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Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads

Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 21 Dec 09 - 03:18 PM
Gurney 21 Dec 09 - 03:56 PM
Ernest 21 Dec 09 - 04:33 PM
The Villan 21 Dec 09 - 04:43 PM
SINSULL 21 Dec 09 - 04:55 PM
EnglishFolkfan 21 Dec 09 - 05:00 PM
GUEST,EKanne 21 Dec 09 - 05:24 PM
olddude 21 Dec 09 - 05:32 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 21 Dec 09 - 05:40 PM
olddude 21 Dec 09 - 05:41 PM
olddude 21 Dec 09 - 05:57 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 21 Dec 09 - 06:03 PM
Spleen Cringe 21 Dec 09 - 06:05 PM
Matthew Edwards 21 Dec 09 - 06:25 PM
akenaton 21 Dec 09 - 06:32 PM
kendall 21 Dec 09 - 07:38 PM
GUEST,999 21 Dec 09 - 07:41 PM
olddude 21 Dec 09 - 08:01 PM
Leadfingers 21 Dec 09 - 08:40 PM
Maryrrf 21 Dec 09 - 09:19 PM
GUEST,EKanne 22 Dec 09 - 03:27 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 22 Dec 09 - 06:20 AM
matt milton 22 Dec 09 - 06:57 AM
matt milton 22 Dec 09 - 07:12 AM
Phil Edwards 22 Dec 09 - 07:26 AM
WalkaboutsVerse 22 Dec 09 - 09:57 AM
GUEST,The Folk E 22 Dec 09 - 11:29 AM
GUEST,EKanne 22 Dec 09 - 11:42 AM
Phil Edwards 22 Dec 09 - 11:48 AM
GUEST,leeneia 22 Dec 09 - 11:51 AM
Midchuck 22 Dec 09 - 11:55 AM
matt milton 22 Dec 09 - 11:55 AM
Folkiedave 22 Dec 09 - 12:08 PM
Maryrrf 22 Dec 09 - 12:10 PM
Valmai Goodyear 22 Dec 09 - 12:15 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 22 Dec 09 - 12:16 PM
WalkaboutsVerse 22 Dec 09 - 12:46 PM
Art Thieme 22 Dec 09 - 12:59 PM
DebC 22 Dec 09 - 01:05 PM
Art Thieme 22 Dec 09 - 01:10 PM
Brian Peters 22 Dec 09 - 01:13 PM
The Sandman 22 Dec 09 - 01:13 PM
DebC 22 Dec 09 - 01:34 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 01:39 PM
Joe Offer 22 Dec 09 - 01:47 PM
The Sandman 22 Dec 09 - 02:00 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 22 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM
GUEST,bankley 22 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 02:15 PM
GUEST,bankley 22 Dec 09 - 02:21 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 02:25 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 22 Dec 09 - 02:26 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 02:33 PM
WalkaboutsVerse 22 Dec 09 - 02:36 PM
kendall 22 Dec 09 - 02:38 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 22 Dec 09 - 02:48 PM
Jack Blandiver 22 Dec 09 - 02:57 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 03:00 PM
olddude 22 Dec 09 - 03:01 PM
Maryrrf 22 Dec 09 - 03:03 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Dec 09 - 03:06 PM
GUEST,EKanne 22 Dec 09 - 03:09 PM
GUEST,Russ 22 Dec 09 - 03:12 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 03:17 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 03:24 PM
GUEST,EKanne 22 Dec 09 - 03:25 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 03:32 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 03:36 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 03:36 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 03:55 PM
Aeola 22 Dec 09 - 03:59 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 04:12 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 04:14 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 04:18 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 04:26 PM
The Sandman 22 Dec 09 - 04:30 PM
Bill D 22 Dec 09 - 04:33 PM
Jack Blandiver 22 Dec 09 - 04:33 PM
Art Thieme 22 Dec 09 - 04:45 PM
Art Thieme 22 Dec 09 - 04:49 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Dec 09 - 04:56 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Dec 09 - 07:04 PM
Steve Gardham 22 Dec 09 - 07:22 PM
Howard Jones 23 Dec 09 - 11:45 AM
Jack Blandiver 24 Dec 09 - 02:58 AM
Jack Blandiver 24 Dec 09 - 03:55 AM
Howard Jones 24 Dec 09 - 08:56 AM
Paul Burke 24 Dec 09 - 09:35 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 24 Dec 09 - 09:49 AM
Maryrrf 24 Dec 09 - 09:52 AM
Willa 24 Dec 09 - 10:44 AM
mkebenn 24 Dec 09 - 12:53 PM
Maryrrf 24 Dec 09 - 02:14 PM
mkebenn 24 Dec 09 - 02:21 PM
GUEST,Ian Gill 24 Dec 09 - 02:30 PM
GUEST,The Folk E 24 Dec 09 - 02:34 PM
Don Firth 24 Dec 09 - 03:30 PM
Maryrrf 24 Dec 09 - 03:32 PM
mkebenn 24 Dec 09 - 03:36 PM
Don Firth 24 Dec 09 - 04:57 PM
Paul Davenport 25 Dec 09 - 12:21 PM
Bill D 25 Dec 09 - 01:35 PM
Richard Mellish 25 Dec 09 - 02:00 PM
MGM·Lion 25 Dec 09 - 02:12 PM
Bill D 25 Dec 09 - 02:31 PM
Aeola 25 Dec 09 - 02:53 PM
GUEST,EKanne 25 Dec 09 - 03:06 PM
MGM·Lion 25 Dec 09 - 04:08 PM
Richard Mellish 25 Dec 09 - 04:38 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 25 Dec 09 - 04:43 PM
GUEST,Colleen Cleveland 25 Dec 09 - 09:24 PM
Jim Carroll 26 Dec 09 - 08:41 AM
Paul Davenport 26 Dec 09 - 12:10 PM
Brian Peters 26 Dec 09 - 02:30 PM
Jim Carroll 26 Dec 09 - 02:30 PM
olddude 26 Dec 09 - 02:42 PM
olddude 26 Dec 09 - 02:46 PM
olddude 26 Dec 09 - 02:48 PM
DebC 26 Dec 09 - 03:03 PM
Richard Hardaker 26 Dec 09 - 03:21 PM
Don Firth 26 Dec 09 - 04:09 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 26 Dec 09 - 04:27 PM
GUEST,EKanne 26 Dec 09 - 05:20 PM
IvanB 26 Dec 09 - 05:29 PM
The Sandman 26 Dec 09 - 05:37 PM
MGM·Lion 26 Dec 09 - 05:43 PM
Bill D 26 Dec 09 - 07:49 PM
Brian Peters 26 Dec 09 - 08:28 PM
Jim Carroll 27 Dec 09 - 09:31 AM
Smedley 27 Dec 09 - 10:38 AM
Jim Carroll 27 Dec 09 - 02:35 PM
DebC 27 Dec 09 - 02:46 PM
Jon Bartlett 28 Dec 09 - 03:58 AM
Jim Carroll 28 Dec 09 - 04:35 AM
MGM·Lion 28 Dec 09 - 04:46 AM
Jack Blandiver 28 Dec 09 - 05:31 AM
Phil Edwards 28 Dec 09 - 07:22 AM
Bill D 28 Dec 09 - 11:10 AM
Smedley 28 Dec 09 - 11:16 AM
jennyr 28 Dec 09 - 04:27 PM
jennyr 28 Dec 09 - 04:37 PM
dick greenhaus 28 Dec 09 - 05:46 PM
Gurney 28 Dec 09 - 11:36 PM
Jim Carroll 29 Dec 09 - 04:09 AM
Brian Peters 29 Dec 09 - 07:13 AM
Smedley 29 Dec 09 - 07:39 AM
Maryrrf 29 Dec 09 - 10:37 AM
Brian Peters 29 Dec 09 - 02:59 PM
GUEST, Poxicat 29 Dec 09 - 06:25 PM
Maryrrf 29 Dec 09 - 09:37 PM
Gurney 29 Dec 09 - 10:46 PM
Jim Carroll 30 Dec 09 - 04:34 AM
Phil Edwards 30 Dec 09 - 04:34 AM
MGM·Lion 30 Dec 09 - 04:53 AM
Jack Blandiver 30 Dec 09 - 05:12 AM
MGM·Lion 30 Dec 09 - 05:21 AM
DMcG 30 Dec 09 - 05:26 AM
MGM·Lion 30 Dec 09 - 05:48 AM
Jim Carroll 30 Dec 09 - 06:01 AM
DMcG 30 Dec 09 - 06:28 AM
Jack Blandiver 30 Dec 09 - 06:29 AM
Brian Peters 30 Dec 09 - 06:51 AM
MikeL2 30 Dec 09 - 07:11 AM
Diva 30 Dec 09 - 09:01 AM
Jim Carroll 30 Dec 09 - 09:59 AM
Maryrrf 30 Dec 09 - 10:33 AM
Don Firth 30 Dec 09 - 01:22 PM
Gurney 30 Dec 09 - 03:00 PM
Richard Mellish 30 Dec 09 - 04:52 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 30 Dec 09 - 06:20 PM
Jack Blandiver 30 Dec 09 - 06:35 PM
The Sandman 30 Dec 09 - 07:02 PM
MGM·Lion 30 Dec 09 - 09:43 PM
MGM·Lion 30 Dec 09 - 09:54 PM
Gurney 30 Dec 09 - 10:58 PM
Jack Blandiver 31 Dec 09 - 03:52 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 31 Dec 09 - 04:08 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 31 Dec 09 - 04:19 AM
Jim Carroll 31 Dec 09 - 04:31 AM
Smedley 31 Dec 09 - 04:48 AM
Jim Carroll 31 Dec 09 - 05:07 AM
GUEST,PaulS 31 Dec 09 - 05:19 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 31 Dec 09 - 05:58 AM
The Sandman 31 Dec 09 - 07:06 AM
The Sandman 31 Dec 09 - 08:01 AM
Matt Seattle 31 Dec 09 - 08:33 AM
Phil Edwards 31 Dec 09 - 09:14 AM
MGM·Lion 31 Dec 09 - 09:16 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 31 Dec 09 - 09:20 AM
Paul Burke 31 Dec 09 - 09:33 AM
The Sandman 31 Dec 09 - 09:45 AM
Maryrrf 31 Dec 09 - 09:49 AM
MGM·Lion 31 Dec 09 - 10:04 AM
Willa 31 Dec 09 - 10:22 AM
Charlie Baum 31 Dec 09 - 10:34 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 31 Dec 09 - 10:55 AM
Smedley 31 Dec 09 - 12:36 PM
Gurney 31 Dec 09 - 01:10 PM
GUEST,Bardan 31 Dec 09 - 01:45 PM
Jim Carroll 31 Dec 09 - 01:46 PM
GUEST,Bardan 31 Dec 09 - 01:47 PM
GUEST,EKanne 31 Dec 09 - 03:08 PM
The Sandman 31 Dec 09 - 04:04 PM
Maryrrf 31 Dec 09 - 06:21 PM
Maryrrf 31 Dec 09 - 07:03 PM
Maryrrf 31 Dec 09 - 07:13 PM
Richard Mellish 31 Dec 09 - 07:30 PM
Rumncoke 31 Dec 09 - 08:54 PM
MGM·Lion 31 Dec 09 - 10:23 PM
MGM·Lion 01 Jan 10 - 06:38 AM
The Sandman 01 Jan 10 - 07:10 AM
English Jon 01 Jan 10 - 07:30 AM
Mary Humphreys 01 Jan 10 - 08:19 AM
Maryrrf 01 Jan 10 - 10:43 AM
GUEST 01 Jan 10 - 11:16 AM
GUEST,Richard Mellish 01 Jan 10 - 11:22 AM
Richard Mellish 01 Jan 10 - 11:25 AM
GUEST,Bardan 01 Jan 10 - 11:37 AM
Phil Edwards 01 Jan 10 - 01:00 PM
Maryrrf 01 Jan 10 - 01:10 PM
The Sandman 01 Jan 10 - 03:24 PM
Jim Carroll 02 Jan 10 - 06:53 AM
GUEST,EKanne 02 Jan 10 - 08:57 AM
Diva 02 Jan 10 - 10:04 AM
Brian Peters 02 Jan 10 - 02:30 PM
Jim Carroll 02 Jan 10 - 03:11 PM
Richard Hardaker 02 Jan 10 - 03:18 PM
MGM·Lion 02 Jan 10 - 03:25 PM
Goose Gander 02 Jan 10 - 03:35 PM
Jim Carroll 02 Jan 10 - 04:04 PM
jennyr 02 Jan 10 - 04:21 PM
Richard Mellish 02 Jan 10 - 06:56 PM
Phil Edwards 03 Jan 10 - 10:31 AM
Jim Carroll 03 Jan 10 - 12:10 PM
GUEST,EKanne 03 Jan 10 - 12:13 PM
Brian Peters 03 Jan 10 - 12:14 PM
The Sandman 03 Jan 10 - 12:35 PM
The Sandman 03 Jan 10 - 12:44 PM
Charlie Baum 03 Jan 10 - 12:57 PM
Smedley 03 Jan 10 - 01:12 PM
Jim Carroll 03 Jan 10 - 03:40 PM
MGM·Lion 03 Jan 10 - 03:53 PM
GUEST,Gordeanna McCulloch 03 Jan 10 - 05:24 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Jan 10 - 05:35 PM
The Sandman 03 Jan 10 - 05:55 PM
Cuilionn 03 Jan 10 - 06:05 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Jan 10 - 06:25 PM
Phil Edwards 03 Jan 10 - 07:00 PM
Jim Carroll 03 Jan 10 - 07:48 PM
Jim Carroll 04 Jan 10 - 04:42 AM
Jim Carroll 04 Jan 10 - 04:46 AM
Diva 04 Jan 10 - 05:00 AM
Matt Seattle 04 Jan 10 - 06:13 AM
Jack Blandiver 04 Jan 10 - 06:59 AM
Jim Carroll 04 Jan 10 - 07:43 AM
Matt Seattle 04 Jan 10 - 08:05 AM
Phil Edwards 04 Jan 10 - 08:15 AM
GUEST,EKanne 04 Jan 10 - 08:40 AM
Jack Blandiver 04 Jan 10 - 09:08 AM
Jack Blandiver 04 Jan 10 - 09:21 AM
Jack Blandiver 04 Jan 10 - 09:36 AM
Jim Carroll 04 Jan 10 - 10:35 AM
Steve Gardham 04 Jan 10 - 01:59 PM
Jim Carroll 04 Jan 10 - 08:09 PM
The Sandman 05 Jan 10 - 08:41 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 05 Jan 10 - 10:03 AM
Jim Carroll 05 Jan 10 - 10:16 AM
MikeL2 05 Jan 10 - 10:56 AM
Goose Gander 05 Jan 10 - 11:14 AM
The Sandman 05 Jan 10 - 12:30 PM
Sheena Wellington 05 Jan 10 - 02:11 PM
Jim Carroll 05 Jan 10 - 02:35 PM
Jack Blandiver 05 Jan 10 - 02:54 PM
