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Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads

Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 21 Dec 09 - 03:18 PM
Gurney 21 Dec 09 - 03:56 PM
Ernest 21 Dec 09 - 04:33 PM
The Villan 21 Dec 09 - 04:43 PM
SINSULL 21 Dec 09 - 04:55 PM
EnglishFolkfan 21 Dec 09 - 05:00 PM
GUEST,EKanne 21 Dec 09 - 05:24 PM
olddude 21 Dec 09 - 05:32 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 21 Dec 09 - 05:40 PM
olddude 21 Dec 09 - 05:41 PM
olddude 21 Dec 09 - 05:57 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 21 Dec 09 - 06:03 PM
Spleen Cringe 21 Dec 09 - 06:05 PM
Matthew Edwards 21 Dec 09 - 06:25 PM
akenaton 21 Dec 09 - 06:32 PM
kendall 21 Dec 09 - 07:38 PM
GUEST,999 21 Dec 09 - 07:41 PM
olddude 21 Dec 09 - 08:01 PM
Leadfingers 21 Dec 09 - 08:40 PM
Maryrrf 21 Dec 09 - 09:19 PM
GUEST,EKanne 22 Dec 09 - 03:27 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 22 Dec 09 - 06:20 AM
matt milton 22 Dec 09 - 06:57 AM
matt milton 22 Dec 09 - 07:12 AM
Phil Edwards 22 Dec 09 - 07:26 AM
WalkaboutsVerse 22 Dec 09 - 09:57 AM
GUEST,The Folk E 22 Dec 09 - 11:29 AM
GUEST,EKanne 22 Dec 09 - 11:42 AM
Phil Edwards 22 Dec 09 - 11:48 AM
GUEST,leeneia 22 Dec 09 - 11:51 AM
Midchuck 22 Dec 09 - 11:55 AM
matt milton 22 Dec 09 - 11:55 AM
Folkiedave 22 Dec 09 - 12:08 PM
Maryrrf 22 Dec 09 - 12:10 PM
Valmai Goodyear 22 Dec 09 - 12:15 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 22 Dec 09 - 12:16 PM
WalkaboutsVerse 22 Dec 09 - 12:46 PM
Art Thieme 22 Dec 09 - 12:59 PM
DebC 22 Dec 09 - 01:05 PM
Art Thieme 22 Dec 09 - 01:10 PM
Brian Peters 22 Dec 09 - 01:13 PM
The Sandman 22 Dec 09 - 01:13 PM
DebC 22 Dec 09 - 01:34 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 01:39 PM
Joe Offer 22 Dec 09 - 01:47 PM
The Sandman 22 Dec 09 - 02:00 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 22 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM
GUEST,bankley 22 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 02:15 PM
GUEST,bankley 22 Dec 09 - 02:21 PM
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Subject: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 03:18 PM

Mudcat's looking a bit tired.


So, how do you as a singer or musician 'tackle' those classic big long ballads?

I'm *just* starting to cut my teeth on these beasties and they are tough work - not merely fore memorising unending verses, but more for capturing the essence of the tale...

Phew, anyone can sing a pretty little ditty, but these are hard-core!

Ballad anecdotes welcomed! (though no doubt someone will tell me off for not searching out some dessicated thread dead for ten years)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Gurney
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 03:56 PM

Been there, done that, bored the pants off the audience.

Were I you, I'd only sing them to the like-minded.

Wonder if they were EVER intended for an audience, except to display erudition.

Just my opinion, from the back. You go ahead, if it rattles your perch. ;-)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Ernest
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 04:33 PM

Not being much of a singer ( rarely sing in public at all) I stick to shorter stuff...

