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Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads

Anne Neilson 23 Jun 10 - 02:44 PM
GUEST,Fair Ellender 23 Jun 10 - 12:32 PM
The Sandman 17 Jun 10 - 03:18 PM
Jim Carroll 17 Jun 10 - 03:00 PM
The Sandman 17 Jun 10 - 12:54 PM
Brian Peters 17 Jun 10 - 12:54 PM
Anne Neilson 17 Jun 10 - 12:24 PM
Jim Carroll 17 Jun 10 - 09:57 AM
Tannywheeler 17 Jun 10 - 09:38 AM
GUEST,FairEllender 17 Jun 10 - 07:18 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 03:54 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Mar 10 - 03:02 PM
Howard Jones 19 Mar 10 - 02:49 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 12:38 PM
Lighter 19 Mar 10 - 12:12 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 06:33 AM
Richard Bridge 19 Mar 10 - 06:06 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Mar 10 - 05:57 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 05:23 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 05:20 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Mar 10 - 05:12 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 04:44 AM
Lighter 18 Mar 10 - 08:35 PM
Anne Neilson 18 Mar 10 - 08:20 PM
Tootler 18 Mar 10 - 08:01 PM
GUEST,daniel robbins 18 Mar 10 - 07:26 PM
Maryrrf 19 Feb 10 - 12:07 PM
Anne Neilson 19 Feb 10 - 11:53 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Feb 10 - 11:38 AM
Maryrrf 19 Feb 10 - 11:25 AM
Anne Neilson 18 Feb 10 - 07:52 PM
jennyr 18 Feb 10 - 03:34 PM
Anne Neilson 15 Feb 10 - 03:41 PM
randjgc 15 Feb 10 - 07:30 AM
Smedley 15 Feb 10 - 07:00 AM
Anne Neilson 15 Feb 10 - 06:07 AM
Richard Mellish 14 Feb 10 - 06:55 PM
Paul Davenport 14 Feb 10 - 04:08 PM
dick greenhaus 14 Feb 10 - 01:33 PM
Anne Neilson 14 Feb 10 - 01:10 PM
Jim Carroll 14 Feb 10 - 12:32 PM
Paul Davenport 14 Feb 10 - 12:12 PM
Richard Mellish 14 Feb 10 - 06:41 AM
MGM·Lion 14 Feb 10 - 05:53 AM
Anne Neilson 14 Feb 10 - 04:36 AM
MGM·Lion 13 Feb 10 - 10:46 PM
Maryrrf 13 Feb 10 - 06:53 PM
Steve Gardham 13 Feb 10 - 01:24 PM
The Sandman 13 Feb 10 - 12:51 PM
Paul Davenport 13 Feb 10 - 11:21 AM
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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 23 Jun 10 - 02:44 PM

To Fair Ellender - it may interest you to know that the plan is to continue with the ballad workshops in Glasgow, starting again in August. There are two guests lined up, special offers for workshop members and - we hope - plenty of ongoing input from our regulars.
And could I just say, in relation to the original post, that it has been immensely rewarding as well as instructive to learn from workshop members who all have their individual responses to a ballad text and who can, and often do, offer surprising insights and approaches.
It's been a pleasure from the very start to be dealing with such enthusiasts!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Fair Ellender
Date: 23 Jun 10 - 12:32 PM

Great to see the thread continuing.

Many thanks to Anne and Gordeanna for the passion and enthusiasm they have shown for the ballads. Without their commitment and hard work in keeping the workshops going and making them so enjoyable, Glasgow and the surrounding area would be a poorer place indeed.

