom Lenihan, Texas Gladden etc. I believe Ken Goldstein did some detailed work with New York State singer, Sarah Cleveland along these lines, but have never come across his conclusions.
Walter Pardon gave us a great deal of information on how he saw his songs, and how he detached himself from his audience while singing.
As an actor/producer/playwrite, MacColl was of the Stanislavski school and used such devices as 'emotion memory' and 'application of the idea of "if"'. He transferred some of that work to his singing. I have seen (and experienced) some of that technique in action with spectacular results, not in actual performance, but in preparation. The idea was that once you had established an 'in' to the song it was there permanently to be drawn upon. His recommended reading was Stanislavski's 'An Actor Prepares'.
It strikes me that nowadays the balance has shifted away from content to form; a friend put it nicely last weekend at the Frank Harte week-end when she said, "singing has become more about the singer than the song".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST, Tom Bliss
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 09:08 AM

MacColl was entirely right about feeling the song - but I think a lot of revival singers do that - if by no other means than by choosing only to sing songs that move them. This is a luxury that revivialists may have - over some source singers, who may perhaps have felt a duty to keep a repertoire alive which could have included songs that didn't personally move them.

I can think of singers (both amateur and pro) who make a lovely noise but deliver the song like classical musicians - 'straight off the dots.' I personally prefer people who may miss the odd note, and perhaps don't have a very pretty voice (like me, many would say) but who get the feeling across - as yes it is usually a matter of phrasing.

Interesting what you say about Walter, though - I was assuming from your previous that this was the opposite of what source singers typically did, in fact the very thing you were suggesting revivalists were guilty of?

I know exactly what MacCall was on about in terms of finding the 'in.' I only choose a song because it has moved me (to laughter, tears, awe, anger, sympathy, whatever) and that personal connection is my 'in.' Once there, it stays - in fact the challenge is to control it so you can deliver the words and melody without you yourself getting in the way.

I don't use MacColl's terms, but they're tried and trusted techniques that have as much to do with acting as singing - and you certainly need them if you're to touch 700 people who you can't actually see through the lights - or millions through a TV screen (a very different challenge).

I find the trick is to be half engaged, and half detatched. It's a difficult balance. Too close and you go too deep (and get a lump in your throat and sing like a dog etc), too shallow and you don't project the scenery (and it IS all about scenery, as any screenwriter will tell you)!

But when you're singing into a mic on the kitchen table these issues are less critical - so the song (assuming it does hold water) is more likely to do its job without the projection techniques.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 12:41 PM

There dont seem to be many plays of Ewan Maccolls,That are performed,compared to the legacy of songs he left us.
Opera singers are also taught correct breath control,and how to sing in musical phrases,and how to interpret a song, and bring the story to life .
However their large vibrato,

and overstating interpretation wise is stylistically[imo]unsuited to traditional music.
Why is it that a storyteller such as Eddie Lenihane can tell a story 20 minutes long and hold everyones attention,and yet even the most skilled singer[traditional or revival]cannot hold an audiences attention with a ballad for this length of time,does the music get in the way of the story.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 03:06 PM