Gurney: guess they were intended for loong winter nights in days before radio and tv... just like equally long novels. Nothing for todays people with the attention span of a MTV-clip - should`ve been Youtube-clip now I guess -


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: The Villan
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 04:43 PM

It was to help everybody nod off in them days.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: SINSULL
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 04:55 PM

A veteran attendee of the Getaway performed an interminably long ballad at one Saturday concert. He had it printed and rolled up scroll style and unrolled it as he sang.
Someone went up front, lit a match and touched off the unrolled edge of the scroll.
End of ballad.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: EnglishFolkfan
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:00 PM

Norma Waterson explains all about the importance of storytelling here and the successful singing style required. She sings examples with Martin Carthy accompanying on a couple:

Norma Waterson: English Traditional Song:
An item split into ten videos
Free download from iTunes Open University

http://bit.ly/4TF44P


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:24 PM

Crow Sister,
Always pleased to learn of someone wanting to sing ballads!
I believe in the power of these story songs and have been singing them for more years than I'd care to mention -- and I'm about to lead a series of 3 ballad workshops in Glasgow (Scotland) in January with Gordeanna McCulloch, because we know that there are people who want to find a way to approach the Muckle Sangs (big ballads).
We've done this frequently, and our advice is always the same -- know and understand the text and the background; find the tune you like and learn it in a very basic format (without words in the first instance); begin to fit the text to the tune, and make alterations if necessary in order to avoid 'clunkiness'; find alternative verses if you're not happy with the flow of the narrative; think of the narrative as a film with scenes, and look for useful linking words to move on to the next part of the plot eg 'but', 'so', 'then', 'and' etc.
These were important songs for people, and I remember an occasion (c.1961) when I was at my English teacher Norman Buchan's house in Glasgow. (Norman was the author of "101 Scottish Songs"; and "The Scottish Folksinger", which he co-edited with Peter Hall.) The guest was the famous Aberdeenshire ballad singer, Jeannie Robertson, and she started off on 'Matty Groves'. Anyway, she got almost to the end of the story - where the husband bursts in and challenges Matty, offering him a sword because he has none. At that point she stopped and looked round the room until she spotted Norman standing at the door - whereupon she said, "Well, ye see, Norman, he wis aye a fair man.". She then picked up the story and finished the song!
Don't know if this helps, but it pleases me to remember it.

Anne Neilson.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: olddude
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:32 PM

Honestly I don't, anymore 3 verses and that is it. No matter how great the song is people just don't want to hear it (my observation). I think they are just too use to the "hook" in a song. Unless it is being done in front of people who really appreciate folk music even a great singer (I am not) will not hold them. I seen it too many times lately with others doing things like where have all the flowers gone or even Puff


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:40 PM

I recall a memorable occasion at a folk festival I ran many years ago. It was an early afternoon workshop on a Saturday, and a performer I had booked with some trepidation did a couple of long, long ballads. Several people in the audience literally fell asleep.
I felt like tip toeing out of the room. It seemed rude to awaken them from such a long nap. The performer seemed quite oblivious to the whole thing. He was mesmerized by the stories in the songs and sang them with reverence.

I could understand if this happened late in an evening set, but this was a bright, sunny day at one in the afternoon. It is a rare singer who can pull off a long ballad, even singing for an audience who has come with the desire to hear folk music. I don't know whether long historical ballads work better if you give a lengthy introduction recounting the history of the event before you sing the song.

Ballads work best in a pre-anounced ballad workshop,NOT on a full stomach in a warm room. :-)

That's too bad, because some of them are quit marvelous.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: olddude
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:41 PM

Funny thing, I did one of Harry's songs "Any old Kinda Day" for Harry. Got it posted on soundclick. When I performed it last friday a thirty something said ... "wow what a beautiful song but it is really long"   it has 3 verses!! However, no real catchy hook they are all use to anymore ... insane isn't it


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: olddude
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:57 PM

Here is an idea for what it is worth that I been doing. Record the songs that you really like, the long ballads on the net like myspace or one of the others. What I been doing when performing it tell them where they can listen to the songs and other songs. Then if people ask me on a long ballad I will do it the next time I perform out ... People been asking for Blue Mountain and I drag that one out pretty long but they like it ... helps me figure out what ones if any I should do by looking at the downloads I get and the repeat listens ... Just a thought


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 06:03 PM

If singing a long ballad is an academic exercise to you, it's going to sound that way to an audience and you're going to lose them. If it's something about which you're genuinely passionate, that passion might translate into audience interest. Or it might not. Audiences is funny creatures.

