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Folk vs Folk

Steve Gardham 15 Jun 08 - 05:48 PM
Phil Edwards 15 Jun 08 - 05:12 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Jun 08 - 04:23 AM
Jim Carroll 13 Jun 08 - 03:18 PM
Steve Gardham 13 Jun 08 - 02:42 PM
TheSnail 13 Jun 08 - 12:18 PM
Jim Carroll 13 Jun 08 - 12:16 PM
TheSnail 13 Jun 08 - 10:37 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 13 Jun 08 - 09:01 AM
GUEST 13 Jun 08 - 08:31 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 13 Jun 08 - 07:35 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 13 Jun 08 - 06:35 AM
Jim Carroll 13 Jun 08 - 05:51 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 13 Jun 08 - 03:58 AM
Jim Carroll 13 Jun 08 - 02:15 AM
Jim Carroll 13 Jun 08 - 01:51 AM
Amos 12 Jun 08 - 07:52 PM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 12 Jun 08 - 06:50 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jun 08 - 06:45 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Jun 08 - 05:22 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Jun 08 - 05:21 PM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 12 Jun 08 - 04:45 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Jun 08 - 04:15 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jun 08 - 03:03 PM
The Sandman 12 Jun 08 - 01:13 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Jun 08 - 12:41 PM
glueman 12 Jun 08 - 05:49 AM
glueman 12 Jun 08 - 05:21 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 12 Jun 08 - 04:28 AM
GUEST,Howard Jones 12 Jun 08 - 04:12 AM
glueman 12 Jun 08 - 03:59 AM
glueman 12 Jun 08 - 03:55 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 12 Jun 08 - 03:03 AM
The Sandman 11 Jun 08 - 07:13 PM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 11 Jun 08 - 05:22 PM
trevek 11 Jun 08 - 04:21 PM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 11 Jun 08 - 02:07 PM
Steve Gardham 11 Jun 08 - 01:58 PM
GUEST,Black Hawk on works PC 11 Jun 08 - 09:39 AM
GUEST,Howard Jones 11 Jun 08 - 09:32 AM
GUEST,TREV 11 Jun 08 - 08:09 AM
Phil Edwards 11 Jun 08 - 05:07 AM
GUEST,Tom Bliss 11 Jun 08 - 04:04 AM
Phil Edwards 11 Jun 08 - 02:56 AM
TheSnail 10 Jun 08 - 07:37 PM
Stringsinger 09 Jun 08 - 05:42 PM
Steve Gardham 09 Jun 08 - 10:01 AM
GUEST,ESAM 09 Jun 08 - 09:21 AM
The Sandman 09 Jun 08 - 08:52 AM
Phil Edwards 09 Jun 08 - 05:31 AM
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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Jun 08 - 05:48 PM

Phil,
It helps if you've got a cartload of refrains and repeats while your thinking up the next line. I don't think I could do this with a straight quatrains ballad.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 15 Jun 08 - 05:12 AM

I now sing 2 Child ballads, Cruel Mother and Two sisters, without learning a set text

Wow - that's impressive.

I've been working up The Outlandish Knight recently, and I've found (to my dismay) that knowing the tune & the story gets me pretty much nowhere - I need to know exactly what the parrot said, not to mention exactly how to make "fetch two horses" stretch over two lines. I shudder to think what'd happen if I tried it your way -

"Then up spoke the lady all to that knight
Or was it the other way round?
No, these are her lines, I was right the first time,
He'll get his turn in the next verse, verse,
He'll get his turn in the next verse..."


