The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #123431   Message #2718738
Posted By: Brian Peters
08-Sep-09 - 07:06 AM
Thread Name: What is The Tradition?
Subject: RE: What is The Tradition?
The question 'What is the Tradition' is like one of those on the 'QI' TV show with Stephen Fry (apologies to non-UK readers who don't know what I'm talking about), to which a panellist gives the 'obvious' answer and is then greeted by the sound of klaxons and the deduction of ten points. So I proceeed with some caution.

Statements in some of the above posts to the effect that there never was such as thing as 'The Tradition', or that there's no distinction between 'Tradition' and 'Revival', strike me as bizarre. To keep it simple, let's stick for the moment to songs, and to England. From where I'm sitting, 'The Tradition' is the passing of a body of songs from generation to generation - often within families - amongst working and travelling people in mostly rural communities, partly for their own entertainment and partly because that was 'the way it was done' in that community.   Most of these people had no formal musical training, and much of the transmission prior to the 20th century was oral, although printed copies from the broadside presses acted to stabilise song form against the countervailing force of oral evolution. New material was constantly being added to the repertoire, through broadsides or - later - from commercial sources such as the music halls or the radio. The 'museum diorama' Jeri speaks of (if it exists at all) certainly has nothing to do with the constant change in the actual tradition.

'The Revival', on the other hand (I'm assuming we're talking about the 1960s here, not Cecil Sharp) was a self-conscious movement with an agenda that was political and educational as well as merely musical. [Other contributors who were actually there at the time might like to correct me if I'm wrong]. The footsoldiers of the Revival were a very different constituency from those of the Tradition: urban, educated, often subscribing to the counter-culture, often drawn from the middle classes. Most were not the heirs to a family or community singing tradition: they learned their songs from books, magazines and records produced by the Revival for the Revival. The Revival constructed its own performance circuit of folk clubs and festivals, completely separate from any remaining traditional singing environment, and a new class of revival professionals acted as icons of performance style and sources of repertoire.

The Revival repertoire was itself largely separate from that which had gone before. When I first became involved in the mid-70s, the kind of songs that typified the folk clubs were 'The Wild Rover', 'Wild Mountain Thyme', 'Poverty Knock', 'Fiddlers Green', 'The Blackleg Miner' and 'The Manchester Rambler'. A bit later I began to hear a lot of those songs that were discussed here a little while back on the 'Bertsongs' thread: 'The Recruited Collier', 'Reynardine', 'Three Drunken Maidens', 'Handweaver / Factory Maid', etc. All of the above were either recent compositions or the result of revivalists' (mainly Lloyd's) tinkering and popularising. The core revival repertoire - and here I speak from a Northern perspective - included comparatively little that you might have found in a rural 'Singing Pub' ('Pleasant and Delightful' excepted) or the collections of Sharp.

The Revival developed its own performance styles (as Howard Jones mentioned above), from the ubiquity of the guitar as accompanying instrument - later augmented with things like concertinas which were scarcely more authentic - to the standard 'folkie' voice we used to hear a lot of, the jokey introductions and so on. If you spliced a performance of a song - even an unaccompanied one - by a professional performer or a typical folk club singer into one of the 'Voice of the People' CDs it would stick out like a sore thumb. As Bill D said above, they just sound different.

The Revival is simply a different beast. It's a little disingenuous to state, however, that it never claimed to represent the Tradition. Maybe its founders did not, but the movement as a whole has been more than happy to include the word 'Tradition' in the names of its venues, its periodicals, its record releases and its band names. On the other hand it's undeniable that the Revival - or at least a section of it - has been enthusiastic about giving a platform to those singers from the Tradition that it could still locate, and to recording their songs for posterity. As the Revival developed, more performers (including several of today's younger generation) started going back to the collections and the recordings for their source material, and a few have tried to absorb elements of the singing style.

Personally I use the term 'Revival' (actually I scarcely ever would use it unless someone asked the question first) simply as a descriptor, with no value judgement attached. The Revival has been going for fifty years now (perhaps it deserves a more mature-sounding title?), has produced all kinds of wonderful music along the way, and is a cultural phenomenon in its own right.

I hope that's addressed some of your questions, Suibhne. I need a coffee after all that scribbling.