The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #145806 Message #3375386
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
12-Jul-12 - 03:23 PM
Thread Name: Lloyd & MacColl's Sea Song LPs
Subject: RE: Lloyd & MacColl's Sea Song LPs
Now to venture to summarize what I've observed from listening to all the tracks, with respect to the sources of Lloyd and MacColl's renditions, and how they developed them.
These observations are not based in comprehensive reading of liner notes, though I feel I have read enough for general purposes. The interesting thing about the notes is that although they give more information (or at least "stuff") about the songs, they do not cite sources. Sometimes they'll mention a writer, which is an oblique way of saying that that writer's book may have factored into their rendition. The songs are being presented to an audience that is presumed not to be familiar with them. They are presented as "folklore" (the word is used). Yet again, rather than the folklorist's habit of saying where they got the info from -- which I would think they would like to say if they got it from independent sources -- they take the approach like "let's assume this was floating around out there among the Folk, abundantly growing on folk trees and ready to be plucked."
This all means that when I see that their rendition closely matches something in a book, I view it as most likely that they got it from that book. (I am speaking especially about melody.) The fact is that if you look at all the presentations of chanties in books, except where the authors have plagiarized one another, there is usually enough of a variation in each independent version that one can distinguish them. One can hear if a revival singer's performance was close to one or another. It's true that the singer may have learned the song from yet another, oral source and it just happens to resemble a particular book version because, after all, it is the same song. But this is not so likely -- for why would all the book versions vary that much from each other? And as for differences between the revival singer's rendition and the book version they most closely resemble, the revival singer has most likely made deliberate or inadvertent changes -- that is, rather than their being a subtly unique oral version. This is reinforced when they don't cite a source. This is all just "If it walks like a duck..." logic.
What I see then is that Lloyd and MacColl made use of just a few sources. They often made significant additions or changes as they crafted their renditions. Many such creative changes, in my opinion, were quite good, while plenty more missed the mark or, in hindsight at least, misinterpreted the genre. Lloyd was more "creative" than MacColl. The Critics Group albums, presumably under the direction of MacColl, are mostly direct performances of book presentations, and other MacColl renditions stayed close to the text -- unless he was following Lloyd's lead.
The main sources they used were Colcord's book, which generally doesn't cite its sources, and Doerflinger's book, which is one of the most meticulous in citing sources, however it is arranged in a way so these sources don't get "in the way" of the reader's experience too much. After the first album, they were using Terry's collections, too. They possibly also used C Fox Smith. And to correct my earlier guess that they didn't see Sharp's collection directly, by the time of A Sailor's Garden (as evident from the liner notes) they did. None of their chanties seem to me to have been based in Whall's book (though the song "Do Me Ama" must have come from there??) or really any other books. No articles, no research into historical sources. Yet again, books *were* the main source. Their renditions were not coming out of the earlier chanty revival that largely followed Terry's books. They are not doing any "Johnny Come Down to Hilo" or "Drunken Sailor." They started with Colcord and Doerflinger and got their sense of the field from there. I am not saying that all the songs were created by first looking in one of these books, and then adapting the versions therein. They certainly would have had other experiences with chanty renditions that factored in. But I think this was the general method.
Starting with A Sailor's Garland, they made good use of Hugill's recently published SfSS. Yet before that, there is evidence that Hugill likely shared some material with them. This is a fascinating issue that I think we need to know much more about.
And much later, Lloyd used recordings of West Indian material.
As for additions/changes, I hardly recognize the addition of verses as changes per se. This is because, in my view, chanty lyrics are meant to be totally variable (though of a certain style, of course) and therefore, by adding or changing verses, one does not change the chanty. One does not even really create a new "version" per se. One just sings what one sang at that time. Of course, once these one-time renditions were recorded and emulated, they established firm "versions" of a sort. Anyway, if Lloyd and MacColl's shanties are mainly based in particular books, as I argue, then we could go through the exercise of listing what verses were in those books and what lyrics were sung by L/M. I am not going to do that because, again, I don't think it is really a change to the chanties. Where it becomes relevant is for just two issues that I can think of.
The first is the issue of simply tracing the origin of certain verses that are now commonly known. One might like to know if certain verses were ever documented in history or if they were made up by L/M. If the comparison shows different verses in L/M from the source books, and knowing that L/M did not use obscure sources and *supposing* that L/M didn't have much in the way of private, undocumented oral sources, then we can reasonably suspect that L/M made them up. Not that they are bad for making them up -- but just if for some reason we need to separate historical stuff from new stuff.
The second is the issue -- apparently of great interest to me, but yet to occupy many other people, ha! -- of how the lyrics selected, changed, or made up by L/M reflected their particular view of the world of chanties and how, moreover, this has gone on to influence audiences in their wake. Lloyd changed places to "Liverpool" as much as possible. These guys avoided or discarded lyrics that talked about America more, had a Black style or a minstrel-y bent. That was certainly their prerogative, but I read it as part of the re-orienting of chanties as a British folk song.
Back to changes: I view changes to melody as more significant. This is because, while lyrics of chanties were "meant to" be varied, melodies were not. Let me be clear that, of course, melodies did vary. That was the result of oral transmission and such. But the core "identity" of a chanty, according to my view, was its tune and its chorus. They were the skeleton upon which variable lyrics were hung. Melodies varied according to natural process of transmission, but to *deliberately* change the melody (or to misread the notation!) is to me something where an "error" has occurred. This is a change, moreover, that in this case seems to be a result of L/M's relationship to the book sources. They either didn't have the time or patience to figure out what the chanty sounded like from the notation, and they did sort of rough approximations, in some cases, from what was there, based on what sounded good and typical to them. This to me is bothersome because it seems to contradict the whole academic "folklore" side of the venture. You're putting these words behind your performances, saying that the song came from such and such and was about this or that and with full faith that it was existing "out there" as a bit of culture, but then you kind of just make up your own form of it out of your head.