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definition of a ballad

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The Sandman 27 Aug 08 - 12:35 PM
Terry McDonald 27 Aug 08 - 12:36 PM
kendall 27 Aug 08 - 12:49 PM
Uncle_DaveO 27 Aug 08 - 01:12 PM
Don Firth 27 Aug 08 - 01:24 PM
kendall 27 Aug 08 - 01:33 PM
Terry McDonald 27 Aug 08 - 02:18 PM
Jim Carroll 27 Aug 08 - 02:36 PM
Bill D 27 Aug 08 - 02:51 PM
Fred McCormick 27 Aug 08 - 03:10 PM
Jack Blandiver 27 Aug 08 - 03:13 PM
Jack Blandiver 27 Aug 08 - 03:14 PM
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kendall 27 Aug 08 - 03:25 PM
Jim Carroll 27 Aug 08 - 03:53 PM
Don Firth 27 Aug 08 - 04:03 PM
maire-aine 27 Aug 08 - 04:24 PM
Sandy Mc Lean 27 Aug 08 - 04:36 PM
Big Al Whittle 27 Aug 08 - 04:40 PM
Richard Bridge 27 Aug 08 - 04:57 PM
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Subject: definiton of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 12:35 PM

can anyone define a genuine ballad?.
by that I mean,ballad in the way folk enthusiasts,understand the word.[eg Barbara Allen,LordRandall]
does it matter,if the ballad has been written,and is it important that it should have been sung and or altered by the folk or numbers of people.


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Subject: RE: definiton of a ballad
From: Terry McDonald
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 12:36 PM

I've always taken the term to mean that the song has a narrative.


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Subject: RE: definiton of a ballad
From: kendall
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 12:49 PM

I've always thought it was a particular form of writing. For example:

Charlie had a herring weir down to Bailey's Bight
And he got up to tend it in the middle of the night.
Late October, midnight black as tar
Nothing out the window but a big cold star.


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Subject: RE: definiton of a ballad
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 01:12 PM

The "classic" ballads, of Scotland and England, have a number of characteristics--not all NECESSARILY in one ballad, but typically as follows:

Of course, to be a ballad, it tells a story, and almost always in the third person.

Typically four-line stanzas
Commonly rhymed ABAB
Often with refrain or burden lines in lines 2 and 4, although sometimes with a separate burden stanza of two or even four lines. The burden lines are sometimes in plain English (or Scots), and sometimes in nonsense syllables, or "mouth music". When in plain language, they often seem to have little to do with the story.

These ballads just report the incidents, to tell the external story. That is, they don't say, "Oh, ain't it awful?" or "Oooh, wasn't she mean?" They leave the reaction to the listener. One exception I think of is in Eggs and Marrowbone", where the last line of the next to last stanza is the punch line to the joke: "Wasn't she a blamed old fool, that she didn't grab that pole?" I see that kind of comment, a wry joke, as a sort of standard exception. There's a similar exceptional line in The Molecatcher's Wife.

Similarly, they don't report what's in a character's mind as (s)he does whatever it is. That's for the listener to infer.

As to the origin and status of the classic ballads, we're getting close to the immemorial argument about "what's a folk song?" about which the less said, the better. Personally, and not claiming that I am "RIGHT", I tend to go with the Child, Sharp et al. parameters of what they were studying. They were studying the evidences of a culture, defining "folk song" for their purposes to mean a song found in the mouths of the unspoiled folk, as it were, passed down and modified by oral tradition among the musically and literarily unschooled, in order to divine the cultural traces untainted by learning or training.

The main aspect in which I strongly disagree with Professor Child and his ilk is the claim that a folk song had no individual author--ever.
Not just that the author was unknown, but that there was none. Folk songs, by their lights, as I understand it, sort of spontaneously appeared. That seems like so much bushwah, to me.

I expect others can point out other classic-ballad characteristics that I'm not thinking of right now.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: definiton of a ballad
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 01:24 PM

Uncle Dave's comments just above are essentially what Prof. David Fowler outlined in his course, "The Popular Ballad," that I took in the U. of Washington English Department in 1958. Works for me.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: definiton of a ballad
From: kendall
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 01:33 PM

I'm reminded of that old mountain banjo picker when asked if he could read music, "Not enough to hurt my playing."


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Terry McDonald
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 02:18 PM

I like the point about the song being in the third person - I'd not noticed that before.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 02:36 PM

This is the start of a six page definition from Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore - fairly comprehensive, but doesn't suit everybody, especially those who don't hold withnew-fangled gadgets like dictionaries
Jim Carroll.

Ballad - A form of narrative folk song, developed in the Middle Ages in Europe, to which has been applied very ambiguously the name ballad (Danish vise, Spanish romance, Russian bylina, Ukrainian dumi, Serbian junacka pesme, etc.). This type of folk song varies considerably with time and place, but certain characteristics remain fairly constant and seemingly fundamental: 1) A ballad is narrative. 2) A ballad is sung. 3) A ballad belongs to the folk in content, style, and designation. 4) A ballad focuses on a single incident. 5) A ballad is impersonal, the action moving of itself by dialog and incident quickly to the end.
A ballad is story. Of the four elements common to all narrative—action, character, setting, and theme—the ballad emphasizes the first. Setting is casual; theme is often implied; characters are usually types and even when more individual are undeveloped, but action carries the interest. The action is usually highly dramatic, often startling and all the more impressive because it is unrelieved. The ballad practices a rigid economy in relating the action; incidents antecedent to the climax are often omitted, as are explanatory and motivating details. The action is usually of a plot sort and the plot often reduced to the moment of climax; that is, of the unstable situation and the resolution which constitutes plot, the ballad often concentrates on the resolution leaving the listener to supply details and antecedent material.
Almost without exception ballads were sung; often they were accompanied by instrumental music. The tunes are traditional and probably as old as the words, but of the two—story and melody—story is basic. Many ballads were sung to a variety of melodies. Unlike lyric songs in which the meaning is not so important and which are consequently subordinated to the music, ballads, in which the contrary situation obtains, always subordinate the melody to the words. More variety exists in ballad music than in ballad form and content, for it ranges from the modal types of the West, based on the Gregorian, to the more florid and ornamental types of Greece, the Balkans, and Russia owing much to Byzantine tradition. Here and there, as for example among the South Slavs, instead of melody the ballad is often accompanied by rhythmical chant, almost recitative. The point is, of course, that the ballad is not simply recited or told, but given interpretation and emotional power by the accompanying melody.
The ballad belongs to the folk, but it is by no means primitive or barbaric; rather it is the product of accomplished and often literary-conscious poets.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Bill D
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 02:51 PM

practical working definition

A song that, if you announce it IS a ballad, all but the dedicated find they need to be elsewhere.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 03:10 PM

Bill, I'm afraid that few things get up my nose faster or further than ballad denouncers, so I looked a couple of your previous Mudcat postings. Turns out in one of them you mention Doc Watson, Dan Crary, Merle Travis and Norman Blake in the space of a few dozen words. Just think of a ballad as the Doc Watson of folksong and you won't go far wrong


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 03:13 PM

I'd not noticed that before

Certain ballads aren't - the so-called Goodnight Ballads - such as Tyne of Harrow, Captain Kidd, and Hanged I Shall Be. Also certain of The Bothy Ballads,such Lamachree & Megrum and Scranky Black Farmer.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 03:14 PM

All in the fist person that is!


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 03:14 PM

first person


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: kendall
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 03:25 PM

I like ballads, but those that go on and on and on get to me after the 42nd verse...and what will you give to your second cousin's left handed hairdressers step friend...BORING


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 03:53 PM

"I like ballads, but those that go on and on and on get to me after the 42nd verse...and what will you give to your second cousin's left handed hairdressers step friend...BORING"

Inevitable as 'It's going to piss down with rain tomorrow".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 04:03 PM

This sort of thing enrages the purists, of course, but that's why I edit. In the way I sing Lord Randal, for example (which I believe is what kendall is referring to), the dying Lord Randal bequeaths his gold and his silver to his mother (the rest of his many relatives, his horses, his hounds, and his retainers all get short shrift) and then leaves his sweetheart "a rope from hell to hang her!" Keep the essentials of the story, but cut endless repetition that doesn't add much to what is already there. Audiences of former times probably enjoyed this sort of thing, but modern audiences, used to songs that seldom last more than three minutes, seem to have a low boredom threshold.

Early on, I compared versions of ballads sung by Richard Dyer-Bennet (who also tends to enrage purists for a number of reasons) with the texts I found in ballad collections, and noted that he had a real knack for presenting the complete story, but in a singable length.

Nevertheless, I was (am) often accused of being a purist myself. . . .

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: maire-aine
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 04:24 PM

If the ballad writers/publishers were getting paid by the word, that would explain the length.

Maryanne


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Sandy Mc Lean
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 04:36 PM

By the simplest definition it is "a song that tells a story."
Many traditional ballads may be ancient and full of boring detail but there are also more recently written ones that I love. Marty Robbins "Gunfighter Ballads" told some great stories, some were old, some were more recent and some were written by Marty himself. Tom T. Hall wrote some great "story songs" in the first person, and I would call them ballads as well. Johnny Cash's "Dorrain" was also a great one in the first person as well. On the other hand I have heard mushy love songs referred to as ballads although they contained little if any story line. If a song tells a good story and the story, not the music, is what first catches your attention I would call it a ballad.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 04:40 PM

I think we're talking about folk ballads as opposed to pop ballads.

Although a lot of what the dictionary definition says could be applied to say Edith Piaf songs.

I'm not really sure its definable easily.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 04:57 PM

I am by no means clear what "of the folk" means. It may mean that a ballad is not a ballad unless it is a folk song, or it may mean that a ballad is not a ballad unless it sounds like a folk song, but I would not see that either test was necessary.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: curmudgeon
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 05:40 PM

I do like the explanations of Uncle Dave, Jim Carroll and Sandy McLean. I would add that some time in the late 30s/40's the music industry misappropriated the term to refer to any slow love song they wished to perpetrate on the public.

But further, we should differentiate between the longer narrative, Child/Big bBallads,Muckle Sangs and the more down to earth folk ballads of later creation. I'll give examples if anyone's interested in pursuing this - Tom Hall


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 05:40 PM

Barbara Allen is a ballad?

You mean like

Ba ba ba. Ba ba b'ra a'n
Ba ba ba. Ba ba b'ra a'n
Ba ba ba. Ba ba b'ra a'n
You got me rockin an' a' reelin
Swingin' from the ceilin'
Ba b'ra a'n

Well! You learn summat new every day...

:D


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Bill D
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 05:53 PM

*tsk*... Fred McCormick...I see my attempt at cynical humor went a mite astray. *little grin*...

I like ballads. I DO a few ballads. I am one who stays in the room when a ballad is announced.

My posts here go waaaayyy back to '96, and I have posted lyrics to ballads, pieces of some, and some complete MP3s to help folks learn tunes. I am sorry anyone worried for a minute that I was "denouncing" ballads. I guess I gotta be more careful....

(anyone need a tune to a Child ballad? I have some for almost every one for which there IS a known tune.)


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JHW
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 07:17 PM

My introduction to ballads was Nic Jones singing Annan Water via a Dansette record player. But Annan Water as by Nic or as writ on the walls of the Blue Bell (or Ball?) in Annan both start in the 1st person as border and bothy ballads already mentioned yet must be ballads.
The parameter that the song should contain no comment I hadn't thought of but as I'd never thought of 'Eggs and Marrowbones' or 'The Molecatcher' as ballads perhaps I'd assimilated that feeling without identifying it. 'John Barleycorn' tells a story but because it is clearly a fictitious analogy it doesn't feel like a ballad any more than (for me) Marrowbones or Molecatcher. Perhaps the story has to feel as though it did once happen? But then there's my favourite Tamlane. Tricky. What about scale - fair enough the dread of 42 verses but can just 3 ever be a ballad?

John, I love ballads me.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Leadfingers
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 08:08 PM

I still call a Ballad a Traditional Song that tells a story .


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 08:15 PM

'I would add that some time in the late 30s/40's the music industry misappropriated the term to refer to any slow love song they wished to perpetrate on the public.'

Are you quite sure its not the world of folk music buffs who have misappropriated a term which is in common usage? If we decided things by democratic means - you lot would have lost your deposit.

Even in the world of folk music - I have heard simple love songs like Plaisir d'Amour referred to as a ballad.

I don't know why we always seem to be engaged in this sort of discussion - folk music means this, and now a ballad means that...

And what of the murder ballads....the fatal summer school of American folksongs - they don't really all fit your blueprint. sometimes they get taken over by another school of music - like Mckinley or White House Blues. Presumably at one time a doleful tale of the assasination - but before long a happy go lucky ragtime and bluegrass favourite.

I think whatever you decide - the folk process will frustrate your plans to confine it to one meaning. If only because of the nature human creativity and ingenuity.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Bill D
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 08:15 PM

Three could be a ballad...if....

One of my favorites is "The Twa Corbies", and it is only 5.

Most stories take a bit longer to flesh out, and ballads usually need a bit of development or we wonder what happened when....xxxx or yyyyy.

I think "Amelia Earhart" is a ballad of sorts...but one verse is commonly left out,(YouTube clip) making a 4 verse story into a strange 3 verse version.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: curmudgeon
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 09:05 PM

JHW - Willie MacIntosh (Child 183) is only two verses and chorus. Length doesn't matter.

WLD - As a kid, in the late 40s, I heard DJs misusing the word ballad as I learned the term in school. No "world of folk music buffs" here at that time.

And you must live in a very bizarre "world of folk music" if it refers to "Plaisir d'Amour" as a folk ballad.

If you read all the posts, you would also notice a varied expalnation of the term "ballad."


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 02:21 AM

Ther are just over 3 pages (large book page nearly A4, very small print) in Percy A Scholes "The Oxford COmpanion to Music" 10th Edn, Ed. John Owen Ward, about "ballad" and a goodly chink of that about "what is a ballad" - but it will be a nightmare for me to scan and OCR as it is in columns, and I'm certainly not going manually to type it in.

Is there any good way I can put a graphics file up somewhere convenient?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 03:18 AM

How about coming to the all-day ballad forum led by Marian Button at the Lewes Arms on Saturday 6th. September?