Steve Gardham 05 Jan 10 - 03:19 PM
Cuilionn 05 Jan 10 - 03:34 PM
Jim Carroll 05 Jan 10 - 08:20 PM
Jim Carroll 05 Jan 10 - 08:30 PM
MGM·Lion 06 Jan 10 - 01:17 AM
jennyr 06 Jan 10 - 04:13 AM
Jim Carroll 06 Jan 10 - 05:05 AM
MGM·Lion 06 Jan 10 - 05:24 AM
GUEST,EKanne 06 Jan 10 - 06:11 AM
Brian Peters 06 Jan 10 - 06:23 AM
Jack Blandiver 06 Jan 10 - 07:21 AM
Smedley 06 Jan 10 - 07:53 AM
Jim Carroll 06 Jan 10 - 08:45 AM
The Sandman 06 Jan 10 - 09:13 AM
Mary Humphreys 06 Jan 10 - 09:14 AM
Valmai Goodyear 06 Jan 10 - 01:07 PM
Don Firth 06 Jan 10 - 01:43 PM
Steve Gardham 06 Jan 10 - 01:59 PM
Jim Carroll 06 Jan 10 - 03:08 PM
Steve Gardham 06 Jan 10 - 03:29 PM
Jim Carroll 06 Jan 10 - 03:47 PM
Goose Gander 06 Jan 10 - 04:31 PM
Steve Gardham 06 Jan 10 - 04:58 PM
Goose Gander 06 Jan 10 - 05:07 PM
Richard Mellish 06 Jan 10 - 05:18 PM
The Sandman 06 Jan 10 - 05:22 PM
Steve Gardham 06 Jan 10 - 05:31 PM
Jim Carroll 06 Jan 10 - 08:06 PM
Matt Seattle 07 Jan 10 - 06:27 AM
Sheena Wellington 07 Jan 10 - 06:53 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 07 Jan 10 - 07:51 AM
GUEST,Crow si 07 Jan 10 - 08:24 AM
Jim Carroll 07 Jan 10 - 08:51 AM
Steve Gardham 07 Jan 10 - 11:03 AM
Matthew Edwards 07 Jan 10 - 04:16 PM
Spleen Cringe 07 Jan 10 - 06:48 PM
sharyn 08 Jan 10 - 12:59 AM
GUEST,EKanne 08 Jan 10 - 07:18 PM
Jim Carroll 08 Jan 10 - 08:21 PM
Maryrrf 09 Jan 10 - 10:44 PM
Goose Gander 09 Jan 10 - 11:21 PM
Don Firth 10 Jan 10 - 12:12 AM
Maryrrf 10 Jan 10 - 09:03 AM
Jim Carroll 10 Jan 10 - 07:31 PM
GUEST,EKanne 11 Jan 10 - 11:42 AM
Jack Blandiver 11 Jan 10 - 12:17 PM
Jim Carroll 11 Jan 10 - 12:55 PM
MGM·Lion 11 Jan 10 - 01:10 PM
Jack Blandiver 11 Jan 10 - 02:20 PM
MGM·Lion 11 Jan 10 - 02:36 PM
Matt Seattle 11 Jan 10 - 02:43 PM
Brian Peters 12 Jan 10 - 03:26 AM
GUEST,EKanne 12 Jan 10 - 06:19 AM
Jack Blandiver 12 Jan 10 - 06:49 AM
Brian Peters 12 Jan 10 - 06:51 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Jan 10 - 07:07 AM
Jack Blandiver 12 Jan 10 - 08:41 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Jan 10 - 08:58 AM
Diva 12 Jan 10 - 09:21 AM
Jack Blandiver 12 Jan 10 - 09:41 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Jan 10 - 10:47 AM
Maryrrf 12 Jan 10 - 11:47 AM
MGM·Lion 12 Jan 10 - 12:02 PM
Lonesome EJ 12 Jan 10 - 12:43 PM
Don Firth 12 Jan 10 - 01:45 PM
Maryrrf 12 Jan 10 - 02:04 PM
MGM·Lion 12 Jan 10 - 02:50 PM
Maryrrf 12 Jan 10 - 02:54 PM
MGM·Lion 12 Jan 10 - 02:57 PM
The Sandman 12 Jan 10 - 03:13 PM
Maryrrf 12 Jan 10 - 04:13 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Jan 10 - 07:39 PM
The Sandman 13 Jan 10 - 08:28 AM
Jack Blandiver 13 Jan 10 - 10:07 AM
The Sandman 13 Jan 10 - 10:11 AM
Jim Carroll 13 Jan 10 - 10:23 AM
Maryrrf 13 Jan 10 - 12:09 PM
The Sandman 13 Jan 10 - 04:14 PM
GUEST,EKanne 13 Jan 10 - 06:40 PM
Maryrrf 13 Jan 10 - 07:53 PM
Jim Carroll 14 Jan 10 - 06:32 AM
The Sandman 14 Jan 10 - 08:46 AM
Jim Carroll 14 Jan 10 - 01:11 PM
GUEST,EKanne 14 Jan 10 - 03:11 PM
Jim Carroll 14 Jan 10 - 08:24 PM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 10 - 12:07 AM
GUEST,EKanne 15 Jan 10 - 06:08 AM
Brian Peters 15 Jan 10 - 06:15 AM
Mary Humphreys 15 Jan 10 - 06:20 AM
The Sandman 15 Jan 10 - 07:51 AM
Mary Humphreys 15 Jan 10 - 07:57 AM
The Sandman 15 Jan 10 - 08:23 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Jan 10 - 08:32 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Jan 10 - 08:42 AM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 10 - 08:45 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Jan 10 - 09:11 AM
The Sandman 15 Jan 10 - 09:57 AM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 10 - 10:09 AM
Valmai Goodyear 15 Jan 10 - 10:34 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Jan 10 - 12:07 PM
The Sandman 15 Jan 10 - 12:12 PM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 10 - 12:18 PM
Jim Carroll 15 Jan 10 - 12:40 PM
Jim Carroll 15 Jan 10 - 12:41 PM
The Sandman 15 Jan 10 - 01:59 PM
MGM·Lion 15 Jan 10 - 02:04 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 15 Jan 10 - 03:15 PM
Jim Carroll 15 Jan 10 - 03:58 PM
Steve Gardham 15 Jan 10 - 04:50 PM
Phil Edwards 15 Jan 10 - 05:54 PM
Phil Edwards 15 Jan 10 - 05:57 PM
Bill D 15 Jan 10 - 07:02 PM
Bill D 15 Jan 10 - 07:16 PM
Bill D 15 Jan 10 - 07:29 PM
Bill D 15 Jan 10 - 07:35 PM
GUEST,EKanne 16 Jan 10 - 03:35 AM
Phil Edwards 16 Jan 10 - 05:13 AM
MGM·Lion 16 Jan 10 - 06:07 AM
Jim Carroll 16 Jan 10 - 06:52 AM
The Sandman 16 Jan 10 - 09:24 AM
Maryrrf 16 Jan 10 - 10:14 AM
Bill D 16 Jan 10 - 11:40 AM
The Sandman 16 Jan 10 - 11:49 AM
The Sandman 16 Jan 10 - 12:43 PM
Bill D 16 Jan 10 - 12:53 PM
The Sandman 16 Jan 10 - 12:57 PM
Bill D 16 Jan 10 - 01:01 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 16 Jan 10 - 04:48 PM
The Sandman 16 Jan 10 - 05:17 PM
Maryrrf 16 Jan 10 - 06:44 PM
Jack Blandiver 16 Jan 10 - 07:10 PM
Bill D 16 Jan 10 - 07:12 PM
Maryrrf 16 Jan 10 - 07:26 PM
Jack Blandiver 17 Jan 10 - 04:22 AM
Valmai Goodyear 17 Jan 10 - 05:13 AM
Matt Seattle 17 Jan 10 - 09:29 AM
MGM·Lion 17 Jan 10 - 10:11 AM
Bill D 17 Jan 10 - 10:45 AM
Brian Peters 17 Jan 10 - 11:41 AM
MGM·Lion 17 Jan 10 - 11:53 AM
Charlie Baum 17 Jan 10 - 01:11 PM
The Sandman 17 Jan 10 - 01:29 PM
GUEST,EKanne 17 Jan 10 - 04:20 PM
meself 17 Jan 10 - 05:25 PM
meself 18 Jan 10 - 01:13 AM
Jack Blandiver 18 Jan 10 - 04:02 AM
Jack Blandiver 18 Jan 10 - 04:27 AM
The Sandman 18 Jan 10 - 07:56 AM
GUEST,Crow Sister (flying vist) 18 Jan 10 - 09:25 AM
GUEST,Peter Laban 18 Jan 10 - 09:44 AM
MGM·Lion 18 Jan 10 - 09:54 AM
Diva 18 Jan 10 - 09:58 AM
Jack Blandiver 18 Jan 10 - 10:26 AM
GUEST,CS 18 Jan 10 - 11:16 AM
The Sandman 18 Jan 10 - 04:50 PM
Jim Carroll 18 Jan 10 - 07:53 PM
GUEST,Crowsis' 19 Jan 10 - 03:44 AM
Phil Edwards 19 Jan 10 - 04:57 AM
Brian Peters 19 Jan 10 - 09:44 AM
The Sandman 19 Jan 10 - 01:05 PM
MGM·Lion 19 Jan 10 - 01:34 PM
The Sandman 19 Jan 10 - 02:07 PM
GUEST,EKanne 19 Jan 10 - 03:22 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Jan 10 - 04:15 PM
GUEST,EKanne 19 Jan 10 - 05:35 PM
Brian Peters 21 Jan 10 - 04:59 AM
MGM·Lion 21 Jan 10 - 05:04 AM
GUEST,EKanne 21 Jan 10 - 05:23 AM
The Sandman 21 Jan 10 - 05:31 AM
GUEST,Drumshanty 21 Jan 10 - 08:06 AM
Phil Edwards 21 Jan 10 - 09:58 AM
Maryrrf 21 Jan 10 - 10:03 AM
GUEST,EKanne 21 Jan 10 - 10:46 AM
The Sandman 21 Jan 10 - 10:56 AM
Charlie Baum 21 Jan 10 - 11:47 AM
Jim Carroll 21 Jan 10 - 02:24 PM
Phil Edwards 21 Jan 10 - 03:08 PM
The Sandman 21 Jan 10 - 03:49 PM
zozimus 21 Jan 10 - 03:58 PM
TheSnail 21 Jan 10 - 04:00 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Jan 10 - 04:30 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 22 Jan 10 - 05:05 AM
MGM·Lion 22 Jan 10 - 05:07 AM
Matt Seattle 22 Jan 10 - 06:18 AM
Jim Carroll 22 Jan 10 - 06:19 AM
Brian Peters 22 Jan 10 - 07:25 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 22 Jan 10 - 08:05 AM
Sailor Ron 22 Jan 10 - 08:38 AM
Valmai Goodyear 22 Jan 10 - 08:50 AM
Jim Carroll 22 Jan 10 - 09:42 AM
GUEST,Drumshanty 22 Jan 10 - 11:08 AM
Phil Edwards 22 Jan 10 - 02:12 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Jan 10 - 02:18 PM
MGM·Lion 22 Jan 10 - 03:58 PM
Jim Carroll 23 Jan 10 - 04:32 AM
TheSnail 24 Jan 10 - 07:27 AM
The Sandman 24 Jan 10 - 07:53 AM
Jim Carroll 24 Jan 10 - 08:02 AM
Jim Carroll 24 Jan 10 - 08:36 AM
GUEST,EKanne 24 Jan 10 - 01:21 PM
Jim Carroll 24 Jan 10 - 07:47 PM
TheSnail 25 Jan 10 - 02:41 PM
GUEST 25 Jan 10 - 02:45 PM
Jim Carroll 25 Jan 10 - 08:23 PM
Mary Humphreys 26 Jan 10 - 06:36 PM
GUEST,EKanne 28 Jan 10 - 12:38 PM
Matt Seattle 28 Jan 10 - 01:12 PM
GUEST,Diva 28 Jan 10 - 02:36 PM
GUEST,EKanne 28 Jan 10 - 03:20 PM
Richard Hardaker 29 Jan 10 - 04:15 PM
GUEST,EKanne 30 Jan 10 - 04:52 AM
MGM·Lion 30 Jan 10 - 06:48 AM
Maryrrf 30 Jan 10 - 11:26 AM
Matt Seattle 30 Jan 10 - 12:32 PM
Brian Peters 30 Jan 10 - 01:41 PM
GUEST,EKanne 30 Jan 10 - 02:15 PM
MGM·Lion 30 Jan 10 - 02:24 PM
GUEST,EKanne 31 Jan 10 - 04:48 PM
Valmai Goodyear 01 Feb 10 - 02:43 AM
GUEST,EKanne 01 Feb 10 - 03:55 AM
Valmai Goodyear 01 Feb 10 - 04:50 AM
GUEST,EKanne 01 Feb 10 - 06:13 AM
Valmai Goodyear 02 Feb 10 - 04:46 AM
Jack Campin 12 Feb 10 - 08:49 PM
GUEST 13 Feb 10 - 04:55 AM
Willa 13 Feb 10 - 09:11 AM
Paul Davenport 13 Feb 10 - 11:21 AM
The Sandman 13 Feb 10 - 12:51 PM
Steve Gardham 13 Feb 10 - 01:24 PM
Maryrrf 13 Feb 10 - 06:53 PM
MGM·Lion 13 Feb 10 - 10:46 PM
Anne Neilson 14 Feb 10 - 04:36 AM
MGM·Lion 14 Feb 10 - 05:53 AM
Richard Mellish 14 Feb 10 - 06:41 AM
Paul Davenport 14 Feb 10 - 12:12 PM
Jim Carroll 14 Feb 10 - 12:32 PM
Anne Neilson 14 Feb 10 - 01:10 PM
dick greenhaus 14 Feb 10 - 01:33 PM
Paul Davenport 14 Feb 10 - 04:08 PM
Richard Mellish 14 Feb 10 - 06:55 PM
Anne Neilson 15 Feb 10 - 06:07 AM
Smedley 15 Feb 10 - 07:00 AM
randjgc 15 Feb 10 - 07:30 AM
Anne Neilson 15 Feb 10 - 03:41 PM
jennyr 18 Feb 10 - 03:34 PM
Anne Neilson 18 Feb 10 - 07:52 PM
Maryrrf 19 Feb 10 - 11:25 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Feb 10 - 11:38 AM
Anne Neilson 19 Feb 10 - 11:53 AM
Maryrrf 19 Feb 10 - 12:07 PM
GUEST,daniel robbins 18 Mar 10 - 07:26 PM
Tootler 18 Mar 10 - 08:01 PM
Anne Neilson 18 Mar 10 - 08:20 PM
Lighter 18 Mar 10 - 08:35 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 04:44 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Mar 10 - 05:12 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 05:20 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 05:23 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Mar 10 - 05:57 AM
Richard Bridge 19 Mar 10 - 06:06 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 06:33 AM
Lighter 19 Mar 10 - 12:12 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 12:38 PM
Howard Jones 19 Mar 10 - 02:49 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 19 Mar 10 - 03:02 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Mar 10 - 03:54 PM
GUEST,FairEllender 17 Jun 10 - 07:18 AM
Tannywheeler 17 Jun 10 - 09:38 AM
Jim Carroll 17 Jun 10 - 09:57 AM
Anne Neilson 17 Jun 10 - 12:24 PM
Brian Peters 17 Jun 10 - 12:54 PM
The Sandman 17 Jun 10 - 12:54 PM
Jim Carroll 17 Jun 10 - 03:00 PM
The Sandman 17 Jun 10 - 03:18 PM
GUEST,Fair Ellender 23 Jun 10 - 12:32 PM
Anne Neilson 23 Jun 10 - 02:44 PM
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Subject: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 03:18 PM

