The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #110621   Message #2328128
Posted By: JeffB
28-Apr-08 - 06:41 PM
Thread Name: Bertsongs? (songs of A. L. 'Bert' Lloyd)
Subject: RE: Bertsongs?
There has been a lot of pain and confusion over Bertsongs in the last couple of weeks. Every who is interested in the old songs is bound to be a little of a historian and musicologist (however humble) as well as a perfomer. Finding out that some old favourites did not date verbatim back to the early 19th C after all can be disconcerting, like when you "see through" an optical illusion and realise the arrow is not pointing to where you thought. Some people, understandably, don't now know what to think about A L Lloyd. But something like this has happened before and people got over it. If you don't mind my squandering a bit of bandwith, in the words of the immortal MB I want to tell you a story ...

There was once a man named Tom Keating; perhaps an unremarkable man except for one extraordinary talent - he was a bloody marvellous painter. Tom could paint in any style from any period - Renaissance, Impressionist, Expressionist, Dadaist: Cezanne, Renoir, Titian - you name it and he could paint it. He knew and loved his craft well. When he was getting on in years and finding it increasingly difficult to get his own paintings accepted by the galleries, he decided to sell some of his home-made Goyas and Canalettos. As it turned out, the art dealers were delighted and completely taken in, despite their expertise. The critics, who knew their subject very thoroughly indeed, were in raptures of praise. Before long, there were Keatings in New York penthouses and Arabian palaces and everywhere between.

For some time everyone was happy. Tom was enjoying the resurgence of his career (even though he couldn't talk about it down the pub), the dealers were making pots of money, and the art-loving public was enjoying beautiful masterpieces. Some of course had been bought as investments, but others simply because people liked what they saw.

Eventually, in the 1970s, Tom gave the game away. I forget whether it was because of disgust over the art market, or whether he had been rumbled. The dealers were furious of course, the critics embarrassed and irritated, and the art investors very nervous. Tom was prosecuted, but the trial was halted because of his ill-health. He refused to say which pictures were his forgeries. (In law they were forgeries because he had put another artist's signature to them). He took the view, I suppose, that they were either 1] good enough to be judged on their own merits next to genuine Rembrandts and Turners, or 2] should otherwise be exposed by the self-proclaimed art experts.

An interesting development is that nowadays Tom's forgeries, "genuine Keatings", (those that have been identified, that is), are highly collectable and fetch high prices. There must be an element of marketeering in this of course, but the bottom line is that people will not spend money on something they don't really like. In fact, so collectable have Keatings become that, ironically, they are themselves now being forged. It needs a real expert to identify a genuine Keating!

This story provides, I hope, a useful analogy to the Bert Lloyd furore. (I say "furore" on the strength of the sheer number of e-mails it has generated. In fact, a clear concensus of opinion has emerged). If "Bert Lloyd" is substituted for "Tom Keating", then the folk song academics are in the position of the art dealers and critics, and we - the singers and club audiences - are the art lovers. Every analogy is somewhat crude of course, and one huge difference here is the absence of money in the business of disseminating songs at one end, and learning and performing them at the other. For "money", try putting in "appreciation of emotional impact, effort to learn". But as an analogy it might help in deciding how you value the "product".

The academics who have invested time and work into English song in general will, understandably, be annoyed at finding some are (in their terms) forgeries. But to those who "bought into" Bertsongs because of their inherent qualities will not be unduly disappointed. To them, the songs are the masterly creation of an artist who was inspired by historical originals. Their response to the songs has not (and should not) change. If there is a changed response on the part of some, we must question why the songs were "bought into" by them in the first place, given that the songs' inherent qualities are exactly the same. That, of course, is an answer only they can give. I hope that, after due consideration, they will decide that what a song means to them is less important than who wrote it.

M'Lud, the case for the defence rests. Until someone objects ...