Lewes Arms Workshop No 97

MARIAN BUTTON : BALLAD FORUM

Saturday 6th. September 2008
10.45 a.m.- 4.45 p.m.
Places £15. Booking form available here .

The Lewes Arms
Mount Place,
Lewes,
East Sussex
BN7 1YH

Marian Button has a glorious voice. She is a powerful & spell-binding performer of ballads & traditional songs, with occasional ventures into jazz. She won the prestigious Song Competition at the 2002 National Folk Festival & is a key organiser & performer at the Tenterden Folk Festival.

You are invited to bring at least one traditional or modern ballad of your choice to sing & talk about. To avoid clashes with other contributors, please state your preferred ballad in advance. If your choice has already been taken, we will let you know so that you can choose another. If you are in doubt about what counts as a ballad, please use the contact email or phone to ask.

IN THE EVENING MARIAN BUTTON PERFORMS AT THE LEWES ARMS FOLK CLUB

(admission £5; advance tickets available from address at end of the booking form)

Provisional Timetable
10.45         Registration & coffee; order lunch (refreshments are not included)
12.30 - 13.30         Lunch
15.00         Tea/coffee break
16.45         Finish

N.B. Booking is recommended as numbers are limited. Music will be sent in advance.
Maps & accommodation lists will be sent on request.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 03:28 AM

yeh I'm willing to own up to living in a bizarre world.

I still think if you went out on the streets asking the public to name a singer of ballads - you'd be more likely to get Matt Monro mentioned than Ewan MacColl.

Like I say the blokes compiling The Oxford Companion to Music don't make the rules. the Joe Blogg's out there in the world we inhabit make the rules of common usage. Oxford dons are just crapping themselves trying to keep up.


I seem to remember both Burl Ives and Joan Baez referring to Greensleeves and Plaisir D'Amour as a ballads.

And some people used to talk abot 'ballades' - with an 'e' - is that something different?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 03:28 AM

I assumed the questioner was referring to 'folk ballads' in which case 'Plaisir d'Amour' or 'Strangers In the Night', as good as they might be, don't get a look in.
Personally I don't think 'a song that tells a story' is enough of an explanation. The English language tradition is basically a narrative one so virtually all the songs tell a story, even if it's only about a young woman looking for her 'Spotted Cow' and spending the afternoon snogging instead. Ballads are more than that, using techniques like incremental repetition, impersonalisation and commonplaces, stripping the narrative down to the action... a whole bundle of distinguishing features which make them unique. There are hundreds of books defining ballads and distinguishing them from the rest of the folk repertoire, among the most enjoyable (though not the most reliable) are probably Evelyn K Wells' 'The Ballad Tree' or Willa Muir's 'Living With Ballads'.
As Curmudgeon rightly says, ballads can be long or short, 'size really doesn't matter'. Personally, I've always found someone who judges a song or ballad by its length, an indication of whether or not they have the retention of a goldfish - a good ballad is as long as it needs to be.
I do think that the longer songs need a little more thought and work in order to put them across, but on the other hand, an indifferent 3 verse navel-gazing singer-songwriter piece badly sung is 3 verses too long as far as I'm concerned - let's not confuse size with quality.
Hamish Henderson described the ballads as 'The Muckle Sangs' (The Big Songs), and MacColl referred to them as being 'the high water mark of the tradition' and 'the folk equivalent of Shakespeare' . They have acted continuously as a major form of entertainment and expression for centuries, far longer than any other musical-oral form, they've been found in the mouths of poorly educated farm-workers, fishermen, servants and millworkers. Right up to 30 years ago they were still to be heard particularly from non-educated Travellers, which, to me indicates thet they must have something for them.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 03:48 AM

WD40
I've always thought that the 'make-it-up-as -you-go-along' and 'words-mean-what-I-want-them-to-mean' philosophy would lead to the death of communication (pretty much as has happened on the folk scene). Definition is about consensus in the long term, misuse of words leads to chaos, the lexicographers arbitrate so we can still keep talking to each other.

A ballade is:
A. A verse form usually consisting of three stanzas of eight or ten lines each stanza, and an envoy, or brief final stanza, ending with the same last line as that of the preceding stanzas.
or
B. A musical composition, usually for the piano, having the romantic or dramatic quality of a ballad.

Got that from a dictionary so therefore is not to be trusted!!!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 04:23 AM

Here's a thing of wonder; Mrs Pearl Brewer of Pocahantas, Arkensas, singing a five verse version of The Cruel Mother (All Down by the Greenwood Side) in 1958 and bringing it in around 2 minutes.

http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/0277/index.html

This, to my ears, is a consummate reduction to the very essence of the ballad; like the work of a skilled saucier, albeit one achieved by means of the folk process*. First time I heard this my wife was on night shift & I was sitting up in the wee small hours exploring The Max Hunter Archive (as one does) and chanced on Mrs Brewer's superlative rendering - quite chilled me to the marrow so it did.

* Another term which has inspired long debate, and rightly so.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 04:46 AM

lovely song thanks IB.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 05:30 AM

Sorry Bill. I did get the humorous riposte. But as I said there's few things which produce a faster kneejerk reaction in me than ballad begrudgers. However, when I saw your posting about Doc Watson I thought 'this man can't be all bad'. And of course Doc has made some excellent ballad recordings himself.

Personally I shall ignore the begrudgers and continue to regard the ballads as one of the pinnacles of folk tradition, along with Homeric epics, amhránaí ar an sean nós, and some of the massive and extraordinary folktales of Gaelic Ireland.

But maybe anyone who is less than totally gobsmacked by Ewan MacColl singing Clyde's Water should be somewhere else.


*tsk*... Fred McCormick...I see my attempt at cynical humor went a mite astray. *little grin*...

I like ballads. I DO a few ballads. I am one who stays in the room when a ballad is announced.
y posts here go waaaayyy back to '96, and I have posted lyrics to ballads, pieces of some, and some complete MP3s to help folks learn tunes. I am sorry anyone worried for a minute that I was "denouncing" ballads. I guess I gotta be more careful....

(anyone need a tune to a Child ballad? I have some for almost every one for which there IS a known tune.)


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 06:12 AM

'I've always thought that the 'make-it-up-as -you-go-along' and 'words-mean-what-I-want-them-to-mean' philosophy would lead to the death of communication'

Thankfully words still mean what people want them to mean, not what you want them to mean. This probably ensures the continuation of communication skills throughout the general population. Although it does leave YOU with a problem.

You really need to preface your messages with:-

Amongst the acolytes of the folk cult what we call folkmusic/ a ballad/ etc.....)

Because when Michael Parkinson says to Jack Jones, what i really love is your way with a ballad - you can't get away from the fact that everybody in England and Ireland (yourself included) knows exactly and with precision what he is talking about .....

I still think you would also find many people in folk music who would disagree with your very narrow definition of a ballad. 'balladry' is a skill which has many tangential offshoots.

Ask yourself just what you are aiming for - complete cultural autism for folkmusic. there are simply too many people out there (many in the world of folk music) who have never heard of the ballad of tamm Linn, who use the word ballad. And its their language, and they are entitled to do that.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 07:10 AM

"Thankfully words still mean what people want them to mean, not what you want them to mean"
Without re-opening old arguments I suggest you trawl through some of the 'folk song definitions' threads. I have always assumed - perhaps wrongly, that Mudcat is folk-song based; never realised we had to prefix all discussions with "Amongst the acolytes of the folk cult what we call folkmusic/ a ballad/ etc......"; thought that was what we were about
As much as I migh admire Michael Parkinson as an interviewer, can't think of anybody I'd be less likely to go to for information on my music (or Jack Jones, for that matter).
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 07:26 AM

can anyone define a genuine ballad?.
by that I mean,ballad in the way folk enthusiasts,understand the word.[eg Barbara Allen,LordRandall]
does it matter,if the ballad has been written,and is it important that it should have been sung and or altered by the folk or numbers of people.
that was my original post,thats pretty clear,what genre I am asking about.
http://www.dickmiles.com


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 07:32 AM

oh on the subject of Tam Linn,the version I sing,which I believe was tampered with by BertLloyd,would not fit Funk and Wagnalls version of a ballad[because it has not been sung by the people but by folk revivalists].
but are not the folk revivalists people?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 07:38 AM

That Marian Button session should be a cracker - but I bet the death count over the day is huge!

Regrettably the WMD version of "communication" puts me in mind of the chimpanzees who hang over the railings at my local pub and communicate with grunts and leers, punctuated with "fucking" before very noun (much as German starts every noun with a capital letter) so that their "communication" tends to sound like a 2-stroke BSA Bantam in motion (whiiiiiiiine phut phut meaooooooon phut phut phut weoooaw phut phut phutty phut phut phuttedy phut)


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 07:43 AM

Its all arguable really. What constitutes a narrative - could be some very sketchy lyric. What constiutes folkmusic. what constitutes a ballad.

Although admittedly folkmusic is a cosy little enclave with its own buzz words - it really does have to have some confluence with the rest of humanity.

i'm sure i've heard Woody Guthrie's work referred to as folkballads. And Springfield Mountain. is it still a folk ballad when it Earl Scruggs or Mike Seeger - do the tale of the 'sarpint that bit me on the heel' as FOD.

And what of all those Irish ballads of rebellion - we know who wrote most of those.

can you really seriously turn round and say - everybody who called these songs ballads is wrong; it's only me that's that's right.

Dumb question, of course you can.....


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Silver Slug
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 08:15 AM

Is 'The Ballad of Bonnie and Cyde' a ballad? How about 'The Ballad of John and Yoko.' Are you saying "These are 'pop' songs and are not worthy of consideration a ballads." And yet both meet at least some of the criteria which was set out above.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 08:48 AM

Silver Slug
"Are you saying "These are 'pop' songs......."
Yup, though 'worthiness' doesn't come into it - it's a question of definition, not value. Basically, if it hasn't gone through the 'folk mincer' it isn't a 'folk ballad'. Doesn't mean it hasn't been created using folk forms.
WMD
Most of what you say in your last posting is worth debating - not sure where 'Plaisir d'Amour' fits into all that though.
Of course, you could adopt the 'singing horse' definition, which appears to have crept in here along the way.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: peregrina
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 09:12 AM

The definitions being discussed here are a kind of scholarly construct; that does not make them invalid, but it means they are an attempt to catch the horse after it bolted, to impose one kind of order on a fantastically various, long lasting and evolving group of songs and song-types with diverse origins and transmissions.

The ballad singers themselves also had their own terms.
I think Jean Ritchie has written in her song book about 'ballets' being the printed sheet. And some of the ballad singers of North Carolina called the songs we call ballads 'the old songs' and 'the love songs'. Dillard Chandler says (notes to Dark Holler SFW CD 40159) 'I've always heard it called a love song... Ain't nothing to it, no rhythm, nothing to dance through. It's just an old-timey love song.'

If a language is a dialect with an army attached, is a ballad a certain song type with folklorists attached, in debate?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: peregrina
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 09:22 AM

A crucial formal defining feature that sets ballads (whatever they are!) apart from other compositions that were transmitted orally, and in oral-print interaction (like the South Slavic heroic songs studied by Lord and Parry) is that they are have verses (or stanzas), rather than being continuous.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 09:27 AM

Jean Richie gave a wonderful interview to The Irish Times some years ago; her comments on using 'Barbara Allen' to draw out the traditional songs from field singers should be compulsory reading for anybody interested in the subject.
The term 'ballad' is used by older people here in Ireland to refer to the song sheets sold around the fairs and markets up to the middle of the 20th century.
As far as the tradition is concerned, the Famous Three-Hundred-And Five' is as good a starting point as anywhere for debating the ballads.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 09:32 AM

No I don't think we need to call in Mr Ed. we just need to agree that definitions....well, given their history in folkmusic - they're a bit suspect.

Martin Carthy said in his latest DVD - the idea that English folk clubs should be about nothing but English folk music nearly killed the whole movement off at onetime. and on this point (if no other)I agree with him 100%.

I just hope none of this pedanry isn't there in these new University courses in England. Otherwise we will have armies of opinionated twits - none of whom will have spent long enough figuring out and obsessing about guitars, melodeons or whatever. You really do have to put the time in. And my view is that you learn not to be proud - you learn to steal from anyone who's got something to teach you.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JohnB
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 10:38 AM

Would modern(ish) songs like:
Leader of the Pack
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Be considered Ballads? If not now, how about in 400 years?
JohnB


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 11:25 AM

Well Al, let me surprise you - most "folk clubs" have never said that an English folk club should hear only English folk songs. But they should know the difference, and hear enough, and those purveying a tradition should have a material or heritable connecion to it.

And as for universities "I just hope none of this pedanry isn't there" too. That's what universities are for, abstract detailed accurate understanding. THeyneed all the pedantry they can get, but if there is not enough room for all of it then some will have to be not there in which case our pious hopes (although you surprise me by putting it so) will be not met.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 11:44 AM

"Well Al, let me surprise you - most "folk clubs" have never said that an English folk club should hear only English folk songs. But they should know the difference, and hear enough, and those............. etc"
Wish I'd said that.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 11:47 AM

Oh, I just wish I could hear a folk song in a folk club now and again. English would be nice - but Scottish or Irish ... or Vietnamese would do!


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 11:50 AM

"Oh, I just wish I could hear a folk song in a folk club now and again."
Wish I'd said that too - in fact, I think I have; many, many times!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 12:15 PM

I hear one every time I sing.now can wew get back to the matter in hand,definition of a ballad.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 01:02 PM

well leader of the pack has honourable antcedents - the wild young man come to grief genre, Geordie, whatever it is St James Infirmary used to be called in English.etc.

Can't remember much about RT's song - I hear it quite often, but it sort of washes over me - I suppose you could link it with songs like Creepng Jane and Stewball - fast experiences.

If you don't 'hear' echoes of English folksong, in ordinary people spontaneously trying to express themselves in song in English - my Mother was a Quaker and she used (too often) a very irritating Quaker saying - 'perhaps you have not deeply enough about the subject.' I begin to see what she meant.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 01:05 PM

the saying was - perhaps you have not thought deeply enough about this subject.

God! that used to piss me off!