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Jun 08 - 04:23 AM

Snail,
Sorry this has been so long coming – a bit difficult to know where to begin really:
"At times, you speak with passion and admiration for the people that you have collected songs from; at others, you seem to be dismissive of them, thinking it "somewhat odd" that they could be expected to speak for themselves."
Of course I believe them capable of speaking for themselves; I'm not sure of how able they were to speak for each other.
Our whole thirty-odd years of collecting has been based on gathering information from singers on their songs and how they relate to their lives. We have recorded somewhere approaching 100 people, some at great length, others briefly.
If we wanted information on East Anglia we'd go to Walter Pardon or Tuddy Rudd, or John Goffin or Bob and Ella Green. Within that single category, if we wanted information on farming life we'd go to Walter, on fishing, to the other four.
The same applied to Irish Travellers, Scots Travellers, West Clare settle people, Irish musicians living in London.... whoever we recorded. They gave us the information, we organised it as best we could to make it useful for our own work in understanding the subject we were involved in. This was our agenda, not theirs.
As far as all this relates to what happened in Sao Paulo in 1954, that, I believe, is what the members of the committee did when they arrived at the definition; they pooled their collective experiences and information. This makes the definition based on the singers speaking for themselves, albeit indirectly. What were the panel members qualifications – they were there and they'd done the groundwork – that is enough for me.
What was the alternative – perhaps a huge meeting of elected representative fishermen, farmers, merchant seamen, mill workers, miners, Travellers..... rather like that held in The Winter Palace following the Russian Revolution in 1917? Lovely idea, but a little impractical, don't you think?   
By all means challenge the definition, but you'll have to be more specific if you want to challenge the qualifications of the people who made it – or come up with a workable alternative.
In my opinion there have been no serious challenges to the definition apart from a couple so 'baby and bathwater' and smugly worded as to make them not only unusable, but also rather unpleasant.
"Who supplied 'us' with The Seeds of Love?" John England gave it to Cecil Sharp, who gave it to 'us'. Sorry, don't understand your point.
"The "practitioners" had managed perfectly well without it for hundreds of years."
Do you know this, or is it an assumption on your part? Every singer was asked came up with a word which separated what I refer to as 'folk' from anything else they might know or sing; 'My daddy's songs' (not necessarily learned from her father), 'come-all-ye's', 'traditional', 'the old traditional', 'the old folk songs' 'the old songs', 'real Travellers songs'.... Mary Delaney went as far as to refuse to sing us her Country and Western songs, which she said "had the old songs destroyed".
Walter Pardon called them 'folk songs' and articulated the differences, musically and poetically, at great length; all part of our collection and written up in an essay entitled 'A Simple Countryman' which we wrote for Tom Munnelly's festschrift, 'Dear Far Voiced Veteran'. The title of the article was taken from a conversation we had with a well-known folkie who, when we repeated what Walter had told us, replied "why should he think that, he's a simple countryman?" This is pretty much the same patronising attitude that is used to generate any confusion surrounding the term 'folk' within the revival; plenty of examples on this forum down the years.
In 1948 Walter began writing down his family's songs in an exercise book. These included music hall, Victorian parlour ballads, popular songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his 'folk songs'. The latter were listed first and separately.   
"and rather vague term "folk"."
'Folk' is far from vague, except to those who wish to make it so for their own convenience. I have no intention of repeating my opinions on the matter – if you wish to make it vague – it's vague – to you!
I retreated from the word 'folk' around the time I retreated from the folk clubs, having been driven out by music I had no particular interest in. As I had no great involvement with clubs, it didn't matter, the word is still fully in use for research purposes, as vague as you might consider it.
As far as can see, it was and remains a perfect word to describe what happened at the type of clubs I was involved in, those presenting folk and folk-based material. As it is not being put to good and certainly not logical use by people looking for a convenient peg to hang their particular 'Brand X' music, I see no reason for not using it correctly.
"I don't have a definition. I have no authority to impose one."
If a thing exists, it needs to be identified and defined if it is to be discussed and put to use. The definition has not been 'imposed' as you so loadedly put it, it is there to be accepted or replaced.
I had a strange argument some time ago with an anonymous contributor to this forum describing him/herself as a 'fairly well known folk performer', who insisted that not only could I not use the term 'folk', but I should now abandon the word 'traditional' as the tradition has moved on and no longer includes..... well, I'm sure you get the drift – pretty similar to many of the arguments which appear on this thread.
It takes all kinds... I suppose!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 03:18 PM

Steve
"I didn't think there was anyone still alive who subdscribed to the communal composition theory" neither did I until recently - I certainly don't - but I know a man who does!!!
The point I was making is that while these theories as a whole often don't hold water, there is often a little truth in some of them; the whole area is a minefield.
I am an ardent fan of Bronson , but I found his article on the origins of 'Edward' so speculative and tenuous that I believe he was really flying by the seat of his pants.
I desperately wanted David Buchan to be right, but I think he made a real hames of 'The Ballad and The Folk' by presenting a perfect picture of a 'fairmtoon' then giving as examples of ballad singers, three people who were as far removed from that environment as you could possibly imagine.
Yet, there's Traveller John Reilly, whose ballads appeared to come out in different versions each time - including 2 Lord Gregorys which he didn't recognise as being the same song (he called it Lord Googley) Ah well - back to the drawing-board!
I do find it interesting that the Travellers, unlettered as they are, proved to be the final custodians of the Big Ballads: Maid And The Palmer, Young Hunting, Lamkin, Outlandish Knight, Edward, Lord Randall,.....
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 02:42 PM

Jim, Tom,
I think we're really singing from the same ballad sheet here. I'd say all 3 of us were in 90% agreement at least.
Jim, I too have collected quite different versions of songs of the older type from 3 people living a couple of doors from each other.

Tom, I too am interested in David Buchan/Albert Lord's theory on ballad improvisation and am becoming convinced by it, although I think both methods were employed simultaneously, 1) journalistic ballads being composed on historical events like most of the Scottish historical ballads 2) Ballad remaking each perfomance based on solid knowledge of the story and a repertoire of stock verses/phrases. I'm not so sure about the balanced construction theory but Buchan presents a strong case.

Jim,
I didn't think there was anyone still alive who subdscribed to the communal composition theory. There are obvious exceptions Tom has mentioned but ballads of the Child variety and broadside ballads certainly don't come into this.

Regarding the second method I have started experimenting with this. I now sing 2 Child ballads, Cruel Mother and Two sisters, without learning a set text, just based on a set tune and refrains and my knowledge of the basic story, so each time I sing them is a different performance.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: TheSnail
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 12:18 PM

I await with eager anticipation.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 12:16 PM

Snail,
Was away - not ignoring it; working on it - honest!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: TheSnail
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 10:37 AM

Jim, I think you were still away at the time. Would be interested in your response to my post of 10 Jun 08 - 07:37 PM


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 09:01 AM

Ah - well that's my theory shot down in flames anyway!