Mudcat's looking a bit tired.


So, how do you as a singer or musician 'tackle' those classic big long ballads?

I'm *just* starting to cut my teeth on these beasties and they are tough work - not merely fore memorising unending verses, but more for capturing the essence of the tale...

Phew, anyone can sing a pretty little ditty, but these are hard-core!

Ballad anecdotes welcomed! (though no doubt someone will tell me off for not searching out some dessicated thread dead for ten years)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Gurney
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 03:56 PM

Been there, done that, bored the pants off the audience.

Were I you, I'd only sing them to the like-minded.

Wonder if they were EVER intended for an audience, except to display erudition.

Just my opinion, from the back. You go ahead, if it rattles your perch. ;-)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Ernest
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 04:33 PM

Not being much of a singer ( rarely sing in public at all) I stick to shorter stuff...

Gurney: guess they were intended for loong winter nights in days before radio and tv... just like equally long novels. Nothing for todays people with the attention span of a MTV-clip - should`ve been Youtube-clip now I guess -


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: The Villan
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 04:43 PM

It was to help everybody nod off in them days.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: SINSULL
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 04:55 PM

A veteran attendee of the Getaway performed an interminably long ballad at one Saturday concert. He had it printed and rolled up scroll style and unrolled it as he sang.
Someone went up front, lit a match and touched off the unrolled edge of the scroll.
End of ballad.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: EnglishFolkfan
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:00 PM

Norma Waterson explains all about the importance of storytelling here and the successful singing style required. She sings examples with Martin Carthy accompanying on a couple:

Norma Waterson: English Traditional Song:
An item split into ten videos
Free download from iTunes Open University

http://bit.ly/4TF44P


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:24 PM

Crow Sister,
Always pleased to learn of someone wanting to sing ballads!
I believe in the power of these story songs and have been singing them for more years than I'd care to mention -- and I'm about to lead a series of 3 ballad workshops in Glasgow (Scotland) in January with Gordeanna McCulloch, because we know that there are people who want to find a way to approach the Muckle Sangs (big ballads).
We've done this frequently, and our advice is always the same -- know and understand the text and the background; find the tune you like and learn it in a very basic format (without words in the first instance); begin to fit the text to the tune, and make alterations if necessary in order to avoid 'clunkiness'; find alternative verses if you're not happy with the flow of the narrative; think of the narrative as a film with scenes, and look for useful linking words to move on to the next part of the plot eg 'but', 'so', 'then', 'and' etc.
These were important songs for people, and I remember an occasion (c.1961) when I was at my English teacher Norman Buchan's house in Glasgow. (Norman was the author of "101 Scottish Songs"; and "The Scottish Folksinger", which he co-edited with Peter Hall.) The guest was the famous Aberdeenshire ballad singer, Jeannie Robertson, and she started off on 'Matty Groves'. Anyway, she got almost to the end of the story - where the husband bursts in and challenges Matty, offering him a sword because he has none. At that point she stopped and looked round the room until she spotted Norman standing at the door - whereupon she said, "Well, ye see, Norman, he wis aye a fair man.". She then picked up the story and finished the song!
Don't know if this helps, but it pleases me to remember it.

Anne Neilson.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: olddude
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:32 PM

Honestly I don't, anymore 3 verses and that is it. No matter how great the song is people just don't want to hear it (my observation). I think they are just too use to the "hook" in a song. Unless it is being done in front of people who really appreciate folk music even a great singer (I am not) will not hold them. I seen it too many times lately with others doing things like where have all the flowers gone or even Puff


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:40 PM

I recall a memorable occasion at a folk festival I ran many years ago. It was an early afternoon workshop on a Saturday, and a performer I had booked with some trepidation did a couple of long, long ballads. Several people in the audience literally fell asleep.
I felt like tip toeing out of the room. It seemed rude to awaken them from such a long nap. The performer seemed quite oblivious to the whole thing. He was mesmerized by the stories in the songs and sang them with reverence.

I could understand if this happened late in an evening set, but this was a bright, sunny day at one in the afternoon. It is a rare singer who can pull off a long ballad, even singing for an audience who has come with the desire to hear folk music. I don't know whether long historical ballads work better if you give a lengthy introduction recounting the history of the event before you sing the song.

Ballads work best in a pre-anounced ballad workshop,NOT on a full stomach in a warm room. :-)

That's too bad, because some of them are quit marvelous.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: olddude
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:41 PM

Funny thing, I did one of Harry's songs "Any old Kinda Day" for Harry. Got it posted on soundclick. When I performed it last friday a thirty something said ... "wow what a beautiful song but it is really long"   it has 3 verses!! However, no real catchy hook they are all use to anymore ... insane isn't it


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: olddude
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 05:57 PM

Here is an idea for what it is worth that I been doing. Record the songs that you really like, the long ballads on the net like myspace or one of the others. What I been doing when performing it tell them where they can listen to the songs and other songs. Then if people ask me on a long ballad I will do it the next time I perform out ... People been asking for Blue Mountain and I drag that one out pretty long but they like it ... helps me figure out what ones if any I should do by looking at the downloads I get and the repeat listens ... Just a thought


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 06:03 PM

If singing a long ballad is an academic exercise to you, it's going to sound that way to an audience and you're going to lose them. If it's something about which you're genuinely passionate, that passion might translate into audience interest. Or it might not. Audiences is funny creatures.

One thing for sure though; unless you're a household name or are on a first name basis with every member of your audience, don't start out with a long ballad. Toss a few easily digested songs out to warm the audience up first. Then, if you haven't yet been booed off stage, try the ballad. If you try a long ballad early in a set and it doesn't go over well, you'll never get the audience back.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 06:05 PM

Crowsis - you should speak to Shimrod. I'll point this thread out to the man who denies being him. He's a pretty compelling ballad singer - one of the first times I heard him sing he did a mesmerising "Tamlyn".

Maybe because I listen to a lot of modernish jazz and indian classical music and proggy stuff, the idea of a 7 or 8 minute song doesn't freak me out in the way it probably should...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Matthew Edwards
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 06:25 PM

Don't treat the ballads with undue reverence; they were created to entertain people in the first place, not as academic papers. They include plenty of comic and bawdy songs which an audience can enjoy and join in. If your audience can't listen to anything longer than three verses, then, with respect, you need to change your audience rather than change your material.

I've been more bored by people who sing uninteresting short songs than by any ballad singer.

Matthew


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: akenaton
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 06:32 PM

Hi Anne Good tae hear fae ye....long time no see,
Ye us'tae come doon Loch Fyneside chantin' wi' big Adam, Kevin an' aw that lot....great days, so they wur!

Ah'm gonnae head up tae the Universal on the 25th Jan tae hear Gordeanna, Alistair Hulett an' Ewan McVicar. Gordeanna's a wee stottir an' ah huvnae heard her in the flesh fur aboot thirty years so ahm lookin' furrit tae that.

While ahm at it...thanks fur aw yer work keepin' Matts name an' music alive...yer a wee star....Ake


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: kendall
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 07:38 PM

My problem with 30 verse ballads is simply that there is way too much stuff that really doesn't do much for the story.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 07:41 PM

Had a friend who put "TRotAM" to music. It took about 45 minutes to do. I could and did listen once. Not twice.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: olddude
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 08:01 PM

Matthew "change your audience"
OH if only I could, like to see more 40 and up that would be perfect but stuck with 20's and 30's at the cafe they like the music, keep asking me back but they do have a short attention span ..


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 08:40 PM

Look out for ballads (There are a LOT) that have a refrain (and NO it doesnt mean DONT) which will give the audience something to do other than just sit there , and usually opportunity to Harmonise too .


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Maryrrf
Date: 21 Dec 09 - 09:19 PM

Well I sing ballads all the time, and a lot depends on the audience and the venue. It has to be a quiet room, so people can follow the storyline, and I always give a lot of background and sketch out the plot if I think my listeners might not be familiar with the song. It helps to keep eye contact with the audience - don't close your eyes and go off into your own little world. You have to remember you are telling a story. Pacing, timing, emphasis (keep it subtle - you don't want to sound like Barbra Streisand)are all important, and focus on communicating with the listeners. Project your voice and enunciate clearly - you don't want the audience to have to struggle to understand you so they can follow the plot. The storyline helps me to remember the verses, and I usually borrow from different versions to put my own spin on the ballad.

Most importantly, listen to the great ballad singers like Jeannie Robertson, Duncan Williamson, Sheena Wellington, Geordanna McCulloch, and Anne Neilson, who posted above. I took Anne and Geordanna's workshop several years ago in Glasgow and it was wonderful and inspiring. The most important thing I think, is to love the ballad, and make sure that comes through to the audience.

I'm doing a ballad concert next month, and am really looking forward to it!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:27 AM

Thanks for the kind words, Maryff - and for the good sense of the rest of your post. If you've ever been in the company of Sheila Stewart when she's singing ballads, you'll have heard her speak of the importance of what she calls the 'conyeach' - singing the song from the heart with respect.
An earlier post reminded me of a singer's relationship with the audience, when the appropriateness of singing ballads in a coffee shop was mentioned. I admire a singer who is attentive to an audience's needs - but who also manages to surprise them into liking something new. And that's where the pacier narrative ballads (possibly cheeky and probably with a refrain) come into their own; songs like 'The Keach in the Creel', 'The Sweet Kumadee' etc.
But isn't it just marvellous that there are still people who want to sing and/or listen to these great stories, creating the pictures in their own imaginations and without the benefit of computer-assisted graphics!
Finally, Akenaton, you might want to check Gordeanna's appearance on 25th January -- I think there's been a mix-up -- and it's a long way to travel...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 06:20 AM

My thanks for all the responses thus far - & that's great OU link there EnglishFolkFan!

I'll come back to this thread laters.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: matt milton
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 06:57 AM

I know this is heresy, and that I'll probably get a lot of stick for this, but I don't actually *like* those big, long, classic ballads.