Love your anecdote about The Outlandish Knight, Brian - I myself can't help but utter an inner cheer when she dings him in the water ;-)

FairEllender


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 03:18 PM

hanging about in folk clubs ,Jim, and getting paid,as Joe Gargery said What larks Pip old chap


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 03:00 PM

"a professional performer once told me a similar story about Martin Carthy,"
Nice to see you back Cap'n - where you Been?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 12:54 PM

Jims comments are interesting[ re christy moore].
a professional performer once told me a similar story about Martin Carthy, yes ,Carthy filled the club, but very few of the Carthy audience came back,in following weeks.
that is no fault of Martins but illustrates the point that the audience treated Carthy with the reverence of a pop star, but were not interested in other forms of folk music, but would only turn out for Martin.
back to subject, fairly important in my opinion is: not to over dramatise the story


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 12:54 PM

"Many had not heard ballads (or much unaccompanied singing before), and reacted with a wonderful childlike (in a good way) appreciation, even hissing when Annett/Ellender denigrates the 'brown bride' and squealing when her head hit the wall!"

Thanks for reviving this thread, Fair E. I once had a non-folk audience break into a unanimous cheer at the moment Pretty Polly rebuffs the drowning Outlandish Knight's last desperate offer of marriage with "Lie there, lie there, false-hearted young man".

Audiences of folk and non-folk persuasions have been known to raise a cheer at the point where evil Sir Aldingar's diminutive nemesis chops his legs off, and challenges: "Stand up, now you're a match for me!"


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 12:24 PM

Great to see this topic revived, and to be reminded by Fair Ellender that the wonder of these songs is in the sharing - the performance, the experience, the knowledge.
A recent ballad workshop in Glasgow (Scotland) saw Sheila Stewart at her inimitable best, in total command of her material and her audience. And half the audience was under 30/35 years old! After Sheila's contribution, there were unaccompanied ballads from the audience, including 'The Two Sisters', 'Lord Randal', 'Earl Richard', 'Fair Rosianne', 'May Colvin', 'Young Emsley', 'The Unquiet Grave' and 'The Wife of Usher's Well', in addition to other great songs.
Feedback was very positive, people talked of feeling uplifted and the camaraderie was palpable.
Both Gordeanna McCulloch and I have been so heartened by the ongoing response (8 events since January and the 9th to come on 27th June) that the workshops will be continuing in September. It all goes to show that ballads are both attractive and accessible and that the time-honoured technique of learning from the auld yins still has something to offer.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 09:57 AM

"Many years ago my mother, Hally Wood,..."
Isn't it wonderful who you get to meet on this forum - Hally Wood's rendition of 'The Young Girl Cut Down' still makes the hairs on the back of my neck bristle - after forty years of listening. She was one of major influences that made me appreciate American traditional singing.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Tannywheeler
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 09:38 AM

Many years ago my mother, Hally Wood, was engaged in research & found several sources for a ballad called "Tam Lin". Scottish. She told me she once put out a stopwatch & sang all the way through the verses she had corralled & it was 17 minutes of story!! In fact, there exists a recording of a session of her trying to commit this story to tape. But it was an informal session which involved repeats of verses which she felt were less than perfect 1st time thru. It would require serious editting to extract the best presentation of each verse. & probably 1st transferring the whole thing from tape to something else. The verse that intrigues me is about our heroine, the Fair Janet. She "girds her kirtle aboon her knee, & breeds her yellow hair aboon her bree, & hies off..." from point A to point B 5 times in this thing. Probably on horseback. Get out of the road...Tw


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,FairEllender
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 07:18 AM

I have come to this thread very late, but may I just say how much I have enjoyed reading it (only took me about 4 hours!) As many of you have mentioned, it's great that a thread this erudite, informative, generous and (surprisingly for a lot of Mudcat) civil is around. I do hope it will continue to evolve.

There have been some wonderful links to other resources (many thanks for the OU Norma Waterson documentary) and some inspiring and thought-provoking posts, particularly from Jim Carroll (where have you been all my life?!), Brian Peters, EKanne etc - and how wonderful to hear of such commitment to and passion for singing ballads from posters like CrowSister and Maryrrf - keep it up!