I guess one of the reasons I feel as I do about 'ghost authors' is because it seems that in the folk world, along with this general celebration of absence, or lack of importance, of writers, has come an attitude that authorship is never of importance. And this, I feel, has fuelled a general subsumation of known makers too - and a denigration of their contributions in later times. The end result is a state of mind among many that songwriters are expendable and do not require credit or, more importantly, royalties. I think that's a shame - for obvious reasons! Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 08:31 AM

"Someone sat down and decided the story, the theme, the moral - and then composed words and melody to carry it"
Wouldn't open that can of worms if I were you Tom.
Group composition is still around as a theory. Gummere propounded the theory that ballads were composed 'by the dancing throng' - certainly happened like that in Finland.
My late neighbour used to bring me scraps of paper from his attic which he and his friends had made during a drinking session - one of the best of these was of a local character nicknamed 'The Drunken Bear' who went on a pub-crawl through all of the 21 (then) bars in this town and was barred out of every one of them. The elderly locals still remember the man and the incident; nobody remembers who composed or even started the song.
Unlettered Travellers were still making songs up to the mid-seventies; notably the 'made match' one, but many more - not an author in sight.
One song sung to us by a Clare man living in Deptford, about the Irish Civil War was made in the singer's presence by four men standing on the corner of the street the day after the incident; again, no author available.
First verses or even lines of some songs were made and abandoned, leaving others to finish them.
The fact of not knowing the authorship of folksongs is part of their uniqueness.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 07:35 AM

Sorry I forgot to pick up on the point about David Buchan's (unproven but interesting) theory. He may well be right that there were no set texts, but if so, my view would be that the original balladeers were still expert creators - and all the more to be respected if they developed a winning improvisational skill. They could only do that well if they understood the creative process - so were, effectively, makers too. Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 06:35 AM

I agree with everything you say Jim. Of course all that is true - its the variations which are the whole point of traditional songs. The creative and adaptive process is crucial and many of the best elements of many songs are indeed due to this. Carriers (as well as publishers) often improved songs, even to the extent of the occasional re-build, or major reworking to a different melody - and we should always be grateful for this as well as the business of passing-on without major change.

But we should never forget that someone had the original idea. Someone sat down and decided the story, the theme, the moral - and then composed words and melody to carry it. And what's more they did it well enough for others to want to take up that song, and pass it on. And others agreed and did the same down the years. The songs we have today have mainly survived because they had some vital element worth preserving. Weaker songs have tended to die and be lost - unless found in some old archive and revitalised (which is another reason we should never dismiss the importance of the written word - it influences the survival dynamic too).

Of course we can't ever tell whether the original writers were professional bards or unknown poets of the plough-stilts or the hand-loom. (We might make some educated guesses by comparing versions and songs, and looking at other clues like historical events and contemporary language - but that's not the point).

The point is that these songs didn't evolve by osmosis from nothing (well, chanteys and other work songs and lullabies may have done, but not the great ballads). They were made, and that making was the significant act in the song's existence today. And that's something which seems often to be overlooked in the appreciation of the story of the song's journey through history.

Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 05:51 AM

Tom,
The basic difference between folk and non folk material is that with the former it is highly unlikely that you can trace the author, even when the song appears in print. The ballad sheets were very much a part of the oral process.
The singer we recorded who sold the ballads described in detail how he got them printed by reciting them over the counter at a local printers.
The best seller he could remember was 'The Blind Beggar' - author unknown, probably from the first half of 17th century London (and nearing 100 verses long in its early printed forms). This was probably the most popular song we found among Travellers. This, with most of the songs he sold, came from his parents and other Travellers and were largely from the folk repertoire - again, authors unknown.
It is of course quite likely that songs which entered the folk repertoire started their lives on the broadside presses, but the opposite was equally likely to be the case - I wouldn't like to be the one to have to sort it out.
The point in all this is that the act of folk singing at its best was creative and adaptive rather than interpretive.
For me, it leads back to ballad scholar David Buchan's (unproven but interesting) theory that there were no set texts to the ballads, rather, the singers re-composed them each time they sang them, using existing forms and commonplaces.
Why on earth 'in spite of the tender mercies of the singers'. Doesn't this imply that the best version of the song was the first one? I'm just working my way through a large collection of Irish Emigration songs, most of which the editor took from broadsides and early songsters which fed into the singing tradition here. It is fascinating to compare the often stilted and awkward printed texts to the sung versions we have recorded.
MacColl said everything I would want to say, had I the ability, at the end of 'The Song Carriers'.
"Well, there they are; the songs of our people. Some of them have been centuries in the making; some were undoubtedly born on the broadside presses. Some have the marvelous perfection of stones shaped by the sea's movement; others are as brash as a cup-final crowd.
They were made by professional bards and by unknown poets of the plough-stilts and the hand-loom.
They are tender, harsh, passionate, ironical, simple, profound; as varied indeed as the landscape of this island.
We are all indebted to the Harry Coxs and Phil Tanners, to Colm Keane and Maggie McDonagh, to Belle Stewart and Jessie Murray and all the sweet and raucous unknown singers who have helped to carry our peoples' songs across the centuries."
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 03:58 AM

"Where printed texts were available they were used as a guide rather than gospel"

I've worked hard to understand where you're coming from in all this Jim. A song is either a song or it's not. Making adaptations is one thing, but unless you do a major re-write you are still singing an existing song - and you're indebted to the person who made it. If you didn't have it from somewhere you'd not have anything to adapt - so surely the maker is of more importance than any number of adapters? But somehow back there the erosion process has been elevated above the creative one, and this seems bassackwards to me.

Using a text as a guide rather than as gospel is fine and natural - but you're still using the text! How does this 'guide' use negate the existence of the text?