I prefer folk songs that are anecdotal. I don't like "story songs" so much as little vignettes. Those big long ballads tend to have less ambiguity - they are more prosaic and narrative based. (When I say less ambiguity, I mean they have less ambiguity of language - less "poetry" in them. They do, of course, have plenty of other types of ambiguity ? moral ambiguity etc).

Whereas I prefer songs that are perhaps even inconsequential. I like nonsense songs; I like all those hotchpotch, Frankensteinian folksongs that verge on nonsense that are so prevalent in the US tradition (much less to in the UK tradition) where the verses bear little if any relation to each other (eg Cumberland Gap, Old Joe Clark, Boil that Cabbage Down).

Or alternatively, British songs that are models of poetic concision, such as '6 Dukes went a Fishing' or 'the Grey Cock'.

I tend to want to take verses out of songs, and I generally do. Then again, I've been an editor for 10 years now; it's engrained.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: matt milton
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 07:12 AM

That said, there's a great "Little Musgrave" on this year's James Yorkston album "Folk Songs". You can hear it on Spotify. I think that's a good 8 minutes long, possibly more.

It won't be to everyone's taste but IMHO it's the most interesting version of this song (Matty Groves) I've heard. It works because it's so slow and lachrymose; a bit like a Racine tragedy, it actually needs to be slightly boring to achieve its power; by the end it's truly epic and moving, despite the fact that it stays in the same deadpan, subdued register throughout.

If you can nail that mesmeric, trance-like quality, then you're there.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 07:26 AM

Well, I love 'em. I don't find they drag, either (unless they're being sung in a funereal largo, or the singer wants to show off his guitar fills between every verse). There's always something going on in a ballad. I've heard Tam Lin, Musgrave, Lord Bateman, Geordie and Young Hunting sung superbly, and done Musgrave, Patrick Spens, Sheath & Knife, Hughie the Graeme and the Outlandish Knight myself. I sang the last three with a refrain, which worked well, but a relentless belt through the verses can work, too.

Closed eyes aren't necessarily a bad thing, I think (depending on how warm the room is!) Obviously nobody wants their audience to fall asleep, but I think a mesmeric effect is part of what you're going for, particularly with the really long ones (Musgrave, Bateman, Tam Lin, Young Hunting et al). The first time I heard Nic Jones's recording of Bateman, I felt as if it had gone on for several hours - in a good way, I hasten to add.

But CS - if you're having trouble memorising the material, don't do it! I think you should only work at a song when you've lived with it for several weeks (walking the dog, hanging the washing out, whatever), just to fix the last couple of bits that still keep going wrong. Even then, ideally you and the song should have another couple of weeks together before you launch it on anyone else. Songs change in the singing - I often think I've got a song down & then find it's decided to go a slightly different way.

I'll point this thread out to the man who denies being him.

I'm not Shimrod! (I've never sung Tam Lin, on the other hand.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 09:57 AM

To this interesting thread, I can only add that, in "Young Emma," e.g., I use different timbres for the different characters.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,The Folk E
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:29 AM

Reading the words to these long ballads is amateurish. At times, performing them is self serving.

People like to hear a song, then another one, then another one, etc. Mixing a set can be more art than braying a long boring song.

I'll stick with:

Verse, chorus
break
Verse, chorus, refrain

and my next number for you to enjoy is.....................


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:42 AM

Two recent posts have described a desired ballad style as mesmeric, possibly boring and subdued, I'm not entirely sure I understand what this would sound like, but I definitely feel that there has to be some inherent tension - to carry a long narrative like Matty Groves through all its twists and turns, or to delay the inevitable tragedy of one of the repetitive ballads like Lizzy Wan.
And I entirely agree with Pip Radish about taking time to get the song to performance level, though she's obviously a faster study than me because it took me over twenty years before I felt I had Lord Randall where I wanted it!
Just to divert a little - who are the people who are currently singing ballads? Predominantly male? Predominantly female? Even mixture of both? (In past ballad workshops we've done, it's frequently 90% female.)
I'm loving this thread!!!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:48 AM

Wholly male, in my case!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:51 AM

I folk-process ballads, including:

excising unnecessary verses

substituting modern words for archaic, if they fit
   for example 'every' for 'ilka.'

tidying up the rhymes

changing key to show a change of speaker.

singing with expression, but not over-dramatizing.

I think one of the main things that made ballads popular was a chorus that listeners could sing.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Midchuck
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:55 AM

What really p***es me off is sharing a stage in a "workshop" setting with other performers, and you're singing in a round-robin format. And one of the other performers takes a notion to do such a ballad. And there goes the whole hour and anyone else's chance to sing.

But that's probably just an ego problem on my part. Who am I to stand in the way of true folk art?

(G** D*** F***ing Sons of B.... [wanders off muttering to self]).

Peter


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: matt milton
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:55 AM

"Two recent posts have described a desired ballad style as mesmeric, possibly boring and subdued, I'm not entirely sure I understand what this would sound like, but I definitely feel that there has to be some inherent tension"

oh, I think that deadpan doesn't have to lack tension. Things can be quiet and still have an overwhelming sense of dread and doom locked into them right from the start, which never lets up.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Folkiedave
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:08 PM

If you have ever seen Mike Waterson do "Tam Lyn" then you have seen a master ballad singer in action. I have seen him do this a couple of times and both times there was stunned silence at the end. The man was magic.

Take a listen to Brian Peters and if you get chance to so his show do go. His version of "Six Nights Drunk" takes some beating.

http://www.harbourtownrecords.com/petersballadslive.htm

And just thinking of Ray Fisher singing "Binnorie" at Whitby last summer brings tears to my eyes.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Maryrrf
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:10 PM

There's a time and place for ballads, and I agree that a song circle with limited time and lots of people waiting for a turn is not the time to choose one of the long ones.   But it's possible to sing ballads and get modern audiences interested. When I regularly worked Sunday evenings at a pub there was a crowd of regulars who came in. When things were quiet I'd introduce a ballad or two - for example if I did Mattie Groves I'd describe it as a story that would have been the equivalent of a "National Enquirer" scandal in 15th century England - or something of the sort. After a while they got to know the songs and we'd have ballad evenings with requests for things like "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow", "Annochie Gordon", "The Two Sisters". The regulars would get upset when a different crowd would come in and demand the pub stuff!

And I don't agree about there not being much "poetry" in ballads. Often there is a turn of a phrase, or a well placed word - that just sends chills up my spine.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:15 PM

At the Lewes Saturday Folk Club we run a couple of all-day ballad forums a year which are always well-supported. We get a recognised singer of ballads, such as Brian Peters or Craig Morgan Robson, to lead the day and perform at the club in the evening. Our next forum is with Chris Coe on Sunday 10th. October 2010 and we've just booked The Claque to run one in April 2011.

On Sunday 17th. January from noon - 3.00 pm we have a free ballad session in the Elephant & Castle. This follows the
Sussex All-Day Singaround on Saturday 16th., also run by the Lewes Saturday Folk Club.

Paul Davenport has recently started a monthly ballad session in Sheffield which has its own Mudcat thread.

Well sung, ballads are magnificent and spellbinding. Given that their main ingredients are death, sex and magic, it could hardly be otherwise. There are hundreds in Child which aren't currently being sung; it's very rewarding to research and revive them. Because songs that tell a story are the easiest to learn, their length isn't a problem: once you know the story, the verses offer themselves to your memory in the order that tells the story. (I could never say how many verses there are in any ballad I sing because I don't mentally number them.) If you need to read the words you haven't got properly to grips with the story.

It's kindest to a folk club MC not to sing a ballad just before a guest performer starts their set as he may have assumed that you're only going to take about three minutes to do one song. You might want to say at the outset 'This takes six minutes (or whatever your timing might be) so anyone with a severe thirst or a weak bladder might want to leave now'.

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:16 PM

I imagine there are a number of posters here who have been subjected to long ballads where the occasion was unsuited for such. It's been quite interesting to read the number of posts from those who don't sing them, simply saying 'they're boring' when what I asked for was thoughts on the 'how to' from people who actually sing them! So there's clearly a lot of dislike for them among a large amount of folkies!

But obviously I'm not going to just wander into my local singaround armed with thirty verses of something unsuited to the context and audience - because that would be self-indulgent and egoistic! I will probably do as Olddude suggests - and once I have two or three (that I find really engaging) down to my satisfaction, I'll bung 'em up on my MySpace and then maybe pull them out on such specific occasions as they WOULD be suitable for. Like a festival environment.

I started singing folk songs something over a year ago now, so being *almost* newish to it, the long Ballads have so far seemed quite daunting - I think of them as a different beast really. The longest song I think I sing currently is Alison Gross at nine verses (plus same in choruses) which I sang last Hallowe'en (and which on conclusion was promptly requested for next Hallowe'en, which made me chuffed!). So I'm not so scared by length now as I was last year (when three verses seemed a challenge to sing in public) - but I can certainly see how a short refrain would be helpful to keep the audience involved, where there are maybe twenty or even thirty verses of story to sit through.

I can definitely dig where Matt & Pip are coming from with the mesmeric 'entrancement' aspect of the performance, that's something I'll certainly be keeping in mind when working with them.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:46 PM

"What really p***es me off is sharing a stage in a "workshop" setting with other performers, and you're singing in a round-robin format. And one of the other performers takes a notion to do such a ballad. And there goes the whole hour and anyone else's chance to sing.

But that's probably just an ego problem on my part. Who am I to stand in the way of true folk art?

(G** D*** F***ing Sons of B.... [wanders off muttering to self])." (Peter)...I know one way to get this off your chest, Peter - pen a ballad!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 12:59 PM

5 year old children and drunks, I have found, often have the same attention span. Recognizing that, I usually, and correctly, could assume that a properly introduced ballad, of almost any length, could easily be made to seem, and actually be, relevant to modern audiences EVEN if it was another eras olden style artifact.

Utah Phillips showed me how humor could be used to create a wide-awake audience even after a big meal. A proper tale as an intro that might point out that an olden and lengthy ballad had real insights into modern and parallel circumstances. He could, and often did, get an audience of Republican right wingers in a bar (after a few) to sing along with mucho gusto on Wobbly gems like "Dump The Bosses Off Your Back."

A one-liner like, "Here is a song from the last depression!!!" used to introduce Woody's great and long ballad "Tom Joad" or even the shorter song "The Wreck Of The Tennessee Gravy Train" or Craig Johnson's anthem to hard times "Way Down The Road."

This entails thinking ahead, reading between the lines of your song for historical parallels that illustrate the irony of history as well as the necessity of vicariously, through the older songs, learning how not to repeat the travesties of past stupidities.

The old trad ballads are not good because they are old. They are old because they are good!

And don't be afraid of you good instincts and create an instant medley with other, more easily accepted, songs on similar topics that folks enjoy singing along on. SLIDE right into "Go To Sleep You Weary Hobo" right as you are ending "Tom Joad!" --- It will be appreciated by your audience---and they will appreciate seeing the irony of the unsuspected connection between the great ballad (story song) and the more fun sing-along-song.

Try it; I think you'll like the results.

Affectionately and respectfully,

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: DebC
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:05 PM

AS always someo0ne said what I wanted to say in a much more eloquent way than I ever could.

And I am even more pleased that it is Art.

Thanks, Art.

Debra Cowan


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:10 PM

Michael Cooney doing Tam Lin was thoroughly pleasureable to me and most everyone in that bar/folk club in Chicago. It was 25 minutes long. A grand fantasy epic.

Art


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:13 PM

Like Crow Sister, I'm a little (but perhaps not very) surprised by the negative tone of many comments here.

Yes, it's bad manners to sing an eight-minute song in a time-limited singaround.

Yes, there are times where a piece that demands full audience attention is not going to work - like when they're all drunk, or expecting some light entertainment.

Yes, there is a particular kind of tedium about a badly-performed ballad.

But, having conceded all that, I think Valmai's description "magnificent and spellbinding" pretty well sums it up. These are the greatest songs of the folk tradition - no argument in my book. If you like a great story (OK, not everyone does) then you should be riveted by a good ballad performed well. That said, they are by no means all bloodsoaked forty-verse epics - there are funny ones, short ones, singalong ones - but the real meat is in the big ones, like Tam Lin, False Foudrage, Willie's Lady, Kemp Owyne, and so on.

How to sing them? Well, number one, know the ballad absolutely off by heart. The fellow with the scroll well deserved having a match set to it. Learn it and live it. Experience the emotions as if they were your own. Be excited afresh each time you sing it. It's no accident that pretty well all of my favourite ballad performers are experienced, mature singers who have got inside their ballads over decades. But that doesn't mean that you can't do a good job now.

Go and listen to some great ballad performances. Phil Tanner's 'Henry Martin'... Geordie Hanna's 'Young Edmund'... Hear the aforementioned Mike Waterson performance of Tam Lin, then go and hear Frankie Armstrong do it, or find Bert Lloyd's recording of the same ballad. They are quite different in style - Tanner is exuberant and melodramatic where Hanna is understated and sinister, Armstrong is right in your face where Lloyd is weaving the most delicate of tracery - but all share a complete committment to the ballad in hand. Ballad singers are often asked whether they see the movie in their head as they sing - well, listen to Tanner's Henry Martin and then tell me that he isn't seeing the movie! And you're watching it with him. Why? Because he believes in it completely. There's no point being half-arsed about a ballad: wondering whether it's too long or you should be singing it a bit faster or doing a fancier accompaniment (generally the answer is NO!) or whether aspects of the storyline are a bit unbelievable (fairy coaches don't really turn into pumpkins at midnight!).