One thing for sure though; unless you're a household name or are on a first name basis with every member of your audience, don't start out with a long ballad. Toss a few easily digested songs out to warm the audience up first. Then, if you haven't yet been booed off stage, try the ballad. If you try a long ballad early in a set and it doesn't go over well, you'll never get the audience back.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 06:05 PM

Crowsis - you should speak to Shimrod. I'll point this thread out to the man who denies being him. He's a pretty compelling ballad singer - one of the first times I heard him sing he did a mesmerising "Tamlyn".

Maybe because I listen to a lot of modernish jazz and indian classical music and proggy stuff, the idea of a 7 or 8 minute song doesn't freak me out in the way it probably should...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Matthew Edwards
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 06:25 PM

Don't treat the ballads with undue reverence; they were created to entertain people in the first place, not as academic papers. They include plenty of comic and bawdy songs which an audience can enjoy and join in. If your audience can't listen to anything longer than three verses, then, with respect, you need to change your audience rather than change your material.

I've been more bored by people who sing uninteresting short songs than by any ballad singer.

Matthew


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: akenaton
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 06:32 PM

Hi Anne Good tae hear fae ye....long time no see,
Ye us'tae come doon Loch Fyneside chantin' wi' big Adam, Kevin an' aw that lot....great days, so they wur!

Ah'm gonnae head up tae the Universal on the 25th Jan tae hear Gordeanna, Alistair Hulett an' Ewan McVicar. Gordeanna's a wee stottir an' ah huvnae heard her in the flesh fur aboot thirty years so ahm lookin' furrit tae that.

While ahm at it...thanks fur aw yer work keepin' Matts name an' music alive...yer a wee star....Ake


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: kendall
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 07:38 PM

My problem with 30 verse ballads is simply that there is way too much stuff that really doesn't do much for the story.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 07:41 PM

Had a friend who put "TRotAM" to music. It took about 45 minutes to do. I could and did listen once. Not twice.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: olddude
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 08:01 PM

Matthew "change your audience"
OH if only I could, like to see more 40 and up that would be perfect but stuck with 20's and 30's at the cafe they like the music, keep asking me back but they do have a short attention span ..


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 08:40 PM

Look out for ballads (There are a LOT) that have a refrain (and NO it doesnt mean DONT) which will give the audience something to do other than just sit there , and usually opportunity to Harmonise too .


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Maryrrf
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 09:19 PM

Well I sing ballads all the time, and a lot depends on the audience and the venue. It has to be a quiet room, so people can follow the storyline, and I always give a lot of background and sketch out the plot if I think my listeners might not be familiar with the song. It helps to keep eye contact with the audience - don't close your eyes and go off into your own little world. You have to remember you are telling a story. Pacing, timing, emphasis (keep it subtle - you don't want to sound like Barbra Streisand)are all important, and focus on communicating with the listeners. Project your voice and enunciate clearly - you don't want the audience to have to struggle to understand you so they can follow the plot. The storyline helps me to remember the verses, and I usually borrow from different versions to put my own spin on the ballad.

Most importantly, listen to the great ballad singers like Jeannie Robertson, Duncan Williamson, Sheena Wellington, Geordanna McCulloch, and Anne Neilson, who posted above. I took Anne and Geordanna's workshop several years ago in Glasgow and it was wonderful and inspiring. The most important thing I think, is to love the ballad, and make sure that comes through to the audience.

