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Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration

Jack Blandiver 11 May 09 - 08:00 AM
VirginiaTam 11 May 09 - 08:48 AM
VirginiaTam 11 May 09 - 08:55 AM
greg stephens 11 May 09 - 09:05 AM
Phil Edwards 11 May 09 - 09:05 AM
theleveller 11 May 09 - 09:08 AM
Will Fly 11 May 09 - 09:08 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 May 09 - 11:21 AM
The Sandman 11 May 09 - 11:41 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 May 09 - 11:58 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 May 09 - 12:33 PM
sharyn 11 May 09 - 12:40 PM
Diva 11 May 09 - 12:40 PM
Phil Edwards 12 May 09 - 04:55 AM
Sailor Ron 12 May 09 - 05:38 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 12 May 09 - 06:47 AM
Jack Blandiver 12 May 09 - 09:10 AM
Phil Edwards 12 May 09 - 09:44 AM
Jack Blandiver 12 May 09 - 10:41 AM
Joe Offer 12 May 09 - 01:41 PM
Art Thieme 12 May 09 - 03:23 PM
GUEST,CupOfTea, no cookies 21 May 09 - 04:57 PM
Tootler 21 May 09 - 07:28 PM
mg 21 May 09 - 07:51 PM
Howard Jones 22 May 09 - 11:21 AM
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Subject: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 11 May 09 - 08:00 AM

This arises out of the What is a traditional singer? thread wherein was raised the perplexing notion of a traditional style of singing which exists alongside the traditional material itself. Listening to Traditional Singers from those enshrined in the VOTP series or The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, I'm struck more by the diversity of personal approach than one generally finds with respect to Revival Singers where there does emerge a stylistic consensus which just well be traceable to one's own, ahem, seminal influences. Or is it just peer pressure?

So I asked the question - on what sources, influences & inspirations do you base your own personal style? Pip & Crow Sister (two fine singers in my opinion) have provided fascinating answers which I hope they might repeat (& expand upon) here, otherwise let's celebrate our inspirations and the glad continuities thereof, traditional, revival, or whatever...


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 11 May 09 - 08:48 AM

My daughter Andie Robbins (1981-2005) inspired me and got me interested in tradtional music of the UK through her apprenticeship as a bard in the medieval SCA.

My partner (TheSilentOne on Mudcat) expanded my interest, introducing me to Dave and Tony Arthur, Martin Windham Reed, The Levellers, Steel Eye Span, Peter Bellamy, City Waites, Graham and Eileen Pratt and through his sister's partner John Thornton a member of Ramskyte.

A number of Folk friends met in Kent (Essex Girl, The Barden of England, Richard Bridge, to name a few) have by their discussions and performances encouraged me to dig further learn more.

The Kent UK folk got me started on Mudcat, where I have made more friends in UK and US and learned more about my own nation specific musical roots.

Through Mudcat I discovered Odetta, shortly before her passing. What a sending! I really have found my niche in her selections and style. My voice and presentation (I hope) fall naturally into place when I cover her songs.

I can get away with doing the some of tradtional stuff (that I adore) from UK if I render it my/her way.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 11 May 09 - 08:55 AM

p.s. I have not heard Pip. But Crow Sister is un-frigging-believable. A natural if ever there was one and what or who influenced her still could not have had that much impact on her presentation. I am envious.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: greg stephens
Date: 11 May 09 - 09:05 AM

Carl Sandberg and the Singing Dogs


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 11 May 09 - 09:05 AM

I'm pretty unbelievable too. I tell them how great I am, and how lucky they are to be listening to me, and they just don't believe me.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: theleveller
Date: 11 May 09 - 09:08 AM

My own vocal style is based on an inherent lack of natural ability and the need to overcome it - at which I am seldom successful.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Will Fly
Date: 11 May 09 - 09:08 AM

Interesting question. Does one's personal style of performance actually spring from one's influences and inspiration? Just to deconstruct the question a little (if you don't mind), there seem to be all sorts of elements at work here when describing a "personal style", such as actual choice of material to be performed, the way in which it is presented, one's own innate or learned abilities as a singer, player, etc.