There are sometimes a lot of words to learn, but they tell a coherent tale, so they're easier to remember than a bunch of floating verses or a modern stream-of conciousness. With a bit of experience you soon learn how to make up something approriate on the fly, in the event you do dry. Find an appropriate overall length when fashioning your ballad, but don't go down the road of believing that all the repetition is superfluous and you can chop it out - that's often where the power of the ballad lies. "Mesmeric entrancement" can be good, but so too can expressiveness.

But, for now, just go and sing them (somehow I think you've already made that choice). Pick your moment carefully, at least until you get more confident. And, the more you do it the more you'll find out how to do it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: The Sandman
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:13 PM

the golden rule is to sing what you want to sing.
Lord Randall[imo]is a bore,however Willy of the Winsbury,Tam Linn, Thomas The Rhymer,are songs I like.
Ewan MacColl singing ballads is a good place to start,Bert Lloyd is good too,Louis Killen very good too,but develop your own style.
Dick Miles.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: DebC
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:34 PM

I have to admit that there are a number of ballads that drive me 'round the bend (or out the door), but then I would hear Lou Killen, for example, sing that same ballad and it would be as if I was hearing it for the first time.

For myself, I know I have a ballad internalised if (as Brian says) I feel the emotions and see the movie in the song. There are a few ballads I sing where there might be one line that gives me goosebumps. I figure if I get the goosebumps the odds are pretty good that the listeners have got them as well.

One of the most rewarding things to have happen after finishing a ballad is to hear the just barely audible sigh from the audience.

Debra


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:39 PM

This a bit of a BTW ? but why have even distinguished ballad singers [see thruout this thread] taken to calling that IMO one of the kings·or·queens of the ballads, Child #81 - "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" - by its much later - and less distinguished and interesting - US title, "Matty Groves"?

Take that fascinating story by Anne Neilson the ballad singer above (21 Dec 5·24PM), where she describes how wonderfully Jeannie Robertson sang *"Matty Groves"*, and interrupted it with that remarkable comment to Peter Buchan. I wasn't there, alas - BUT I would bet what you like that she wasn't singing "Matty Groves" at all ? she was singing "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" ? & don't pretend there is no difference, or that you don't know what it is.

Just curious.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 01:47 PM

I think the key is imagination and storytelling. When I find a good ballad singer, it's invariably someone who sparkles with imagination and humor, who tells a wonderful story as if the audience were hearing it for the first time. In my book, Judy Cook and Art Thieme are tops - but there are lots of good ballad singers, including a good number of Mudcatters. They seem to sing with a twinkle in their eye...or is it a twinkle in their voice?

Then there are the marathon singers. Their only goal seems to be to show that they can precisely sing all thirty verses of such-and-such a version of ballad so-and-so. Oftentimes, their diction is horrible or they sing in an accent that's impossible to understand. The audience and the story are of no importance to them. I admire their tenacity, but I don't want to hear them.

-Joe-

    We try to have thread titles that give readers an idea of the contents of the thread. I added "classic big long ballads" to the thread title. -Joe-


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:00 PM

Then there are the marathon singers. Their only goal seems to be to show that they can precisely sing all thirty verses of such-and-such a version of ballad so-and-so. Oftentimes, their diction is horrible or they sing in an accent that's impossible to understand. The audience and the story are of no importance to them. I admire their tenacity, but I don't want to hear them.
that sounds like Gordon Hall,singing Lord Randall,please no no nio non, its torture,only marginally better than Daniel O Donnell singing anything.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM

"or they sing in an accent that's impossible to understand."

Yeah - I've tried in a couple of the songs I sing that contain Scots dialect (Alison Gross & The Great Selkie of Sule Skerrie), to stick to my own accent throughout, while anglicising *some* of the less easily interpreted dialect words and retaining others which can readily be understood in context of the verse. That approach strikes a happy medium for me, though it might not be to all tastes. With AGross as I sung it in a session - I gave the audience an easily remembered anglisiced chorus - while singing the dialect myself (as I find the words nicer to sing that way).

I expect that's how I'll treat longer ballads with dialect too, though no doubt a brief pre-amble is a good idea so people can hold onto the plot if some dialect phrases are not rendered clear from the context.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,bankley
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM

The longest song that I ever heard... was done by Chris Rawlings..
He had memorized 'The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner" the complete poem
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.. and set it to music...
I was accompanying him for a gig... he told me that I might want to sit out the 2nd set, which I did... it consisted of only this song.... and was great... but I almost got seasick


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:15 PM

I think 'Matty Groves' became a common title because someone 'processed' the original, (as folkies are wont to do), and the shorter name and form was simply easier to say & remember. ('Musgrave' is not a familar name.)

A number of the original names from Child have been altered, or have several names collected from different sources..."Edward" or "Son David", "Sir Lionel" or "Old Bangum", "Lord Thomas & Fair Ellender" or "The Brown Girl", "The Suffolk Miracle" or "Holland Handkerchief" ...etc.

It is good to KNOW the original names and the general history when possible.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,bankley
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:21 PM

I just checked 'The Rhyme of the A.M.' out.... and counted 142 verses in 7 chapters

Rawlings was heroic


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:25 PM

Re "The Brown Girl" as US title for "Lord Thomas & Fair Elinor" ? this is confusing and to be deprecated: because Child has another ballad,{the one about the rejected mistress begged to return or he will die for love, when she responds spiritedly that in that event her mourning will take the form of dancing on his grave, hip-hurrah for her!} that is actually called by Child "THE BROWN GIRL", #295 ? & we really can't do with two Child Ballads with the same title, can we?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:26 PM

As my name has been taken in vain a couple of times I can only say that if my Tam Lin ballad pleases people it's probably because I heard Bert Lloyd sing it about 40 years ago and some of the magic must have rubbed off (I'm convinced that, in his prime, he was a genuine magician!).

I think that it's important to know how NOT to sing ballads. For a start don't over-dramatise. I once heard/saw a woman sing a ballad illustrated with actions - it was HORRIBLE - by half way through I was under the seat CRINGING and moaning with embarassment and rage!

I've always found that the best ballad performances are understated with the singer almost acting as a conduit for the story (to do that actually takes great skill). Some people complain that ballads are repetitive - but that's often one of their key features - the repeated refrains, figures and motifs are designed to build tension. Trouble is a lot of modern audiences tend to treat refrains as choruses and belt them out - which can spoil the effect.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:33 PM

Among American ballad singers whose renditions I have always found fascinating may be named Hedy West and the late Sandy Paton ? nothing ever tedious or soporific in a ballad sung by either of them. And among Irish singers, Paddy Tunney, Frank Harte, Packie Byrne, Elizabeth Cronin ...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:36 PM

I've never heard it performed, but the longest ballad I have seen is in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy - "Chevy Chase."


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: kendall
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:38 PM

Others not mentioned, Helen Schneyer and Joe Hickerson. They can sing those long ballads and I will listen.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:48 PM

Oh dear! Just had a phone call from a mate of mine who lives up in Manchester. Apparently the bloke who calls himself 'Spleen Cringe' on here thinks that another bloke who goes to his local club is me! Even worse this other bloke sings Tam Lin (would you believe it?)! He sings it quite well I believe - perhaps he even sings it better than me?!

I'm me by the way - just though I'd clear that up!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 02:57 PM

I'm me by the way - just though I'd clear that up!

Oh well, that nullifies the sense of this post, Shimrod! If you're not who Spleen thinks you are (not Pip anyway) who are you???

Otherwise, with you on that previous post there....


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:00 PM

"I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet; and yet it is sung but by some blind crowder, with no rougher voice than rude style," wrote the Elizabethan courtier Sir Philip Sidney in his 'An Apology for Poetry, or a Defense of Poesy', 1579.

That would have been the ballad we call Chevy Chase: so there is one performance on record for you, Walkabouts ? indeed, the way Sidney writes makes it sound as if he quite often heard it.

Sidney, btw, has gone down to history and added a phrase to the language, as the wounded general who died after the Battle of Zütphen, having, according to legend, insisted that a wounded common soldier beside him should be given a drink of water first with the words "Thy need is greater than mine". Si non e verro, e ben trovato & all that.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: olddude
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:01 PM

I think like someone said it all depends on the make up of the audience. If you do that to 20 or 30 somethings even if it is great and you are a great story teller and singer you sometimes will get away with it .. most of the time not ... just my opinion ...

I also think the location and background has a lot to do with it, if they grew up hearing the mom's and dads playing long ballads they will most likely appreciate it .. if not, they will turn off ...

At the folk festival they have here in the summer, the people stay, listen and enjoy many of the long ballads, but that is the make up of that audience. Gotta know the audience for sure. Around my parts there are no folk clubs, just cafe type places where people eat and listen.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:03 PM

It sure is good to see ballads getting all this attention!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:06 PM

"Were I you, I'd only sing them to the like-minded."
Isn't this the case with any folk song - you try and get away with Dark Eyed Sailor at a family Christmas party (unless they are all folkies like yourself).
A big ballad only fails in 'folk' company when it is sung badly - if I can sit through a Bob Bleedin' Dylan song I expect the assembled company to have the patience to sit through Tifties Annie.
"Don't treat the ballads with undue reverence;"
Absolutely - as long as the basic work has been done - words, tune, understanding - a big ballad will sing itself.
Rejecting ballads because of their length is equivalent to not reading good literature because it has 'too many pages'.
If a ballad is sung with a level of skill and understanding, and it is enjoyed by the singer, the length (as in all things) shouldn't matter.
"Lord Randall[imo]is a bore"
Cap'n, if you don't like Lord Randall, please respect those of us who do enough to allow us to make up our own minds. Truth be told, I'm not too fond of Thomas The Rhymer, but I wouldn't dream of trying to influence those of you who do.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:09 PM

In reply to MtheGM, what Jeannie Robertson sang was called 'Little Matty Groves' (confirmed in the book 'Emergent Singer, Transformative Voice' by James Porter and Herschel Gower, about Jeannie). Obviously it was sung as a Scottish version, but I recollect hearing - presumably from Norman Buchan - that the tune was adapted from one sung by Jean Ritchie for the same song at an Aberdeen Folk Festival around 1960, which Jeannie heard and liked.
And there is a suggestion in the Porter book that Jeannie, in fact, had two tunes for this ballad - one that she regarded as her 'big' tune, which she would only sing when properly warmed up. Having not heard Jean Ritchie's tune, I've no idea which one I heard that evening in Norman's house, which - in any case - I've now further adapted to fit the different version that I now sing.
The everlasting folk process...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:12 PM

I love my long ballads.

In a world where everybody has barely enough time to listen to three verses and a chorus they are such marvelous time-sinks.

In a world of Priuses they are Oldsmobile Delta 88's.

They are behemoths from another world.

What's not to like?

I can't explain my love, just acknowledge it.
But that's what makes it love.

I am not a performer.

Even if I were a performer I probably wouldn't do my long ballads.
Everything that I love about them would be viewed negatively by a ballad-averse audience.

So I sing them to myself. They're much better than radio when I am driving.

I am lucky enough to have a small circle of like minded friends
We call ourselves the ballad addicted.

We meet irregularly.
Our motto is more is better.

We're happy to sing three or four different versions of the same ballad back to back.
We once sang the same 30 verse ballad 3 times in three different keys to determine once and for all which key we preferred.

I should mention that I don't learn ballads. I learn specific versions.
I have found that if I love a version, it is not a big deal to learn it.
But, since I learn specific versions I am reluctant to make any changes.
I am not one for "improving".
However, problems occur when I mix my versions.

Don't let the nay sayers get you down.

Russ (Permanent GUEST)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:17 PM

Folk process indeed, Anne. Thank you very much for this clarification, which I find of exceptional interest. Did Jeannie actually use the name 'Matty Groves' in her 'Scottish version'; & if so, what name did the Lord & Lady have? I ask purely in search of knowledge and information ? I fear I am one like Arthur Clennam in 'Little Dorrit': "I want to know, you know!"

Best regards + Happy Xmas & HNY...
Michael


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:24 PM

To make it even more complex, " "Lord Thomas & Fair Elinor" is also called "The Dun Brown Bride" and "Sweet Wille & Fair Annie" and a couple other things: and "The Brown Girl" (#295) is called " The Dover Sailor", "Fine Sally", "Pretty Sally", "Queen Sally", "Sally of London", and "The Rich Irish Lady"

To be deprecated? Oh, indeed...but you should see what I, a woodturner, have to struggle with as people invent clever common names for woods!~ And between the UK, the USA, and Australia, 'Maple' and 'Sycamore' are hoplelessly muddled...not to mention the non-Oak Oaks, the non-Dalbergia "Rosewoods"...etc.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:25 PM

Re. Jeannie's version of 'Musgrave', to the best of my memory the main character was Little Matty Groves and the lord was Lord Darnal.
Unfortunately, I don't have her text anywhere and the School of Scottish Studies tape that someone once sent to me is temporarily misplaced -- but I'll be back to you if I find it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:32 PM

What I have from Jeannie Robertson was called "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard", but her tune was not the more common one. I can see why she "warmed up" before singing it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:36 PM

No...wait.. the Jeannie R. version has been titled
"Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard", but she SINGS "Mattie Grove" in it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:36 PM

BillD - what do you call 'the more common one'? I know at least half-a-dozen tunes for this ballad, all of which I have sung at some time. The one I use most often actually belonged originally to a Canadian version called 'The Young Leboux' which I learned 50+ years ago from Paul Carter. But I use the Musgrave/Barnard names. Folk process again?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:55 PM

Let me see if I can post a short clip from it to see if we are thinking of the same one.

