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Book Review: Australia's Lost Folksongs

Sandra in Sydney 06 Apr 09 - 08:21 AM
Andrez 06 Apr 09 - 08:47 AM
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Subject: Australia's Lost Folksongs
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 06 Apr 09 - 08:21 AM

AUSTRALIA'S LOST FOLK SONGS - The Treasures that slipped through Percy Jones' fingers by Keith McKenry, Fanged Wombat Productions, 2008
Australian Folklore - Occasional Paper, No 25 The Rams Skull Press, Kuranda, Qld. $25 post paid

review from Trad & Now on-line shop Keith McKenry 'Australia's Lost Folk Songs: the treasures that slipped through Percy Jones' fingers' A scholarly work of serious note. This book detailing about 50 Australian folk songs and fragments of many others is published by the Rams Skull Press, and produced under McKenry's own Fanged Wombat productions. It's # 25 of a series of papers known as Australian Folklore Occasional Papers, published by Rams Skull Press.

McKenry's aim was to present a range of folk songs that seemed to have slipped under the guard of contemporary Australian folk singers. He used fragments of songs published in the Sun News-Pictorial in 1940, where readers provided verses of songs they had heard or sung themselves. McKenry then sourced many of them putting them in context, detailing the history of each song, each fully referenced with words, music and guitar chords. The book is illustrated by, and dedicated to, the late Ron Edwards. There is a comprehensive bibliography, references used, cross references and annotated remarks.

In his introduction, McKenry asserts that many early collectors of Australian folk songs, or bush songs, ignored songs that originated in urban areas. McKenry also notes that many songs from states other than the 3 main Eastern were not collected either. However in the early 40's an appeal was put in the Sun News-Pictorial for readers to send in Australian folk songs they knew. Unfortunately the requestor did not follow up many of the leads which leads McKenry research to piece together scraps or fragments of songs.


Review by Bob Bolton

Keith McKenry was working on this publication, with considerable input, advice and illustrations from Ron Edwards - the most prodigious writer and publisher of works on Australian folklore, when Ron died. His simple dedication: "In memory of Ron Edwards (1930 - 2008)" commemorates the one-man powerhouse of folklore publishing … a wry contrast to the sad tale of the significant body of collected Australian folk songs of the 19th century solicited for publication more than a decade before our well known collectors set out lugging new-fangled tape recorders in the 1950s … tantalizingly quoted in a wartime Melbourne newspaper column ... handed over to the most noted folk music expert of the day for transcription and analysis… and almost totally and irrevocably lost — despite the fact that they were pounced on by visiting singer Burl Ives … who drew on them to produce an LP for Decca Records, the success of which was followed up with publication of the Burl Ives Folio of Australian Folk Songs!

Fortunately, at least we do have small portions of the songs selected by the columnist "Johnathan Swift" (the nom de plume of Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial journalist C. Spensely Waight) and quoted in his patriotic column (only three of which were in the Burl Ives set of 10 popular songs. Snippets of some seventy one songs appeared in the column - and Keith has managed to identify fifty of them. Diligent searching, using the new electronic connectivity of the web, has produced responses to selected phrases - enough to produce reasonably consistent reconstructions of how the songs … many of them patriotic songs or work songs from elsewhere, adapted in their stay in Australia.

Several singers have helped set the songs to known or suitable tunes from Australian usage … and this book presents useable texts and tunes for a range of songs that were in the tradition of many trades and areas of our colonial past. I'm finding my copy fascinating - and it will add some good songs to my repertoire.

Review by Bob Bolton, Mulga Wire 190 - Singabout S3 - December 2008

One of the lost songs "The Ramrod Volunteer" (using the tune of "Marching Through Georgia) was quoted by Rudyard Kipling in two of his stories and has since been unsuccessfully sought out by Kipling lovers and scholars. The collected material was never published in full & was later lost in a bushfire


This week Keith & friends will present a selection of the songs in concert at the National Folk Festival (Trocadero, Friday 10 April, 5.30pm)

If you think all Australia's folk songs are about shearing sheep, bushranging, swaggies, convicts, gold, cattle droving or convicts, think again. At the National we are presenting a major concert of Australia's Lost Folk Songs - the songs our forebears really sang!

Come and hear Ado Barker sing about Volunteer Rifle Brigades, Bruce Watson on a Wife gone off to be a Mormonite, CC on sweeheart's Milly's faithfullness, Chloe and Jason on the Blessed Zulu War, Cloudstreet on a lover jilted for a Calico Printer's Clerk, Danny Spooner on a strange and fictitious sea voyage, Dave de Hugard on races in the woolshed, Jenny Fitzgibbon on Miss Hooligan's Christmas Cake, Kate Burke with the tragic ballad of Sweet Mary of Kilmore, Kavisha Mazella on Mrs McSorley's Twins, Maggie Murphy on poor old dad being consigned by uncaring sons to the poorhouse, and Roger Montgomery with the classic broadside Adam Was a Gentleman.

These are Australia's lost folk songs and it is time they were heard!



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Subject: RE: Australia's Lost Folksongs
From: Andrez
Date: 06 Apr 09 - 08:47 AM

Omigod, looks like a whole host of lost folkies will also be there. Or should that be ....were lost but now they're found.....



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