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 01:06 PM

Leader of the Pack (and Teen Angel and Wreck of the Old 97 and Zebra Dun) are all ballads. They may or may not be folk ballads, but they are narrative songs that tell a story. Leave us not overcomplicate a fairly straightforward definition.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 01:08 PM

I was going to as if you had left the thought out of that...

(gets coat)


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JeffB
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 01:39 PM

So instead of trying to reconcile several different types of song under one label, can't we just say that we may loosely call any narrative song a "ballad", but within "ballads" there is an important sub-set, which we might call "Childean" or "Border" (to meet English and Scottish half-way), and (if you are unable to identify them by how they sound and how they affect you) these ballads are easily identified by provenance and by certain technical features.

Therefore, yes, "Leader of the pack" is a sort of ballad (if you should choose to listen to such garbage with a straight face). A "pop ballad", perhaps, whose main purpose was to make some recording exec a pile of cash.

Or is that a bit too simple and grown-up for you all?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 03:21 PM

JeffB
Ah, some common sense at last!

What exactly are you after, Dick? These things have been debated ad-nauseam on just about every message board.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 04:01 PM

Steve Gardham,the quest for knowledge.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 05:14 PM

' A "pop ballad", perhaps, whose main purpose was to make some recording exec a pile of cash.'

The bloke who wrote Sir Patrick Spens probably did it in the hope of making a few quid by being the life and soul of some knees up back in the mists of time.

I wonder at what point it becomes morally questionable for a songwriter to have payment for his efforts.

2nd point

'"Well Al, let me surprise you - most "folk clubs" have never said that an English folk club should hear only English folk songs. But they should know the difference, and hear enough, and those............. etc"'

So just me amd Martin remember how it was.....sorry how it fell out of a midsummer eve. A pity you find yourself only able to respond to the one genre of language. gadzooks! Does that help?

perhaps it has something to do with the fact that neither of us flounced out in high dudgeon,saying - this isn't what I call folkmusic/ a ballad/ whatever. we watched the movement we loved being buggered up by intolerance.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: RobbieWilson
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 05:21 PM

Like so many of the arguements in here most of this is completely vacuuous because people criticise what others say by pointing out the bloody obvious; that there is another way to look at it. Words, ballads or any other word, dont get used in a vacuum they get used in context; in conversation or in the middle of some text. It is completely bogus to harumph about communication being damaged by a failure to agree a single definition for a word. but then so many people are obsessed by pointing out how superior they are to the hoi poloi. That always struck me as being quite funny from people who profess to uphold the importance of folk music, the untutored music of the hoi poloi of lomg ago.

In the middle of a discussion it does not take a great deal of wit to think about what is being said and work out whether we are talking about ancient b "big songs " or 20th century story songs.

If you want to ask a meaningful question narrow it down a bit. There are many kinds of ballads which would be recognised by the disparate membership of this forum. You could add a modifier; child allads, bothy ballads, border ballads buchan ballads, pop ballads, power ballads if you really were interested in a particular area.

On the other hand if you want people to differ over their answers ask an ambiguous question.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 05:26 PM

what was the singers club policy?
there were also clubs, where if you did a floor spot singing unaccompanied traditional material,you would not get booked,e g. Dartford,Putney Folk and Blues.
then there were traditonal music clubs,NTMC,leicester Trad music club,Bromley trad club,etc
then there were clubs that booked a broad spectrum.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 05:57 PM

Precisely, Robbie


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JeffB
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 06:01 PM

Err ... thanks Robbie. I suppose you mean that you agree with me. (You left out broadside ballads.)

WLD : I sincerely hope that whoever wrote Sir Pat got a sackful of .. umm ... sack, and a double dose of dubloons. It becomes morally objectionable when the stuff a professional agent is promoting is predictable and derivative mass-produced garbage, pushed onto a subservient public which knows no better because it never hears no better.

I know, and I'm sure everybody else who contributes here knows as well, any number of talented and interesting singer/songwriters who are miles superior to the rubbish which floods our airwaves, but whose listening public is restricted to a few score of appreciative folk at their local club. You might even be one yourself.

But I fear we are drifting off-thread. Wanna start a new one?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 06:18 PM

Hoi (or rather "oi" with a rough breathing) meant "the. So "the hoi polloi" is a solecism.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 06:34 PM

Dick,
Having had a long hard think about your original posting and having tried hard to work out what you are after, I think I detect 2 underlying currents of enquiry.
Both would depend on whether you are coming at this as a scholar, or as a performer/singer. As the latter it surely matters little where the ballad came from or what minds it has passed through.

BUT to a scholar who is wanting to study exclusively orally evolved material it matters a great deal. Much of the material in the Child ballads for instance has probably never passed through oral tradition. Some of it (e.g., most of the Robin Hood ballads) only appears to have existed in print for reading, and much of it has been so interfered with by poet/collectors it is almost impossible to tell what actually existed in oral tradition. For instance the texts published by the likes of Jamieson, Scott, Buchan, Percy and others are under heavy suspicion and some are known to have been fabricated.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Rowan
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 07:34 PM

When he was lecturing in English at Melbourne Uni Ian Maxwell spoke often about ballads. The Public Lecture Theatre could seat 850 and was used for his First Year lectures; the venue would usually be full, with people from other parts of the uni coming to hear him. His powers of recitation brought many to tears. He also ran the studies in Old Icelandic (required for Honours students at the time) and some of the Old Icelandic ballads were not just sung, they were danced; the longer ones went for three days!

Perhaps at the other end of the spectrum of ballads from Plaisir D'Amour but. like all good discussions, it's helpful (required in scholarly ones) to start with a definition of terms and then use the discussion to explore if, why and how the definitions need to be modified for the purposes at hand. Robbie put it well, but it could be shortened to "context flavours the content"; another relevant cliche is "form follows function".

But I'm sure most of you already knew that. As an aside, I first noticed this thread when it had only two posts and. although I felt I could adequately explain my understanding of the term (as could the Cap'n, incidentally), I decided to look up "ballad" on Wikipedia. Sure enough, the definition there was roughly equivalent to what I understood (it even defined "Ballade" as a separate form not to be confused with "ballad") so I thought the Cap'n might just be poking the ant's nest. Perhaps I was mistaken. The examples that have been presented are interesting to contemplate.

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 07:49 PM

well I think you've hit the nail on the head. For academics with an encyclapaedic knowledge of folk cultures of distant lands and a desire to tabulate the results of his musings. well then definitions of what a ballad is, must be bloody nearly essential.

For the local halfwit with a headful of predjudices and needing through bitter resentment to discount the talents of more hadworking musicians than himself, and frantically searching for reasons to nullify their careers. Definitions are also pretty useful.

Sad to say that second use is the one you see most commonly on the English folkscene.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: curmudgeon
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 09:06 PM

Subject: definiton of a ballad
From: Captain Birdseye - PM
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 12:35 PM

can anyone define a genuine ballad?.

A ballad is a song that tells a story; all the rest is just explanation.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 09:51 PM

JeffB-
Why do some folks insist on attaching a value judgment to definitions like "ballad"? Yes, "Leader of the Pack" is garbage. So what? It still tells a story, regardless of the banality of the narrative.

Further, it appears that Child's distinction between "Popular" ballads and "Broadside" ballads depends to a great extent upon our ignorance of origins..an ignorance that is gradually being dispelled.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 02:09 AM

"Leader of the Pack" is a wonderful example of a pop song. It truly is excellent. But neither being a pop song, nor being excellent necessarily makes it a ballad, nor would not being either of those things prevent it being a ballad.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 02:12 AM

One thing I would like to disabuse these 'oh so obviously middle class' people about is the fact that all people in pop music make a fortune, and their sole motive is money.

Some people make a lot of money. The majority don't. They have something to say - they write maybe one hit - that's it - a career. Many of them are far more idealistic about the craft of writing songs and performing than yer average breadhead folkie - forever slapping himself on the back at how much his Martin or Lowden is worth.

A friend of mine bumped into Marc Almond when he was in the charts with Tainted Love - his management was paying him forty quid a week. I recorded the late susan Fassbender after her massive hit Twilight Cafe. She was abandoned by her conglomerate bastard record company CBS, and management. She was paying for the session herself and was very depressed - she eventually committed suicide.

When we had our hit - it was in Germany. The general consensus was - 'oh good you'll get some of the money them. the english music industry are totally unregulated - a load of gangsters'. when we got to the studio - we found we had NO control. It was such an obvious hit - that the publisher had given the arrangement royalty and fee to someone he needed to do a favour for. We were in competition with a German language version that they thought was going to be the 'real' hit - a soap star and an ex goali for Real Madrid.

Record companies and publisher have about as much respect for artists as when they made Robert Johnson use the goods entrance.

In the aforementioned Martin Carthy DVD. Martin says, People say these old songs aren't up to date. Norma says to me, what do they mean by that - there aren't motorbikes in it...?

Well as we all know, there are motorbkies in Leader of the Pack. They are there, because the writer thought it important to say what he had to say to put motorbikes in there.

I say again to you. You aren't an academic in some fusty old library. What do YOU need these definitions for? What can they be there for, except the ignoble desire to think yourself superior to another artist and discount their artistic endeavour?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 03:03 AM

"A ballad is a song that tells a story;"
Virtually all English-language folk-songs (certainly on this side of the pond) tell a story - does this mean that the English repertoire is made up almost entirely of ballads?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 03:15 AM

well its certainly a very widely used term, Jim. Whenever I hear it used - I never really know what to expect - I've heard the old Alfred Noyes poem - the Highwayman - described as 'being in ballad form'. So like someone said, about the very old ballads - maybe they weren't necesarily even intended to be sung.

My point was that it really is a bit of a catch all term - it tells you virtually nothing.

incidentally Stuart Gilbert in his book about Joyce's Ulysses has some insights ino the Icelandic/Viking ballads. He talks about them being performed by 'bareserks' in a trance - that's how they performed for three days on end. apparently the audience were pissed as rats also, and this saided their powers of concentration - or presumably indifference.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 03:43 AM

A bit like an elephant, a ballad is hard to define but easy to recognise.

Or so I thought. I'd never thought of a song like "Marrowbones" as being a ballad, even though it tells a story, and I'd never heard it described as such until I read this thread.

It's a bit pointless arguing over how the word is used in other genres - this is a folk music forum and it should be evident that the context is folk music. The fact that the pop world uses the word to describe something different is irrelevant.

Besides the verse form, what often distinguishes a ballad is the terrible inevitability of the narrative. You just know it is going to end badly for someone. There is no characterisation, and the the story is stripped to the bone, although there may be some strange and apparently irrelevant diversions (what has that bit with the parrot in "The Outlandish Knight" got to do with it?). Nevertheless there is scope for some arresting imagery in the language.

Of course, all that could apply to "Marrowbones", but the "feel" of the song is quite different, which is why it doesn't qualify as a ballad, in my opinion.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 04:59 AM

Young man goes to sea - his lover follows him and is told he is drowned - she drowns herself (Early, Early In The Spring) - a ballad?
Man goes into a pub with a penny in his pocket, is invited into a card game - he wins (Penny Wager) - a ballad?
Troop of soldiers come into town, Captain falls in love with a prostitute; she rejects him, he dies -(Pretty Peggy O) a ballad?
Man picks up a girl, they get drunk, go to bed, she steals his clothes and money, he goes looking for her dressed in her clothes. (The Beggar Wench) - a ballad?
Man takes a horse and sells it at the fair, buyer grooms and clips it and sells it back to him at a higher price (Derry Mare) - a ballad?
A ballad is much more than a song with a story.
Howard Jones is quite right - the ballads 'feel' different - but I believe those differences can be identified.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JeffB
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 05:52 AM

Dick : Exactly what value judgement did I attach to ballads? You must have seen that by calling "Leader of the pack" a "sort of ballad" was not meant to include it along with classical Child ballads. If you didn't, I apologise for not expressing myself clearly. But I have to say that I don't quite understand what you are criticising. You agree the "Leader of the pack" is banal garbage, then seem to say it's worth listening to simply because it's a story of sorts. So is Humpty Dumpty, who ended up in much the same situation.

WLD : Do you ever actually read other people's posts? I said "It becomes objectionable when the stuff a PROFESSIONAL AGENT is pushing". A bit earlier I said " .. a pop ballad whose main purpose was to make a RECORDING EXEC a lot of money". I never mentioned the poor sods who starve because they think they are good enough to make a living in the music market, mainly because I was trying to keep to the subject. Some of us like to keep to the subject. Next time you feel the urge to blast someone who is trying to make a serious contribution, just stop for a minute and slo-wly read what they've written, not what you think they've written, or exoect them to write.

And I ain't middleclass, never have been. Got a low-grade tech qualification and spent my working life doing what professional people told me to. I am now a pensioner living almost on the breadline. Try to keep your irrelevant and outdated attitudes on "class" to yourself.

Everyone else : Apologies for the detour. I hope we can leave the pop/rock scene for once and all.

I haven't read anything Child wrote, but I do know his contemporary Francis Gummere said that Child never concerned himself with origins. Gummere also listed some technical (perhaps I should say academic) features which he thought were diagnostic of ballads from 14th century, and which I mentioned in passing above. They are concerned with stanza construction, metre, rhyme, alliteration etc. (Plus narrative, and absence of description or emotive passages). I assume that at that stage no-one suspected that some of the Child ballads had actually been written 100 years earlier, or even less. If the question had arisen, I suppose Gummere would have looked for these features to help him decide the new from the old, and I imagine that Child used the same technical features to distinguish Classic from Broadside ballads.

Gummere had quite a bit to say about origins, most of it quotes from other theorists of the time who tended to present their wildly different opinions as incontrovertable fact, but he did say (this is from memory) that there were no longer any purely orally-evolved ballads in Europe anymore. If get him aright, he believed that as soon as printing became wide-spread the character of ballads changed enormously because professional bards with their different style of composition became widely known, and when oral transmission combined with print, something like the classic ballad became standard. But I might have misunderstood him - he isn't easy reading. In any case, it's only another theory. How could he know that an older type of ballad had disappeared if it had never been recorded in the first place?