Oddly enough, I don't think that a personal style of performing necessarily springs from an accumulation of the people who've been inspirational, or who have been an influence in the sense that their music has been delved into and listened to a lot. I could cite a number of diverse influences over the years - musicians whose music I've loved - from Davy Graham to Doc Watson to Jean Ritchie to Django Reinhardt to James Booker to Elvis to Jimmie Rogers to Dave Edmunds to Erik Satie to Billy Pigg to Big Bill Broonzy to Gus Elen to George Formbys Senior and Junior, and many, many others - but whether they've contributed to my style or not is anyone's guess...

Not a very constructive answer, I'm afraid. I just do what I do.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 May 09 - 11:21 AM

Very interesting topic.

CUT & PASTE from prior thread:

That's a question I've been asking myself, as I never listened to any folk music until recently - and after I began singing traditional songs. And I've only been singing traditional songs since last Hallowe'en I think. I did know a bit of Pentangle from many years ago, but I couldn't and don't aspire to sound like Jacqui McShee.

Nevertheless, I'm aware of that there is some vocal affectation of sorts in my singing, albeit quite unconsciously adopted. And I've been wondering about why I sing these traditional folk songs in the way I do?

To a degree, the antiquated language alters ones mind-set, and may contribute to a degree of 'theatre' perhaps. Whether one realises it or no it's akin to wearing an historic costume and adopting a 'part'. This has some effect on me I think, and suspect that plays itself out in the way I sing.

One thing that I'm conscious of, rather akin to choral perhaps, is that I like to enunciate the consonants fairly clearly (though not as terribly crisply as choral) - in part because these are stories and each word I feel needs to be clear to the listener. This is an affectation as I wouldn't speak the G in 'lonG' for example, but I would sing it for clarity. Consonants often open and close words - enunciated consonants I think aid the listener to identify each word clearly. They also add a degree of 'percussive rythm' to something sung unaccompanied.

I am also aware of shaping vowel sounds when singing, slightly differently to the way I might speak them, to adapt them for ease of sound production - so I might sing (for e.g. 'Uuhnd' instead of 'aaaaynd' - it's less stressful on the throat and conserves breath. Certain vowels, if I were to sing exactly as spoken, both sound ugly and do not assist one in moving smoothly to the next syllable. So I wouldn't sing "I" as (as an extended note) exactly as I would speak it because it'd sound like braying, but perhaps lean more heavily on the 'eeee' sound (that is usually clipped in speech) so sung it might come out more like Ah'ee.

Any ornamenation picked up has probably been the consequence of listening to recordings made by others, as well as allowing my voice to 'sculpt' the song by itself.

But it's a tough question to answer overall.

All that said, the accent I sing in is my own - I think!


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: The Sandman
Date: 11 May 09 - 11:41 AM

I think it is easier for others to say,it is very difficult to judge one self,and say what influences are apparent.
every good singer I have ever heard .


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 May 09 - 11:58 AM

Further to the complexity of the issue, there must be some kind of absorption at a subliminal level of that 'modern aesthetic consensus' regards the singing style of folk song amongst most of us. Including with someone like myself who never even listened to the stuff until very recently. I am certain that I must have been influenced by the revival - irrespective of never having paid it the slightest bit of attention during my life, the amount of 'behavioral cues' we unconsciously collate and echo without even knowing it, from the world around us, is vast beyond numbering.
Pip, I'll hire out Virginia Tam my lovely agent to you for a small fee, she's incredibly believable!* Though she will probably make you feel a bit bashful sometimes...

*Just between you and I a tragic compulsive Bingo addict that the Jeremy Kyle Show rejected! Just ask her poor homeless family of twelve... Sigh!


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 May 09 - 12:33 PM

VTam: "My voice and presentation (I hope) fall naturally into place when I cover her songs."

It does indeed. And well expressed for I have similar sentiments.
And I don't want to get into a mutual Myspace fest, but you do American Folk in particular astonishingly well.

But in line with your comment here, the funny thing for me, is that until I started singing trad. folk, I didn't sing anything well naturally. Dabblings in Early English seemed to work, Dowland and Purcell for example (though I can't be doing with all that effort and range!) I took to in my heart. And beautiful autumnal Dowland in particular, I could still enjoy dabbling in.

