The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #141650   Message #3262611
Posted By: Brian Peters
24-Nov-11 - 07:57 AM
Thread Name: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
As has been pointed out already, a lot depends on what you call "showmanship": do you draw the line at the whole Michael Jackson song & dance thing, at waving mike stands around, or at the mildest of vocal histrionics?

There has certainly been a purist attitude towards the singing of traditional songs, holding that they should be performed utterly deadpan, with no hint of vocal expression. Based on recordings of several great tradtional singers, this is clearly tosh. There were fine singers who were deadpan, and other fine singers who put a lot of expression into their singing. Speaking for the UK, who could deny that great singers like Phil Tanner and Sam Larner were showmen? Here's what Martin Carthy said of a Larner performance (the whole article is here):

"His impact was immediate and electrifying... This was a man in command and utterly accustomed to performing. He pointed at his audience, he teased them, he pulled words out of the air...."

We don't have a live review of Phil Tanner, but a look at the photo here might hint at his showmanship.

I suspect that a lot depended on (a) the personality of the singer and (b) the context in which they were accustomed to performing. Both Tanner and Larner were locally-celebrated public performers who knew how to grab a casual audience's attention, whereas many singers recorded by collectors had never sung outside their own home.

Jeannie Robertson undoubtedly liked to put on a show, and has been criticized for it - that she exaggerated her performance style to suit her new-found celebrity in the folk revival. The same kind of people like to carp on about Fred Jordan 'dressing the part' for performances on folk festival stages. Personally I find the idea of middle-class folk pundits pronouncing on the 'authenticity' of an Aberdeenshire traveller or a Shropshire farm worker rather amusing.

Agree about Uncle Dave, too.