It's interesting though that in discussing the idea of indidual composer v communal composition - a question that worried that generation of scholars a lot - he mentioned the early association of communal song and dance, in Iceland, Scotland and Germany, among other places. People actually sang while they all danced together, and part of the dance seems to have been gestures appropriate to the words. There might have been an association between singing and ball games too. But at least some of these songs were obviously not narrative ballads.

Not everyone agonised over the origins of ballads. Walter Scott took the view that the minstrel was quite sufficient to account for minstrlsy.

I would be extremely interested to hear the evidence that some of the Child ballads were composed very late. Not that I am in any position to judge - just curious.

20 years later Quiller-Couch, another lover of ballads, hints that perhaps a new classic age of balladry could be beginning with two well-known authors, Coleridge and Kipling. For me too, they are fine balladeers. Non-Childean, but the power of the text is there. Now that Kipling's Barrackroom Ballads have been given tunes, a lot of them anyway, does anyone fancy setting "The rime of the ancient mariner" to music? That could be worth hearing!


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 06:12 AM

Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham - PM
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 06:34 PM

Dick,
Having had a long hard think about your original posting and having tried hard to work out what you are after, I think I detect 2 underlying currents of enquiry.
Both would depend on whether you are coming at this as a scholar, or as a performer/singer. As the latter it surely matters little where the ballad came from or what minds it has passed through.

BUT to a scholar who is wanting to study exclusively orally evolved material it matters a great deal. Much of the material in the Child ballads for instance has probably never passed through oral tradition. Some of it (e.g., most of the Robin Hood ballads) only appears to have existed in print for reading, and much of it has been so interfered with by poet/collectors it is almost impossible to tell what actually existed in oral tradition. For instance the texts published by the likes of Jamieson, Scott, Buchan, Percy and others are under heavy suspicion and some are known to have been fabricated
    now, this is interesting.
as a singer I do feel differently about a song that has been passed down over the years by many people,its not necessarily better just different.I also wonder as I do about my concertinas,as to who may have played/sung them,and even altered the songs before me.
to your second point,heavily fabricated versions of songs,
as a singer its quality that counts,that is why I dont discard Lloyds Tam Lin or Recruited Collier[The stubble field verse is superb]I bet that was Lloyd.
Bert lloyd missed a vocation as a songwriter.
Should not scholars be concerned with quality of text,as well as authenticity?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 06:19 AM

the Ancient Mariner was set to music in victorian times by John Francis Barnett,and performed in st james hall,london,on february 11 1868,with band and chorus of 350 performers.
In fact ,on the same bill[but of less importance was an overture by Weber.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 11:30 AM

There is an interesting chapter on the literary ballad in Evelyn Well's The Ballad Tree. It's fascinating to see how the literary poets failed to hit the mark by overpadding and overstating.
For me, the strength of the traditional ballad lies in its use of the vernacular.
Kipling tried so hard to imitate the language of the ordinary soldier but, to my ears, always came out as trite and patronising.
There is a beautiful verse in an American version of The Golden Vanitee, which captures both the language and the experience of working people perfectly;

"Some were playing cards and some were playing dice,
And some were standing round giving good advice....

That could only have been written by somebody who has witnessed what goes on at lunchtime in a factory or some other workplace.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Lighter
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 12:08 PM

Great link to Mrs. Brewer!

Seems to me she mostly sings "All alone and alone," not "...lone," as thye transcription has it, but I've been wrong before.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 12:19 PM

Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll - PM
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 11:30 AM

There is an interesting chapter on the literary ballad in Evelyn Well's The Ballad Tree. It's fascinating to see how the literary poets failed to hit the mark by overpadding and overstating.
For me, the strength of the traditional ballad lies in its use of the vernacular.
Kipling tried so hard to imitate the language of the ordinary soldier but, to my ears, always came out as trite and patronising.
There is a beautiful verse in an American version of The Golden Vanitee, which captures both the language and the experience of working people perfectly;

"Some were playing cards and some were playing dice,
And some were standing round giving good advice....

That could only have been written by somebody who has witnessed what goes on at lunchtime in a factory or some other workplace.
Jim Carroll ,
spot on, Jim,
re the good advice,or some other workplace,reminds me of the betting shop.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 12:52 PM

Jim,
I have to disagree with you over the English language songs not being mostly ballads. They are. They are also 90% 'broadside ballads'.
All I have to do to verify this is glance around my bookshelves at the titles as you should do yours. Your other opinions I agree with completely.

Dick,
The quality of the song/ballad is irrelevant to your thread.
BUT for WIW I agree with you about Bert.

Curious JeffB
You only have to read some of Child's own comments, and he was being generous! No-one nowadays disputes the concoctions of Percy and Scott but some of the others are still contentious. We're working on it. The jury's still out!


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Lighter
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 01:17 PM

Kipling's "Barrack-Room Ballads" seem far more patronizing today than they ever could have in 1890. In the days before radio and tape, stereotyped dialect spellings seemed less stereotypical and more like evidence of the real thing." Sounded out Cockney-style -even 120s years later - they sound more believable than they look, though obviously they're not perfect.

What's more, K's insistent use of the vernacular, spoken by characters with often decidedly unconventional points of view, was like a one-man rap revolution for English poetry. Earlier uses of working-class dialect usually just went to show how quaint or humorous the characters were. In other words, not to be taken seriously.

K's critics said he was debasing poetry and threatening the language. But that's another thread and another forum.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 02:34 PM

JeffB-
You misread me. The fact that I consider any song with a narrative a ballad does emphatically not mean that I think it's worth listening to. That's what I mean about unnecessary value judgments being attached to terms. "Ballad" doesn't necessarily mean good, anymore than "folk" does.

There is a vast body of lyric songs on both sides of the pond that do not narrate stories.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: GUEST
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 03:03 PM

If I have to 'look it up in my Funk & Wagnalls,' as they used to say on "Laugh-in," I'm already lost. I guess I've always considered ballads to be story songs; songs with a narrative that come out of the oral tradition. It was always said that Sinatra and Tony Bennett were ballad singers, but most of us would agree that we are talking about a different realm altogether. On the other hand, does the fact that a song was composed automatically mean it doesn't qualify as a ballad?

I have always admired singers who were great storytellers; people who could take a Child ballad, for instance, and make it resonate for modern audiences. It is a rare talent in this age of short attention spans and instant gratification.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 04:07 PM

Lyric songs.
Arguably some of these could also be classified as ballads as often they are the remnants of ballads where all that remains is a riddle section or a lament. Many versions of the 'Died for Love' family or the 'Waly Waly' family often survive only as a collection of lyric pieces with no progression.
Then again some of the ballads in Child's collection are little more than gatherings of commonplaces from other ballads.

Just to complicate matters! Stir, stir!


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 Aug 08 - 04:24 AM

Steve,
"I have to disagree with you over the English language songs not being mostly ballads. They are. They are also 90% 'broadside ballads'."
I wasn't counting broadsides as ballads - I think the term refers to a method of production rather than a description of a type of song.
The Travellers' programme (on RTE's Lyric FM at 3-30 this afternoon) is devoted entirely to Mikeen McCarthy, a 'ballad' seller from Kerry, who gave us a great deal of information on the trade, and he made it clear that what he put on his ballad sheets ranged from 'The Blind Beggar' ("a best seller, that one") and 'Early in the Month of Spring' to 'Little Grey Home in the West' and 'Did Your Mother Come From Ireland'.
The question of broadsides and their relationship to the oral tradition is an incredibly complex one. Sure, the old singers used them, but it certainly wasn't a simple case of them lifting the song straight off the sheet unaltered; the question of personal taste, skill and literacy abilities were very much part of what happened to the song after it 'left home'.
Regarding your comments on lyrical songs coming from ballads - surely we classify the songs on what they have become rather than how they started out?
The truth is that we have very little information on the subject; Bob Thomson did some great work in the UK and John Moulden in Ireland, but apart from that I believe that any work done has concentrated on production and distribution rather than influence.
Dick G is right when he says, "There is a vast body of lyric songs on both sides of the pond that do not narrate stories. ", at least, I believe that to be the case in the US and Ireland, (though it is hard to be 100% firm on this about Ireland, as much of our impression of the Irish repertoire is based on the present song revival which, in my opinion has greatly neglected its extremely rich narrative repertoire in favour of the lyrical one).
However, the English and Scots traditional repertoires are strongly dominated by narrative songs, most of which do not fall under the category 'ballad' as far as I'm concerned.
'Guest' from the posting above (but one) sums up my feelings about the ballad perfectly.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JHW
Date: 30 Aug 08 - 05:21 AM

'a song that tells a story' as already offered, is surely the ESSENCE of a ballad if it can not be the DEFINITION.
On Radio 2 and even in the bothy the word ballad simply has a different connotation in a different setting, a very common feature of the English language.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Folkiedave
Date: 30 Aug 08 - 07:52 AM

Simply for information....

I just hope none of this pedanry isn't there in these new University courses in England.

Just the opposite in my experience. And to be pedantic - it is only "course" as far as I know - but there is one in Scotland.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 30 Aug 08 - 02:22 PM

Jim,
We have to agree to differ. I'm simply going by majority vote looking around my library shelves at the titles of the books. I have just about every anthology of ballads, English, Scots, Irish, American available on the market; Roxburghe Ballads, Ancient Ballads traditionally sung in New England, Ord's Bothy Songs and Ballads, Ballads of the Pubs of Ireland, The Pepys Ballads, Songs and Ballads of Dundee, the Ballad Minstrelsy of Scotland, Border Ballads, The British Broadside Ballad and Its Music, Child Ballads, Bawdy Ballads etc.

Admittedly many of them have 'Folk Song in the title' but then Ballad in this case is a category of folk song.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 31 Aug 08 - 05:27 AM

Steve
In which case we have to find a defining feature between 'A 'Metamorphosis on Tobacco', 'London Ordinary', 'Banks of Sweet Dundee', and 'Little Grey Home in the West' - all of which have appeared on broadsides, and are therefore 'ballads'.
If we can't, the term becomes meaningless and the question "what is a ballad" unanswerable.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 31 Aug 08 - 11:27 AM

Broadsides may or may not have been ballads (narratives); same goes for folk songs. Why complicate things? Child recognized at least two classes of ballad (Popular and Broadside), other sub-classes are certainly possible. But defining a ballad as a song that tells a story gives us, at least, a classification of such songs--a useful one, IMO.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 31 Aug 08 - 04:35 PM

Dick,
Quite!

Jim,
You misread me. I didn't say that all items on broadsides were ballads, only the broadside ballads, i.e., the ones that are narrative.

Whilst all this discussion has been going on I realised that though I'm pretty happy with the 'essence' of our sort of ballad, I wasn't really all that clear with the meaning of the commercial world's ballad. Would this be a love song? Are there any other qualifiers?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 01 Sep 08 - 09:55 AM

JeffB


do you ever consider what you're saying before letting fly with a streamful of abuse?


Who would do you think would be a an AMATEUR agent?

What would be the point of trying to make a moderate or a small amount of money?

We are talking about a business where breaks are rare as rocking horse shit. Maybe once in you life, three or four for the very lucky. You aren't in it for the money, just the love of the craft.

the rhyme of the Ancient mariner is a classic poem. Poems are different from songs. there is the metrical putty similar to a ballad, but the aims of the poet and the songwriter are diametrically different.

By and large poets draw attention to the language, songwriters on the other hand, work to a different discpline - what a singer can convey to the audience. What works in front of an audience.

(exceptions to this might be someone like Leonard Cohen - that 'hair sllepping on the pillow like sleepy golden storm' - that draws attention to the beauty of the language. Too much obsession - screws up a song writer - slows down the action. A grand obsession with language - is just the start for a good poet though.)

I suppose some tit of a classical composer might set STC to music. Safely protected by the BBC on its no listeners channel - (how come these classical guys always get their PRS money - BBC finds it too arduous to collect any money for the rest of us!).

At one point I tried to write a song based around the main themes of Frost at Midnight. Coleridge is complex stuff though. There might be a river, a snake, a church bell - but they are never quite what they seem.

Coleridge doesn't write verse - the thoughts conveyed in his work are not linear - one thought going on to another. His thoughts and ideas jump around like firecracker. He writes grown up poetry for people to read. Not sing - take it from one who has had a go - singing something like it....


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Rowan
Date: 01 Sep 08 - 08:47 PM

When I saw that WLD wrote I say again to you. You aren't an academic in some fusty old library. What do YOU need these definitions for? What can they be there for, except the ignoble desire to think yourself superior to another artist and discount their artistic endeavour? I tried to work out whether a particular person or a general audience was being addressed.

Speaking for myself;
I do have some (admittedly minor) academic pretensions; I've done some formal research that has been recognised and published and a large amount of my life has been spent dealing with academics, not many of whom, these days, are confined to libraries. But I like getting to the nitty gritty of an idea, and sometimes you need to be familiar with the reductionist techniques that seem to be behind some of this thread's criticisms; it's not helpful to be overwhelmed by them but they can be helpful.

Depending on the particulars of a discussion (certainly the topic and the audience, as well as the purpose) I need to understand particularities of the various definitions. Otherwise the discussion is likely to go, endlessly, around in circles; we're all familiar with that.

One of the characteristics thought to be universal among human thinking is the ability to observe collections of entities and draw out patterns and differences, allowing for categorisations (however real or relative) and encouraging interpretation (ditto). Even though I've been familiar with ballads (mostly sung, but some recited) from before I could walk and I've become familiar with more formal concepts involving them since before I reached my majority, I'm still learning things, some of them from this discussion.

People's discussion styles vary but nowhere (so far) have I got the impression that any of the posters has had a desire (ignoble or otherwise) to think themselves superior.

As an aside, anyone who could even contemplate writing a song on the themes Coleridge deals with needs all the encouragement we could give them. All power to your elbow WLD; go for it!

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Leadfingers
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 06:48 AM

A song with 99 verses ??