I'm doing a ballad concert next month, and am really looking forward to it!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:27 AM

Thanks for the kind words, Maryff - and for the good sense of the rest of your post. If you've ever been in the company of Sheila Stewart when she's singing ballads, you'll have heard her speak of the importance of what she calls the 'conyeach' - singing the song from the heart with respect.
An earlier post reminded me of a singer's relationship with the audience, when the appropriateness of singing ballads in a coffee shop was mentioned. I admire a singer who is attentive to an audience's needs - but who also manages to surprise them into liking something new. And that's where the pacier narrative ballads (possibly cheeky and probably with a refrain) come into their own; songs like 'The Keach in the Creel', 'The Sweet Kumadee' etc.
But isn't it just marvellous that there are still people who want to sing and/or listen to these great stories, creating the pictures in their own imaginations and without the benefit of computer-assisted graphics!
Finally, Akenaton, you might want to check Gordeanna's appearance on 25th January -- I think there's been a mix-up -- and it's a long way to travel...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 06:20 AM

My thanks for all the responses thus far - & that's great OU link there EnglishFolkFan!

I'll come back to this thread laters.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: matt milton
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 06:57 AM

I know this is heresy, and that I'll probably get a lot of stick for this, but I don't actually *like* those big, long, classic ballads.

I prefer folk songs that are anecdotal. I don't like "story songs" so much as little vignettes. Those big long ballads tend to have less ambiguity - they are more prosaic and narrative based. (When I say less ambiguity, I mean they have less ambiguity of language - less "poetry" in them. They do, of course, have plenty of other types of ambiguity – moral ambiguity etc).

Whereas I prefer songs that are perhaps even inconsequential. I like nonsense songs; I like all those hotchpotch, Frankensteinian folksongs that verge on nonsense that are so prevalent in the US tradition (much less to in the UK tradition) where the verses bear little if any relation to each other (eg Cumberland Gap, Old Joe Clark, Boil that Cabbage Down).

Or alternatively, British songs that are models of poetic concision, such as '6 Dukes went a Fishing' or 'the Grey Cock'.

I tend to want to take verses out of songs, and I generally do. Then again, I've been an editor for 10 years now; it's engrained.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: matt milton
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 07:12 AM

That said, there's a great "Little Musgrave" on this year's James Yorkston album "Folk Songs". You can hear it on Spotify. I think that's a good 8 minutes long, possibly more.

It won't be to everyone's taste but IMHO it's the most interesting version of this song (Matty Groves) I've heard. It works because it's so slow and lachrymose; a bit like a Racine tragedy, it actually needs to be slightly boring to achieve its power; by the end it's truly epic and moving, despite the fact that it stays in the same deadpan, subdued register throughout.

If you can nail that mesmeric, trance-like quality, then you're there.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 07:26 AM

Well, I love 'em. I don't find they drag, either (unless they're being sung in a funereal largo, or the singer wants to show off his guitar fills between every verse). There's always something going on in a ballad. I've heard Tam Lin, Musgrave, Lord Bateman, Geordie and Young Hunting sung superbly, and done Musgrave, Patrick Spens, Sheath & Knife, Hughie the Graeme and the Outlandish Knight myself. I sang the last three with a refrain, which worked well, but a relentless belt through the verses can work, too.

Closed eyes aren't necessarily a bad thing, I think (depending on how warm the room is!) Obviously nobody wants their audience to fall asleep, but I think a mesmeric effect is part of what you're going for, particularly with the really long ones (Musgrave, Bateman, Tam Lin, Young Hunting et al). The first time I heard Nic Jones's recording of Bateman, I felt as if it had gone on for several hours - in a good way, I hasten to add.

But CS - if you're having trouble memorising the material, don't do it! I think you should only work at a song when you've lived with it for several weeks (walking the dog, hanging the washing out, whatever), just to fix the last couple of bits that still keep going wrong. Even then, ideally you and the song should have another couple of weeks together before you launch it on anyone else. Songs change in the singing - I often think I've got a song down & then find it's decided to go a slightly different way.

I'll point this thread out to the man who denies being him.

I'm not Shimrod! (I've never sung Tam Lin, on the other hand.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 09:57 AM

To this interesting thread, I can only add that, in "Young Emma," e.g., I use different timbres for the different characters.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,The Folk E
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:29 AM

Reading the words to these long ballads is amateurish. At times, performing them is self serving.