Of course it's hugely rewarding to compare and contrast the many versions of an old song, and of course some versions will work better, or appeal more for one reason or another, than others - and that judgement always will be both subjective and objective.

But a song is a song - and i think the most wonderful thing about the best of these old ones is that they were sufficiently well made for the essence to have survived in many versions, IN SPITE OF the tender mercies of singers through the ages.

Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 02:15 AM

Whoops - elbow slipped - start again:
Sorry Tom,
While I find interesting and agree with most of what you say I'm not sure of its place in this discussion.
"It's no accident that great interpreters like Martin Carthy and Pete Coe and Chris Foster...."
Again, a piece of subjectivity that deserves its own discussion.
Steve:
This part of Ireland and others were heavily influenced by the 'ballad sellers'. Ballads like 'Sweet William and Lady Margaret' and 'The Suffolk Miracle' owe their existence in this area to the trade. Yet there is little evidence to suggest that the songs that arrived in this manner were sung as they were received, but rather, were heavily adapted/edited by the singers, so much so that in some cases it has been possible to find two distinctive versions of a song from different singers virtually living within walking distance of each other and both having been received from the same source.
Where printed texts were available they were used as a guide rather than gospel. The singers we have found most skillful at adapting songs were Tom Lenihan, Walter Pardon and Martin Reidy all of whom radically adapted received texts (see the magnificent job Walter did on the text of 'Dark Arches' which was supplied by Mike Yates).
The Travellers have probably had the greatest and longest lasting influence on the oral tradition, yet they were almost universally a non-literate community. Ironically, their influence on the singing traditions of the settled communities has been a literary one - through the sale of 'the ballads'.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Jun 08 - 01:51 AM

Sorry Tom,
While I find interesting and agree with most of what you say I'm not sure of its place in this discussion.
"It's no accident that great interpreters like Martin Carthy and Pete Coe and Chris Foster...."
Again, a piece of subjectivity that deserves its own discussion.
Steve:
This part of Ireland and others were heavily influenced by the 'ballad sellers'; ballads like 'Sweet William and Lady Margaret' and 'The Suffolk Miracle' owe their existence to


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Amos
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 07:52 PM

The Ballad of Various Literary Criticisms

Old Pat was plain and sexual,
He warn't no inty-leckshual,
He liked to shout in terms obscene,
At people on the movie screen.
But down at Mudcat, on a break
Someone made a big mistake,
Asked Pat for a literary critique,
Something you should never do.

All the professorŽs swear
They'd heard of his repute somewhere
They only lost the footnote source
When the winds began to blow.

Now Charley, he a can't pick and choose
Every verse, like he useter do,
When Pat produced his grand critique,
It raised a bit of Charley's pique
It was all bullshit, smoke and phlegm
But that didn't matter much to him,
He started writing one himself,
An' we all know how that goes.

All the professorŽs swear
They'd heard of his repute somewhere
They only lost the footnote source
When the winds began to blow.

The critics all ignored old Pat,
And Charley's counterpoint fell flat
On grounds of insufficient charm
And post-deconstructionist alarm.
And Pat, he needs your prayers, it's true
But save a few for Charley, too,
He's writing guidebooks for the Zoo
For the tourists in the spring.

All the professorŽs swear
They'd heard of his repute somewhere
They only lost the footnote source
When the winds began to blow....
Oh, when the winds began to blow....



Franz was getting hot and sore,
Pacing up and down the floor,
Researching antecedents which
He found from 1934.
But Franz could not, for all his tryin'
Get the other guys to buy-in,
He swore Pancho Villa was the key,
But maybe it ain't so...

All the professorés swear
They'd heard of his repute somewhere
They only lost the footnote source
When the winds began to blow.
Ohhhh, ohh, the winds began to blow....

Big Mick lives out on the road,
Carrying a heavy load,
Righting wrongs and fighting lies,
And helping workers organize,
But when the load, it gets too great,
Ole Mick doesn't hesitate,
He tunes in to the folkie's page,
And rests his weary eyes.

All the greedy bosses claim
They're smarter than a Big Mick's brain,
And they only give him what he wants,
Out of kindness, I suppose.

Ole Hawk, he stayed behind in school,
While they taught him not to drool,
Until they turned him out, alone,
To face the cold inside his bones.
He couldn't stand the cold inspections,
And grammar, text and style corrections,
So he dropped out in Canada,
Where no-one knows his past.

The poets sing about the threads
That he fucked up and left for dead,
And where he lives is bitter cold,
And that is how the tale is told.
But Little Hawk still gets his say
--he writes pedantic posts, by day,
They show the latest dusty trace
Of the thumb that's up his ass.

A few old professorŽs claim
They could have understood his brain,
They only had to run away
When the wind began to blow...

The talking turned to bold Rapaire,
And psychobabble filled the air,
He figgered high and he figgered low,
And what he meant, nobody knows.
He said that life was edible,
And said that Spaw was Oedipal,
Then he went off smoking drainpipes,
As the sun was falling low.

All the academics seem
To think they know what he tried to mean,
But they lost their lists of secret memes
When the wind began to blow,
Oh, when the wind began to blow

After all was said and done,
By the sorry light of a setting sun,
Charley Noble stood alone,
Harvesting the long thread home,
And as the sea was turning red,
Charley shook his noble head,
"They've all gone off to other things..."
But that's the way it goes.