Tom,
Didn't intend to give the impression (re Walter's singing) about source singers. My belief (unproven but tested to some extent) is that most traditional singers 'saw their songs'.
Irish Traveller, Mikeen McCarthy said it was like sitting in the cinema when he sang. Walter had full descriptions of all the personnel in his songs. He once pointed out of his window and told us that the field opposite is house was where the Pretty Ploughboy ploughed.
He also drew inspiration from reading, (in his case, Dickens and Hardy mainly), for instance, using Charles Reade's book on transportation (can't remember the title) for Van Deiman's Land. I'll dig up a transcript of the interview (don't think I'm explaining this too well).
In my experience as an ex-revival singer, people learn songs for a whole load of reasons: good tune, nice poetry, special occasions (we used to do feature evenings in the clubs I was resident at), even an isolated line that takes your fancy. The trick is keeping them alive for yourself if you wish to go on singing them.
I was always under the impression that traditional singers never had this problem. Sam Larner sang the same song every week through most of his life (Butter and Cheese and All) at his local singing session, yetit always remained fresh. When he talked about the song he always told the listener about the big chimneys in his village where the young men hid to escape the press gangs.
I agree with you totally about maintaining a balance, but if you can get a song to click while you're working on it, you have always got that to fall back on.
One of the most skillful singers we recorded was a blind Travelling woman, Mary Delaney. She constantly had difficulty in controlling her emotions when she sang, describing a song, for instance, as "too heavy" (not referring to technique but emotion), and her humourous songs were murder to record (Kilkenny Louse House, Donnelly, Buckled I'd Like To Be) because she constantly burst out laughing in them.
I seldom get anything like that level of involvement from listening to revival singers, quite often coming away with the impression that I have been listening to technique.
Cap'n,
Interpretation (ie the passing on of your understanding of a song) is like any other aspect of performance, (articulation, accompaniment etc) can damage a song if overdone. This doesn't negate the value of interpretation any more than it does those other aspects.
Breath and pitch control and voice production are basic to all forms of singing.
As far as Eddie Lenihan is concerned, he rates in my estimation as one of the worst storytellers I have ever heard - personally I couldn't stand him for 20 seconds, never mind twenty minutes. On the other hand, I have listened to a well-sung twenty minute ballad (and a well -told two-hour story) with no effort at all. The music of the ballad is merely the device with which it is communicated.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 03:14 PM

Iagree,that breath ,pitch control,and voice production are basic to all forms of singing,have to disagree about Eddie.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 05:03 PM

just read through this thread. I think I understand most of whats being talked about - but I can't undersdtand your need to insult each other.

What IS that about?


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Sep 07 - 06:21 PM

I have received apologies from Martin Ellison[Who was cautioned for sending a contentious post]and from Jim Carroll.I have accepted their apologies,and am a person who tries not to bear grudges,
I think the matter is best left there.DickMiles


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 30 Sep 07 - 03:20 AM

WMD,
Over-enthusiasm on both our parts probably
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 30 Sep 07 - 03:50 AM

I bet it is. You should be more careful!

Weelittledrummer of Mass Destruction


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Sep 07 - 04:01 AM

Cap'n,
I am told, and am prepared to believe that Eddie Lenihan is an excellent childrens' entertainer, but for me he represents everything that has gone wrong with the storytelling revival, tweeness, bad-acting, lack of confidence in the story (displayed in facial contortions and his over-mobile performances). His inability to sit still while telling a story and his extremely eccentric delivery is managing to project a totally distorted image of the storytelling tradition. His idiosyncratic delivery has earned him the nick-name 'Eddie the Lepper' (note the double p, a reference to his leaping about).
We have an excellent, now quite elderly traditional storyteller here in Miltown, Francie Kennelly, probably the last in the area, but whenever an event is organised that requires storytelling, Eddie is the one they go for - a great shame.
My favourite story about Eddie came from an encounter he had with an elderly lady, the wife of one of our best local old-style fiddle players and storytellers.
He had been nauseatingly patronising to her, and as he walked away she was heard to whisper loudly (referring to his odd appearance), "He looks like a ferret peeping out of a hedgehog's arse".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 Sep 07 - 04:48 AM

JIM,
I am not an expert on storytelling,and your criticisms are probably correct[logically there must be all sorts of different styles with storytelling,as there are with singers and musicians]on the occassions I have seen Eddie The lepper[which are not that often],I found him very amusing,I can remember him holding the attention of the whole room for nigh on 20 minutes at Whitby Folk Festival[so he must do something for other people, apart from myself].
I agree it is a shame when one person or style is used exclusively,but that happens in the folksong world too,often as a result of networking,the folksong world is like everwhere else,it is affected by who you know,rather than how good an artist may be.
I am not saying that those people who get the plum jobs dont deserve it[they are often very competent],but the scene suffers because they get over exposed, because they are well connected.,and it would[IMO]be good for the folks cene ,for the plum jobs to be distributed more openhandedly.
What has Eddies appearance got to do with anything?.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST, Tom Bliss
Date: 30 Sep 07 - 05:22 AM

The relvance to this discussion of storytelling as a craft is crucial.