People like to hear a song, then another one, then another one, etc. Mixing a set can be more art than braying a long boring song.

I'll stick with:

Verse, chorus
break
Verse, chorus, refrain

and my next number for you to enjoy is.....................


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:42 AM

Two recent posts have described a desired ballad style as mesmeric, possibly boring and subdued, I'm not entirely sure I understand what this would sound like, but I definitely feel that there has to be some inherent tension - to carry a long narrative like Matty Groves through all its twists and turns, or to delay the inevitable tragedy of one of the repetitive ballads like Lizzy Wan.
And I entirely agree with Pip Radish about taking time to get the song to performance level, though she's obviously a faster study than me because it took me over twenty years before I felt I had Lord Randall where I wanted it!
Just to divert a little - who are the people who are currently singing ballads? Predominantly male? Predominantly female? Even mixture of both? (In past ballad workshops we've done, it's frequently 90% female.)
I'm loving this thread!!!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:48 AM

Wholly male, in my case!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:51 AM

I folk-process ballads, including:

excising unnecessary verses

substituting modern words for archaic, if they fit
   for example 'every' for 'ilka.'

tidying up the rhymes

changing key to show a change of speaker.

singing with expression, but not over-dramatizing.

I think one of the main things that made ballads popular was a chorus that listeners could sing.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Midchuck
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:55 AM

What really p***es me off is sharing a stage in a "workshop" setting with other performers, and you're singing in a round-robin format. And one of the other performers takes a notion to do such a ballad. And there goes the whole hour and anyone else's chance to sing.

But that's probably just an ego problem on my part. Who am I to stand in the way of true folk art?

(G** D*** F***ing Sons of B.... [wanders off muttering to self]).

Peter


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: matt milton
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:55 AM

"Two recent posts have described a desired ballad style as mesmeric, possibly boring and subdued, I'm not entirely sure I understand what this would sound like, but I definitely feel that there has to be some inherent tension"

oh, I think that deadpan doesn't have to lack tension. Things can be quiet and still have an overwhelming sense of dread and doom locked into them right from the start, which never lets up.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Folkiedave
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:08 PM

If you have ever seen Mike Waterson do "Tam Lyn" then you have seen a master ballad singer in action. I have seen him do this a couple of times and both times there was stunned silence at the end. The man was magic.

Take a listen to Brian Peters and if you get chance to so his show do go. His version of "Six Nights Drunk" takes some beating.

http://www.harbourtownrecords.com/petersballadslive.htm

And just thinking of Ray Fisher singing "Binnorie" at Whitby last summer brings tears to my eyes.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Maryrrf
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:10 PM

There's a time and place for ballads, and I agree that a song circle with limited time and lots of people waiting for a turn is not the time to choose one of the long ones.   But it's possible to sing ballads and get modern audiences interested. When I regularly worked Sunday evenings at a pub there was a crowd of regulars who came in. When things were quiet I'd introduce a ballad or two - for example if I did Mattie Groves I'd describe it as a story that would have been the equivalent of a "National Enquirer" scandal in 15th century England - or something of the sort. After a while they got to know the songs and we'd have ballad evenings with requests for things like "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow", "Annochie Gordon", "The Two Sisters". The regulars would get upset when a different crowd would come in and demand the pub stuff!

And I don't agree about there not being much "poetry" in ballads. Often there is a turn of a phrase, or a well placed word - that just sends chills up my spine.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:15 PM

At the Lewes Saturday Folk Club we run a couple of all-day ballad forums a year which are always well-supported. We get a recognised singer of ballads, such as Brian Peters or Craig Morgan Robson, to lead the day and perform at the club in the evening. Our next forum is with Chris Coe on Sunday 10th. October 2010 and we've just booked The Claque to run one in April 2011.

On Sunday 17th. January from noon - 3.00 pm we have a free ballad session in the Elephant & Castle. This follows the
Sussex All-Day Singaround on Saturday 16th., also run by the Lewes Saturday Folk Club.

