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GUEST,raymond greenoaken M. Carthy on The Critics Group - Radio 4 (310* d) RE: M. Carthy on The Critics Group - Radio 4 05 Jan 12

Couple of points. Don't know whether to post them here or on the other thread, but I dare say you're all following both.

For me E MacC didn't really come across on those recordings as particularly arrogant or bullying, just a man expressing his opinions frankly in a situation where such frankness was apparently encouraged. We tend to forget that Ewan's relationship with the Group was inevitably master and pupil. He was a middle aged bloke with vast knowledge of the subject under scrutiny, whereas the Group were (mostly) young people who knew a lot less. In the circumstances he had a responsibility to be both critical and forthright, otherwise what's the point? Everyone will have perceived him as Pontifex Maximus whether or not he consciously assumed that role. As a Uni lecturer I'm frequently reduced to despair at the reluctance of students to offer criticism in workshop situations; their default setting — admirable in other situations — is to try and find positive aspects of what they see and hear from their peers. Calling someone's piece of work "dishonest" or "a bore" would be unthinkable, even when it's true. The Critics Group was clearly not run on an "everyone gets a prize" basis, and I suspect everyone accepted and respected that.

And writing a song about Vietnam for next week's meeting sounds like a pretty sensible exercise given the temper of the times. Was there anyone in the Group who hadn't exercised their minds on that subject? I suspect not.

Grasshopping to another matter entirely — though well within this thread's remit — I want to break a lance for the ringbinder tendency. Agreed that singing from a text is ubiquitous nowadays, but to suggest that in the Rare Old Times only the Coppers ever sang with a book in their hands simply doesn't chime with my club-going experience of forty years. It was never commonplace, but it often happened, and some singers were known for it and nobody, as far as I can recall, batted an eyelid. What changed is that the folk movement grew collectively old, and many singers found that they simply couldn't retain words as they had done in the past. In the circumstances, having the words in front of you is an eminently sensible arrangement. Nor do I agree that you can't sing with passion if you're reading from a text. On the contrary, not having to worry about remembering the words enables you to focus more keenly on the emotional content of your material. I suspect the reason many ringbinder singers sound sapless and unengaged is that they are basically indifferent singers, and learning the words would have little effect on their ability to inhabit a song. What they probably need is Ewan MacColl breathing fire into their ear.

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