You've really got me thinking, Jim, with your suggestion that your source singers may have had a shared philosopy of 'seeing' songs.

I know all about this. It's a well established tenet of storytelling, and it goes way back to the dawn of the artform.

It's something many singers do because they happen to have great imaginations, but in story craft a good imagination is not considered to be enough. The 'world' of the story must have as much integrity as the story 'arc,' so needs careful and detailed construction.

Novellists, of course, have perforce to see their stories as they write, because they need to describe all the detail to the reader - and they have the luxury of having time and space to do it. People who write plays and films do not have that luxury on the page, but they also need to do it, just as much as novellists, because their work has to hold water on paper, and hold it so well that it won't leak when the other creative visualisers - the director, producer and actors - get hold of it.

The great story guru Robert McKee always insists that it takes as long to write a film or play as is does to write a novel - because all the visuals, places, people, clothes, everything MUST have complete integrity in the writers mind as he's writing. He doesn't have to descibe it - the images are technically the director's responsibility (though he can make suggestions) - but he MUST have the world of the film in his head, otherwise the story will simply not work.

Directors and actors for course know all this, and they have their own techniques for developing the world of the story from the writers beginnings. It remains crucial to the whole narrative process (and this applies to choreographers and composers too, by the way).

Now, I use this approach in my songwriting, because my songs are to me little movies (as anyone who's been to one of my workshops or read my book will know) - and I think like this because of my background as a writer and director.

What you're saying about traditional singers rings very true to me.

If you're right, what you're revealing is that not only have people passed down the songs (many of which are, of course highly visual - the very thing which draws me to them), but they've also passed down some of the wider story technique - the philosophy of story writing and telling which flows from the same source as all our other great narrative arts.

Now if this is so, then you may have hit a square point about source singers and revivalists. Some revivialist singers do use these techniques either on purpose or by instinct, but something important may indeed have been lost in the change between song transmission by patrimony, and song transmission by print or audio recording.

Maybe there was teaching and discussion around the controlled passing on of songs - and maybe that was the very reason for the control? So the giver would make sure that the recipient understood how to breathe life into the song, how to suggest the whole world of the story even though the words barely hint at it?

I may be taking this too far, but it's a thought.

If so, and this process has been broken by the Revival, it might explain why a lot of people do sing nice songs so blandly.

One other point, briefly.

Talking about phrasing: One story technique which is unique to song, but as important as the others above is the marriage of speech patterns to metre.

When I write for the page, or for the spoken voice, I have complete freedom of rhythm. But when I write to a tune I have a big challenge. My job as a songwriter is to try my best to match the natural rhythms and melody of the spoken words (and they have both, trust me) to the rhythm and melody of the tune. That's no easy thing - and it's seldom done as well as it might be - though many traditional songs are perfect, either because the original writer knew his or her stuff, or because the process has combed out the tangles one way or another.

And that's the critical point here. The writer can only do so much. The strictures of the medium are such that when you overlay the equally challenging demands of story structure over the demands of melodic structure you're setting the bar very high. (I personally believe narrative songwriting is the must difficult artform there is - but then I would!)

In the end it HAS to be down to the singer (as it is the director, producer and actors in the case of films and plays) to know his craft fully, to rise to the challenge, if the whole thing is to work properly.