Paul Davenport has recently started a monthly ballad session in Sheffield which has its own Mudcat thread.

Well sung, ballads are magnificent and spellbinding. Given that their main ingredients are death, sex and magic, it could hardly be otherwise. There are hundreds in Child which aren't currently being sung; it's very rewarding to research and revive them. Because songs that tell a story are the easiest to learn, their length isn't a problem: once you know the story, the verses offer themselves to your memory in the order that tells the story. (I could never say how many verses there are in any ballad I sing because I don't mentally number them.) If you need to read the words you haven't got properly to grips with the story.

It's kindest to a folk club MC not to sing a ballad just before a guest performer starts their set as he may have assumed that you're only going to take about three minutes to do one song. You might want to say at the outset 'This takes six minutes (or whatever your timing might be) so anyone with a severe thirst or a weak bladder might want to leave now'.

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:16 PM

I imagine there are a number of posters here who have been subjected to long ballads where the occasion was unsuited for such. It's been quite interesting to read the number of posts from those who don't sing them, simply saying 'they're boring' when what I asked for was thoughts on the 'how to' from people who actually sing them! So there's clearly a lot of dislike for them among a large amount of folkies!

But obviously I'm not going to just wander into my local singaround armed with thirty verses of something unsuited to the context and audience - because that would be self-indulgent and egoistic! I will probably do as Olddude suggests - and once I have two or three (that I find really engaging) down to my satisfaction, I'll bung 'em up on my MySpace and then maybe pull them out on such specific occasions as they WOULD be suitable for. Like a festival environment.

I started singing folk songs something over a year ago now, so being *almost* newish to it, the long Ballads have so far seemed quite daunting - I think of them as a different beast really. The longest song I think I sing currently is Alison Gross at nine verses (plus same in choruses) which I sang last Hallowe'en (and which on conclusion was promptly requested for next Hallowe'en, which made me chuffed!). So I'm not so scared by length now as I was last year (when three verses seemed a challenge to sing in public) - but I can certainly see how a short refrain would be helpful to keep the audience involved, where there are maybe twenty or even thirty verses of story to sit through.

I can definitely dig where Matt & Pip are coming from with the mesmeric 'entrancement' aspect of the performance, that's something I'll certainly be keeping in mind when working with them.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:46 PM

"What really p***es me off is sharing a stage in a "workshop" setting with other performers, and you're singing in a round-robin format. And one of the other performers takes a notion to do such a ballad. And there goes the whole hour and anyone else's chance to sing.

But that's probably just an ego problem on my part. Who am I to stand in the way of true folk art?

(G** D*** F***ing Sons of B.... [wanders off muttering to self])." (Peter)...I know one way to get this off your chest, Peter - pen a ballad!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:59 PM

5 year old children and drunks, I have found, often have the same attention span. Recognizing that, I usually, and correctly, could assume that a properly introduced ballad, of almost any length, could easily be made to seem, and actually be, relevant to modern audiences EVEN if it was another eras olden style artifact.

Utah Phillips showed me how humor could be used to create a wide-awake audience even after a big meal. A proper tale as an intro that might point out that an olden and lengthy ballad had real insights into modern and parallel circumstances. He could, and often did, get an audience of Republican right wingers in a bar (after a few) to sing along with mucho gusto on Wobbly gems like "Dump The Bosses Off Your Back."

A one-liner like, "Here is a song from the last depression!!!" used to introduce Woody's great and long ballad "Tom Joad" or even the shorter song "The Wreck Of The Tennessee Gravy Train" or Craig Johnson's anthem to hard times "Way Down The Road."

This entails thinking ahead, reading between the lines of your song for historical parallels that illustrate the irony of history as well as the necessity of vicariously, through the older songs, learning how not to repeat the travesties of past stupidities.

The old trad ballads are not good because they are old. They are old because they are good!

