The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #111033   Message #2346651
Posted By: Jim Carroll
22-May-08 - 03:12 AM
Thread Name: Money v Folk
Subject: RE: Money v Folk
I have no argument with the statement that today people will listen to, and occasionally sing their way though the pop songs; this hasn't replaced the folk repertoire, it's always been there.
Walter Pardon, with his large repertoire of traditional songs and ballads, was among the most important traditional singers of the twentieth century, yet he could easily match those with music hall songs, Victorian parlour ballads and early pop songs. If you asked him about the different types of songs in his repertoire, he was quite adamant – some were 'folk songs' (his words) some weren't. His analysis of which was which was, in my opinion, quite accurate, both when he spoke into our tape recorded, and as early as 1948, when he began to write down his families songs in notebooks and listed them in categories. .
Mary Delaney, a blind Irish Travelling woman, gave us around 100 traditional songs, and would have doubled that number if we hadn't lost touch when she moved out of London. She could have doubled that number again with Country and Western songs, but she persistently refused, telling us that "those aren't the ones you are looking for".   
She told us (on tape) that "the new songs have the old ones ruined"; she "only sang them 'cause that's what the lads ask for down the pub" (again on tape).
Kerry Traveller Mikeen McCarthy gave us around 60 songs, mostly traditional, with a few early pop songs of the sentimental Irish type thrown in. He said he'd never thought about whether there was a difference between the types of song, but when we tried him on it, he had pictures in his mind when he sang his folk songs, "it's like sitting in the cinema" – he never got this with his pop songs.
Walter Pardon filled tapes with descriptions of the characters in his songs, and of the locations they were set in, and of the different 'feel' his songs had – "The Pretty Ploughboy is always ploughing in the field over there" (opposite his house).
We have dozens of examples of this type of identification; from Norfolk, from Travellers and from the West of Ireland.
People who want to sing for entertainment will take whatever is there; it's my opinion that the folk songs went far beyond that – and it's that we've lost.
Mary Delaney sang us a ballad she called 'Buried In Kilkenny', a superb version of the Child ballad 'Lord Randall'; she always made a good job of it, but because she didn't get to sing her folk stuff regularly she tended to overpitch and her concentration was on getting it right technically.
She had a large family of 16 children; when we met her a number of them were at school age, but hadn't been to school because of her itinerant life style.
When she was travelling round East London she decided to try and educate them, so she moved into a council flat in Hackney in order to send them to the local school. I have never known anybody so miserable – she hated every second of it. Completely blind, she was alone all day, devastatingly lonely; the only visitors she got were us, and the occasional Traveller friend who dropped in to see her (Travellers still on the road hate houses, and will only stay in them for as short time as possible).
One night we went to see her with a tape recorder and asked her to sing 'Lord Randal', which she did. It was electric – all the misery and loneliness and loss of her natural lifestyle was poured into the song; she was virtually in tears, and so were we.
If you can tell me that you can get the same level of emotional involvement from singing 'Oobla Dee, Oobla Dah', or 'Yellow Submarine' down at the pub, I'm willing to listen, but I'll take some convincing.
Jim Carroll