Sadly, in the folk world, not everyone understands this.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 Sep 07 - 06:36 AM

No ,but quite a few do,
Including
Martin Carthy,LouisKillen,EwanMaccoll,TonyRose,NicJones,MaddyPrior,
John Kirkpatrick, Rosie Stewart,Brian Peters ,Anne Briggs
Sean Cannon,JuneTabor,JohnMearns,Kevin Mitchell,BurlIves.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 30 Sep 07 - 02:58 PM

do you think there is a correlation between them understanding and being dead?

I'd be uneasy if I were on that list.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 30 Sep 07 - 06:23 PM

Tom,
I have to say that I am very reluctant to make any great claims that our findings among the singers we recorded have any great universal significance. It certainly was the case that those we asked, which were those we knew over a long period, all bore out what I have said, but whether this was a case of too little, too late, we really have no way of knowing. I must bore everybody rigid by repeating that there appears to have been very little research on the subject.
I can say that my interest in this aspect of singing was ignited by a brief conversation I had with Ken Goldstein (over a Chinese meal he generously treated me, Bob Thomson and a couple of others to in Soho, London, some time in the sixties). He told us about the work he had done with N.Y. State singer, Sarah Cleveland, who told him that when she sang it was like sitting in the cinema.
Shortly afterwards we interviewed Traveller Mikeen McCarthy who, coincidentally, used exactly the same words. Mikeen was a fascinating man; tinsmith, horse dealer, caravan builder, he had sold ballads (songsheets) with his mother, at the fairs and markets in the first half of the last century and had also sung on the streets for a living. With only a very rudimentary literary ability, he was extremely intelligent, perceptive and articulate; he painted pictures with words. On one occasion, when describing a childhood memory of his father telling stories to a group of villagers around an open fire in Kerry, he told us "the fire was so hot you could band a wheel with it". It was he who told us that if he ever came back to Ireland he would take us to the house where 'The Wild Colonial Boy' was born. Interestingly, he made a clear distinction between what he called public singing (selling broadsheets and street/pub singing for money) and "fireside singing". He described how his father would turn to the wall, or pull his cap over his eyes while singing or storytelling, in order to shut out his audience. Other singers of his father's generation would do the same.
We became very close to Mikeen over the thirty years we knew him and it was like losing a part of yourself when he died three years ago. I am in the process of transcribing the hundred odd tapes we recorded of him with a view to editing them into a book, or making them available in some other way.
We tried similar approaches with other singers, extensively with Walter Pardon, but also with small farmer Tom Lenihan of West Clare, both with similar results.
One singer we wanted to work with but didn't, was Mary Delaney, a woman who has been blind from birth; we simply didn't know how to approach her on the subject of 'seeing'. Even so, on a number of occasions she came up with basic descriptions of characters and locations in songs "blondie haired boy, whitewashed and thatched house (not included in text of song).
Having said this, we deliberately didn't overdo our questioning as all the singers were still singing and we felt it intrusive to use them as lab-rats and maybe intrude on the way they approached their song.
Some description of the work we did with singers is to be found on the Enthusiasms page of Musical Traditions web-site entitled 'By Any Other Name'.
I have for a long time thought that traditional singers were creative artists and our failure to recognise that fact early enough to gather the information has led to a gaping hole in our knowledge of the tradition.
I can't find the quote from Walter I was looking for, but (at the risk of making this another War and Peace) this is part of a talk on Walter Pardon we gave at Salford some years ago.
"In the notes to the I948 album Texas Gladden Sings Blue Ridge Mountain Ballads, Alan Lomax 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."
Walter spoke once about having "the right strook" for a song, 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".    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.
Walter always showed a natural professionalism on stage. To him, performing 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. "
Tom, you mentioned your book – what book?
Cap'n,
Eddie Lenihan is a remarkable self-publicist. There are not many people who can lay claim to being the cause of having a road re-routed in order to save a 'fairy thorn', as he did with the Ennis by-pass.
His eccentric appearance is, I believe, carefully designed to create an image – in my opinion it is classic 'Darby O'Gill leprechaunism.
While it is true that there are many styles of storytelling, I have never encountered anything remotely resembling Eddie's among those we met (several of whom had choice words to say about his antics). Nor have I come across written accounts which bear his style out. In my opinion, his 'style' does nothing whatever to communicate the stories, not does it present a good image for storytelling.
Regarding your list of 'aware' singers; do you know this or are they just your particular favourites. I know one on the list proved total ignorance of ballads by presenting one of the worst programmes on the subject, 'In Praise of Ballads'. Another told us at a lecture we once attended at Cecil Sharp House that "patter and music-hall songs should all be unaccompanied, but ballads and narrative songs must always be accompanied. We're still trying to figure that one out.
I have to say, of those on your list I have heard (never heard Brian), the singing of at least half of them show little evidence of such understanding.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,tom bliss
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 04:08 AM

