The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #157878   Message #4029215
Posted By: Brian Peters
20-Jan-20 - 11:36 AM
Thread Name: Dave Harker, Fakesong
Subject: RE: Dave Harker, Fakesong
I've had a look at Cole now. A lot of familiar ideas - the author himself tells us he's "extending ideas sketched out in 'The Imagined Village'", and there's a section on broadsides that won't be news to most of us. Lighter's precis above is pretty accurate. I was interested to read about Hubert Parry's links with William Morris and 'Romantic Socialism', not least because I've long felt that Cecil Sharp's thinking followed many similar lines - the detestation for capitalism and modernity and the harking back to simplicity and cultural purity, for instance.

In the account of Kate Lee and the Coppers, though, Cole is guilty of precisely the kind of speculative leap that led me to mention the mote in the eye of those flinging around accusations of bias and selectivity. He quotes Bob Copper, describing the first visit of 'Brasser' Copper and his brother Tom to Sir Edward Carson's house to meet Kate Lee:

"Any embarrassment they might have felt at being asked to sing in front of a lady in an elegantly furnished drawing-room instead of at home in the cottage or in the tap room of the “Black ’un” was soon dispelled by generous helpings from a full bottle of whisky standing in the middle of the table with two cut-glass tumblers and a decanter of water. They sang, they drank and sang again and all the time Mrs Lee was noting down the words and music of their efforts."

Now - bearing in mind that the event occurred before Bob was born, and that here he is paraphrasing in his usual colourful style his father's teenage memories - this sounds like quite a convivial meeting. Any embarrassment they might have felt was soon dispelled. But here is Cole's interpretation of BC's words:

"Uprooted from both pub and cottage and held captive in a country house by an unfamiliar woman of higher social status, the Coppers were requested to sing in a manner wholly foreign to their quotidian experience while wearing clothes ordinarily reserved for church... The uncomfortable environment, moreover, played a decisive role in James and Thomas’s choice concerning which songs to offer."

A little later, he writes: "the very social settings that made [...] the Coppers feel so uncomfortable."

But nowhere does Bob Copper say that his grandfather and great-uncle actually felt uncomfortable - rather the opposite, in fact. He does not say that they were requested to sing in any particular manner, nor does the quoted passage mention that they chose their songs according to the surroundings. Cole is giving an account tailored to fit his thesis. I'm reminded of Harker's account that James Parsons "trembled with fright" on his first visit to Baring-Gould's grand house, and his strange omission to mention that before long Parsons was forcefully correcting mistakes in the Reverend's notations.

Cole writes subsequently about Kate Lee's performance of Copper songs: "The audience was thus granted access to the Copper brothers’ songs only via a chain of mediations in which the songs were filtered, notated, arranged, and restaged by a group of metropolitan folk-song devotees." This may well be true of the evening in question, but where is the mention that the family sang their songs themselves in the Royal Albert Hall in 1952, and on national radio in the same period, never mind the innumerable and continuing performances in folk song environments ever since - i.e. some acknowledgement that the priorities of folk song devotees might have changed since 1897? When I read, "Increased attention should hence be paid to singers such as [...] the Copper brothers of Rottingdean in order to rescue their histories from the conceptual apparatus of folk song", I wonder how much the writer actually knows about the Coppers, even if he is clever enough to use the word 'quotidian' instead of 'everyday'.

The other thing that strikes me when I read these critiques of collectors carrying out their work according to an agenda of nationalism or imperialism or whatever else, is that the writers never consider for an instant that the collectors might have been motivated also by the aesthetic qualities of what they were hearing. This comes over again and again in Sharp's writings - he's simply thrilled by the songs, and cheerfully acknowledges his own 'butterfly collector' tendencies. I acknowledge my own bias in having sung and loved these songs for 40 years, but it's pretty clear that critics like Harker and, I suspect, Cole, feel no such affection for them and are simply unable to comprehend the feelings that Sharp, B-G et al experienced.