And don't be afraid of you good instincts and create an instant medley with other, more easily accepted, songs on similar topics that folks enjoy singing along on. SLIDE right into "Go To Sleep You Weary Hobo" right as you are ending "Tom Joad!" --- It will be appreciated by your audience---and they will appreciate seeing the irony of the unsuspected connection between the great ballad (story song) and the more fun sing-along-song.

Try it; I think you'll like the results.

Affectionately and respectfully,

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: DebC
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:05 PM

AS always someo0ne said what I wanted to say in a much more eloquent way than I ever could.

And I am even more pleased that it is Art.

Thanks, Art.

Debra Cowan


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:10 PM

Michael Cooney doing Tam Lin was thoroughly pleasureable to me and most everyone in that bar/folk club in Chicago. It was 25 minutes long. A grand fantasy epic.

Art


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:13 PM

Like Crow Sister, I'm a little (but perhaps not very) surprised by the negative tone of many comments here.

Yes, it's bad manners to sing an eight-minute song in a time-limited singaround.

Yes, there are times where a piece that demands full audience attention is not going to work - like when they're all drunk, or expecting some light entertainment.

Yes, there is a particular kind of tedium about a badly-performed ballad.

But, having conceded all that, I think Valmai's description "magnificent and spellbinding" pretty well sums it up. These are the greatest songs of the folk tradition - no argument in my book. If you like a great story (OK, not everyone does) then you should be riveted by a good ballad performed well. That said, they are by no means all bloodsoaked forty-verse epics - there are funny ones, short ones, singalong ones - but the real meat is in the big ones, like Tam Lin, False Foudrage, Willie's Lady, Kemp Owyne, and so on.

How to sing them? Well, number one, know the ballad absolutely off by heart. The fellow with the scroll well deserved having a match set to it. Learn it and live it. Experience the emotions as if they were your own. Be excited afresh each time you sing it. It's no accident that pretty well all of my favourite ballad performers are experienced, mature singers who have got inside their ballads over decades. But that doesn't mean that you can't do a good job now.

Go and listen to some great ballad performances. Phil Tanner's 'Henry Martin'... Geordie Hanna's 'Young Edmund'... Hear the aforementioned Mike Waterson performance of Tam Lin, then go and hear Frankie Armstrong do it, or find Bert Lloyd's recording of the same ballad. They are quite different in style - Tanner is exuberant and melodramatic where Hanna is understated and sinister, Armstrong is right in your face where Lloyd is weaving the most delicate of tracery - but all share a complete committment to the ballad in hand. Ballad singers are often asked whether they see the movie in their head as they sing - well, listen to Tanner's Henry Martin and then tell me that he isn't seeing the movie! And you're watching it with him. Why? Because he believes in it completely. There's no point being half-arsed about a ballad: wondering whether it's too long or you should be singing it a bit faster or doing a fancier accompaniment (generally the answer is NO!) or whether aspects of the storyline are a bit unbelievable (fairy coaches don't really turn into pumpkins at midnight!).

There are sometimes a lot of words to learn, but they tell a coherent tale, so they're easier to remember than a bunch of floating verses or a modern stream-of conciousness. With a bit of experience you soon learn how to make up something approriate on the fly, in the event you do dry. Find an appropriate overall length when fashioning your ballad, but don't go down the road of believing that all the repetition is superfluous and you can chop it out - that's often where the power of the ballad lies. "Mesmeric entrancement" can be good, but so too can expressiveness.

But, for now, just go and sing them (somehow I think you've already made that choice). Pick your moment carefully, at least until you get more confident. And, the more you do it the more you'll find out how to do it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: The Sandman
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:13 PM

the golden rule is to sing what you want to sing.
Lord Randall[imo]is a bore,however Willy of the Winsbury,Tam Linn, Thomas The Rhymer,are songs I like.
Ewan MacColl singing ballads is a good place to start,Bert Lloyd is good too,Louis Killen very good too,but develop your own style.
Dick Miles.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: DebC
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:34 PM

I have to admit that there are a number of ballads that drive me 'round the bend (or out the door), but then I would hear Lou Killen, for example, sing that same ballad and it would be as if I was hearing it for the first time.