jim, I'm on tour now and only have a phone for this so i'll be brief. what you say is fascinating and I think you're onto something very important. I'm very interested in the psychology of song and this goes to the very heart of it. I should have said 'booklet', not book. its been published in abridged form by living tradition but u can dowmload it from tombliss.co.uk. I plan some addittions soon, and would like to quote u and others if I may. its just workshop notes now.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: Bryn Pugh
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 04:35 AM

Finis coronat opus.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 04:59 AM

Jim,
Eddie Lenihanes appearance is not relevant.
You have no right to sneer or make disparaging remarks about a performer based on their appearance.
If you are not acquainted with Brian Peters singing,then you should become so ,if you wish to talk about revival singers you need to keep up to date.
In fairness,you should name the singer who presented in Praise of Ballads,and the year, so that if they wish they can reply,They may have changed their views,likewise the other singer mentioned.
I prefer to go by what my ears tell me when I am listening to a singer/Performer,not their appearance.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 05:04 AM

here are a few more to add to the list[FredJordan/WillieScott traditional and revival singers].Bob Blake revival singer,It could well be that Bob Blake was able to get inside a song,because he listened and mixed with a lot of traditional singers.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: Bryn Pugh
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 06:03 AM

Spoke too soon, didn't I ?


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Brian Peters
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 12:22 PM

Dick, I can happily forgive Jim not having heard my singing if he continues to regale us with first-hand accounts of the singers he's worked with - it's all very interesting. For what it's worth, I usually "see the movie" while singing a ballad, and one of the things I always try to get over to people in song workshops is that they should have a personal reason for singing each song in their repertoire, and not just go ahead and learn something because one of their heroes sang it and they vaguely liked it (and, yes, I admit to having done just that kind of thing myself). And when I say "a personal reason", I mean some kind of emotional involvement in the song, as well as an affection for a pleasing melody or a colourful turn of phrase.

Tom has made some interesting points here, not least the one about the scale of the performance environment. Singing to "700 people who you can't actually see through the lights" is a very different experience from singing to a small group in your back room, which (I presume) is why the folk club evolved as a means of providing an intimate kind of venue.

But going back to the traditional singers themselves, the point is that there is not a single "traditional style" - how could there be, when the singers' relationships with the songs and their performance were as different as those of Walter Pardon and Sam Larner? I think it's true that - as Jim suggested - those singers are or were completely committed to and immersed in the songs, rather than thinking too much about burnishing their own performance. But what then to say about Joseph Taylor, stylist supreme?

Lastly, since Jim mentioned Sarah Cleveland, I'm sure he'll be happy to learn that her grand-daughter Colleen is a singer very devoted to keeping the family repertoire alive.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 12:29 PM

"here are a few more to add to the list[FredJordan/WillieScott traditional and revival singers].Bob Blake revival singer,It could well be that Bob Blake was able to get inside a song,because he listened and mixed with a lot of traditional singers."

I've read the above several times ... but you've lost me there, Cap'n.

AAAhhh! Wait! Fred Jordan DIVIDED by Willie Scott = traditional + revival singers. It's a sort of algebraic equation is it?

No, you've still lost me ...