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Leadfingers
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 06:49 AM

100


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 12:10 PM

"It's got 99 verses, I'd like to explain
That I learned them this morning with infinite pain
And I'll mumble the ones I've forgotten again...
And it's not what I sing when I'm Sober"

(Dave Diamond, Folksinger's Lament)


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 12:16 PM

Seems to me that a definition of the ballad is connected to the circumstances. The Ballad sessions at Whitby and Sidmouth this year used a 'working' definition of 'a song that could act as a screenplay to a movie'. This resulted in these sessions having a generally high number of Child ballads although contributors also sang broadside material. This decision making seems to have been in response to the working definition.
Now my personal viewpoint is that a classic ballad is structured using formulaic patterns and language. They seem to be journalistic and, far from merely 'telling a story' they involve complex muli-layered plots. The linguistic devices used suggest that many were originally oral compositions. The great classic ballads have structures which suggest a sense of 'school' of writing/composition. Broadside ballads lack these structures and linguistic devices and reflect more of the individual writers personality than the more formulaic 'big ballads'.
Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner' is a poem which does not use ballad structures or conventions despite it's 'ballad-like' rhyming pattern.
All of this is only useful in an academic analysis, in a ballad session, the working definition above makes more sense.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 12:46 PM

well actually i have changed my mind about all this.

I am willing to concede that all of you are probably completely right about everything, and I was completely wrong.

i was at Fylde this weekend, and I suddenly realised that actually I am very isolated in folk music. No bugger else is doing anything remotely like what I do, and this should tell me something. If that had been an election, I would have lost my deposit!

I got it wrong somewhere, I'm not sure it matters where. But my ideas must have been very mistaken somewhere along the line. sorry about the fuss I made over this and various other subjects.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 12:50 PM

and the we have Lord Randall,generally accepted as a ballad,that takes an awful long time,to tell us he has died of poisoning.
not really a story.
in fact in my opinion the one ballad that is a waste of time,but that just my opinion.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 12:53 PM

WLD,If we all sangexactly the same songs the scene would get pretty boring.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: BB
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 03:04 PM

Dick, The Prickly Bush has the same effect on me as Lord Randall does on you - I'd rather have Lord Randall to that any time!

Barbara


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 04:23 PM

i like both of those, but I can't stand Sheath and Knife. Not over keen on Tam Lin.

having said all that, it really does depend on who is singing it. wouldn't you agree? sometimes someone can open up a song for you. Tim laycock when he was with Magic lantern opened up Long Lankin for me. And recently Brian Peters version of The House Carpenter made me like a song that i had detested for decades.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 04:42 PM

'far from merely 'telling a story' they involve complex muli-layered plots'. Can you please give us an example, Guest, guest? I must be missing something. The only complex, multi-layered plots I can think of are those that have been concocted by the antiquarians. The vast majority you can write the plot out on the back of a box of matches.

'The great classic ballads have structures which suggest a sense of 'school' of writing/composition.' This interests me. I too feel this. In fact I go along with the school of thought that thinks a large number of the 'classic' ballads were put together by antiquarians and collectors of the 18th-early 19th centuries.

'Lord Randal' and the 'Maid Freed from the Gallows'. Whilst I agree with the lack of explicit plot here there is plenty of implicit plot.
Child largely included them for their ballad-like formulae and their relationship to other fuller European versions. The Maid Freed is also found in cantefable form where it is only a small part of a really complex supernatural plot.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: the button
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 04:54 PM

It's the lack of layers that I find most appealing, to be honest. Kind of like the difference between Graham Greene (who just tells the story, and lets you fill in the complexities of motivation for yourself) and Thomas Hardy, who is forever poking his head through the narrative and telling you what it all means.

This means that -- even though some of them are long -- a lot of ballads move along at a cracking pace*. Some of them are almost cinematic in the way they shift from one scene to another, or even flash forward to key stages in the story. Think of,

At the age of sixteen, he was a married man,
At the age of seventeen, he was the father of a son,
At the age of eighteen, his grave was growing green,

for instance.

* Lord Randall excepted, of course. Why didn't they just shoot him? ;-)


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 04:54 PM

How would Franklin come out of this reckoning. After all he was quite contemporary in relative terms?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 05:08 PM

Franklin was an incompetent.,but the song is fairly good.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 05:17 PM

Right on the button, Nigel.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: the button
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 05:19 PM

Cheers, Steve. I was a bit wary of looking like preferring Graham Greene to Thomas Hardy in front of my former English teacher, though.

;-)


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 05:28 PM

Why is it that every thread involving a definition degenerates into one about what individual posters like (or don't like)?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: the button
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 05:33 PM

De gustibus non est disputandum, innit.

Some people like something, other people don't. Any discussion as to why can't get past this basic fact.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 05:40 PM

yes but is Franklin a ballad?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 05:47 PM

my initial reaction is no,but I agree its illogical.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: GUEST,GUEST, Gerard
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 05:50 PM

I've just stumbled across your site, read most of the thread, and still feel the need to add something... Sorry.

I believe the traditional ballad looks back in time at an certain event/events although its "message/moral" may very well be intended for the present; when that time-gap-feeling isn't there then it's just another narrative to me and lacks that something. This was just one parameter I used when I vainly tried comparing the European "oral tradition" (captured by Child, etc.) with the one in the part of Africa where I lived.
Another parameter I used is that it is definitely intended to be sung and through singing it, more easily remembered and better passed on to the next generation.
Interestingly enough, perhaps because a ballad is so crafted, it also often causes a reaction in the listener (the message?) resulting in it being liked or disliked, it is seldom treated indifferently. And perhaps that's why they are so hard to define while so easy to recognise ?
"So where does that leave 'Leader of the Pack'", he asks himself ? "At the starting block ?"


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 03:31 AM

Ballads that survived down the centuries must have had something going for them to keep them alive - Lord Randall, Sheath and Knife - bloody wonderful!
This thread has been remarkably free (mostly) of personal taste and the short-attention-span syndrome; that's what has made it so enjoyable.
From the point of view of the singer, MacColl and Seeger's notes to Blood and Roses summed up the ballads for me.

Jim Carroll

WHEN IS A BALLAD NOT A BALLAD? WHEN IT HAS NO TUNE. It is with this conundrum and its answer that Professor Bronson opens his introduction to The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads. While agreeing with the spirit of the answer, we would go a little further and say that "a ballad is not a ballad until it is sung."

We have been singing ballads for quite a long time. Of the hundred-and-forty albums we have made, more than half have contained at least one or two ballads; and as far as live concerts and clubs are concerned, we both regard the ballads as a necessary part of any program. What is it about the ballads that we find so fascinating? Well, the stories themselves are first rate. They have certainly stood the test of time, and that isn't a bad recommendation. Then again - their poetry can be breathtaking. Most of the ballads that we sing contains some memorable lines: perhaps it is just a phrase, a line of incremental repetition, or it can be an entire stanza; but however brief the moment of pure poetry, it generally generates enough light and heat to radiate an entire ballad. Finally, there is the element of challenge. The mere length of most of the ballads is challenge enough. We sometimes regard them as actors regard the great classic roles of Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Clytemnestra and King Lear.

On the face of it the challenge is a formidable one. You are faced with an audience made up of a number of separate individuals who may or may not share anything in common (other than the more or less sophisticated attitude to life and each other, which is the result of long exposure to TV and radio, with its instant news, instant politics, instant simulated passion yelled, sobbed and moaned by a never-ending succession of pop-singers). And the ballad singer, for the next eight or ten (or ten or twelve) minutes is going to sing a tale in the form of a long narrative poem organised into twenty or thirty (or more) quatrains, tied to a melody that will be repeated every four lines. Not much room for manoeuvre! Furthermore, the poetry is of a kind that few people in the audience have had the opportunity to become familiar with. It is full of odd usages, repetitions, strange combinations of romantic love and incredible violence. To complicate matters still further, some of the texts are in braid Scots. A challenge indeed...!

Occasionally the challenge has been taken up with results that have been less than encouraging. Experiments have adorned "Sir Patrick Spens" with spangles and a rock accompaniment; they have dragged "Barbara Allen", protesting, into the Middle Ages to the (albeit skilled) thrumming of shawms and crumhorns. But the ballads don't lend themselves to this kind of treatment They don't make good 'production numbers'. The poetry gets in the way: too much action, too many incidents, and the quality of the language leads to a kind of rock parody. The words of the ballads have something of the feeling of stones fashioned into a smooth perfection by endless tides. Attempts to create settings, arrangements for the poetry only succeed in making it seem overdressed - like putting a silk garter on the Venus de Milo. Also, in a curious way, a ballad appears to find difficulty breathing inside an arrangement for though the bond that fuses the ballad text and tune into a single whole is oddly flexible and appears to be constantly shifting its centre of gravity, it appears to be unable to function in the proximity of foreign musical influences.

Our own feelings for the ballads are something that we have nurtured throughout most of our joint working life as singers. Time and again we have returned to this or that ballad and discovered something new in it Occasionally we have been led to conduct major explorations into territory that we thought we already knew. The end result has been the complete reworking of a ballad... and a new search for the right degree of tension to match one's new understanding of the piece. Find the right amount of tension and sustaining it over thirty or forty stanzas: that's where the skill lies!

And what is tension? It is compounded of many elements. It is the right weight of vocal attack, the weight which best suits the theme and the nature of the ballad; it is the right tempo, the one in which the action of the story has time to untold without confusing the listener, it is the right pulse, that is the right combination of breathing, articulation, sense and shape of the tune; it is complete empathy with words and music; it is the right length of pause, of silence between the verses, during which both listener and singer make the jump in thinking to a new unit of the story; and finally, it is creative judgement the singer's knowledge of how far tune and text can be teased out and worked in each performance without destroying any part of the ballad's structure; it is the singer's ability to add colour to a word, to thicken or attenuate a line, to let a hint of harshness creep into the tone, to suggest that somewhere - not far off- there is a laugh lying in wait... and to be able to do all these things without upsetting the delicate balance of the ballad and, moreover, without the listener being aware that it is being done.

There comes a moment during the singing of a long ballad when everything is working. You have moved into the story crabwise, not giving too much of yourself at first Then, suddenly, for a moment you are conscious of the people listening, and they are all breathing in time with you! And all around you there is silence, except for the voice guiding you through the ineluctable dark landscape of the ballad.
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger 1979


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 04:21 AM

I do not intend to be disrespectful,for the comments above contain much good sense,but only to add,that Ewan and Peggy,in 2008,might possibly have a slightly different take.
I wonder what their reaction would be to a ballad [eg lord Randall] done in rap style.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 04:57 AM

Could'nt tell you - can tell you what I think of it - how long have you got?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 03:40 PM

Captain-
You could ask Peggy. I suspect that her views haven'y changed much.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 04:00 PM

Sorry to have to disagree with one of my gods, Bertrand Harris Bronson, but in the North East of Scotland many of the most prolific ballad performers could only recite their ballads. Unfortunately they were still ballads. I agree it is much preferable to hear them sung, but for some they were still entertaining as stories in rhyme and they still passed down the traditions that they bore.

The problem here, many times repeated on these threads, is that all of these words under discussion don't have hard and fast definitions or characteristics. As someone said it is their 'essence' that we are really searching for. Ballads have many characteristics, but not all ballads have all of them. If a few are missing they can still be ballads.

Jim, just for the record, Jimmy Miller is not one of my gods (excepting his work on travellers' songs)

Button, Graham and Thomas who? You knew more about English Lit than I did even when I was teaching you.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 04:08 PM

Captain-
You could ask Peggy. I suspect that her views haven'y changed much.
But isnt that the problem with getting older.
I think there is much to be said for ballads to be performed,without music,
eg spoken.Isnt rap spoken.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 05:57 PM

Cap'n,
I said I wasn't going to wander up any more blind alleys with your harebrained postings.
Thanks for confirming the wisdom of my decision
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Rowan
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 09:02 PM

in the North East of Scotland many of the most prolific ballad performers could only recite their ballads. Unfortunately they were still ballads. I agree it is much preferable to hear them sung, but for some they were still entertaining as stories in rhyme and they still passed down the traditions that they bore.

For an example of a similar ballad, but always recited and with no known tune (and all the better for that, IMO) try;

The Ballad of Idwal Slabs (As recited by self)
by Showell Styles

I'll tell you the tale of a climber, a drama of love on the crags;
a story to pluck at your heart strings, and tear your emotions to rags.
He was tall, he was fair, he was handsome; John Christopher Brown was his name.
The Very Severes merely him bored him to tears and he felt about girls much the same.

'Til one day, while climbing at Ogwen, he fell (just a figure of speech)
for the president's beautiful daughter, named Mary Jane Smith. What a peach!
Her waist was as slim as Napes Needle, her lips were as red as Red Wall;
a regular tiger, she'd been up the Eiger North Wall, with no pitons at all!

Now Mary had several suitors, but never a one would she take,
though it seemed that she favoured one fellow, a villain named Reginald Hake.
This Hake was a cad who used pitons and wore a long silken moustache,
which he used, so they say, as an extra belay - but perhaps we're being too harsh.

John took Mary climbing on Lliwedd, and proposed while on Mallory's Slab;
it took him three pitches to do it, for he hadn't much gift of the gab.
He said: "Just belay for a moment - there's a little spike close by your knee -
and tell me, fair maid, when you're properly belayed, would you care to hitch up with me?"

Said Mary, "It's only a toss-up between you and Reginald Hake,
and the man I am going to marry must perform some great deed for my sake.
I will marry whichever bold climber shall excel at the following feat;
climb headfirst down Hope, without rubbers or rope, at our very next climbing club meet!"

Now when Mary told the committee, she had little occasion to plead;
she was as fair to behold as a jug-handle hold at the top of a hundred foot lead.
The club ratified her proposal; the President had to agree.
He was fond of his daughter, but felt that she oughter get married, between you and me.

Quite a big crowd turned up for the contest, lined up at the foot of the slabs;
the mobs came from Bangor in buses, and the nobs came from Capel in cabs.
There were Fell and Rock climbers by dozens, the Rucksackand Pinnacle Club (in new hats)
And a sight to remember!... an Alpine Club member in very large crampons and spats.

The weather was fine for a wonder; the rocks were as dry as a bone.
Hake arrived with a crowd of his backers, while John Brown strode up quite alone.
A rousing cheer greeted the rivals; a coin was produced, and they tossed.
"Have I won?" cried John Brown as the penny came down. "No!" hissed his rival, "You've lost!"