For myself, I know I have a ballad internalised if (as Brian says) I feel the emotions and see the movie in the song. There are a few ballads I sing where there might be one line that gives me goosebumps. I figure if I get the goosebumps the odds are pretty good that the listeners have got them as well.

One of the most rewarding things to have happen after finishing a ballad is to hear the just barely audible sigh from the audience.

Debra


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:39 PM

This a bit of a BTW — but why have even distinguished ballad singers [see thruout this thread] taken to calling that IMO one of the kings·or·queens of the ballads, Child #81 - "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" - by its much later - and less distinguished and interesting - US title, "Matty Groves"?

Take that fascinating story by Anne Neilson the ballad singer above (21 Dec 5·24PM), where she describes how wonderfully Jeannie Robertson sang *"Matty Groves"*, and interrupted it with that remarkable comment to Peter Buchan. I wasn't there, alas - BUT I would bet what you like that she wasn't singing "Matty Groves" at all — she was singing "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" — & don't pretend there is no difference, or that you don't know what it is.

Just curious.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:47 PM

I think the key is imagination and storytelling. When I find a good ballad singer, it's invariably someone who sparkles with imagination and humor, who tells a wonderful story as if the audience were hearing it for the first time. In my book, Judy Cook and Art Thieme are tops - but there are lots of good ballad singers, including a good number of Mudcatters. They seem to sing with a twinkle in their eye...or is it a twinkle in their voice?

Then there are the marathon singers. Their only goal seems to be to show that they can precisely sing all thirty verses of such-and-such a version of ballad so-and-so. Oftentimes, their diction is horrible or they sing in an accent that's impossible to understand. The audience and the story are of no importance to them. I admire their tenacity, but I don't want to hear them.

-Joe-

    We try to have thread titles that give readers an idea of the contents of the thread. I added "classic big long ballads" to the thread title. -Joe-


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:00 PM

Then there are the marathon singers. Their only goal seems to be to show that they can precisely sing all thirty verses of such-and-such a version of ballad so-and-so. Oftentimes, their diction is horrible or they sing in an accent that's impossible to understand. The audience and the story are of no importance to them. I admire their tenacity, but I don't want to hear them.
that sounds like Gordon Hall,singing Lord Randall,please no no nio non, its torture,only marginally better than Daniel O Donnell singing anything.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM

"or they sing in an accent that's impossible to understand."

Yeah - I've tried in a couple of the songs I sing that contain Scots dialect (Alison Gross & The Great Selkie of Sule Skerrie), to stick to my own accent throughout, while anglicising *some* of the less easily interpreted dialect words and retaining others which can readily be understood in context of the verse. That approach strikes a happy medium for me, though it might not be to all tastes. With AGross as I sung it in a session - I gave the audience an easily remembered anglisiced chorus - while singing the dialect myself (as I find the words nicer to sing that way).

I expect that's how I'll treat longer ballads with dialect too, though no doubt a brief pre-amble is a good idea so people can hold onto the plot if some dialect phrases are not rendered clear from the context.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,bankley
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM

The longest song that I ever heard... was done by Chris Rawlings..
He had memorized 'The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner" the complete poem
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.. and set it to music...
I was accompanying him for a gig... he told me that I might want to sit out the 2nd set, which I did... it consisted of only this song.... and was great... but I almost got seasick


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:15 PM

I think 'Matty Groves' became a common title because someone 'processed' the original, (as folkies are wont to do), and the shorter name and form was simply easier to say & remember. ('Musgrave' is not a familar name.)

A number of the original names from Child have been altered, or have several names collected from different sources..."Edward" or "Son David", "Sir Lionel" or "Old Bangum", "Lord Thomas & Fair Ellender" or "The Brown Girl", "The Suffolk Miracle" or "Holland Handkerchief" ...etc.

It is good to KNOW the original names and the general history when possible.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,bankley
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:21 PM

I just checked 'The Rhyme of the A.M.' out.... and counted 142 verses in 7 chapters

Rawlings was heroic


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