It will take a few min.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Aeola
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 03:59 PM

The key seems to be sing from the heart and remember the audience needs to be kept entertained. My favourite is ' Big Jack Cosgrove' by His Worship and the Pig!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:12 PM

here is a one minute clip of Jeannie R singing Mattie Grove

(I 'think' I got it done right)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:14 PM

Don't recall any mentions of Martin Carthy on this thread. He can make a ballad a memorable experience as can few people ? think of his Lang Johnny More reworking, & his amazing Willie's Lady. And he and Nic Jones both recorded wonderful versions, at about the same time, of Clyde Water or The Mother's Malison - to similar but subtly different tunes. Tony Rose's Banks Of Green Willow comes to mind likewise.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:18 PM

Many thanks, Bill, for clip of Jeannie's singing. That indeed not a familiar tune. By 'the more common one', I take it you meant the US one familiar from Joan Baez et al?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:26 PM

Yes... the Joan Baez tune is the one. (I heard it first about 1962, before I knew who Joan Baez was)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:30 PM

Cap'n, if you don't like Lord Randall, please respect those of us who do enough to allow us to make up our own minds. Truth be told, I'm not too fond of Thomas The Rhymer, but I wouldn't dream of trying to influence those of you who do.
Jim Carroll.
ha ha,but that is just what you are doing.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:33 PM

BTW folks... someone (Bob Frank) has actually taken the trouble to record a strange version of the LONG Robin Hood ballad..all 400+ verses. Something to while away the Winter nights learning.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:33 PM

Martin Carthy sings Willie's Lady (Child #6) to the Breton tune Son Ar Chistre. It was Ray Fisher who first put the two together. We sing it as The Wax Baby, my own setting to a fragment of an old Scandinavian lullaby, but we manage to bring it in under 6 minutes. Hear it on our Myspace Page - track six.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:45 PM

MtheGm,
Joan got her version from Bob Gibson--both tune and words.

The version of Fair Ellender I did was one I was told came from southern Illinois in the USA. It was titled "Lord Thomas and Sarah Brown" --- after the head of his bride was cut off and kicked against the wall, the next verse states:

The teeth did click and the tongue did cluck,
On the ground where it did fall,
The teeth did click and the tongue did cluck,
Still grumbling at him with all.

This is why I love ballads so much!

Art


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:49 PM

DebC, Thank you for saying that.
Art


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 04:56 PM

Indeed, Art - the head cut off & kicked against the wall also climaxes the "Musgrave" version that I sing. Sandy Paton used to sing that too, I recall; but alas I can't remember to which tune. That was in 1958 when he was here and I knew him well. He was resident at Eel Pie Island folk club, among others, where also I learned the Canadian "Young Leboux" tune from Paul Carter, which, as I say above, I find the best of the 'Musgrave' tunes.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 07:04 PM

"ha ha,but that is just what you are doing. "
No I'm not - I'm suggesting that by persistantly repeating that Lord Randall is boring, that you are being rather ----- well, boring.
MacColl sang more ballads than any singer I ever heard; he had 137 of them in his repertoire, many of them in multiple versions.
He said that in the early days of the Ballads and Blues and Singers Clubs he was nervous of singing long ones so when he did Gil Maurice he sang half of it before the interval and the rest of it in the second half - until an audience member asked him why; from then on he did it all in one go.
Quite often it can be the singer who is unsure of the ballad rather than the audience.
The high watermark of the tradition IMO
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 07:22 PM

Just to summarise some of the responses to the original question.

Obviously listen to all the wonderful singers and ballads mentioned on these threads.

To start with perhaps choose some of the couplet ballads with plenty of refrain and repeats so folks can join in. I started with The Cruel Mother, The Two Sisters and The Maid and the Palmer, 3 very powerful, but easy to sing ballads.

( a little tip...avoid the obscure ones with only a few versions)

I love all of the really popular ballads, listening and singing.

I endorse all Brian wrote above.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Howard Jones
Date: 23 Dec 09 - 11:45 AM

With ballads, it's not enough to be a good singer, you must be a good storyteller as well. Rather than just trying to memorise the words, you must memorise and understand the story - if you can do this, then you should have no trouble remembering the words, as they will come to you.

Just as the worst way to tell a joke is to have memorised it word for word, the worst way to sing a ballad is simply to learn the lines.

I love ballads.   I love the way the plot is often whittled down to the bare bone, and yet they can go off down apparently irrelevant sidetracks, like the talking parrot in The Outlandish Knight. I love the simple yet majestic language which can convey sometimes horrific events in such matter-of-fact tones.   Unfortunately there aren't many singers who can carry them off, and all too often the delivery, rather than the ballad itself, is boring. In the hands of the right singer, however, they can be spellbinding.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 02:58 AM

With ballads, it's not enough to be a good singer, you must be a good storyteller as well.

This is a myth that's cropped up a few times here; but as both a storyteller & a ballad singer (and one who frequently uses ballads as a part of storytelling performance) I'd say that storytelling is something very different indeed. Storytelling mediumistic narrative empowerment in which the story is made real in the liminal space that exists between the storyteller and the audience. Essentially it comes down your joke analogy - you can tell neither jokes or stories word for word, but with ballads the words are already there, word for word perfected. The narrative is thus carried not by telling, but by the finely honed verse which really needs no more from the performer other than to let it through. I go back to what Shimrod said earlier - because these things don't need selling, they just need singing.

Ultimately with ballad singing it really is a matter of Do What Thou Wilt, and worry not one jot about the detractors. These days I mostly sing my big ballads whilst out on long solitary walks in the country - such is their potency they don't need an audience, especially a folk club audience for whom the ballad experience can be something of an ordeal, joining the old folk-jokes alongside banjos and bodrans...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 03:55 AM

Should read:

Storytelling is (a) mediumistic narrative empowerment...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Howard Jones
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 08:56 AM

The point I was trying to convey is that it is not enough simply to memorise and repeat the words, the singer has to understand how to use them to convey the story.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Paul Burke
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 09:35 AM

Yes, I don't do huge ballads, despite knowing several thoroughly. You have to have the storyteller's art too- it's almost undefinable, but you can tell someone who's got it. If you haven't, like me you'll sound like someone singing the telephone directory.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 09:49 AM

Well I've enjoyed idly dabbling with Thomas the past few days - but I find can't sing it completely straight, I find I have to subtly play with tempo and tone, depending on the scene. It feels a bit like painting.

I guess, as another poster put it, I'll find out how best *I can* do it, by simply doing it..


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 09:52 AM

"Such is their potency they don't need an audience" Yes, Yes, Yes - this is so true! Many an evening I relax by myself and sing my cherished ballads - visualizing every nuance. To me, it's an evening spent with old and dear friends (who often lead very tragic and extraordinary lives, repleat with murders, incest, visits from elfin folk, etc. LOL). Hard to say what the fascination is - I just get caught up in the spell even though I know exactly what's coming - like seeing a classic movie again and again, but each time you notice something new. There are various ballads that I never sing in public, but I often sing them during my private "ballad evenings".


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Willa
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 10:44 AM

Here's a link to EnglishFolkFan's mention of Norma Waterson


http://podcast.open.ac.uk/oulearn/arts-and-humanities/podcast-aa317-words-music-english-folk#


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: mkebenn
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 12:53 PM

Re: Matty Groves. I first heard this by Joan about fifty years ago, and while I listened to it for the amazing quality of her voice, I had no desire to play it. Twenty years later I heard Fairport do it, and I play it that way still. sometimes I'll do the first verse to Joan's version and then speed up and use Fairport's killer riff to introduce the rest of the song. Mike

ps. Loved the version in "Songcather"


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 02:14 PM

I love Joan Baez' version of Mattie Groves, and I also love Fairport's version. I found it worked great to set the Joan Baez version words to the Fairport tune (which is actually the same tune as "Shady Grove"). You can hear the result of this mix on my MySpace page . Stevie Mulholland, who played fiddle, hadn't heard the Fairport version and so made up his own fiddle accompaniment which I think turned out great.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: mkebenn
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 02:21 PM

Maryrrf. Does Shady Grove predate Fairport's tune? I always assumed it was the other way 'round. 'Course you know what they say about assuming. Mike


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Ian Gill
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 02:30 PM

It's like directing Shakespeare - get the scissors out - if people don't like it they can do their own versions. The 'original' text will always be there for them.
      'Where the play sucks there cut I ...'


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,The Folk E
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 02:34 PM

You can really wear yourself out dancing to those real long folk ballads.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Don Firth
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 03:30 PM

Crow Sister, the very core of what got me actively interested in folk music in the first place was the evening I heard Walt Robertson sing an informal concert in a restaurant in Seattle's University District in 1952. The restaurant, named "The Chalet," was about the nearest thing to a coffeehouse that Seattle had at the time.

In about two and a half or three hours, Walt sang a whole variety of songs, but the ones that really grabbed me were the long ballads?the songs that told stories. I don't remember what all ballads Walt sang that night, but Mattie Groves was one of them. Twenty-seven verses.

And I have found that in a coffeehouse set (about 35 or 40 minutes), I can include one of the longer ballads and have the audience hanging on the story, and often, after the set is over, if someone asks me about a particular song in the set, it will be the ballad ("Who wrote that?" Who knows? Perhaps some ancient bard or minstrel. "Where did it come from?" Sometimes from an actual historical incident, sometimes a story that's been around and been retold for centuries.). The same thing has happened after concerts I've done, when I've interspersed three or four ballads in among a lot of shorter, more lyrical songs.

It's been my experience that general audiences find these ballads fascinating, especially if I sing them well; not "hamming them up," but singing them with the same kind of expression I would use if I were telling a story, much as an ancient minstrel would have. After all, they were musical story-tellers.

Where I occasionally encounter someone sighing and rolling their eyes when I start a longer ballad is genereally in a gathering of jaded "folkies." Remember:   just because they have heard it many times before doesn't mean that everybody has. Nor does one hyper-sophisticated yo-yo yawning and looking bored mean that others aren't fascinated by the story and are following it avidly.

Know the story thoroughly. Sing it well. And remember, you're telling a story.

Probably not a good idea to string a whole bunch of them together, though. Any good program needs to be varied.

Sing the songs you like, sing them well, and others will enjoy them also.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 03:32 PM

As near as I can determine the first references to "Shady Grove" were in 1916. (That's according to the Traditional Ballad Index . But who knows how long the tune has been around, and what words might have been fitted to it. Does anyone know of a source singer who did Mattie Groves to that tune, or did Fairport just decide to use it because it was a great tune and it fit? Whatever the case, it works, and works well!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: mkebenn
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 03:36 PM

Thank you, Maryrrf, Mike


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Don Firth
Date: 24 Dec 09 - 04:57 PM

The tune to Mary Smith's rendition of "Mattie Groves" is pretty close to the version John Jacob Niles sings.

I've heard Niles' version, and those sung by both Bob Gibson and Joan Baez, and there is darn little difference between them. A note or two here and there, but the melodic curve is the same in all of them.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 12:21 PM

Over the past three years Liz and I have been responsible for the Ballad sessions at Whitby Folk Week. The daily event grew rapidly into a 'sell-out' over this period and we averaged around twenty ballads per session. Generally the singing was of the highest standard,indeed, as many of you will attest, I was in the enviable position of being able to call on 'floor singers' to sing us their offerings, who included the likes of Ray Fisher, Will Noble, Cath Tyler, Rachel Unthank and many others who would have been booked guests elsewhere. The sessions, under our tenure, invited anyone to sing and the evidence was that there are a great number of people out there working hard on presenting these wonderful songs. Now, as to ballads being boring, how long is your attention span? The longest performance I noted was Cuthbert Noble singing Mike Waterson's version of 'Tam Lin'. At 6'.30" in length, unhurried and beautifully delivered. Overall, the average ballad, assuming we're using the Chil canon as a guideline, only takes 5 to 6 minutes to do justice. Sadly the Whitby Ballad Session is returning to its old concert-style format next year despite our protestations. There is a great demand for such events and yet they tend to be ignored or marginalised by festival organisers.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 01:35 PM

That reminds of of one of the best ballad stories I have ever heard.

A friend once recounted the story of an interview with a pub or restaurant owner to whom she had been recommended as a 'folk singer'. (She knew quite a variety of 'folk' songs.)

So the guy was explaining that he often had an 'act' do about a 45 minute set during the evening, and asked if she could handle that.

"Oh, I believe so", she replied, "Would you like one song - or more than one?"


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 02:00 PM

The information from Anne Neilson about Jeannie Robertson's tunes for Mattie Groves is interesting -- but confusing. I've only heard the one that Bill D posted a clip of, which I have on the CD issued by Rounder as part of the Alan Lomax Collection. That is certainly not the same as Bronson's no. 15, from Jean Ritchie.

> Obviously it was sung as a Scottish version

The words of Jeannie's version are very similar to some of the American versions, and not like any of the Scots versions in Child.

GUEST,The Folk E said
> You can really wear yourself out dancing to those real long folk ballads.

That prompts me to recall something from my late friend Edgar Ashton. He spent part of his teens in the Faroes (where his mother came from) and where they have kept the old kind of ballad that is danced (hence the name) and lasts half the night. One particular ballad "belonged" to his family, but he told me that you had to know the whole thing word-perfect (which he didn't) before you were allowed to lead it.

Dick mentioned Gordon Hall's marathon versions, disparagingly. I find them of interest as performances, and not boring, but I haven't yet made up my mind what I think of them as storytelling. Certainly the main elements of the stories can be told much more concisely, but would that be better? Come to that, Jeannie Robertson took a lot longer than some singers would for any given ballad, by singing very slowly.