A few old professorŽs claim
They understood the singer's brain
But they couldn't find the footnote source
When the winds began to blow,
Oh, woooah, when the winds began to blow...


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 06:50 PM

I agree that there's a subjective reaction to song which we can't, and indeed shouldn't try to quantify, but we can still do some objective analysis on the lyrics and tune.

And the subjective usually follows the objective, because story song writing is a craft just as much as an art. If you get the construction right the audience will respond - ask any scriptwriter.

There are some basic rules, or shapes, which are universal throughout all story media, and I think it's safe to say that the people who wrote the original versions of the great traditional songs knew what they were doing around these techniques. And we can also look out for things like economic use of language, good similes, creative metaphors, neat rhymes - specially internal rhymes, deliberate assonance and alliterations - because again it's clear that writers from long before Shakespeare knew all about this too, and used these devices to advantage.

Of course it's not easy to decide which section from the many versions we know today are original, but it doesn't take much to work out which versions of a song hold water and which don't.

People do respond emotionally to tunes, and often to an occasion too - so will often bond with the first version of a song they hear. But they can still step back and look at the lyrics objectively and see if the story is well told or not.

This is a bit of an academic pursuit probably only of interest to writers like me, but if you feel about story songs the way I do - where you hate to see even one syllable wasted - then it's inevitable that some versions of old songs will seem somewhat tired and careworn. It's no accident that great interpreters like Martin Carthy and Pete Coe and Chris Foster often take sections from different versions, and also rewrite whole sections - to build a working model: A song that will actually cut ice the way the original writer intended.

I often wonder what the makers actually wrote - and what they'd say now if they could hear their songs today, with half the verses replaced by floaters, key poetic passages upturned and all the torque flopped out of the story.

I know, anal or what - but that's MY passion, you see? My empathy reaches back through time to writers like me. It's only natural really when you think about it

Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 06:45 PM

Jim,
Of course the aural process has a great deal to do with the variation, but not as much as most people think. As I said, a large slice is down to the printer's hacks altering and mixing and matching. It would take a mammoth study to actually quantify this or come up with percentages, but I have spent a long time studying and comparing stall versions and I'm convinced their intervention is well understated. In Ireland for instance the likes of Brereton, Haly, Baird, Birmingham were similarly involved in this.

Most of those ballads that came down to us from the 17thc hadn't existed purely in oral tradition for 300 years (although a few had). Hacks and printers themselves were going back to the longer ballads and shortening them for more recent tastes. They often did this by splicing 2 stanzas together to make one, and similar processes. William Taylor for instance had about 30 double verses before it was pared down to the version we are familiar with.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 05:22 PM

PS
Is there a prize for getting 200?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 05:21 PM

Tom
"but were those changes actually improvements?"
I don't think that was the point Steve was making; it certainly wasn't mine.
This discussion, as far as I'm concerned, has managed to avoid the subjectivity of personal taste - of which 'improvements' is a prime example, that is what makes it so interesting.
Who are we to say which of the 200 odd versions of Barbara Allen is best, beyond saying which one we prefer.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 04:45 PM

" ...underwent significant changes almost immediately after they were taken up"

I'm sure it did but this always begs the question - but were those changes actually improvements?

I'm forever finding versions of songs which have a crucial fact or notion missing, without which the story no longer makes any sense. But you can tell by the quality of the word-smithing that there was a skilled canny writer behind the original work.

For example: Compare 'The Bloody Gardener' and 'The Bloody Garden.' The Carthy/Swarb version is largely the same as the one Maud Karpeles collected in Newfoundland, in which the motivation of the gardener to killing the girl is not explained (one assumes he was just a psychopath), so when the lad goes home and blames his mum is makes no sense at all (even though she's mentioned in verse one is beng disapproving of the marriage). Yet the Peacock version (also from Newfoundland) has these extra verses - which I'd wager a tenner are by the original writer:

His mother, false and cruel, wrote a letter to his jewel,
And she wrote it in a hand just like his own;
Saying, "Meet me here tonight, meet me here, my heart's delight,
In the garden gay nearby my mother's home."

The gardener agreed oh, with fifty pounds indeed,
To kill this girl and lay her in the ground;
And with flowers fine and gay oh, her grave to overlay,
That way her virgin body ne'er shall be found...

And suddenly it all makes sense.

I'd submit that here the oral process has merely weakened a well-written song, to the point where it no longer holds water from a story-telling point of view (and that was, after all, the whole point).

So why is it that we so often put the process higher than the original creation?

Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 04:15 PM

Steve,
On the other hand - some time in the late 60s a song was composed about a 'made match' between two Travellers. 'Made matches', marriages agreed by the parents of the couple and finalised by a go-between 'matchmaker' (usually with the complete agreement of the couple) were common in rural Ireland right up to the 50s and among Travellers possibly into the 70s. It was said to have been made up on the day of the wedding by a group of guests. Nobody knows who the makers were; so far we have come across around eight versions of the song.
I have no doubt that what you say is correct but I would suggest that the vast majority of versions of folk songs are down to the oral tradition (which I am quite sure you are not doubting the existence of).
Work we did in West Clare points to the fact that not only was the oral tradition very strong here, but songs learned from 'ballads' (printed song sheets), underwent significant changes almost immediately after they were taken up.
Exceptions very seldom prove rules.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 03:03 PM