I am very passionate about ballads, and traditional singing in general - like a few of you have mentioned from your own experiences, the ballad can play like a film in your head when you sing. To me, the people in the ballads and the emotions they feel are *real* (as singers like Jeannie instinctively realised and expressed). I feel that the ballads encapsulate human experiences in a far more direct and powerful way than almost any other artistic form. For instance, I have never heard quite so moving a depiction of a mother's grief than in 'Wife of Usher's Well' (and of course this can be extended to anyone's grief experience).

I could, and have on a number of other occasions, put forward my strident opinions on how I feel that many ballad (or even traditional 'folk') singers are struggling to find appreciative audiences...but reading this thread shows that there are still many of us who are care about these songs. Also, I feel that many of my feelings about the ballads I sing not being 'welcomed' in sessions and folk clubs are due to my own ego and insecurity issues, rather than the audience...but that's another thread in itself! So I will focus instead on the positives, which include singing 'Lord T and Fair Annett' at a (non-folk) open mic once - the audience was perfect, despite my trepidation. Many had not heard ballads (or much unaccompanied singing before), and reacted with a wonderful childlike (in a good way) appreciation, even hissing when Annett/Ellender denigrates the 'brown bride' and squealing when her head hit the wall! A wonderful experience.

Another positive is a friend of mine who possesses the same 'childlike' quality- I recently played her a selection of some of my favourite Child ballads, and when she had not grasped the story fully from first hearing, she asked me to tell it to her as a narrative, and listened with wide-eyed wonder. When telling her the story of Mill o' Tifty's Annie we both cried like bairns. A wonderful example of how these songs and stories still have immense power.

Thanks again to all contributors, I hope to see the discussion continuing.

Fair Ellender


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 03:54 PM

"the enthusiastic response it's generated from people"
The problem for me with this age-old argument is that I am always left with the opinion that it only generates an enthusiasm for that particular approach, and when other methods are presented it leaves a potential audience cold.
I first came into contact with 'live folk' in Liverpool with the Spinners. After I had been attending their club for a year I was on the point of pulling out altogether (there are only so many renditions of 'Fried Bread and Brandy O' you can take) when somebody said "have you heard MacColl's Folkways set of 'English and Scottish Ballads'?
While it's true that I wouldn't have been there in the first place if it hadn't been for the four lads (and Jaquie McDonald in those days), 'gawd bless 'em', their particular approach wasn't enough to hold me and I had to start virtually from scratch.
This argument was used when Shirly Ellis's 'Rubber Dolly' hit the top of the charts - "folk music had arrived' - but it hadn't, of course.
Some years ago the organisers of the Clare Traditional Singing Weekend (exclusively unnaccompanied) was offered the services of Christie Moore, a perfectly valid reason for having him was that they themed the week-end as 'Political Songs'. When the news got out, hordes of youngsters decended on Ennistymon and it was believed that this would be the big breakthrough - it wasn't. Even though we were treated to a festival of superb singing from all the performers - the youngsters never came back. Christie has a large following for his own style, which isn't traditional - and there's the rub.
If an audience is to be won for traditional singing, it has to be for its own merits and not for something else, and thereby hangs our problem.
"I'd like to see much more similar debate"
I agree with CS - I'd like to hear such a debate on renditions of ballads which turn people of and off (on the understanding that we are expressing personal opinions and not trying to impose our own likes and dislikes on others).
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 03:02 PM

"I'm rather inclined to agree with Jim about Jim Moray's version of Lucy Wan. It does nothing for me either."

