The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #53052   Message #815366
Posted By: David Ingerson
31-Oct-02 - 02:06 PM
Thread Name: Help Choose 20 Most Popular Irish Songs
Thanks for making me think carefully about the distinctions I make. In the first place, notice that I said "some audiences."   Second, I used the phrase "more folk and not so traditional." I see no hint of mutually exclusive categories there, rather a blending or merging of types. But you were mystified by the distinction. Here is my thinking.

I first came across that distinction during five summers spent in Ireland mostly with traditional musicians. I have not heard it here in the states. The difference is, I think, that here there are very few real traditionalists—singers who have learned most of their repertoire from relatives and neighbors. We American folkies are almost all revivalists. No so in Ireland. The folk revival of the 60's overran a small and scattered but vigorous tradition of singing that had gone back hundreds of years. Many singers did learn most of their songs from relatives and neighbors. Then the revival made some of the Irish song traditions (and there are many different Irish song traditions: sean nos, Anglo-Irish songs in the sean nos, classic ballads imported from England and Scotland, rebel songs, parlor songs, music hall songs, etc.) very popular and also produced a whole generation of revivalists of various stylistic persuasions.

My take on what happened is that some of those revivalists who fell in love with the sean nos and felt the old traditions were being overrun by more modern, more European, more American, more different (You pick 'em) styles of singing and accompanying songs, wanted to distinguish their "more traditional" (or some might say "purer") styles from those that were becoming more popular. So they called the newer styles "folk" (or sometimes worse).

I remember one session in which an obvious Yank tourist asked my Dublin friend if he could sing Little Beggarman. He replied that he didn't know it. When I asked him about it afterward, he admitted that, of course, he did know it, but didn't like singing that sort of "folk crap," especially during a session of "mighty" songs. Yes, toadfrog has it right when he says the categories have more to do with the categorizers than the songs themselves. Some of my Irish acquaintances would consider Ray's whole list to be basically folk. There is not a sean nos song among them.

Just to make sure I wasn't dreaming all this, I spent a little time with my library last night and found one sentence that seems to corroborate my distinction. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin writes in his A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music (p. 138) about Clannad "It combined Irish traditional music and songs with jazz and contemporary folk."

Sorry to have been so long-winded but I hope it helps, Greg.