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 12:38 PM

Well Captain, everybody's said their bit. How important is the label traditional singer?

I take that its a label you aspire to, and some folks here don't want you to have it, cos you're something else - a product of the folk revival movement, say?

I think if you're emotionally committed to traditional material, you deserve the right to demarcate yourself from people like me who sing any old shit. I certainly wouldn't want to deny you that right.

As it does seem to offend some people though - perhaps you need to forge a new title for yourselves - traditionalistas perhaps


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 01:42 PM

"Eddie Lenihanes appearance is not relevant."
Yes it is if it's deliberately cultivated as part of his act.
"You have no right to sneer or make disparaging remarks about a performer based on their appearance."
On this forum I have every right to slag off who I like - just like everybody else is entitled to, and frequently do. Incidently, I didn'rt sneer, I quoted one of is victims - read my post.
My remarks were aimed at the fact that he is a crap storyteller.
In fairness,you shou"ld name the singer who presented in Praise of Ballads,and the year"
Wouldn't be so ungallant as to mention maddy Prior's name - can't remember the year
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 01:50 PM

Of course, traditional singers didn't sing only "traditional" material. I might point Jeannie Robertson's singing of "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-Wow"


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 03:49 PM

"If you are not acquainted with Brian Peters singing,then you should become so ,if you wish to talk about revival singers you need to keep up to date."
Cap'n
Have asked you before - please do not tell me what I am or am not qualified to talk about.
I would point out that if your argument was taken to its logical conclusion there would be many subjects you would not be allowed to contribute to.
Perhaps when we have sorted out this particular problem, perhaps we can turn our minds to your consistently posting meaningless lists of singers in response to - well, something or other - Burl Ives, for crying out loud!!!!!!!!!!!!
Brian,
Delighted to hear Sarah Cleveland#s daughter has taken up her mother's songs - would that it happened more often.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 04:57 PM

I find some of what Jim has to say interesting.
I do not like attacks on peoples personal appearance,or rudeness when someone holds a different opinion[response to Stallions post].
[wld]I have on aspirations to be a traditional singer,I enjoy singing both traditional and contemporary material.
I think that as there become fewer traditional singers to collect, this label will become less important,and its only importance will be for young singers to get an idea of style from the source, but[since the style of Bob Blake revivalist does not differ very much from George Spicer[traditional singer]]it seems a silliness for Blake not to be included[just because he doesnt have the right label].
it is also important [IMO]for people to listen to revivalists like Carthy and Nic Jones to show how skilled accompaniment can bring something different to traditional song,.
This music by its very nature keeps changing,.
I have played a small apart in this, using concertina and clarinet arrangements[way back in1980]when hardly any other people[apart from Bruce Turner Fleetingly with Maccoll]had experimented with this. see my recordings, Dunmow Flitch,Cheating the Tide.
Burl Ives may be meaningless to you Jim,but hes not to me,or to Roy Harris,HughieJones or the late Cyril Tawney,to me when he sings Barbara Allen he gets right inside the song .
you need to keep up to date with revival singers if you are going to criticise the revival in the 21century,otherwise your comments become ill informedhttp://www.DickMiles.com


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Oct 07 - 05:09 PM

above should not read ON aspirations but NO aspirations.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Oct 07 - 02:16 AM

"Roy Harris,Hughie Jones or the late Cyril Tawney,"
And the beat goes on.....
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Oct 07 - 03:29 AM

Jim Carroll,you tend to state your opinion as fact,it is your opinion that Eddie Lenihanes appearances is deliberately cultivated as part of his act,it is not fact.
The above three mentioned singers all of whom are [in Cyrils case were]good performers,learned some of their performance skills from Burl Ives,.
Burl Ives[IMO] like Phil Tanner managed to interpret Barbara Allen, well,.
yes differently, and yes I do prefer Tanners version,but Ives Version is still IMO good.Ives also brought a lot of people to the folk revival who contributed[the above mentioned three ]to Traditional music[it was CyrilTawney who first recorded April Morning.