What has happened as a consequence of Maryrrf flagging it up, is that it's provoked some analysis of a specific example of a treatment of a ballad - which is something that has hitherto been lacking in so many of the threads on Mudcat - to my frustration as a learner! I'd like to see much more similar debate about particular renderings of traditional songs. Actual examples - love them or loathe them - are great for the practical and focused anchoring of discussion.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Howard Jones
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 02:49 PM

I'm rather inclined to agree with Jim about Jim Moray's version of Lucy Wan. It does nothing for me either.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to look at the comments it's attracted on Youtube, and the enthusiastic response it's generated from people who I suspect are not folkies. If he can bring ballads, and folk music in general, to a wider audience then it can't be all bad.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 12:38 PM

Lighter;
"It's almost no tune at all"
Moray uses a standard tune - for me, his treatment of it totally destroys it as a communicator of the story. Personally I've never found his handling of any folk song I've heard particularly inspiring.
Put in the mouth of a singer who understands the ballad - try Terry Yarnell or Dennis Turner (both have recorded it at one time or another) and the starkness of the tune underlines the tragedy of the plot superbly.
The same goes for the two line tune MacColl used for Clerk Colville.
In the end it's down to a matter of personal taste, but I prefer the tune to deliver the words, not the other way round.
Lloyd was the first one I heard sing it; his (English) tune communicates sadness, as if recounted in retrospect, rather than immediate tragedy.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Lighter
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 12:12 PM

Jim, I concur. But Hamlet on roller skates would be more interesting and entertaining. Maybe Moray's other stuff is better. "Lizie" didn't induce me to listen further.

What some find compelling about the "Lizie Wan" tune, I find insufferable. It's almost no tune at all. And the hiphop adds nothing.

Not whining. Just reporting. We get the culture we deserve. Always.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 06:33 AM

"I really don't believe that the songs themselves can be harmed by any treatment"
Nor do I - and I would support Richard's argument completely, as long as you recognise that the ballad has an integrity of its own and once you ignore that it becomes something else.
"classic works of drama, can be highly innovative"
They can - I enjoyed 'All Night Long', 'West Side Story' and 'The Forbidden Planet' enormously, but not necassarily as Shakespeare.
On the other hand a few years ago we went to to see a production of ''Tis Pity She's a Whore' performed entirely with unrelated sounds and gestures - a piece of impenetrable nonsense - it had been stripped of its function as a piece of narrative.
What Moray appears to be doing is what we used to do after the pubs closed; sit around with guitars upturned biscuit tins, spoons - whatever came to hand and rock up the folk songs - great fun (except for the head in the morning).
In the end, I believe you judge a ballad, or any narrative or 'word-based' song, by how it reaches your brain (heart?), not your ear.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 06:06 AM

I'd have thought it entirely legitimate to re-arrange and re-edit pretty well any song to assist it (or to try to assist it) to travel to a new set of listeners. Although I don't much like the outcomes of some of Moray's experiments, I would entirely support and indeed encourage his efforts.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 05:57 AM

"Moray's version, for me, is neither fish nor fowl - it's Hamlet on roller skates. And the ironic thing is, of course, is it's all been done before and, for me, sounds so 'old fashioned'. Steeleye, Pentangle, et al... (they called it 'folk rock, or electric folk); Laing, Dallas, Denslow and Shelton covered it quite well in 'The Electric Muse'."

Morning Jim & all - fair points. I'll have to listen again and think on. However as far as 'mucking about' is concerned, I think it's interesting to hea people trying to respond in a personal way. I really don't believe that the songs themselves can be harmed by any treatment - so long as people contintue to return to *source material* as their starting point.

On a recent thread elsewhere there were some comments made about the unwritten 'codification' of revival stylings of traditional songs. As I commented there, contemporary theatre productions of classic works of drama, can be highly innovative and as someone myself who initially leaned on rivival recordings to learn some of these songs (and now regrets it, I might add), I think it would be interesting if more artists attempted to respond in contemporary fashion to traditional songs. For you Moray's attempt with Lucy Wan didn't achieve that however, which is fair enough.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 05:23 AM

