The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #33569   Message #448422
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
24-Apr-01 - 05:26 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Twa Sisters / Lay Bent to the Bonny Broom
Subject: RE: 'twasisters' lay the bent to bonny broom
Obviously, I don't agree with Dita on this one.  The point seems to be that he and I have a differing understanding of the nature of the "oral" process and the relationship between the Tradition and the Revival.  While it would be quite accurate to say that a song found in tradition is by definition a "correct" traditional song, no matter how garbled it may have become, the same is not at all true of songs commercially recorded by revival performers, unless they themselves belong to a continuing tradition and have learnt their material directly from traditional singers.  After all, nobody would seriously suggest that, for example, Britten's arrangement of The Foggy Dew was in any sense traditional, though it was based on a version found in tradition.  That is not to say that it may not at some point re-enter tradition in its new form, but that is not the point at issue.

I make a point of identifying collated texts (which means, texts deliberately assembled by editors or performers from bits and pieces of a number of songs, or different versions of the same song), not because there is anything inherently wrong in "mix and match" songs (it's a very old procedure, after all) but because we need to know how a thing was in order properly to understand what it is, and may become.  It is simply a question of being as accurate as possible, and not knowingly falsifying the historical record; a collated text is not itself traditional, though it may at some point, through continued transmission, become so.  The point at which that happens is moot.

I have at no time suggested that anyone should be allowed to sing only one form of any song; and to start talking as if I had seems almost like a wilful misunderstanding of what I said here, and have said fairly consistently in other discussions in the Forum over the last couple of years.  What I have said a number of times is that "the folk process" (a much-abused term) is all too often used by people who, though they may be singers of traditional songs, are not themselves traditional singers -it's an important distinction- as an excuse for ill-informed tinkering with songs, or just for not bothering to learn them properly.  In this particular case, the Old Blind Dogs recorded, not a traditional version of Cruel Sister, but an arrangement of the song as remade by Pentangle, complete with the tune and refrain borrowed from Riddles.  As such, "bairn" (if that's what he sang; it's pretty difficult to make out, and it could very well be that whoever transcribed the text for the liner notes just guessed at it, unless it was Iain himself -I've heard the recording, but not seen the notes) is, by definition, a mistake; particularly as the new form no longer makes any sense.

Though all this does seem a lot of talk about a very small detail, I would stress that it's actually quite a fundamental issue when considering the very complex relationship between tradition and revival, and the way in which the commercial music industry re-casts and re-distributes traditional or ersatz traditional material in a way which often seems to involve the wholesale re-writing of history.  It is by no means a new phenomenon, as anyone who has looked into the subject in any depth at all will know, and it is not one on which we can expect general agreement.  Others would take a stricter viewpoint than I, many think it less important.  I would, however, ask you, Dita, to credit me with at least some understanding of all this; probably not inferior to your own.