The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #160405 Message #3806108
Posted By: Jim Carroll
21-Aug-16 - 03:26 PM
Thread Name: Stop The Ewan Maccoll Bickering !!!
Subject: RE: Stop The Ewan Maccoll Bickering !!!
Pat suggests that I am getting ahead of myself by starting with the exercises and perhaps should have begun with some basics.
Ewan argued that, unless there was something physically wrong, anybody could sing if they worked at it – the more work you put in, the better the end result.
His attitude to working on singing was summed up in an interview we recorded with him in the late 1970s.
"Now you might say that working and training to develop your voice to sing Nine Maidens A-milking Did Go or Lord Randall is calculated to destroy your original joy in singing, at least that's the argument that's put to me from time to time, or has been put to me from time to time by singers who should know better.
The better you can do a thing the more you enjoy it. Anybody who's ever tried to sing and got up in front of an audience and made a bloody mess of it knows that you're not enjoying it when you're making a balls of it, but you are enjoying it when it's working, when all the things you want to happen are happening. And that can happen without training, sure it can, but it's hit or miss. If you're training it can happen more, that's the difference. It can't happen every time, not with anybody, although your training can stand you in good stead, it's something to fall back on, a technique, you know. It's something that will at least make sure that you're not absolutely diabolical
The objective, really for the singer is to create a situation where when he starts to sing he's no longer worried about technique, he's done all that, and he can give the whole of his or her attention to the song itself she can give her or he can give his whole attention to the sheer act of enjoying the song."
As all those involved were singing traditional songs in a using more or less traditional styles, that was what was concentrated on.
The first work done as a Group was to listen to recordings of source singers; Harry Cox, Sam Larner, Jeannie Robertson, Paddy Tunney…., discuss how they were producing their voices and attempt to imitate them – not to sing like them, but to become aware of voice production and learn to control it for your own singing.
None of these very early meeting were recorded – recording Group work didn't start until later.
MacColl's attitude towards field singers was interesting – while he regarded them important both as passers on of songs and by the way the best of them made the songs an extension of their own lives and experiences, he regarded the tradition as largely moribund, certainly in England, with only a handful of singers who had been part of an active singing tradition, and mostly past their prime technically.
The parochial background of traditional singers, he argued, limited the repertoires – it was seldom you would find a singer whose repertoire encompassed all or even many of the different types of traditional song.
He felt that a revival singer needed to develop a wide spectrumof songs to hold the attention of a club audience – the group was set up for club performers rather than for occasional singers.
During themaking of the Radio Ballads, Charles Parker had done some research work with senior schoolchildren, measuring their attention span by playing singers and speakers.
He came to the conclusion that, in order to retain the attention of listeners over a comparatively short space, it was necessary to vary the voice tonally and in the use of efforts (more later).
The first critical working sessions involved individual singers being asked to present up to half a dozen varied songs, with introductions and perform them for discussion.
The earliest Group recordings were of performances by John Faulkner, Luke Kelly, Charles Parker and Alasdair Clayre, with a follow up of an earlier discussion on a performance by Gordon McCulloch singing 'The Beggar Man'.
Usually, a maximum of two singers would be worked on in an evening, but often it was just one – it appears from the dates that in the early days, the Group met more than once a week, but eventually it settled down to once.
Singers were asked to prepare a varied programme of up to six songs (max), with introductions , with a view to having them discussed and suggestions of how they might be improved be made by the rest of the group.
It was stressed that comments should be both positive and critical, commenting on where the songs worked for the listener and where they didn't.
They were dealt with both as individual songs and as a whole performance.
Everybody would be asked to comment and Ewan, as chairman, would sum up the discussion and the group would choose a couple of handleable points that could be worked on for the rest of the session
At the end of the session the singer was asked to bring one or two of the songs back at a later date (usually three or four weeks) to see if any progress had been made.
The suggestions were just that – suggestions – there was no compulsion to follow the advice given; all that was expected that SOME work be done by the singer to justify the time allotted by the group.
On several occasions, Ewan or Peggy, or others of the more experienced of the group would offer to spend time to bring a newer member up to speed.
After my first performance, I got a visit from Dick Snell, who lived a few miles away, who asked if I wanted to do any work – he brought a couple of printed sheets he had prepared which explained some of the more complicated aspects of group work – still have them on file somewhere.
I'll go into more detail of how the evenings worked when I have time.