PS
Morning CS
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 05:20 AM

Sorry, didn't mean to leave it like that.
I wonder what people get from an approach like that to what is essentially a piece of high tragedy.
For me, the strength of the tragic ballads lie in the sparseness of the text, the stripping away of all the surplus so you are left with just the bare facts which serve to communicate the tragesdy, with the refrains (those that have them) adding a sense of inevitibility.
Moray's version starts off fairly straightforwardly (bit too bland for me), and then he appears to become bored with it and goes off and does something else. It's like the Steeleye version of Lamkin, where they break off from the story part of the way through and play an Irish reel - 'they lost the plot' as they say.
There's nothing 'wrong' with doing what he/they did - but ballad singing it ain't, it has become something else.
Personally, if someone is going to muck about with our songs and ballads I'd much rather it was Vaughan Williams, or George Butterworth, or Percy Grainger, or Aaron Copeland... or all those who used them to create something else entirely with an identity and integrity of its own.
Moray's version, for me, is neither fish nor fowl - it's Hamlet on roller skates. And the ironic thing is, of course, is it's all been done before and, for me, sounds so 'old fashioned'. Steeleye, Pentangle, et al... (they called it 'folk rock, or electric folk); Laing, Dallas, Denslow and Shelton covered it quite well in 'The Electric Muse'.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 05:12 AM

Lol!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 04:44 AM

"JimC will hate it!"
Yup - certainly did.
Jimn Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Lighter
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 08:35 PM

The adlib setting of familiar texts to new or newly borrowed tunes is one of the very greatest differences between trad and just about everything else.

Singers should go to it and let the chips fall.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 08:20 PM

Daniel, if you follow Tootler's link you'll find texts for hundreds of ballads, As your project is due very soon, could I suggest you look at ballad no.20 'The Cruel Mother', just to get you started?
Big story, big decisions, big emotions - plenty to get your teeth into!
Good luck, and hope you enjoy it.( And if you're feeling adventurous, try Googling that title, and you'll find audio links too.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Tootler
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 08:01 PM

Try here. You will find just over 300 of them - 305 to be precise.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,daniel robbins
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 07:26 PM

can anyone suggest a classic ballad (not a man from snowy river) cause im doing a year 6 project and i have to do a project by 30 march so if you have a ballad please email me on
danny_boy98@l;ive.com.au
thanks


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 19 Feb 10 - 12:07 PM

I was able to listen to a snippet of Hedy's version (which I hadn't heard) at this link: http://digital.thinkindie.com/search/release.php?RELEASE_ID=75760

The album is simply titled "Ballads" and although it contains 12 ballads it's only 29 minutes!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 19 Feb 10 - 11:53 AM

Best version of 'Lucy Wan' I ever heard was Hedy West's - sorry I can't do the downloading!
Everything about it was so complete (can't think of a better word): the accompaniment laid a lovely rolling rhythm and the voice was clear and pure.
Wish I could have seen her.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Feb 10 - 11:38 AM

Maryrrf, this works for me too. There's full honesty in Jim's vocals here. I also really like those thin tinny synth pipes adding strain and tension. I think musically it's a piece of fully engaging drama. The synth drums bring a driving inevitability to the drama (as I think does the rap somewhat. Though I agree that this element doesn't really click fully into place - though there's no reason IMO why it *couldn't*). Like the fade out at the end... ... ... ... as he rides off into the forever distance.

JimC will hate it!

Otherwise folks, so chuffed to see this thread still running well.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 19 Feb 10 - 11:25 AM

When I first clicked on this video I didn't think I'd like this version, but I found it extremely compelling. I could do without the "rap" section that is mixed in and in my opinion is totally unnecessary, but I think Jim Moray really captured the tragedy of this awful (awful in a good sense, as in dramatic and emotional) ballad. I'm not usually a fan of modernized renditions of ballads, but this one really haunted me and I listened to it several times.

