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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
George Papavgeris Advice to all singer songwriters (147* d) RE: Advice to all singer songwriters 22 May 13


Hi there, Breedloveboy, the argument you make now is much clearer (i.e. that of the impact of s/s on the world of folk clubs), and I would be the first one to say that I think that you are at least partially right in your assessment. How big a part in "partially", I don't know, and I would probably give a different answer to that on different days, depending on where I've just been and who I listened to. Working it through though, I see two main types of impact: Loss of punters/membership due to boredom, frustration, lack of entertainment; and loss of the old material, in the sense that there are so many songs that can be sung in an hour, and for every newly written one there is one traditional one that is missing an outing.

Starting with the loss of audiences due to too many slow, introspective, whining songs: I'd like to think that these songs are self-limiting ones in the sense that if people don't like them they will not be repeated so often. In the case of guest performers, they will simply not be booked again; in the case of floorsingers or singers in a singaround, only the most hardened of perception will fail to detect the lukewarm applause that such songs would elicit (though having said that, I know several with skin thicker than an elephant's). I like to think that good songs will "bubble up" whatever the environment.

In this, I think it is less important whether the singer sings only self-penned material or also chooses the songs of others. The reason why I say this is that I think that people's motivation for singing their own songs only (or otherwise) varies almost from one singer to the next. With one exception - the songwriter will always feel a more pressing "need" to sing his/her songs... More about my own motivation at the end.

Taking the second type of impact now (that of the loss of old material), that is indeed a real threat and cannot be disguised. Fads and fashions play a role too here of course ("oh, not Fields Of Athenry again!" etc) but the simple fact that there are new songs coming out all the time will push some of the older ones out, especially those deemed to be less "relevant to today", or "too twee" etc etc. The only thing one can do here is to impose numeric limits - so many new songs every night - but setting them and enforcing them would be a nightmare and more likely to lose one friends.

My personal love is for traditional song, that is what brought me to folk clubs in the first place. And it is precisely that which caused me (in part) to start writing songs, because I was too embarassed to stand next to luminaries such as Johnny Collins, Dave Webber & Anni Fentiman, Graeme Knights, Kitty Vernon and sing a traditional song, what with me being Greek and all. I felt a fraud, and more to the point, I felt that I was not adding anything with my rendition of traditional songs. I love the Mayday traditions and so my first self-penned song was a May song that I could get up and sing and not fear any comparisons. Things snowballed from there.

As songs started coming thick and fast, I of course felt the pressure to air them, at least to get a reaction. Those that worked, got repeated; those that did not, did not. And when the gigs started, people were asking to hear "my" songs, I had no reputation as a performer of the songs of others (quite right too). Occasionally I would slip in one song or another from someone else's pen, but mainly to show to people what kind of songwriters I admired, and to demonstrate that good songs can be found in all genres (for example, "And so it goes" by Billy Joel). But then...

...with the sudden sad loss of Johnny Collins I found that our club (Herga) suddenly lost a large percentage of traditional singing on our singers' nights; and several songs that only Johnny sang were at risk of being left unsung in the future. So for the last couple of years I have consciously begun to sing some of my favourites of his - at least the ones that I could not damage too much - during our club nights. And once or twice I even dared to sing some of them in gigs (like the "Ox-Plough Song"). And still I write new songs, and still my preference is to listen to traditional ones.

There are plenty of top performers out there who sing mainly the songs of others. Bob Fox, Whaley and Fletcher, James Findlay etc etc, the list goes on and on. Some of them occasionally make forays into writing their own, sometimes successful and sometimes not. As for "normal" singers in singarounds, where I go there seem to be mainly people singing the songs of others, not their own. There is a bit of an "osmosis" effect (a club that has one or two songwriters might see others trying their hand at it also), but if I take Herga as an example (we have three songwriters), this has not resulted in an avalanche of songwriting from the other members.

Still, going back to your point, I think you are partially correct. Or perhaps correctly partial, but that's all right too (just teasing).

Thanks for adjusting the spelling, by the way :-)


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