But I can't sing Pop, Blue, Jazz or Rock for fecking toffees (despite being raised on an unrelenting diet of Seventies music from my Hippy parents)! It all sounds 'wrong' coming from me. I've not figured out why, but it just does.

So rather like your discovery of Odetta, discovering trad. English song felt like 'coming home' to a place that felt immediately innately comfortable and what explains that I do not know except perhaps there is such a thing as 'genetic memory', or that certain cultural thingummies are somehow encoded within us.

Stopping now before I head into the murky dangers of fascist wank-fantasy territory...


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: sharyn
Date: 11 May 09 - 12:40 PM

I think I've said this before, but my current sound engineer reeled off one day a list of singers I had listened to in my youth -- he could hear their influences in my singing even though I hadn't listened to some of them in years. On the other hand, he wouldn't have heard a lot of the other singers that influenced me. (He cited Joan Baez and Judy Collins abd may have mentioned Joni Mitchell as well and that's who I was listening to when I picked up the guitar, as well as Odetta, whom he did not mention). I had grown up on Burl Ives and Susan Reed and Terry Gilkynson and Bob Atcher records, By college I had added Ewan MacColl, Jeannie Robertson, Alison McMorland, Mississippi John Hurt. And it goes on and on and on: whenever I hear someone I like and admire I listen to them a lot, learn a portion of their songs and style and move on to my next musical crush.

Sharyn


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Diva
Date: 11 May 09 - 12:40 PM

1 To start with my family, mainly my maternal grandmother who was from Belfast who sang all the time.

2 Then through listening to Steeleye Span and I went through a stage where i wanted to be to be Maddy Prior. My folk rock stage Horslips, Albion Band, Silly Wizard..still have the albums

3 Discovering Kilmanock Folk Club which as I think of it was 30 years ago and hearing singers like Heather Heywood, Joe Rae, Peter Fairbairn Maggie Macrae etc and that was "just" the standard of the floor singers. As for guests The Stewarts of Blair, Ray Fisher, The Clutha Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger Brian Millar & Charlie Soane ach you name them and they came through the doors! It was the most wonderful education/experience. The friend who took me there is a friend to this day..thank you Sheila....and she let me raid her record collection and her collection of tapes made at various events....field recordings I suppose.

4 Going to Girvan Folk Festival for the first time, again 30 years ago, and hearing traditional singers like Lizzie Higgans and Willie Scott. Also the mix of music that continues to this day.

5 Hanging about with singers like Cy laurie who I consider has been a great influence on my style and attitude. I have got a lot of my ballads from him.

6 Going to festivals and sitting in singarounds in listening to folk who sing the songs for the love of them.

7 Doing my degree as a mature student which gave me access some of the finest minds in academia to give me another perspective on this singing thing I've been doing for so many years.

its a right old mixed bag isn't it?


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 12 May 09 - 04:55 AM

One thing that's unusual about traditional songs is that expression is as important as melody - the words have got to be doing something, they shouldn't just be draped over the melody like washing on a line. But the melody is still there: ornamentation is at the level of individual words, sitting on top of an unchanged melody line (trad. ornamentation is unlike the jazz equivalent in this respect).

I love the plainness of Shirley Collins singing the Blacksmith - it's just the melody and the speaking voice. At the other extreme, Nic Jones singing the Bonny Bunch of Roses shows how out there you can get with ornamentation and still keep the melody, just about.

But timing was the big discovery for me. In this respect Anne Briggs is a kind of anti-influence: her psalm-like delivery, with speech rhythms kept in shape by a pause at the end of each line -
O what's the matter with you my lass -
And where's your dashing Jemmy? -

is exactly what I try not to do, although it took me a long time to break with that style of singing. (A minor breakthrough for me was the realisation that Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is in 4:4 - you don't have to leave a long gap between "tender girls" and "That flourish in your prime".) And you can sing unaccompanied and nail the tempo; if you work at it you can get the expression in there as well.