Jim Moray singing "Lucy Wan"


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 07:52 PM

Jennyr - I think we're singing from the same hymnsheet here!
In response to Paul Davenport's post on 14th Feb (12.12pm), where he wondered about the propriety of re-combining (notionally) linked ballads, I said that my personal preference is for what I could best describe as a "single issue" ballad.
But I have little compunction about importing lines or whole verses from other versions if it helps me present a clearer, stronger story. In fact, I once set this as a task for adults studying ballads on a university outreach course : I sent them three versions of 'Lord Gregory', asked them to identify what they felt were the key story elements and then present their composite version in no more than 15 verses. Some of their efforts were really convincing, and one person in particular even combined half-lines as well as making up her own short phrases in a couple of verses. (I also did the homework, but failed - because I couldn't jettison an almost repeat verse near the very end, and therefore had 16 verses!)
I'm sure many, many singers do this, some more intentionally than others, and your description of your own approach, and that of the Davenports certainly resonates.
Mind you, at our ballad workshops, Gordeanna McCulloch and I are always reminding participants that any changes/imports have to be sympathetic -- so the king cannot send Patrick Spens "a quick text message/ and pinged it wi's ain hand"!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: jennyr
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 03:34 PM

EKanne: I completely agree with you about the beauty of a 'perfect tragedy in miniature' - that is the root of my love for a lot of ballads, I think, although not all.

But you also said: 'But perhaps of more interest is why you might want to move beyond the recognised 'originals' to some composite/amalgamation? [I know there is much (ongoing) discussion about the 'folk process', but I know that I find personal satisfaction sooner in the 'polishing' of a version of one of these ballads, rather than a combination of several.]'

Surely there's room for both approaches? Sometimes I find a ballad I love, in a version I love, and I learn it - obviously my own interpretation and my lapses of memory will alter it slightly, but it's basically the 'original'. But sometimes I find a story I want to tell, but I don't like the tune, or the words don't feel genuine in my mouth, or it's too long or too short or there's a bit of the story missing. Surely it's better then to combine it with different versions (which probably came from the same root) than to give up completely? And many of the Child ballads are incomplete, so the only way it's possible to perform them is by combining different fragments, reworking some lines, maybe even adding in the odd stock verse from elsewhere, if it fits...

I've heard some beautiful ballads in recent years which had obviously involved a lot of work on the part of the singer, either in reconstructing the narrative or in editing to give a different angle on the story. I really can't see the harm. (And on a personal note it makes me slightly less likely to panic when I see that the Davenports - damn them and their limitless free time! - are working on the same song I've just started learning, as I can be fairly confident the two versions will end up sounding sufficiently different not to offend!)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 03:41 PM

Thanks to Randjgc for a most useful post, reminding us that these commonplaces are part of the descriptive process of ballad creation rather than being specific links in plotting stories.
My own belief is that the 'bones' of a ballad are relationships (mother/son, sweethearts, husband/wife, siblings, employer/servant etc), because that's where dramatic tension lies.
And dramatic tension is surely what the ballads are about.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: randjgc
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 07:30 AM

re the usage of "the red rose and the briar", "leaned her back against an oak" etc., I referred in aprevious Guest post to the collector William Motherwell. It is often the case that Introductions are better than the books. But not always: in his 1827 Introduction to "Minstrelsy", Motherwell points out that -
"This uniformity of phraeseology...which pervades our ancient ballads might appear to argue a poverty of expression...the use of such common places is abundantly obvious. They not only assisted the memory....but served as a kind of groundwork. With such common places fixed in his mind, the minstrel could....rapidly model any event which came under his cognizance into song. they were like inns or baiting places on a journey.....they were the general outlines of every classof human incident and suffering...They were like a commodious garment that could be wrapped expeditiously round every subject of whatever nature or dimensions."
So - from a contemporaneous source, phrases did not link songs or even suggest any association.
Hope this helps


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 07:00 AM

Odd that you should mention soaps, as that comparison came (differently) into my mind when I was reading an earlier exchange on this thread. There was a discussion about the recurrence of similar 'plots' (or narrative themes) in different ballads, and this brought to mind the way in which different TV soaps often seem to sprout similar storylines. Coincidence, or creative copying, or maybe there are just only so many permutations of the highs and lows of the human heart.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 06:07 AM