I have always wanted to learn and sing Clerk Saunders. The reason I have not done so is my failure to decide between two approaches: one similar to June Tabor's, taking it at a fairly fast pace, and the other similar to (for example) Jean Redpath's, where the tragedy unfolds slowly and inexorably. Some singers keep the length down by being selective about which verses to include, leaving out some of those where the brothers take turns to express their points of view, and/or Part 2, otherwise known as Sweet Willam's Ghost, Child 77. I see all of that material as enhancing the story and therefore worthy of inclusion, but have been wary of the combination of slow pace and numerous verses. Some of the postings above provide encouragement not to worry about the overall length.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 02:12 PM

==Jeannie Robertson took a lot longer than some singers would for any given ballad, by singing very slowly.==

I have to confess that for this reason I never admired her as a singer [nor her highly regarded English equivalent Phoebe Smith either], finding her approach affectedly mannered. I suspect that at some stage she had been 'got at' by that Hamish Henderson, London-born professional Scotsman, who was the officious sort of collector, to my mind, who could never leave well alone; and could never stand criticism or argument either, but would literally resort to shouts and threats and blows ? I saw it more than once. But I expect I shall be shot down in flames for saying so.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 02:31 PM

"...shot down in flames for saying so."

For saying that Jeannie sang too slowly? Or that Hamish was a officious dolt? *grin*

The 2nd may not be subject to much debate, but the first is of course a matter of taste.

I really prefer too slow over too fast... our late friend (in eastern USA) and singer of many types of song, Helen Schneyer, sang most ballads to MY taste, which was 'paced' and full of feeling. Her version on "Sheath & Knife" was a classic.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Aeola
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 02:53 PM

Ballads can be very dirgish or very intereseting it all depends on delivery.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 03:06 PM

In reply to Richard, when I said I'd been told about Jeannie singing Jean Ritchie's tune, there is probably no-one left who could confirm this as Jeannie, her daughter Lizzie, Hamish Henderson (who 'discovered' Jeannie) and Norman Buchan are now all dead. However, when the holiday period is over I will check with a good friend and fellow ballad singer Andy Hunter, who was 'adopted' into Jeannie's family when a student at university in Aberdeen and who learned many songs from her. Indeed, Andy is the source of the following quote from James Porter's book (p77)

"She had two tunes for 'Little Matty Groves' -- a big one and a short, thumpy one. Once at a festival when someone requested her to sing 'Matty' at the opening of the programme before she was warmed up, she said to us under her breath, "Dammit, I'll no' start off with my big tune first an' be here five minutes longer!" So she sang the short one first. That's how she built up a programme to a climax. The big guns came last when she was all warmed up and the audience completely with her, expectant."

Further, when I said that it was sung as a Scottish version I was possibly not expressing myself clearly -- what I meant was that no-one in the audience would have imagined it as anything other than of Scottish origin as it was sung with such commitment.

Finally, Richard also said that Jeannie sang ballads slowly, but you might be interested to know that there was a study (I think by Ailie Munro, author of "The Folk Music Revival in Scotland") of various recordings of Jeannie over a long period, where she sang the same ballads. And as she got older, she sang them slower, possibly because of age but more likely because she had invested them with such importance as a result of scholarly interest and audience response.

Absolutely last word -- I was once in a folk club audience in Glasgow when Jeannie was the guest. She was singing a ballad (might have been 'The Gypsy Laddie') and as she sang, she engaged individual members of the audience and delivered two or three verses directly to them so compellingly that it was impossible to break eye contact -- a magical experience!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 04:08 PM

== our late friend (in eastern USA) and singer of many types of song, Helen Schneyer,==

"Late friend", Bill?. Do I gather from this that Helen is dead? I hadn't heard, and am most grieved. I didn't know her well, but met her briefly on a visit to Md/DC in 1971, to convey greetings from Peter Bellamy who of course knew her well, and found her a most charming and friendly person. How long has she been dead?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 04:38 PM

My thanks to Anne for further enlightenment.

> Further, when I said that it was sung as a Scottish version I was possibly not expressing myself clearly -- what I meant was that no-one in the audience would have imagined it as anything other than of Scottish origin as it was sung with such commitment. <

I agree about Jeannie's commitment, in that and any other ballad. Her set of words is very close to many American versions, but she certainly gave it a Scots character.

I suspect what happened was that Jeannie took an American set of words (from Jean Ritchie or someone else) and that her two tunes were the one from Jean and one that she had from a Scots source, the latter being presumably the one that's on the recording. If she did marry a set of words from one place to a tune from another, she was neither the first nor the last to do so, and well qualified to pick good ones.

If Andy Hunter (or anyone else) has further light to shed I shall be interested to see it.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 04:43 PM

Just taking a ten minute break from Xmas - jolly nice to see this thread still busy and interesting.
Cheers for all feedback so far & Happy Xmas all :)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Colleen Cleveland
Date: 25 Dec 09 - 09:24 PM

How funny to go looking for song lyrics & fall onto this thread. A good friend of mine once told me that you don't pick the songs, the songs pick you. I am a fifth generation ballad singer & grew up in a household where long story songs were the norm. I do some performing & will agree that you do have to pick & choose the song for the audience, but there are people out there that will sit & listen to the big old ballads & love them. I think the singer has to see the song & believe in it before he/she can make an audience become involved in the song. I've seen my grandmother break into tears while singing "The Great Milwaukee Fire", not only because of the emotional content of the song, but also because it was the last song she learned from her brother before his death. Usually there were tears in the audience too. I will sing these ballads for just myself, in the car or at work (when I think no one else is there.)There is something about these stories that draws you into them, but I have also sung them for audiences who seem to hang on each line waiting to find out what happens. Hooray for all the singers & listeners who keep this style alive


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 08:41 AM

"For saying that Jeannie sang too slowly"
It has been claimed that Jeannie slowed down her songs after collectors/folk club audiences praised to the skies her "magnificent, slow dignified way of singing". The early recordings would back that up.
"I really prefer too slow over too fast"
Both are equally a problem if you approach them in such generalised terms. Surely the contents of the ballad should indicate the speed.
One of the side effects of being over-awed by the ballads is that some singers treat them all like epics, which they are not.
A couple of years ago I unwisely got into an argument with somebody whose work I respect very much, when he was taking a singing class.
The message he appeared to be passing on was that all ballads should be taken slowly His example was a two verse fragment, full of motion and action. The result IMO was a caricature.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 12:10 PM

I'm totally with Jim on this one. If you set the tempo according to the narrative it must be right? If you impose a tempo that's not sympathetic to what the words are saying then you don't understand the song surely? The worst thing in the world of performance art is, in my opinion, those performers who use a stylistic approach which is entirely independent of the material being performed. Their motivation is almost always self-agrandisment.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 02:30 PM

Suibhne O'Piobaireachd wrote:

"This is a myth that's cropped up a few times here; but as both a storyteller & a ballad singer I'd say that storytelling is something very different indeed...

with ballads the words are already there... the finely honed verse really needs no more from the performer other than to let it through."

I feel that statements to the effect the singer is a mere vessel for the ballad ("you don't sing the ballad; the ballad sings you") are themselves mystical mythologising. The singer is making decisions all the way along: whether to raise or lower the volume, to harden or soften the timbre, to lengthen a pause or to march briskly onward, to slide or to hit the note dead-on, to ornament in a particular place, and so on. It's possible that, if the singer really 'gets lost in' the telling of a ballad, some of those decisions may become unconscious, but many of them are willed - unless you are singing in the most deadpan monotone (and it's another myth that deadpan is the 'correct' or 'traditional' way to sing ballads).

Listen again to Phil Tanner's 'Henry Martin'. His performance has many of the qualities of a storyteller. He changes his timbre, rolls his R's, gives certain words sonorous gravitas (when he sings "down to the bottom she goes" you can tell from the way he delivers the single word 'bottom' that she's not coming up again!) and uses ornaments sparingly but flamboyantly on certain key passages of narrative. Listen to the conspiratorial tones, the throwaway asides, the half-spoken passages and the barely-suppressed guffaws of Sam Larner's 'Butter and Cheese and All' to hear great storytelling in song (albeit not a Child Ballad). And cast your mind back to Peter Bellamy's performances - eyes rolled, lips curled, hands gesturing, attitudes struck - to find an example of the storyteller's physicality in a singer. The two arts are not the same (clearly the storyteller has much more leeway with the words), but they have plenty in common.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 02:30 PM

"Their motivation is almost always self-agrandisment."
I agree with most of what you say Paul, but I think it's slightly more complicated than that.
A parallel - here in Ireland there has been a surge of interest in Irish language 'Sean Nós' (old style) songs.
The recorded repertoire from the Tradition covers the whole gamut of styles and and approaches, yet the current singers take them very slow and highly ornamented to a stunning level of ability.
Somewhere along the way it seems to have been decided that this is 'sean nós' style; very beautiful to listen to, but after a few songs all with this delivery it's rather like wading through a field of treacle. Style rather than content.
In the same way I think there is a tendency to lean on a mythical ballad 'style'.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: olddude
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 02:42 PM

I love the big ballots, I could listen to an Art Thieme ballad or one from pretty much most of the people here on the Cat ... all amazing artists. Lots of discussions on presentation, likewise I love the stories. Could listen to the Captain until I died and never get tired of them. The only problem I see is the venue, if it is a folk club awesome, but an open mike my thinking is this. If you are limited to a half hour (that is what they do here) Then some of the audience will hate a long ballad, others will love it, but if you can do 5 songs everyone will come away with something they like ... Likewise as I mentioned before, if it is not a coffee house or folk club, most won't like it ... all depends on the venue I think and the make up of the audience


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: olddude
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 02:46 PM

by the way there is only 1 open mike here in my town and it is by invite only ... Go figure huh, what is open about that, I still do them cause they ask but I wish they really were open mikes. they give each musician a half hour ...

they should call them that I think ... but I am thread drifting sorry


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: olddude
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 02:48 PM

meant to say should not call them that ... they are not open I think
sorry again


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: DebC
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 03:03 PM

Olddude-where is the Open Mike of which you speak?

Debra


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Hardaker
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 03:21 PM

In these days of short attention spans and instant gratification, those prepared to engage with the big ballads as performers and audience are perhaps the people inclined to take a longer viewpoint; it is 40 years since I first stood up and sang in a folk club, 10-15 years since I started regularly singing ballads, and only now do I feel I am getting to grips with them, and I still have a lot to learn
re. presentation.
It occurred to me that my other diversions are similar long term projects, 30+ years building a model railway and 26 years climbing the Munros.(Scottish mountains over 3000 feet) Does this mirror anyone else's experience or am I in anorak territory?
Richard Hardaker


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Don Firth
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 04:09 PM

I started singing folk songs when I was around twenty-one or twenty-two. I'm seventy-eight now, and I think I'm just starting to get the hang of it.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 04:27 PM

"decisions all the way along: whether to raise or lower the volume, to harden or soften the timbre, to lengthen a pause or to march briskly onward, to slide or to hit the note dead-on, to ornament in a particular place, and so on. [...] (and it's another myth that deadpan is the 'correct' or 'traditional' way to sing ballads)."

Thanks for this post BP - I was in fact getting the decided impression that there was a consensus about the 'correct' way to sing ballads - and that the only right way was to sing them is somehow pure and untainted by human interference.

I'd get bored stiff doing that myself I'm afraid, and even in the last few days dabbling, found it impossible to conform to a rigid tempo and absence of any vocal 'colouration' (and I don't mean turning it panto!).

Actually after following this thread and coming to the above conclusion, I'd already decided not to try to conform to the supposed 'correct' way, and to follow my intuition instead. So it's helpful to hear my own feelings reflected in your comments here.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 05:20 PM

Great post from Brian, clarifying many things. As far as I'm concerned, it's more that the singer is at the service of the story -- rather than that the singer is the vessel for the ballad. This allows for all the artistic discretion that Brian describes -- pace, decoration, volume, tone etc.
But I would rather this were not an 'artistic' effect, which is not what Brian is describing. There is really no way to sing ballads other than by knowing them (which implies some sort of apprenticeship).
However, I have to confess that the first ballads I sang - in the late 1950's - were only the start of a learning experience. Before 1960 I was singing 'The Twa Corbies', 'The Baron of Brackley', 'Sir Patrick Spens', 'Son David' and 'The Great Silkie' -- but I freely acknowledge that this is an ongoing process, and that my interpretation of these (and ballads later acquired) is in permanent flux. Interpretation varies depending on the physical circumstance, the audience's requirements/expectations, and my own mood at the time.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: IvanB
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 05:29 PM

MtheGM, since Bill hasn't happened along to answer your question, yes, Helen Schneyer sadly died in 2005.

The MC thread about her death is here: thread.cfm?threadid=82987&messages=82


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 05:37 PM

The secret is to enjoy,never sing a song /Ballad,that you do not like,
for that reason I dont expect Jim Carroll to sing Thomas The Rhymer,and I will not be singing Lord Randall,but there are plenty of others.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 05:43 PM

IvanB - many thanks for answer to my question about Helen.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 07:49 PM

ahhh...sorry to have missed replying about Helen..(holidays and 'other threads'.) But thanks to IvanB....

I had the great pleasure of knowing Helen and hearing her often for many years. She was as generous and friendly as she was a great singer. It was thru Helen that I met Ewan & Peggy.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Dec 09 - 08:28 PM

"As far as I'm concerned, it's more that the singer is at the service of the story -- rather than that the singer is the vessel for the ballad"

Yes, Anne, that's just what I feel. Rest of your post is good, too - we all keep learning or else we're dead (and Richard H is with us too).