Sorry to bleat on about the commercial influences on folk song but a large slice of those variations in text we so readily covet are directly down to professional ballad hacks who sometimes collected from oral tradition, sometimes wholesale rewrote ballads for their paymasters, the broadside printers, and sometimes simply pirated them from other printers. Sometimes the ballad sellers were at once collectors and disseminators. The Glasgow Poets Box c1850-1880 was typical. The 'Poet' actively advertised for new songs and old and people would take into his office the latest music hall songs, songs straight from oral tradition and songs printed by other printers, for a small remuneration.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: The Sandman
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 01:13 PM

Jim,it takes two to tango.
one of the good things about this forum is the passing on of information,particualarly learning of musical techniques.
the downside is ill informed comments.
Ralph Mctell is a fine songwriterwho did/does use folk forms.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 12:41 PM

Would like time to read through what has been sent since I went away.
In the meantime:
Cap'n
"if you are not familiar with Mctells music you should keep quiet.DickMiles"
I would be grateful if you didn't make this another of your pissing competitions.
If we were to obey your edict, I'm afraid very few of us would have very little to say about anything, including (some would say especially) the RH Member for West Cork.
To err is human - to forgive is divine
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: glueman
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 05:49 AM

I should add that I agree money has always played a part in performance which is where I find 1954 definitions partial. It beggars belief that exemplary tunesmiths with wide collections of music for each occasion and access to large public gatherings - horsefairs, hangings, festivals - would not have received recompense for their work. Nevertheless, the central nature of money to the folk revival points towards more renditions of Scarborough Fair of the Simon and Garfunkel variety, highly arranged, harmonised nearer to the Everly Brothers than traditional tonal difference and majoring on the market status of the performer. In other words pop.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: glueman
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 05:21 AM

It may be old ground TB but a fair proportion of Mudcat is devoted to picking the scab of definitions. Those taxonomies depend on the other expenditure of heat and light on this board - the value of modern performers.

If one end of the folk specrum is occupied by those who believe 1954 has it bang to rights, money has next to no place in the equation. Neither 'quality', 'professionalism' or any of the contemporary totems of public performance. That is what gives folk its uniqueness. Once a fiscal value is placed on the rendition Yellow Submarine occupies the same marketplace as a sea shanty, there can be no third way. That people gripe about their value is only human nature but by even attempting to put a cash equivalence on a folk performance they're entering a public arena dominated by market forces and the market for traditional pieces is a very limited one.

The sensible conclusion is that folk simultaneously occupies multiple agendas which are defined largely by taste.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 04:28 AM

We're going over well-trodden ground here again Glueman, but I think it's been established beyond reasonable doubt that the 'professional traditional musician' is not a new phenomenon. Any period you look at in history you'll find trade musicians making a significant contribution and providing major influence. Some even argue that all the non-trade system has done is encourage songs to fall into disrepair, and that it was always the working chaps (or those with a 'trade' attitude) who did the making, the mending and the significant disseminating. And yes, Howard, we do know that the better non-trade musicians did win rewards on occasion (just as trade musicians did - and still do - play for fun as well as reward). It's all mixed up together. What we have here is yin and yang - or maybe two dimensions - X and Y. You can take any folk event, or person, or song, or whatever you like and plot it on that pro/am graph. But it won't stay there long, because it's a dynamic system and everything's tumbling down the stream all the time. And that's what makes it special. Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 04:12 AM

Glueman is right.

"Folk music" exists in two quite separate environments. One is the "tradition", the 1954 definition where songs and tunes evolve and are transmitted within a community. The other is as a genre of entertainment (however much some may dislike the idea) which is identified ("defined" is too strong and implies too much precision) by a certain style of performance rather than the origin of the material.

Is it correct though that traditional musicians were largely unpaid? We know that instrumentalists like Scan Tester were very active providing music for all sorts of social occasions and would be paid for this, whether in kind or cash from a collection. It was never enough to make a living from, but the same applies to many "professional" performers today.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: glueman
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 03:59 AM

That should be 'paying audience' of course.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: glueman
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 03:55 AM

There are so many contradictions in the application of the word Folk it's hard to know where to begin. If we accept that traditional singers and musicians were largely unpaid, apart from beer money perhaps and of the community, it would be in keeping for their contemporary equivalents to spread the music through the same values. Except a new cadre of professional traditional musician has appeared who is a hybrid of entertainer - with the norms of pay expected within the industry - and collector of songs.

The only rational conclusion is to acknowledge folk as another musical genre and treat it accordingly. Arguing for special status for 'Folk' will place it under re-enactment for the temporary amusement of people passing though national trust properties, industrial museums and the like (no doubt with full period dress, wigs, prithees, etc).

Some musicians stick close to traditional presentations by being a busker of one kind or another, or getting a guitar out in the pub garden for the amusement of their peers but what we're talking about are people who 'perform' 'professionally'. My taste doesn't run to Beatles songs, American Pie, Streets of London but within a professional form of presentation there can be no difference between those songs and traditional material, it's all generic music for a paid audience by tax paying performers.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 12 Jun 08 - 03:03 AM

I'm sure Jim can speak for himself. I'd certainly not accuse him of failing to recognise the worth of trade musicians. His issue is different and well detailed above.

There are however a significant number of people (a group well-represented on internet forums) who delight in a 'hsibbons' view of trade music. They suggest, for example, that the influence of commerce is damaging to the tradition, that professionalism is a kind of prostitution, that the registration of arrangements is a kind of theft, that anyone wanting to make a living at music is only in it for the money (rather than a committed artist), that doing it well is bad, that being innovative is bad, that concerts are a betrayal of the song-handing ethos, and so on and on and on.