This discussion of prequels/sequels to ballads, or other conflations of text caused an almost instinctive discomfort which I couldn't understand at first. But the more I thought about it, I realised that it had clarified one of my own requirements for a ballad which I had never really articulated, probably because it was so deeply embedded.
My own personal preference is for a single-issue ballad where the focus is unremittingly on that issue; for example, 'The Cruel Mother' would be diluted for me if there were a lot of verses at the beginning about the love between the clerk/whoever and the woman and why it was impossible, and if it then continued with the return of the male protagonist after the 'punishment' so that he could bewail/die/be buried near her with twining roses and briars etc.... It would more and more resemble the plot of an ongoing soap opera, rather than the perfect tragedy in miniature that I believe it to be.
I have absolutely nothing against soaps, but the relentless need to keep an audience watching means that there is seldom any pause for reflection - which is what I think happens at the end of a well-sung ballad.
And by the way, I don't mean that the action of a ballad has to happen in real time. Think of 'Lamkin', which obviously takes place over a lengthy period, where the underlying impetus - consistently - is revenge. I think that's what I mean by single-issue or single-focus, but I am well aware that others like a more epic "production number" like 'Young Beichan'.
So it's just as well that there are plenty to choose from!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 06:55 PM

Apologies if this appears twice, but the first time I submitted it it seemed to vanish.

Apropos recombinations: although Child chose to identify 77, Sweet William's Ghost, as separate from 69, Clerk Saunders, he acknowledged that in some versions one is a continuation of the other. The first version that I ever heard included both as a single story and I have continued to perceive them thus.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 04:08 PM

But I'm confused by the conflation of 'The Unquiet Grave ' and 'The Twa Brithers'.
There are a number of versions of this ballad where the death is accidental and the lover of the dead brother comes along and sings/charms him out of his grave.
My point wasn't about a deliberate process but an accidental one in which versions of one song move closer to another. 'Lord Bateman' isn't the same as Harry Cox's 'Turkish Lady' but they're very close relations. Maybe there's a third song which contains both of the aforementioned?
Dick, I was thinking of larger themes than common floating verses. Leaning one's back against an oak doesn't make 'The Cruel Mother' a version of 'Waly,Waly' but 'The Maid and the Palmer' seems to have lent the 'Cruel Mother' a set of undeserved punishments. Or are they actually different. Sorry, I think I'm repeating my original point.
Paul


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 01:33 PM

Paul-
The point you raise demonstrates the basic problem with using geneological techniques to create "Ballad Families". Considering the degree of cross-pollination of such elements as intermingling roses with briars, proud porters and elaborate funeral processions, I find it hard to say that A came from B, rather than A and B share certain thematic elements.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 01:10 PM

Paul, I'm sure the answer would be that you can suit yourself about the melding of crafty farmers, clever girls and wicked/outlandish knights. But I'm confused by the conflation of 'The Unquiet Grave ' and 'The Twa Brithers'.
Surely the first is about two sweethearts parted by death, while the second is about fratricide.
I'm having difficulty following your reasoning here.
But perhaps of more interest is why you might want to move beyond the recognised 'originals' to some composite/amalgamation? [I know there is much (ongoing) discussion about the 'folk process', but I know that I find personal satisfaction sooner in the 'polishing' of a version of one of these ballads, rather than a combination of several.]