So Hake had first go at the contest; he went up by the Ordinary Route
and only the closest observer would have noticed a bulge in each boot.
Head first he came down the top pitches, applying his moustache as a brake;
he didn't relax till he'd passed the twin cracks, and the crowd shouted "Attaboy Hake!"

At the foot of the Slabs Hake stood sneering, and draining a bottle of Scotch.
" Your time was ten seconds," the President said, consulting the Treasurer's watch.
Now Brown. if you'd win, you must beat that." Our hero's sang froid was sublime;
he took one look at Mary and, light as a fairy, ran up to the top of the climb.

Now though Hake had made such good going, John wasn't discouraged a bit;
that he was the speedier climber even Hake would have had to admit.
So, smiling as though for a snapshot, not a hair of his head out of place,
our hero John Brown started wriggling down. But Look! What a change on his face!

Prepare for a shock, gentle ladies; gentlemen, check the blasphemous word.
For the villainy I am to speak of is such as you never have heard!
Reg Hake had cut holes in the toes of his boots and filled up each boot with soft soap!
As he slid down the climb he had covered with slime every handhold and foothold on Hope!

Conceive (if you can) the tense horror that gripped the vast concourse below,
when they saw Mary's lover slip downwards, like an arrow that's shot from a bow!
"He's done for!" gasped twenty score voices. "Stand from under!" roared John from above.
As he shot down the slope, he was steering down Hope, still fighting for life and for love!

Like lightning he flew past the traverse... in a flash he had reached the Twin Cracks.
The friction was something terrific---there was smoke coming out of his Daks.
He bounced off the shelf at the top of pitch two, and bounded clean over its edge!
A shout of "He's gone!" came from all except one and that one of course, was our Reg.

But it's not the expected that happens, in this sort of story at least,
'cause just as John thought he was finished, he found that his motion had ceased!
His braces (pre war and elastic) had caught on a small rocky knob,
and so, safe and sound, he came gently to ground, 'mid the deafening cheers of the mob!

"Your time was five seconds!" the President cried. "She's yours, my boy; take her, you win!"
" My hero!" breathed Mary, and kissed him; while Hake gulped a bottle of gin.
He tugged at his moustache and he whispered, "Aha! My advances you spurn!
"Curse a chap who wins races by using his braces!" And slunk away ne'er to return.

They were wed at the Church of St. Gabbro, where the Vicar, quite carried away,
did a hand-traverse into the pulpit, and cried out "Let us belay!"
John put the ring on Mary's finger (a snap-link it was, made of steel)
and they marched to their taxis 'neath an arch of ice axes, while all the bells started to peal.

The morals we draw from this story, are several, I'm happy to say:
It's virtue that wins in the long run; long silken moustaches don't pay.
Keep your head uppermost when you're climbing (if you must slither, be on a rope)
And steer clear of the places that sell you cheap braces, and the fellow that uses soft soap!

This was learned from the oral tradition and the text seems to have undergone various minor polishings over the (admittedly, few, by comparison) years it's been in circulation.

I do hope nobody feels the tone has been lowered irretrievably.
Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 11:01 PM

So what's the difference between a ballad and a narrative poem?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 12:12 AM

With the best will in the world, I'd describe that as a comic monologue, not a ballad.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Snuffy
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 04:06 AM

I have several times sung The Lion and Albert to the tune of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, but for me that doesn't make it a ballad.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 04:32 AM

Malcolm Douglas,seven drunken nights is a comic song but is also a ballad[see Child].
Please what is your method of categorising 7 drunken nights,in one category,and idwal slabs in another? .


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Brian Peters
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 05:59 AM

F J Child never got round to providing a definition of what he considered to be a ballad, his promised Introduction to the ESPB being thwarted by his death. He did, however, say things like "a definition is easier to feel than to formulate", which means pretty much "I know one when I see one". To accept Child as canonical in terms of traditional Scots and English balladry is not to go along with all his choices. He often contradicted himself - pouring scorn on broadsides on the one hand, then incorporating them as his key texts on another. Or holding a belief that the ballads were "of the people" whilst regarding recently-collected examples from oral tradition as necessarily degenerate (to Child, 'authenticity' was defined largely by antiquity and correspondence with examples from European folklore). Also bear in mind that he died before the boom in song collecting during the early 20th century, and was thus to a great extent unaware of the continuing popularity of many of his titles. There are surprising omissions and inclusions: No "Long A-Growing" or "Polly Vaughan", but all kinds of stuff that, as Steve says, had only the flimsiest toehold - if any - in oral tradition. And how do we explain why "Marrowbones" is left out, but "Get Up and Bar the Door" and "The Friar in the Well" are in?

On the plus side, he was well aware of the kind of tinkering that the likes of Percy and Scott practised, and did at least dig beyond their published collections to find the original source material.

The defining features of the traditional ballad have been listed by many authors subsequent to Child (e.g. Robert Graves), and include many of the features mentioned by Uncle Dave and Jim Carroll (in his paste of Funk and Wagnall) at the top of the thread. However, it's not difficult to find examples that contradict F & W's No. 4) "A ballad focuses on a single incident" (expressed more colourfully by Graves as "the play begins in the fifth act"). We can all think of ballads in which more than one act of the play is presented, sometimes with years elapsing in between. A better description that I heard recently is that of "leaping and lingering": the ballad devotes several verses to a particular piece of action, then suddenly leaps ahead to linger on a consequent situation.

The repetitions that some of you seem to find redundant and irritating are also considered by many to be defining features of ballad style (although again they're not universal). More common than simple repetitions are the "incremental repetitions", in which a a standardized verse form is used to move along the action:

"They hadn't been a sailing, a mile, a mile
A mile but barely one...."

"They hadn't been a sailing a mile, a mile
A mile but barely two...."

To my mind these add greatly to the tension in the story, and to condense them for the sake of brevity would be to rob the ballad form of one of its most potent weapons. Would 'The Cruel Mother' have half the impact if the ghosts of the dead children did not repeat the early verses describing their murder? As for 'Lord Randall' - well, I sing it, so I'm not about to concede that it's a waste of space. It's true it has an unusually repetitive form, with five eighths of each verse being standardized, but for me it packs a big emotional clout. And where is the tension in announcing that the sweetheart is to be left "a rope for to hang her", without having first listed the bequests to the other family members (bear in mind too that inheritance was a big issue in the societies which nurtured these ballads)?

Interesting discussion, anyway.
Brian


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 07:41 AM

In Sir Patrick Spens I clean forgot
The forty-second verse
So I sang the twenty-seventh, twice as loud
and in reverse
and no-one noticed"


Fred Wedlock, The Folker.

On a more serious note can I ask where would Jaques Brel fit in? Some of his songs equal afore mentioned ballads in epic proportions and a lot do tell a story. Neither are they pop or any other apparent genre. What about some of Stan Rogers - Barrats Privateers to mention but one. Or Gordon Lightfoots "Edmund Fitzgerald" All ballads surely?

Only asking out of curiousity!

Cheers

Dave


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 07:52 AM

so nonone can define a ballad,some say they can feel it.
thankgod there is no 1954 definition of a ballad.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Brian Peters
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 08:21 AM

"so nonone can define a ballad"

I don't think that's the verdict of this thread, Dick. Any definition in this kind of area is going to be complicated and difficult to make stick but, as with the innumerable "What is folk?" threads on here, the point is that you have to have some idea of what a word means if you're going to have any meaningful discussion about it. "Ballad" obviously means different things in different contexts but that doesn't prove that it has no meaning at all. If I am booked to give a Ballad Workshop such as the one I'll be doing at the Lewes Arms next year (and, BTW, Marian Button is an excellent singer and her workshop there should be well worth attending as well) there will be no point in me turning up and saying, "Well, no-one can define what a ballad is, so anything goes."

For what it's worth, of all the examples of modern ballads suggested above, I'd go for Richard Thompson's 'Vincent Black Lightning'. It's not traditional and its verse structure isn't a nice neat four-line stanza, but the way it tells its story in a series of dialogue snippets certainly has something of the trad ballad about it. That one Hugh Lupton wrote and Chris Wood sings about the chip shop is pretty good, too.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 09:33 AM

I'll hold out for a ballad being a song with a narrative. IT can be traditional or not, good or not, authentic or not, popular or not, broadside or not, but it at least provides a useful grouping for a class of song. Obviously one can be more specific. simply by applying an adjective (modern ballad, traditional ballad, Child ballad etc.) but it's useful to have a generic word to distinguish narrative songs from , say, lyric songs or dance tunes or chanteys.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 10:14 AM

Brian,no one can give a logical explanation why seven drunken nights can be included in a ballad workshop,but Marrowbones should be excluded.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Brian Peters
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 10:39 AM

> Brian,no one can give a logical explanation why seven drunken nights can be included in a ballad workshop,but Marrowbones should be excluded. <

Child probably had his own reasons for selecting "Our Goodman" (= 7 drunken nights), possibly on grouds of antiquity or stanza form. But I'm not defending that selection. In my ballad workshops people are at liberty to bring along a song of their choice and justify its inclusion. So, at the last one, we had 'The Flying Cloud', which isn't in Child but certainly tells a story (albeit in more detail than an older ballad might have done). Somebody once brought along 'Pretty Boy Floyd' and I didn't exclude that, either. But I hope at least that people will bring narrative songs. 'The Seeds of Love', for instance, wouldn't qualify in my book - although if someone chose to sing it in a ballad workshop my reaction would be to ask them nicely why they'd chosen it, not to tell them they'd made a grievous gaffe.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 01:06 PM

a narrative song,seems like a sensible definition to me too .
but sorry, Lord Randall may be a ballad according to Child,but it has no more narrative than the Seeds of love,and in my opinion an inferior story and tune.
but each to their own.,I dont think of the Seeds of love as a ballad either.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 01:57 PM

I'm not going to disagree with anyone over whether 'Seeds of Love' is a ballad or not, but do compare it with Child 219, 'The Gardener'. They are very close. I would even go so far as to guess that SOL is a remake of 219. BTW don't bother with 219B; it's an absolute load of modern crap.

DickG, excellently put. I'm impressed.

DickM's original posting actually meant, what is a traditional ballad.

Perhaps what might be more useful therefore is listing and, dare I suggest, even prioritising the characteristics of this as Brian has already started doing.

I don't think Child ever intended his 305 to be the final word and be worshipped like some sort of bible as the academics have done for the last century. And yes, he was blissfully unaware of the many traditional ballads still being sung. He included several ballads of which the earliest version appeared on a broadside, but missed many that have since been researched by the likes of Bruce Olsen. Perhaps it is time for a remake of the English and Scottish Popular Ballads!


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 03:02 PM

",but it has no more narrative than the Seeds of love"
I'm afraid the Cap'n is allowing his personal dislikes cloud his analysis of Lord Randal.
Of course it has a narrative - which is brilliantly teased out in question and answer form:
A young man comes home ill, is questioned by his mother and gradually reveals he has been poisoned. The final verses, again magnificently structured, eventually reveal his poisoner.
The Cap'n has made it clear he doesn't like the ballad; I can only say "I'm sorry for his loss".
I suggest he listens to Travelling woman Mary Delaney sing her version, 'Buried in Kilkenny' on Saturday afternoon on Lyric FM.
A number of the ballads use the question and answer form, quite often as a battle of wits (Captain Wedderburn's Courtship for example).
It is safe to assume that Child made the occasional mistake (and was inconsiderate enough to pop his clogs before he could explain his method of selection), but as far as I'm concerned he got enough right to add to my pleasure and knowledge for nearly half a century.
Here's to you Frank!!
Jim Carroll
PS For those who take some sort of pleasure in spotting the mistakes - you can add Bramble Briar (Bruton Town) to the ones he missed.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Brian Peters
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 03:16 PM

"I would even go so far as to guess that SOL is a remake of 219."

Yeah, interesting point, Steve.

"Perhaps it is time for a remake of the English and Scottish Popular Ballads!"

Volunteering, are you?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Brian Peters
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 03:21 PM

"Lord Randall may be a ballad according to Child,but it has no more narrative than the Seeds of love,and in my opinion an inferior story and tune."

Which version of Lord Randall are you referring to in claiming it has an inferior tune?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 04:10 PM

Brian.
all the ones I have heard so far.

Jim
I am afraid you are letting your personal likes cloud your analysis of Lord Randall.
In my opinion, it is a weak story.,and I have yet to hear it being sung well.
now can anyone give a logical reason why a peice of tedious drivel like Lord Randall,is called a ballad and yet an interesting story like Marrowbones or the Cunning Cobbler is not.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 04:39 PM

Dick,
Who said Marrowbones and Cunning Cobbler are not ballads?
Apart from Jim's perfectly good explanation Child included it because of its ancient pedigree, its relationship to other similar ballads and its foreign relations. Marrowbones and Cunning Cobbler are relatively recent broadside ballads and would have been outside of Child's remit and most likely his ken.

Had Child the knowledge of Bramble Briar we have today he might well have included it on the grounds, like Hind Horn, it is based on an ancient folk tale. However there are reasonable grounds to suggest that the Bocaccio Isabella story on which is undoubtedly based was put into verse by a broadside hack c1750. Unfortunately the original has not survived or has not yet surfaced. I put on Mustrad the details of what we currently know of this ballad.

Volunteering, are you?
Brian, funny you should ask that, but I'd rather do it as part of a team.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 04:56 PM

Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JHW - PM
Date: 27 Aug 08 - 07:17 PM
steve,an earlier post;
My introduction to ballads was Nic Jones singing Annan Water via a Dansette record player. But Annan Water as by Nic or as writ on the walls of the Blue Bell (or Ball?) in Annan both start in the 1st person as border and bothy ballads already mentioned yet must be ballads.
The parameter that the song should contain no comment I hadn't thought of but as I'd never thought of 'Eggs and Marrowbones' or 'The Molecatcher' as ballads perhaps I'd assimilated that feeling without identifying it. 'John Barleycorn' tells a story but because it is clearly a fictitious analogy it doesn't feel like a ballad any more than (for me) Marrowbones or Molecatcher. Perhaps the story has to feel as though it did once happen? But then there's my favourite Tamlane. Tricky. What about scale - fair enough the dread of 42 verses but can just 3 ever be a ballad?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 05:50 PM

Marrowbones is clearly not a Child ballad; but it just as clearly is a ballad. As are Bruton Town, The Frog's Courtship, Springfield Mountain and Kafoozelum, to mention a few. And Bonnie George Campbell , short as it is, is rightfully included in Child's canon.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Snuffy
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 07:25 PM

fair enough the dread of 42 verses but can just 3 ever be a ballad?