A caveat might have helped to keep things in perspective, and encourage everyone to recognise that pro and am have always been the yin and yang of folk. And remain so today.

Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: The Sandman
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 07:13 PM

and which leaves us today with a residual feeling among some that trade musicians are of less worth than they deserve to be.

Tom .
could that some, include Jim Carroll?


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 05:22 PM

"How does this work with obscure or obselete songs or tunes which are discovered and printed and then adopted by the (imagined) community of folk-singers?"

Good question.

As I've said elsewhere, in my opinion the 54 definition should ideally have included a caveat to ensure that the oral process was always studied in its true context, with the influence of recorded/printed material and the role of trade musicians properly recognised. The wording of the definition suggests that they didn't do this only because they took the context as read, and were needing to focus specifically on the oral community process.

However, sadly, this omission has contributed to a certain romanticisation of the process and the communities involved, which is unhelpful in terms of understanding how the songs were actually created and evolved, and which leaves us today with a residual feeling among some that trade musicians are of less worth than they deserve to be.

Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: trevek
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 04:21 PM

"The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character"

How does this work with obscure or obselete songs or tunes which are discovered and printed and then adopted by the (imagined) community of folk-singers?


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 02:07 PM

Heehee - see what I mean?

Steve is 100% correct - as a member of 'Group 2'

However Group 1 might point to this phrase:

"The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character"

and rule it out - along with Music Hall, O'Carolan, Jez Lowe, Lennon/McCartney etc etc etc.

So yes - the important thing is indeed to 'accept the wider usage and meanings of both words and come to an understanding among ourselves about what we mean by them' - only that's not as easy as it looks on paper.

Me, I wish there were specific words for all these things. Not to prevent arguments on web forums but so we'd have a leg to stand on when dealing with funding bodies and PRS and all of that stuff.

Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 01:58 PM

At the risk of repeating myself: The English language is evolving all the time. We can be unhappy about this or we can be happy about it BUT we can do very little about it as individuals so we might as well learn to accept it. A sensible way forward for all of us here is to accept the wider usage and meanings of both words and come to an understanding among ourselves about what we mean by them when we discuss them on forums like this one.

Of course 'Happy Birthday' is traditional in almost every sense. It doesn't alter (apart from in the very humorous way mentioned above)simply because it is very brief, easily remembered and is in constant use. this hardly disqualifies it from being traditional and the fact that we know its origins is totally irrelevant.

SteveG


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Black Hawk on works PC
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 09:39 AM

In one sense Happy Birthday is evolving everytime it is sung as the name changes each time.
And it is always by aural transmission.
L.O.L.
Someone once said they knew all the words & I asked them what the words would be on my daughters birthday. They didnt know.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 09:32 AM

This is where trying to define something can end up in nonsense. "Happy Birthday" isn't traditional because (leaving aside the fact that it's still in copyright) it hasn't undergone a process of change by the community - everyone knows the same the tune and words. However it's hard to deny that there is a "tradition" of singing the song on someone's birthday - such a strong one in fact that it now crosses boundaries and cultures. So if it's part of a tradition, should it be considerd a traditional song?


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,TREV
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 08:09 AM

Surely the point is that because the world and the transmission of music and songs have changed then the terms need reappraisal.

100 years ago I don't imagine many folk singers bought a book of traditional tunes in Waterstones. they might not have the access to variants and research which a singer can have today. Also, the wider access to material and info by an audience erodes the idea of oral transmission being the main form of transmission.

Also, might we argue that any song written today might be considered for electronic media...


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 05:07 AM

My point was that back in 2003 Jim seemed resigned to losing the word 'folk' (for the 54 definition) and using 'traditional' instead - precisely the position you've been arguing here & he's been resisting.

If we were arguing about the meaning of the word 'traditional', I'd probably be in group 1 along with both you and Jim. But we've been arguing about the word 'folk', which I find a bit odd in the light of that 2003 article.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 04:04 AM

I'm not quite sure what you are saying here Phil, though your post does flag up one point that I've subjugated in my arguments above for the sake of clarity (though I've expounded on it at length elsewhere) - and I suspect this is also what Jim's referring to in your rather out-of-context quote.

This is that there are at least two interpretations of the word 'traditional' too. So it's not cut and dried!

The dichotomy is not as wide as that between the two main meanings of the word 'folk' but it does throw up its own set of problems and confusions.

One group of people use the T word specifically to mean the 54 definition. I tend to this camp as can be seen above, and I opt to use a capital T, or 'THE Tradition' when I'm referring to this meaning to try to help with clarification. I think there's some consensus within this group that because the Trad process was largely killed off by the advent of 20th century technology, and all that went with it, 'Trad' today mainly refers to a specific repertoire, which is now largely a closed book (even though we may dispute the contents at times)!

The other group use the word traditional in a more general way. They'd include all the above, but fell that the '54 folk process' did not stop with the advent of recording technology, because that it is the community process which defines the tradition - not the oral-only element. This group therefore allow quite a few contemporary songs to be called traditional, as long as they've been taken up by a community, and/or are associated with some traditional activity. This, of course, is one of the ways that the 54 definition was eroded in the first place (it wasn't just artists jumping on a bandwagon)

To give an example: Happy Birthday is not trad to group one, but it is to group two. And that goes for Fiddlers Green as well.