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 12:32 PM

Agreed Paul.
In some circles it is suggested that the beautifil 'Clerk's Twa Sons of Owsenford' is a prequel to 'The Wife of Usher's Well', which has always made sense to me.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 12:12 PM

Has anyone commented on how these songs seem at times to mutate into each other? Is 'The Unquiet Grave' a missing section of 'Two Brothers"? If so should they be re-combined? Liz was chasing texts to 'A Farmer of Sheffield'. This seems to start off as 'The Crafty Farmer' (Child), then the farmer's boy seems to become the protagonist and in later versions, where Liz had got to, the farmer's daughter outwits the highwayman. The song by now is heading towards 'The Outlandish Knight' There are loads of variants and variants of variants and it is not beyond the imagination to forsee the creation of a hybrid ballad from all of these which is a completely new song. The question is, does this contravene the unwritten rules of balladry?
Paul


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 06:41 AM

Valmai said
> EKanne, perhaps we should find a way of getting you down to Lewes to lead one (of the ballad workshops)

Yes please!

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 05:53 AM

Yes, indeed, Anne: one must certainly have an air appropriate to the mood — but within such parameters, I find one can have a lot of fun trying swop-arounds; tho perhaps best kept, in general, as a private activity, I feel!

~ Michael ~


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 04:36 AM

By all means, MtheGm, but don't you also think that there's a further critical faculty involved, and that is that the 'mood' of the tune should fit the emotion of the song?
For example, I could just about imagine squeezing "Son David" into Jeannie Robertson's tune for "The Gypsy Laddie" - but even if I adapted it to a more solemn pace (which I might think appropriate), I suspect it would sound horribly wrong and far too major in mood/not modal enough.
(Please note, I haven't got to grips with the niceties of musical theory, but I think my ear has 'tuned in' over many years and my own musical preferences have clarified.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 10:46 PM

Steve's comment reopens the point I have made on other threads, but which seems to fit well on this one also, tho I don't think it has yet been explicitly made here: how most ballad tunes, as they have the 'common metre', can be fitted to most ballads; & sometimes one of these refittings ~ whether deliberate as in Ray Fisher's & Martin Carthy's use of that Breton tune for Willie's Lady; or inadvertent, as when Andy Irvine claims to have unconsciously slipped into Fause Foodrage tune while doing Willie Of Winsbury so it has become universally assoc'd with the latter ~ will catch on. All folk process, I suppose...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 06:53 PM

Yes Dick, I sing Will the Weaver. Great song!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 01:24 PM

Same as Paul, 'Barbara Allan', 'Raggle Taggle Gipsies', and 'Knight and Shepherd's Daughter' watered down, at school which I enjoyed. I think the first big ballad I consciously learnt as a folk singer was Child 21 'The Maid and The Palmer'. For several reasons. I liked the story and no-one else at the time was singing it. Also I fell in love with Bert Lloyd's and Mike Waterson's 'Tam Lin' and wanted to use the tune for something. I didn't want to just do their version of 'Tam Lin' so I set the tune to 'The Maid and the Palmer' altering it slightly to fit the new format.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 12:51 PM

I have been singing so long ,I cant remember,but I do remember the first song I sang at a folk club it was the Cunning Cobbler.
I used to sing another song which might have been the second called will the weaver,which Ihave not heard for many a long year.
anyone sing will the weaver?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 11:21 AM

Weird, I just wrote this, clicked on 'submit' and it vanished. Here I go again.
On the subject of tune fitting I think that the old singers had a more flexible approach than the modern singer. Hamish Henderson recalled mentioning a song to Jeannie Robertson and how it resembled her 'Gypsy Laddie'. Next time they met she sang him the ballad set to the tune of the other song. Similarly, I found a Flemish tune called, 'Schoon Lief' (beautiful girl) which fitted 'Barbara Allen' so beautifully that it is difficult for me to believe that the two don't belong together. (Liz and I recorded this on our second album)
The first ballad I knew was 'Raggle Taggle Gypsies' from my Dad who couldnt hold a tune very well.Then I got 'Lord Randal' from my Mum, who could. I then learned 'Barbara Allen' at school. I didn't like any of them particularly as a kid and saw no real merit in them until much later in life. I wonder if ballads are a bit like food and drink? Perhaps you need to be older and have a certain amount of life experience under you belt to fully appreciate their sublety?


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