In this respect I've been particularly influenced by John Kelly's Valiant Sailor - several of John's arrangements are in a 4:4 which doesn't have a trace of rock and roll about it, and this is a particularly good example. It just rolls inexorably on - it makes a great support for a song with a story. Also Nic Jones's Lord Bateman, which shows how you can get a bit tricky with the tempo without losing the inexorable 4:4 effect. And above all by the late Tony Capstick, whose unaccompanied songs - The Ballad of Accounting, the Scarecrow, Van Diemens Land - basically do all of the above.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Sailor Ron
Date: 12 May 09 - 05:38 AM

I'm 'inspired' to attept to sing in tune! But seriously, the late 'Big Pete' Roger of the Taverners, whenever I try to sing a ballad I 'hear' his version in my head. Chanties? Johnnie Collins, Harry from Stormalong John & Hughie Jones.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 12 May 09 - 06:47 AM

If I understood a little about bog standard music theory, Pip's post could have been very enlightening. As is my comprehension of his meaning is a bit foggy! Pity. However one of the things I'm finding myself doing a bit more, is slowing or speeding up depending on the events being portrayed. I think that unaccompanied song offers the opportunity to play around a bit with tempo and dynamic (probably the biggest music word I know), where being bound by music and instrumentation would make this trickier to do 'in the moment'. I'm only doing this with songs I learned several months ago, those songs where the characters are beginning to take on independent voices so to speak, and their words start to stand out in relief from the melody, at least so it feels when I'm singing them. I'm starting to enjoy the way dialogues between different characters can become animated as you slip in and out of their respective personas. And too, how as the proceedings develop and we become aware of the story's progression, it colours the shaping of tempo and dynamic. When I sing Death and the Lady for example, I've found myself singing the first verse quite brightly - she's walking out on a nice little morning and the pertinence of the figure we meet, is unknown to us at that point. By the last verse, the significance is fully understood, and I sing that same repeat first verse slower and with a more err funereal tone. Or something!
As I'm still on a bit of a learning curve with trad. songs, I'm watching with some interest as little details like that are starting to manifest unbidden with those songs I've come to know inside out.

In respect of elements like that, it is I believe the *song* all by itself which inspires the 'styling'.

Sinister, are you going to answer your own question...?


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 12 May 09 - 09:10 AM

Me? I'm still dreaming I'm Klaus Blazquiz fronting Magma in a blazing rendition of Kobaia...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1Xp8gXNljM

KOBAÏA Ïss De Hündin !!


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 12 May 09 - 09:44 AM

That's easy for you to say.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 12 May 09 - 10:41 AM

Try this:

Suibhne O'Piobaireachd - the mudcatter formerly known as Sinister Supporter, Insane Beard, etc etc... This is the one though, most definitely, for keeps, I promise, hand on heart & spitting on mother's grave etc.

This goes back to a letter I had published in the Folk Roots Jan/Feb double issue 1991 (though I think I was using the name before that) & derives from the Mad Bird King of ancient Irish literature (see HERE for the full text) and the classical music of the Highland Bagpipes, both of which had a profound influence on my personal sense of what the...? & who-ness. And style. Goes without say. The pronunciation is simply Sweeney O'Pibroch. So yes, easy for you to say!


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Joe Offer
Date: 12 May 09 - 01:41 PM

I guess I modeled myself on a composite of all the best camp counselors I've known, in 8 years of attending camps as a kid and maybe twenty years working at them. Over that span of years, I myself have become the Composite Camp Counselor.
My shtick doesn't always work for adults, but kids like me.

-Joe Offer, veteran of thousands of campfires-


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Art Thieme
Date: 12 May 09 - 03:23 PM

While learning to play and sing, I always did what I could as well as I could. At any given point on my time line, I was always limited by my own imposed abilities and limitations. As I progressed, and hopefully got better, I kept some riffs and aspects but discarded others. The things I kept became my own musical cliches---for lack of a better term.

The way I put those musical cliches of mine together, pretty much, defined my own personal style.

It's strange, I think, that when I would pull out a song to perform---a song that was a part of my musical past---I would regress a bit and do it the same way I had done it when I was younger. The arrangement I knew back when I began with the music was usually, still, the best way to approach the song. Of course, I could toss in more intricate picking -- things that I'd learned later on---but those had become my own cliches too.