IMHO The Foggy Foggy Dew is a ballad (despite being a first-person narration), and tells more in its three verses than many ballads ten times its length. Sometimes less is more.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 09:19 PM

The omission of 'Bramble Briar' wasn't a 'mistake'; there's no reason to think that Child had ever heard of it (no broadside editions survive, and no example from oral tradition was published until after his death, unless you count a rather poor re-working in a Wehman songster of about 1890). He was aware of 'Polly Vaughan', but only via Jamieson and perhaps a few rather garbled late C19 broadsides. As things stood, it didn't fit his criteria, and its omission is not surprising. 'Long A-Growing' is one of the very few omissions that he might reasonably be taxed with.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 03:51 AM

"a peice of tedious drivel like Lord Randall"
As I said, the Cap'n is letting his "personal likes cloud his analysis".
Not an easy ballad to sing and make work, I'll grant you - obviously above his head. There are certainly some magnificent tunes for the ballad.
He'd be probably be well advised to stick to something as simple to follow as Marrowbones.
Malcolm:
"a rather poor re-working"
I hadn't realised that this was one of his criteria in assembling his collection. In my opinion he included pieces that were much poorer.
Whether Child saw 'The Bramble Briar' and rejected it is a much-debated point - we simply don't know.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 04:56 AM

that is a personal attack.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 05:02 AM

'John Barleycorn' tells a story but because it is clearly a fictitious analogy it doesn't feel like a ballad any more than (for me) Marrowbones or Molecatcher. Perhaps the story has to feel as though it did once happen? But then there's my favourite Tamlane.

The world of John Barleycorn is very different to Tamlane; one is, as you say, a fictitious analogy; a personification of the agricultural year with respect to a quasi-religious morphology which many might assume to be somehow archetypal, and might well be! As a contributor to the John Barleycorn Reborn CD (volume two in the offing!) I'm aware just how broad opinions are on this one. John Barleycorn - archetypal pagan hymn or parody of Church orthodoxy? Anyway, it is certainly not a ballad.

Tamlane is a ballad, and like many ballads it deals in the supernatural, as oppose to the allegorical, though I dare say there are any amount of allegorical readings of it. As for the element of believability, in the world of supernatural narrative, we do believe, simply because such things continue to scare us, for whatever reason. Traditional tales of the supernatural are told not as allegory, but as truth; ghost stories, first hand accounts, and related Forteana all exist with quite vivid immediacy to which we're never quite immune, which is why such films as The Sixth Sense give us such significant pause for thought.

I like to think of myself as a materialist; however, I do allow that there are more things in heaven & earth, and that supernatural ballads such as Tamlane are effective because of our capacity to take such things quite literally - especially now that the nights are drawing in, and summer, such as it was, is officially over...


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 05:35 AM

"that is a personal attack."
It wasn't intended to be.
It is an observation that a ballad which has gone into 100 plus versions, not counting the 'Billy Boy' parodies, is a little more than
"a piece of tedious drivel" with "an inferior tune".
I merely suggested that you might have missed something that many others have recognised.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 06:01 AM

Green and yeller! Green and yeller! Mother be quick I got to be sick and lay me down to die.

A musical highpoint of my life (thus far) was a recent trip to The Moorbrook Folk Club in Preston where Greg Butler and Tom Walsh sang this in roaring duet from opposite corners of the room. Oh to be in the company of such giants!


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 06:12 AM

I have not missed anything,including your patronising remarks
I consider it an inferior ballad, plot wise to say Thomas the Rhymer,or Tam lin,or willie of the winsbury,or Lord Bateman.
[ Not an easy ballad to sing and make work, I'll grant you - obviously above his head. There are certainly some magnificent tunes for the ballad.
He'd be probably be well advised to stick to something as simple to follow as Marrowbones]quote Jim Carroll.
that is patronising,and casts aspersions on my singing ability
here is my version of Willie of the winsbury,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0zAr1t6nTE
if you can do better,Jim,put a recording of yourself on youtube.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 07:14 AM

Cap'n
The suggestion I made are similar to that I have heard given at many CCE competitions.
You are a strong advocate of competitions, yet you respond to criticism of yourself as personal attacks.
It's hard to know where to go with this Cap'n - so let's leave it there.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Brian Peters
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 07:15 AM

To hear some tedious drivel, click here


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 08:27 AM

Brian,I have never heard your version of Lord Randall ,my remarks were: the tunes and versions I have heard to date .
I stand by my remarks the plot is thin,and the tunes I have heard to date uninspiring.
in due course I will listen to your version.
JimCarroll it was completely unnecessary to bring my singing into this discussion.
BB felt like that about Prickly Bush.WLD Sheath andKnife,and Tam linn.
yet you chose to make a snide remark about me,now #### off.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 08:50 AM

Cap'n,
Didn't mention your singing - just your judgment of a ballad.
"now #### off."
Tsk-tsk - language!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: GUEST,JHW in the library again
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 09:25 AM

Another one bites the dust I see. Just as I was going to suggest that the more parameters a ballad is deemed to require to be one, the more will thus be excluded.
I'd previously thought the offering that a ballad should not contain comment was perhaps relevant, especially as it was an angle I hadn't considered. But while not even thinking about songs 'Woe be to the little foot page and an ill death may he die' came to mind so that idea goes the journey too as Musgrave is certainly a ballad.
John


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 10:26 AM

my judgement of aballad is being questioned.
ok lets analyse the plots
thomas the rhymer.thomas is lying asleep,he,is abducted by the queen of the elves,told not to kiss her lips,or he will never return from the elfin kingdom shown three different roads the road to hell, the road to heaven, and the road to the elfin kingdom.he is warned never to tell what he is seen,or ever speak in the Elfyn land.
15.oh they rodeon and farther on.
and they waded thru rivers aboon the knee.
and they sawneither sun nor moon
.but they heard the roaring of the sea.
16.it was mirk mirk night,and there was nae stern light
and theywaded thru red blod up to the knee.for all the blood that shedon earth
runs thru the springs of that countrie.
17.soon they came to a garden green
ans she plucked an apple from atree
take this for thywages true thomas.it willgive the the tongue that can never lie.
18.my tongue is mine own
a goodly gift ye wood gie to me.
Ineitherdought to buy or sell
at fair or tryst where imay be.
19 now hold thy peace the lady said.for asI SAY SO IT MUST BE.
20.he has gotten a coat of the elven cloth
and a pair of shoes of velvet green
and till 7 years were gane and past
true thomas on earth was never seen.
this is an interestsing story,ans some wonderful poetry,compared to Randall bleating on about his poisining,that in some versions is done by his sister.and in some by his stepmother.And some by an anonymous well wisher.
neither does RandallS PLOT compare in complexity or subtelty to Tamm Linn,Willie of Winesbury,Lord Bateman.Barbara Allen,OR jean ritchies version of the lass of loch royan.
as far as I am concerned the plot of Randall is no more interest than watching a blank television screens.,or reading Pincher Martin


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Brian Peters
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 10:31 AM

"....as far as I am concerned the plot of Randall is no more interest than watching a blank television screens.,or reading Pincher Martin"

Ah, 'Pincher Martin' - a brilliant piece of work. Perhaps this explains why we differ over 'Lord Randall'. I'm not so fond of blank TV screens, though.

Remind me of the number of times 'Lord Randall' and 'Thomas Rhymer' have been collected in tradition. 'The folk' don't seem to agree with your judgement.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 11:02 AM

Pincher Martin,brilliant ,I have to disagree.
lord of the flies, yes.
why is the number of times something collected in the tradition of any relevance, why does popularity=good.
Collectors also play apart,making decisions as to what they think is worthy of collection
if popularity=good,tie the yellow ribbon,which is sung by ordinary people [the folk]is better than Lord Randall,andThomasThe rhymer,BarbaraAllen.
in that case present day folk music/ football chants are good ,because they are sung by the folk,but we know they are not
if popularity = good ,lord of the Flies is better than Pincher Martin,because it has sold more and been made in to a film.
remind me, how many times, Lord Randall has been collected compared to Barbara Allen.
no that argument wont wash,Because something is popular with the folk,it doesnt mean it has any merit,if it did you and I would be singing LILY THE PINK.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 01:04 PM

Why, oh why do people insist that a definition should be based on their personal likes and dislikes?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 02:24 PM

I dunno, Dick. Is defining by likes and dislikes any worse than basing a definition on one's personal opinion? Seems to me that defining something like a ballad is futile. It's necessary to set agreed definitions for such things - but the essence of the definition is in the agreement, not in the essence of the song itself.

So, could you people just sit down and agree on what you're going to define as ballad? Don't waste too much time crafting your agreement, because you could just as well define it differently. There is no correct definition of ballad - a ballad is whatever people generally agree it is. So, perhaps, the essence of the definition is the consensus.

And there is no such thing as consensus among folk musicians, so then we get back to futility.

-Joe-


And I came to this thread because I was asked to determine whether something was a "personal attack." In this case, it's as debatable as the definition of "ballad." But do try not to insult each other, willya?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 03:41 PM

Joe-
That's epistimological nihilism! THe fact that people misuse existing definitions instead of creating new ones for things that don't really fit the original definition (like "folk") doesn't mean that it's impossible to develop a useful definition. Or that such a definition isn't useful.

An analogy: What's the definition of a car? Well one could quibble about whether or not it has to have four wheels,or whether it must be powered by an internal-combustion engine, or whether it must operate on public roads; deciding to exclude Fords from that simply defined class because one doesn't happen to like Fords is plain semantic balderdash (also poppycock and tommyrot).


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 04:10 PM

Hopefully avoiding the childish squabbles....

JHW..You misunderstood the characteristic here. Comment by the characters is actually one of the most important characteristics, it's comment by the narrator's voice that is deemed to be uncharacteristic, BUT even then whilst it does not exist in the earlier ballads of the 16th century it gradually crept in during the following centuries as the people became more aware of the wider world and their own place in it. The lack/presence of narrator comment is one of the parameters Child used to determine whether a ballad was old or quite recent.

Confession...this is not off the top of my head, I have just been rereading Willa Muir's excellent 'Living With Ballads'.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JHW
Date: 15 Sep 08 - 05:48 PM

I thought in Musgrave it is the narrator who says 'and woe be to the little foot page' Who else could it be?   At this point in the song Musgrave and Lady Barnard are ensconced together so are blissfully unaware until Barnard's arrival?
I haven't looked at this thread for a while. When discussions or squabbles get to full screen postings I stop looking.    I'll try the library to find me 'Living with Ballads' though.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 06:03 AM

I think with all these songs. Its down to the performance.

If you want poetry - read poetry. Its a diferent sort of pact - between you and the poet.

With ballads the pact is definitely between the performer and the ballad. not even the writer of the ballad. the performer selects the bits he can make work. brian for example leaves those bits out of ships capenter about the hills of hell, and the hills of heaven - presumably cos it slows down the action.

I didn't always feel that way about Sheath and knife. i used to like Tony Rose singing it.

i've heard other pretty good singers have a shot - paul downes and martin carthy and not really liked it. In fact I was sorry when I heard paul and phil were planning it as one of the trax for their reunion recording. I just think its a waste of effort by talented people.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 06:32 AM

With ballads the pact is definitely between the performer and the ballad

Interesting stuff, WLD. However - as a storyteller & singer who tells & sings only traditional tales, folk song & balladry (especially), I believe that such material carries various & richly complex levels of meaning & experience that ultimately only the listener might ever become aware of, and even then not necessarily on a conscious level. I see this as something of a collective meme however so subjective the experience; a hidden something or other that is very often the catalyst for a more eldritch communion.

I always make bloody sure the hills of heaven & hell are in there on account of the beauty and power of the imagery. Here the ballad crosses that point of actuality into the explicit realms of otherness which has been implicit throughout the rest of it. It's the juxtaposition of the natural & the supernatural that makes it work - the human experience that suddenly faces the consequences. As an atheist I don't believe in heaven or hell, but as a Neo-Gnostic Marxist of a particularly dualistic bent, I feel it is the dialectical moral tension that drives these ballads along irrespective of the action per se.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 06:21 PM

Insane,
As your name suggests, you are obviously on a different plane to the rest of us. As a story-teller you have a vivid imagination, and so you should, but traditional ballads tell a simple straightforward story and any powerful imagery is often an interloper inserted at some point by someone like yourself. No doubt your tales contain 'various & richly complex levels of meaning & experience that ultimately only the listener might ever become aware of, and even then not necessarily on a conscious level.' but the vast majority of traditional ballads do not! The Duke's daughter in 'The Cruel Mother' meets up with the ghosts of her 2 murdered infants and without any surprise or narrator's comments she accepts their condemning of her to hell in compliance with contemporary beliefs.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 01:05 PM

it's a song based on a story-legend that has variants. Barbara Allen comes to mind and was almost extinct until it appeared in pring.

A ballad-style or ballad-type can be composed but is not really an authentic ballad
because it doesn't have the historical precedent of a story-line passed down through ages.

You can call something a ballad but a real one has to have withstood the test of time and have variants.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 01:55 PM

Frank-
You're talking about the "traditional" part of "traditional ballads". and wotinhell is an "inauthentic" or "unauthentic" anything if it doesn't claim authenticity?

I think that the definition of as ballad as a song with an explicit narrative is a useful one--if you wish to split out specific classes of ballads (broadside, popular, modern, cowboy, whatever) that's what adjectives are for.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 05:29 PM

Keep repeating it, Dick. It might hit home eventually.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: curmudgeon
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 05:49 PM

I think we've come full circle here. A (choose your own modifier) ballad is still just a song that tells a story - Tom


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: JeffB
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 07:00 PM

"I think that the definition of a ballad as a song with an explicit narrative is a useful one - if you wish to split out specific classes of ballads (broadside, popular, modern, cowboy, whatever) that's what adjectives are for."