I would suggest you cant remember the year[in praiseof ballads ]because it was a very long time ago[30 to 40 years],
If you are not acquainted with Brian Peters Singing you are ill informed,and not qualified to make informed comment on the folk revival as it is today.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Oct 07 - 08:04 AM

Jim, I am grateful for your information about WalterPardon.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Oct 07 - 02:57 PM

"I would suggest you cant remember the year[in praise of ballads ]because it was a very long time ago[30 to 40 years],"
1990s - have a cassette of it somewhere to play when I want to remember how bad it can get.
"You tend to state your opinion as fact, it is your opinion that Eddie Lenihanes appearances is deliberately cultivated as part of his act,it is not fact."
Is this something else you know? Never mind, keep pluggin' and you'll get something right.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Oct 07 - 03:49 PM

Eddie must be the only one who knows the answer to that [or has he told you he deliberately cultivates his appearance as part of his act],so you dont know either.
Jim Carroll,you are always right.


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: GUEST
Date: 03 Oct 07 - 05:32 AM

"Jim Carroll,you are always right.
At last - the message is getting through!!!!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Oct 07 - 05:52 AM

Dick Greenhaus raises an interesting point,
[Of course, traditional singers didn't sing only "traditional" material. I might point Jeannie Robertson's singing of "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-Wow".]
Bob Hart sang WhatFunny littleplace to have one,WalterPardon sang Old Browns Daughter[music hall songs?].
Jim, would you have collected from Walter a self composed song?other collectors from an earlier era may not.
Bob Roberts used to recite a monologue The Oily Rigs,
I suspect he wrote it himself.unlike revival singers[apart from LLoyd and his rewrites and self composed songs] who want full recognition for their songs,
Roberts[it would appear] wanted to pass it off as traditional[could that have been that he thought collectors wouldnt have collected it if they knew it wasnt traditional]or could it have been that he thought it didnt matter that it was self composed,
of course Roberts is another grey area being both a traditional and revival singer].
Or could it be that revival singers attitudes have changedsince the1950/1960,or could it be that Roberts AND Bert lloyd were also not full time professional singers[relying it as their only source of income].,and not needing every penny of songwriting royalties. Collectors have a duty to collect everything even self composed songs. Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Oct 07 - 05:54 AM

But only self composed songs from traditional singers?


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: Folkiedave
Date: 03 Oct 07 - 07:01 AM

Roberts[it would appear] wanted to pass it off as traditional[could that have been that he thought collectors wouldnt have collected it if they knew it wasnt traditional]or could it have been that he thought it didnt matter that it was self composed, of course Roberts is another grey area being both a traditional and revival singer].

Dick - we didn't start digging in the North Sea until the mid/late 1960's (North Sea Gas was discovered in 1965) so "The Oily Rig" is hardly likely to be very old is it? I don't know if Bob Roberts wrote "The Oily Rig" himself - but how the hell could he have passed it off as traditional?

As usual Dick you have seem to have great difficulty in distinguishing between facts and your opinion. What's all this about "...It would appear" or as you go on to say "....could he have thought that collectors etc etc...." Only to you Dick - you made those bits up yourself and I cannot for one minute imagine anyone would agree with you.

Finally when you say Bob Roberts was a traditional and a revival singer - are you sure you don't mean he sang songs he had learnt orally and he sang songs he learnt from printed material?

Many singers do that.

So if that isn't what you meant, what did you mean?


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Subject: RE: how important is the label traditional singer?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Oct 07 - 07:34 AM

Bob Roberts,never claimed he wrote the Oily Rigs,as far I know.
Though he was the first person to perform it,and brought it into the repertoire of the folk revival.
Folkie Dave,if youwant to know about Bob Roberts google him up.
I was asking a question,Attempting to ascertain why Roberts never claimed authorship of the Oily Rigs.


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