AND to the extent that your style DIFFERS from the styles of your mentors, teachers, and influences, that will stand out to be acknowledged by them as your OWN personal style.

Sadly, inn this way, our critics can be said to define us!

How sad is that---given that you can take all the sincerity in show biz, and stuff it into a flea's navel, and still have room left over for 3 caraway seeds and a critic's heart!!!??? ;-)

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: GUEST,CupOfTea, no cookies
Date: 21 May 09 - 04:57 PM

I'm not a singer on the level of most folks here, and don't have audience feedback to say "oh, you sound like..." Mostly I know who I would LIKE to sound like, and attempt, in my feeble way to emulate. Cindy Mangsen has a delivery that sounds as easy as talking - that transparent putting across the song endears her voice to me so much.

Yet, other songs I've learned from the singing of other individuals leave a residual trace that even I can feel. A couple of my favorite songs come out with some Irish sounds, from endless listening to Brigid Malone of Gaping Maw, or Robbie O'Connell. Some come out with Brit around the edges if it's something I learned from John Roberts & Tony Barrand or Lou Killen...or....or... And so it goes...all over the map.

I suppose, for me, much of my delivery depends on what version of the song I've heard is my favored one, and stress and pronunciation come from that, as much as do lyric selection structure. I remember a slight criticism of some friends in a Come For To Sing review of an early recording of theirs that found the American voice doing a Scottish song with accent somewhat forced. It's a concept I struggle with, in singing things that only really rhyme or scan well with an accent I don't have in nature. I don't have the knack to mimic voices, which seems to be what is necessary for those singing in a broad (insert your accent here) that isn't their own. I know those who have it - Mike Mazur, a Cleveland Irish/Polish, mix can open his mouth and out comes the sound of Tom McCaffrey, an Irish fiddler and storyteller.

This lack of mimic ability and a gut-level reaction to singing a song that is manifestly from a very male viewpoint has kept me from even attempting to put some songs I dearly love into my repertoire. I think what divides me from those who are natural singers is that they DO find their OWN voice, usually fairly early (that lovely young lass from Indiana, ElizabethwhoselastnameImangle comes to mind).

Joanne in Cleveland


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Tootler
Date: 21 May 09 - 07:28 PM

Reading stories to my daughters when they were little.


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: mg
Date: 21 May 09 - 07:51 PM

I would encourage you to sing any songs you love, and don't certainly don't try to force an accent. There is nothing worse than a fake accent, except for the one in a million people who did it very well. But you don't have to rip all traces of it out either and rewrite the song. Just sing in your own voice. Of course you have your own voice..whatever comes out of your mouth is your own voice.

And if you like a song, then sing it. Doesn't matter if it is a male or not. But I beg you not to change the words to make it from a female perspective. Nothing wrecks a song faster..even fake accents..even rewriting it for more modern times...just leave it like it is if you like it and sing it. Enjoy it. They are hearing what the man is saying, not what you are saying. You are only like the record player in this situation...oops..Ipod or whatever. mg


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Subject: RE: Personal Style - Influence & Inspiration
From: Howard Jones
Date: 22 May 09 - 11:21 AM

I'm not sure I agree about not changing a song's gender. There are some songs which really have to be sung by the right sex, or changed appropriately.

One of my favourite songs is "Must I be Bound?" from the Shropshire singer May Bradley. It's emphatically a woman's song, about a physically abusive relationship, but I felt it was too good not to sing. However for man to sing it in its original form would just not work - it's too personal a song. However it took only minor changes to a few of the words - "gown" to "coat", "the blows he gave to me" to "the lies she told to me", to alter it to a man's perspective, albeit where the abuse is emotional rather than physical. I always introduce it by explaining what the original was about.

As with any changes to a song, it must be done sensitively and for good reason. But songs have always been updated, whether to reflect current events or to incorporate local placenames or people, and this is no different.

Returning to questions of style, if I learn a song from someone else's singing, especially off a recording, I find it almost impossible not to imitate their style. I usually find I have to put a song aside for a while and then come back to it to find my own voice.


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