Anyway - does this all matter? Not much, as long as people respect the other guy's viewpoint, don't mud-sling, and attribute sources correctly (and, ideally, habitually).

Tom


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 11 Jun 08 - 02:56 AM

Tom B, 5/6/08:

"to Jim, and others who agree with him, the word folk is welded to the 54 definition. Therefore if some music is described as folk, then, to them, this means that the music is being included (or is hoped to be included, in their eyes) within that definition. And this makes them unhappy, and a little bit cross.

"To me, and others if like mind, it is not. It is merely that the meaning of the WORD folk has been expanded to include this other music, leaving the 54 definition intact, but now with a new label: Traditional."

Jim Carroll, 4/10/2003:

"It is many years now since I more-or-less abandoned the term folk song because of the confusion that had been caused by its constant misuse. Now it seems the same confusion has grown up around the term traditional. "


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: TheSnail
Date: 10 Jun 08 - 07:37 PM

Jim Carroll
"But Cecil Sharp can speak on behalf of Norfolk fishermen, Maud Karpeles on behalf of Gower farm labourers?"
The 1954 definition, from which most dictionary definitions are derived, was arrived at by the pooling of knowledge and experience of those working in the field. It reached far beyond the people present and took into consideration the work of people like Kidson, Broadwood, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth... (the articulators) all of whom had presumably gathered information from their informants. This would have been the case in the other countries represented. It was not an attempt to define the individual communities – fishing, mining etc.; rather it was an attempt to make sense of a world-wide phenomenon based on the information gathered by those working in the field.
If these people were not qualified to make an assessment – who would you suggest was more suited to the job? – or was anybody qualified? Was the job worth doing at all? If they got it wrong, where?
""Folk" had been in use for a long time before 1954...... exclusive use of the word that causes problems."
The relevant definition of folk as applied to music, tales, superstitions, art..... according to my dictionaries anyway is "occurring in, originating among, belonging to the common people. For full discussion of the term in this context, see Funk and Wagnall's 'Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend', under song, music, lore, customs tales dance....etc.
If that is correct – how does it fit in with your new re/non definition; if it isn't - why?


I have agonised about how to reply to this. Perhaps the phrases I have highlighted will help make my point.

I find it hard to make you out, Jim. At times, you speak with passion and admiration for the people that you have collected songs from; at others, you seem to be dismissive of them, thinking it "somewhat odd" that they could be expected to speak for themselves.

Earlier you said -

As I understand it, the established definition was drawn up by people working in the subject; basically by those who supplied us with the raw material in the first place.

Really? Who supplied us with The Seeds of Love, Cecil Sharp or John England?

Was the job worth doing at all?

A good question. The "practitioners" had managed perfectly well without it for hundreds of years. I don't think they relied on von Herder or Funk and Wagnall to tell them what it was they were doing. Clearly, it is of use to the folklorists who coined it for discussion amongst themselves and it is of interest to those of us who have followed after. I think we would call ourselves "enthusiasts" and we tend to use the term "traditional" to distinguish from the widely used (and rather vague) term "folk".

how does it fit in with your new re/non definition

I don't have a definition. I have no authority to impose one. I simply have to listen and interpret what people are saying in context. Language evolves.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Stringsinger
Date: 09 Jun 08 - 05:42 PM

"'A definition isn't imposed - it defines.'
but it's who sets the definition that matters."

Kinda' like Stalin when he says something like it's not who votes but those who count the votes that counts.

A definition is arbitrary depending on the agenda of the creator. Webster's has been upgraded considerably. There is little unanimity.

Folk is not limited to gigs. It has a broader reach. Folk is a bird in flight. A song on a page is a photo of a bird in flight. It changes as people change but is not frozen in time.

It involves a community. A business is not a community. Show business is not a community but a commodity.

Folk music has to be accessible to anyone otherwise it is "art" or "elite" expressions of art.
It also must be accepted by many to find longevity.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 09 Jun 08 - 10:01 AM

'the term folk was chosen originally to denote material that "originating among, belonged to the common people'

Shaped by the common people but NOT necessarily originating among.

Jim, I agree with the rest of your long posting.
Steve


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: GUEST,ESAM
Date: 09 Jun 08 - 09:21 AM

"Egotistical Twat,aka Dick Miles"...

Now really, Dick! You'll be scourging yourself with briars next!


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Jun 08 - 08:52 AM

Phil,Iprobably did,but other peoples arguments convinced me.yours sincerely, Egotistical Twat,aka Dick Miles.


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Subject: RE: Folk vs Folk
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 09 Jun 08 - 05:31 AM

On Bert Lloyd, this sentence jumped out at me:

Perhaps for English society the most clearly defined of such groups are those attached to various basic industries: for example, miners with their special attitudes, customs, lore and language, song culture and such.

Lloyd uses miners as a strong example of the kind of contemporary 'folk' community he's proposing. But some of the criticism of Lloyd's work has attached specifically to the miners' songs he collected, or claimed to have collected. I haven't studied the CAYBM material, but we know The Recruited Collier" wasn't what he claimed it to be, & doubts have been raised over The Blackleg Miner. So I think it is reasonable to relate Lloyd's philosophy of contemporary folk back to the doubts over Lloyd's scholarship (which I seem to remember Dick challenging the last time we discussed this!).


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