Err ... yes. I was trying to say that in my first post of 28th last month. You can't compare "ballads" such as "Tamlin" and "Leader of the Pack" because all they have in common is the narrative element. The cultural differences are too great - apples and oranges. If you can't compare them then you can't give them a common definition. What you can do is define categories of narrative song. This might involve the time periods in which they were composed; technical features such as rhyme and verse structure; geographical areas of composition; and (referencing WLD's post of 16th) the expectations of performer, audience, and professional agent.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 17 Sep 08 - 09:24 PM

JeffB-
Oddly enough, it's quite possible to compare apples to oranges. Oranges are generally rounder; apples are less juicy. Oranges are a better source of vitamin C. etc.

Similarly, I see no reason why one can't compare vastly different ballads. There are some fundamental differences between Tamlin and Leader of the Pack; there are also fundamental differences between Tamlin and Our Goodman.

What you're saying is basically what I'm saying--except that I find "ballad" a more convenient term than "narrative song". I'm all in favor of sub-classes.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 18 Sep 08 - 05:27 AM

Insane,
As your name suggests, you are obviously on a different plane to the rest of us.


A different planet evidently, Steve. Still, I wasn't aware there was any consensus on sanity - certainly not on Mudcat anyway, where cranky idiosyncrasy seems very much to be the order of the day. Still, if you feel the need to hurl around that sort of abuse just to show how normal you think you are, then I'll take that as a fair indication of the contrary. Welcome to the club, dear boy!

As a story-teller you have a vivid imagination, and so you should, but traditional ballads tell a simple straightforward story and any powerful imagery is often an interloper inserted at some point by someone like yourself.

As a storyteller I don't have an imagination at all, vivid or otherwise; in fact, I would say that's the very thing a storyteller should not have, especially one (such as myself) who only tells and sings traditional material. Traditional ballads tell any amount of stories, in any amount of ways, but seldom are any of them so simple or indeed straightforward at any level that they would require the sort interloper you suggest.

No doubt your tales contain 'various & richly complex levels of meaning & experience that ultimately only the listener might ever become aware of, and even then not necessarily on a conscious level.'

Ultimately, the experience of any narrative (traditional or otherwise, but let's assume traditional here) is essentially subjective; the role of the singer or storyteller is mediumistic to this end - their job is not a creative or imaginative one, but simply one of a performer. Whatever empowers them in this respect, they do not determine the nature of that experience for the listener, nor yet are they themselves aware of the inherent layers that exist within any given narrative, any one of which might set off any amount of triggers within the mind of the listener. Thus do I say complex levels of meaning & experience that ultimately only the listener might ever become aware of, and even then not necessarily on a conscious level.

but the vast majority of traditional ballads do not!

Oh but they do, Steve - they all do. Apart from anything else, in balladry, imagery and narrative coexist in a poise of intimate union; they are part and parcel of the self same purpose, the one thing carrying the other in perfect accord. The experience is, therefore, at that point whereby the subjective mind is inseminated by the objective image, a process which isn't just limited to the experience of traditional ballads, but all levels of narrative (which might include a play by Edward Albee or a mother-in-law joke by Bernard Manning). The ballad imagery, as with traditional folk songs & stories, is borne from a collective process, and shaped, accordingly, to the requirements of such material in terms of pure function - which is to say, there is a very definite reason for each and every one of them, no matter how essentially unsayable that reason might be.   

The Duke's daughter in 'The Cruel Mother' meets up with the ghosts of her 2 murdered infants and without any surprise or narrator's comments she accepts their condemning of her to hell in compliance with contemporary beliefs.

Well, there's any amount of versions of The Cruel Mother - so perhaps a comparative study is in order here? In the version I'm most familiar with, she doesn't accept her punishment at all Welcome, welcome, bird on the tree / Welcome, welcome, fish i the sea / Welcome, welcome, eel i the pule / But oh for gudesake, keep me frae hell! - which is, in any case, as rich a piece of imagery as you'll find. An interloper? I hardly think so. In fact if anything's an interloper with respect to The Cruel Mother it is the conception set up which does feel extraneous to the sense of the song - only 5 of the 13 featured in Child feature this scenario, and maybe the same is true of versions elsewhere. Otherwise, I'd say the whole ballad operates on a level of pure imagery, all the more apparent in the version one may hear superlatively sung by Mrs Pearl Brewer of Pocahantas at The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection - this is reduction to the pure essence of the thing which even on a conscious level carries a richness of imagery as to be quite breathtaking.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 18 Sep 08 - 06:15 AM

PS - Regarding images & folk songs in general; I'm currently working on a number of things I was drawn to by image resonance alone, including Cob-a-Coaling (...up a ladder, down a wall / a cob a coal will save us all...), Leg of a Mallard (...I've ate and I've ate and what have I ate? I've eaten the leg of a mallard - leg and leg, thigh and thigh, foot and foot, toe and toe, toe nibbins and all - the beautiful leg of a mallard...) and The Sheep Stealer (...the children will pull the skin from the ewe...). The resonance is entirely subjective; these foolish things as might thrill me in the balls and make me glad to be not only alive, but receptive to such imagery as can only ever be objectively traditional. I get the same thing when I look at old misericords; in the parish church at Whalley at the weekend we came across This - the text of which reads Whoso melles him of that al men dos, het hym cum hier and shoe the ghos (whoever meddles in the ways of man, let him come here and shoe the goose). Maybe there's a lesson in that somewhere...


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Sep 08 - 02:00 PM

Unreserved apology for stooping to such a wisecrack and freely admitting to my own insanity. But to produce such an interesting response it was worth the dig.

I apologise also for accusing you of embellishment without any evidence. I agree that the stories and ballads need little help from us lesser mortals.

However I still disagree over the idea of multi-layered ballads. For me they tell a simple straightforward story and I love them for it. I think we are using different definitions of 'imagery'. I was using it in a literary sense, e.g., similes, metaphors, allegories.

Yes meanings in ballads can alter from version to version, that's part of the folk process, and listeners can make slight differences in their interpretations, but by and large the story is simple and straightforward.

How you can say that the 'conception set up' part of the ballad is an interloper certainly beats me. It was there in what I take to be the original, i.e., the 17th century broadside. The Scots additions from Child 21 are certainly embellishments if not interlopers. Some would say an improvement. We are all entitled to our opinions here. Like you I go for the stark simple versions pared down to the bare bones, like the version I sing.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 18 Sep 08 - 03:46 PM

'whoever meddles in the ways of man, let him come here and shoe the goose'

on the face of it, complete bollocks. but someone seems to have gone to a lot of trouble to say that. what CAN it all mean....?

On the subject of miserichords, in the ones in Boston Stump - there is a picture of a schoolboy being birched. this tended to confrm to all us kids receiving instruction at Boston Grammar School, that making their kids lives miserable has always been a top concern over there in the flatlands.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 18 Sep 08 - 07:24 PM

to shoe the goose - to waste one's time in a fruitless or trivial activity. Thus - whoever concerns himself with the ways of man is wasting his time (and by implication) better concern yourself with the ways of God. Personally, I'm all for shoeing the goose myself.

Another detail of the Whalley misericord Here.

Must check out Boston Stump. I tell kids about the sort of punishments our generation had to endure as part of our education and they think I'm having a laugh.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 19 Sep 08 - 03:39 AM

I think we are using different definitions of 'imagery'. I was using it in a literary sense, e.g., similes, metaphors, allegories.


Heavens no; I'm a complete literalist when it comes to traditional narrative - ballads in particular - even the most supernatural of which (an especial favourite right now is King Henry) operate on a non-allegorical level.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 Sep 08 - 01:53 PM

Mr Beard,
Whilst 32 is undoubtedly of great ancestry as a story, its existence as a ballad in Scots is rather suspect as far as oral tradition goes. The single source is from a well-to-do lady, Mrs Brown (other versions having been worked over by poets). Some of its components exist in other ballads, some of these ballads also suspect. The whole subject of the provenance of much of the Britiah ballads is a thorny one. Both Jamieson and Scott have had their fingers in the pie and they are hardly reliable sources. Of course if one isn't worried about the provenance of a ballad none of this matters one jot, it's a fine enough ballad/story.

Steve the Skeptic


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Sep 08 - 12:59 PM

"Ultimately, the experience of any narrative (traditional or otherwise, but let's assume traditional here) is essentially subjective; the role of the singer or storyteller is mediumistic to this end - their job is not a creative or imaginative one, but simply one of a performer. "

Absolutely academic nonsense. There is a role of creativity when the ballad becomes a vehicle for performance and additions are made over the years. Academics in general have a propensity for downgrading the role of creativity in almost everything.


"Whatever empowers them in this respect, they do not determine the nature of that experience for the listener, nor yet are they themselves aware of the inherent layers that exist within any given narrative, any one of which might set off any amount of triggers within the mind of the listener."

This makes no sense. They are not academic robots for some grey-bearded pseudo-analyst to come along and set up a false standard.

Balladeers are aware and that's why they choose to sing these songs. It would make
no sense otherwise. As for triggers within the mind of the listener, this can only be
set off by an inherent understanding of what they are doing.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Sep 08 - 01:02 PM

"The main aspect in which I strongly disagree with Professor Child and his ilk is the claim that a folk song had no individual author--ever.
Not just that the author was unknown, but that there was none. Folk songs, by their lights, as I understand it, sort of spontaneously appeared. That seems like so much bushwah, to me

The role of the scalp collector in academia is to set a standard by which his/her theory
has to be tested.

Child is one of those who believe that ballads start on paper with certain copyright dates that are identifiable in books or documents.

The "communal theory" of folk music transference assumes that there is a starting point by which the folk music changes. This starting point doesn't exist in a vacuum.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Sep 08 - 01:03 PM

Here's a metaphor. Bach created music that established rules for musical composition taught in musical academies. He broke every rule that he created.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Sep 08 - 01:06 PM

Jim, what Funk and Wagnall leave out is that a folk ballad is in transition. Academicians don't like this because it upsets their social order. It has to be pinned down like a collected butterfly.

"This is the start of a six page definition from Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore - fairly comprehensive, but doesn't suit everybody, especially those who don't hold withnew-fangled gadgets like dictionarie"


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Sep 08 - 01:08 PM

Kendall, let's take that statement to the next level.

"Do you read books?"
"Not enough to hurt my thinking".

"Horses don't sing it".   How do we know?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Sep 08 - 01:13 PM

Don,

I think Jean Ritchie and Woody Guthrie knew something about ballads.

As a result, the wrote some songs that could possibly go into the ballad lexicon.

they say the same about Dylan but I'm not sure here. Dylan to me appears to have written songs that would be received by those in the "folk scare" community because he reflects
their political mindset at the time. Dylan, himself, has disowned the value of his song's
"political" content. This means to me, he wrote because he thought these songs would have commercial value. The question I have is that if this is true, did the motive taint the
intent of the song?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 20 Sep 08 - 05:29 PM

Frank-
I'm afraid that you're putting a value judgment onto the word ballad. A ballad doesn't have to be non-commercial. Or "folk". Or traditional. Or in English, for that matter. Why complicate things?


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 21 Sep 08 - 04:41 AM

Whilst 32 is undoubtedly of great ancestry as a story, its existence as a ballad in Scots is rather suspect as far as oral tradition goes

I'm aware of that, but there's a quality in the language / imagery I find entirely beguiling; and so beguiled I am oddly, if not entirely, convinced that, whatever the actual & or dodgy provenance, here is something that, in modern parlance, kicks ass in the ballad stakes. As I once wrote of 32 - a rollicking yarn of the supernaturally grotesque with strong comedic elements suggestive of parody.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Sep 08 - 03:39 PM

'there's a quality in the language / imagery I find entirely beguiling; and so beguiled I am oddly, if not entirely, convinced that, whatever the actual & or dodgy provenance, here is something that, in modern parlance, kicks ass in the ballad stakes'

I'm guessing you are partial to some of Peter Buchan's more imaginative effusions then? I've seen the word 'parody' used to describe some of his contributions.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: glueman
Date: 21 Sep 08 - 04:39 PM

Ballad - definition: "song performed by boy band or aspiring member on Saturday evening reality television programme. Intended to generate sentimental scope to encompass wide market, including lachrymose teenagers and maternal dowagers by virtue of strained facial expression and imploring hand gestures. Pejorative term, prefixed by er, a or ooh, a.
See: opportunity for vocal virtuosity/replacement by wholly different tune and unmotivated octave shifts"

Gluester's Dictionary of Apocrypha, XL5 edition.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 22 Sep 08 - 01:07 PM

Hi Dick

I think that I'm talking intent, Dick. You don't compose a ballad to make money.
You make a pop tune for that.

A ballad does serve another function. It recreates a legend in different forms.

There is a creative aspect to this. It gets changed by individual performers.

No two ballad singers do it alike.

There's nothing in my view that is complicated about that.

Frank


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: GUEST,Chris Murray
Date: 22 Sep 08 - 06:27 PM

The kids at the school where I teach always write 'Ballard'.

I teach that a ballad is a narrative poem, often from the oral tradition, usually anonymous. I also teach that a ballad should have a certain form.


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 22 Sep 08 - 07:14 PM

Not to be confused with a thing that traffic drives round....


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Subject: RE: definition of a ballad
From: Stringsinger
Date: 23 Sep 08 - 11:18 AM

Most Americans who have been addicted to MTV and the pop music dance movement
wave are not conditioned to sit quietly and listen to ballads. The narratives of arcane
legends are beyond their interest. I have always been partial to them because of the story they tell. They carry the resonance of antiquity and as a result fall prey to academic
meandering and stultifying analysis.

The Bardic aspects of the ballad are apparent when you hear them and not necessarily when you read them off of a page. There is a universal aspect that transcends any country when you consider the stories of the Griots of Africa, the legends from Europe and the Middle East, the Mexican "Corrido" or the Anglo-American singing narratives. This may be stating the obvious but the point it, it's an experiential thing. It requires the same attention as if you were listening to so-called "classical" music and is not meant to be a motor distraction while doing other things. It doesn't really require being dressed up for public consumption through cute arrangements or irrelevant musical divergence.

So much of music today is made for the background. That has its function but is not
the province of the ballad.


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