Right, Crow Sister, 'expression' doesn't have to be 'panto'. Get out and do it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Dec 09 - 09:31 AM

Have always found a good rule of thumb when tackling ballads is to listen to how the source singers did it; not to copy them, but to listen to how they made them work for themselves.
I would recommend a peep at some of the versions recorded in Ireland over the last forty years; there have been over 50 Child ballads recovered there (can provide a list if anybody's interested), many from the Travellers, thanks to their love of a good story.
The style of singing is very varied; John Reilly's 'stream of conciousness' approach, the simple storyteller's technique used by many of the Travellers, the highly ornament approach used by 'Little' Bill Cassidy, all individual, and all important to the understanding of the genre. If you can, listen to Martin MacDonough's beautiful rendition of Lady Margaret (Young Hunting); one of the most breathtaking renditions of a ballad I've ever heard.
Last year Tom Munnelly's 'Songs of the Irish Travellers' was re-issued, which includes Lady Margaret and Lamkin, and sometime next year the Goilín Club in Dublin is re-releasing Tom's and Hugh Shields 'Early Ballads in Ireland'; a double CDs worth from the North and the Republic - magic!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 27 Dec 09 - 10:38 AM

Can I just say that this is one of the most interesting threads I've ever read on Mudcat ? Very informative about both songs and singing and has given me lots of names & performancs to seek out. Keep it going !


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Dec 09 - 02:35 PM

One of the most fascinating aspects of talking to the older singers was the number of times they described their getting pictures of the characters and locations of the songs, particularly the ballads. One Traveller compared it to sitting in the cinema.
Another, a blind Travelling woman with a fair number of big ballads, became so moved that she occasionally broke down, describing the songs as 'too heavy'. Despite being blind from birth, she gave us full descriptions of the characters in her ballads, what they were wearing, where the action too place, colours....
I came across this recently from the American ballad singer, Texas Gladden:

Texas Gladden spoke of having an image in her mind for every part of these old stories. "I have a perfect mental picture of every song I sing. I have a perfect picture of every person I learned it from, very few people I don't remember. When I sing a song, a person pops up, and it's a very beautiful story. I can see Mary Hamilton, I can see where the old Queen came down to the kitchen, can see them all gathered around, and I can hear her tell Mary Hamilton to get ready. I can see the whole story, I can see them as they pass through the gate, I can see the ladies looking over their casements, I can see her as she goes up the Parliament steps, and I can see her when she goes to the gallows. I can hear her last words, and I can see all just the most beautiful picture."

Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: DebC
Date: 27 Dec 09 - 02:46 PM

Thanks for this Jim. This is what I mean when I say I see the movie when I am singing ballads.

Debra Cowan


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jon Bartlett
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 03:58 AM

I find that the ballad singers I most appreciated (and thus was modelled by) in my youth are not those I listen to now, and vice versa.

For example, pace Bill D., I hear less than I did in Helen Schneyer's voice than I did, much less than I did in Martin Carthy, but more in John Jacob Niles - a total inversion over the years (though I have to say that singing with Helen was a glorious experience!)

Do other singers share this with me?

Jon Bartlett


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 04:35 AM

I would be interested in finding out something that has fascinateed me since I first became interested in folk song - particularly ballads. How do non-believers deal with superntural songs?
While in the Critics Group, one of the most successful aspects of their work was in the singer relating the songs to experiences in their lives in order to make them relevant (like Stanislavski did with acting - Emotion Memory, Application of the Idea of If). It was not always easy to apply, but when it worked - wow, did it work! It left you with a reason to keep some of the songs you sang most frequently in your repertoire forever.
We interviewed fellow disbeliever MacColl on this one time, and I started to put together a talk based on the idea for our local history society (Things That Go Bump In The Ballads), but never got round to finishing it.
I wonder how other people tackle it; suspension of belief, simple storytelling - personally, have never found either of these enough to keep ballads alive for more than half a dozen singings.
Thanks,
Jim Carroll
PS The same applies to ballads where you find it difficult to sympathise with or relate to the characters; we had a fascinating discussion with MacColl on Edom O' Gordon around this.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 04:46 AM

Jim - the word is 'empathy'. You have to think yourself into the mindset of someone whose views, tho different from your own, are worthy of respect. I found this essential once when asked to review for ED&S the religious poems of Sydney Carter, who wrote Lord·Of·The·Dance among many others. I knew him slightly, and he thanked me for the review, saying that I obviously had respect for his views tho I equally clearly did not share them. I think that such an approach, related to the beliefs and superstitions of the ballads, and the characters of their protagonists, is what you are feeling towards with your questions in your last, valuable, post.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 05:31 AM

How do non-believers deal with superntural songs?

It's a different aspect of the supernatural, one that is generated simply by our instinctive capacity to FEAR such things regardless of whatever logical choices we might make with regard to belief otherwise. I think it's possible to believe in ghosts without believing in God. The experience of ghosts is quite corporeal, unlike the experience of God. Most everyone I know (myself included) has had an experience of the supernatural, and been suitably flegged by it, but who has direct experience of God?

One might argue that in such ballads as Child #32 (a personal favourite) we are dealing with an almost parodic grand-guignol scenario rounded off by a neat little erotic twist, which in real life might be quite the reverse. The well-travelled mythic morphology of King Orfeo is enchanting on any level, as with The Wife of Usher's Well (for my new fiddle version see HERE). The supernatural element notwithstanding both of these are very soapy in terms of their narrative tensions - I think people complain about the unrelenting bleakness of East Enders in the same way they complain about the unrelenting bleakness of ballad narratives which are real enough in terms of human experience even if they do involve the supernatural. As is emerging in this thread, I'd agree that a capacity to be moved emotionally by ballads is pretty crucial to the singing of them.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 07:22 AM

I really started listening to traditional music after my mother died; in the state I was in, the music I'd been listening to before mostly sounded raucous, disturbing, trivial and fake. The first time I heard Sheath and Knife, I played it three or four times in a row; the first few times I tried to sing it, I couldn't finish it for crying. The same happened a while later when I heard the Bonny Hind.

I've got no experience of murder, suicide or incest, I hasten to add, but there's something about the predicament of the young man at the end of both songs which really digs deep - he's lost someone incredibly precious to him, he'll never see her again, he can't communicate to anybody else just how precious she was, and there's nothing he can do about it. None of us (I hope!) can identify with the specifics of the story, but most of us* have probably been in that situation. And that's what powers the ballad.

*At least, most of those of us who have been around a while. I wonder sometimes if there's an elective affinity between folksong and middle age. Someone pointed to this Guardian article a while back - the story of how the writer got up and sang her first ballad. She did Gilderoy, and she was really nervous about singing the bit about them having sex. I thought that was a bit of a handicap for singing anything in the English tradition, but also that that was such a young person's worry - once you hit middle age you just know that people (including you) have sex, people have children and people die, and if you're singing to 40-somethings you know that they know too. In a very real sense, we are all the Wife of Bath.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 11:10 AM

Jon Bartlett--

" I hear less than I did in Helen Schneyer's voice than I did,...

What sort of 'less'? You mentioned 'pace', but seem to refer to general content. When I listen to the last album of Helen, I know that her voice was no longer what it was when I heard her in person in the late 70s & early 80s, and the last few times I heard her 'live', it was the same. Still, it felt to me like she never lost the intensity of the song.

Martin Carthy, I have only heard 'live' twice, so I can't judge easily, but he certainly seemed to give a strong performance each time.

John Jacob Niles? ummmm.. well, I can barely stand to listen to his theatrical presentations. I suppose it is just a matter of taste.

(Come back to the Getaway, and we'll hash it over at length! )


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 11:16 AM

Pip, your nteresting observation about folksong & middle age echoes a shrewd comment once made by Eliza Carthy (no less).

She said (and I paraphrase, roughly, from memory): "People think they don't like folk music, but we get them in the end, as everyone turns 40".


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: jennyr
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 04:27 PM

Thanks for this thread - I've delayed replying because I wanted to read it to the end first and there's a lot of content there to keep me thinking!

To add my two penn'orth, though (which seems to be quite long, sorry): I've fairly recently started to have a go at singing ballads (because I love listening to them so much), and I'm working up to the 'big ones' fairly gradually by starting with shorter ballads (7 or 8 verses) or shorter versions of longer ones. I tend to look at as many versions as I can find first and put together 'my' composite version. Then I go and sing it in the shower, while I'm washing up, in my head when I'm falling asleep, in the car... for at least a couple of weeks before I even think about singing it in public.

I'm interested in the comments above about 'seeing a film' while you're singing. I tried to do that, and I find that it actually makes my performance considerably less engaging because it breaks my connection with the audience. What I try to do now is to watch the 'film' a few times while I'm learning the ballad, and then perform it as if I'm telling my friends about this great film I saw. I was also advised at one point to fill in all the peripheral detail in my mind - how old are the characters? what do they look like? what are their backgrounds? why are then doing this? I don't necessarily go through the whole process every time, but I do if I'm having any difficulty at all engaging with the story or any characters in it.

In terms of the melody, I don't tend to do much in the way of deliberate ornamentation but I think I do vary the tune quite a lot - I find it keeps the interest level up, unless you're specifically going for the soporific effect in one particular ballad. Another piece of advice I've been given is to leave the tune alone for a bit and speak the words as if you were having a conversation, and I tend to find this leads to both a more convincing delivery and some interesting rhythmic and melodic variations.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: jennyr
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 04:37 PM

Re Jim's question about the supernatural: I've been thinking a lot recently about how to handle songs containing ideas which I'm not wholly comfortable with, and I've found a three-part solution which seems to work for me most of the time.

Firstly, I quite often encounter a 'sticking point' in an otherwise perfectly good ballad, and have in the past been guilty of skating over one verse or episode so that I could get on to the next bit. The more I looked at these points though, the more I realised that maybe it was the strength of emotion in those particular lines that I'd been uncomfortable with. There's at least one great thread on here about how to cope with songs that make you cry, so suffice it to say that many of these are now, I think, the most powerful moments in my performance of those songs.

Second, as someone said above, empathy with the characters and with the makers of the song. This is where I find a bit of 'back story' helps. As an example, I learned the song 'The Rigs of Rye' last year but have been reluctant to perform it because I couldn't muster any sympathy for the male character. The last time I did peform it, someone came up to me afterwards and supplied me with an extra verse I'd never heard before, including the line 'this lad, barely 19 years old' - which somehow transformed the whole thing for me, and now it works.

Lastly, and most importantly for me, is to find the 'human truth' in whatever you're singing. My day job is all about finding true meaning in symbols and fantasy, and I find that applies here too. So when I sing 'The Unquiet Grave', it doesn't matter that I don't believe in ghosts, what matters is that I have some understanding of love and loss and pain and despair and...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 05:46 PM

I sing about the supernatural. I also sing gospel, and some hymns and spirituals. I believe in the music.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Gurney
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 11:36 PM

I offered my opinion right at the top, but I just read a quote from George Jessel which reminded me of it.

'If you haven't struck oil in the first three minutes, stop boring!'

Most audiences have the attention span of a goldfish, even in folkclubs. Singarounds are different.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 04:09 AM

"Most audiences have the attention span of a goldfish, even in folkclubs. Singarounds are different."
Is this true or is it a case of ""I" find them boring because "I" have the attention span of a goldfish". Does Gurney have the right to decide that everybody around him/her has a short attention span. Or is it that he/she just doesn't like ballads - or maybe has only heard bad singing of them - bad singing can be boring whether the songs are long or short, ballads or not.
If a snigger snogwriter bores me to tears with his serenades to the fluff in his navel (as they often do) and I told him to stop singing them because they are boring, would he be jusitified in accusing me of being a member of 'The Folk Police'?
Ballads are, as far as I'm concerned, the high watermark of the folk-song tradition - if you don't like them I can see no reason why you can claim to like folk-song. I've heard folk songs that are longer than most ballads - Father Tom O'Neill, True Lover's Discussion, Van Dieman's Land (some versions) many of the Irish language Sean Nós songs (in a language I don't understand), yet I can listen to them without getting bored.
I sat down last night and watched an hour and a half play (part 2 tonight, another hour-and-a-half - can't wait); some time today I will read a few of chapters of a book for about an hour. I might go to the cinema tomorrow - another two hours of sitting and concentrating. Why can I do these things without becoming bored - or is 'attention span' just confined to ballads.
Personally, if somebody included me as a member of a folk club audience of having the attention span of a goldfish, I'd be pretty pissed off.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 07:13 AM

"Most audiences have the attention span of a goldfish, even in folkclubs."

Simply not true. You can get better attention for a long ballad than for any other kind of piece, given a decent performance and the right circumstances. It's a magic moment when an audience 'locks in', and is hanging on every word.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 07:39 AM

I agree Brian, but the key word in your last sentence is 'when', since it doesn't exactly always happen!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 10:37 AM

I agree with Jim Carroll and Brian Peters. How can someone call themselves a folk music enthusiast and not appreciate the ballads - at least some of them? Yes, certain conditions are necessary - most important is that it be a listening room. You would have a hard time getting a ballad across in an environment where there are a lot of distractions.   And the singer has to know his/her stuff - that includes the words, melody, timing, enunciation, and all that. It's so important that the words be clearly and easily heard, so voice projection is vital. Yes I'll admit that a long ballad sung badly (and the major problems I've seen in this respect is singing too softly, no voice projection, sloppy diction, no expression (dronelike quality), singing while looking down at the floor or (worse) the words...)IS boring and excruciating. That same ballad done by a skilled singer is sublime, and the height of a "folk music" experience.

I can't wait to hear Brian Peters when he entrances our audience in Richmond!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 02:59 PM

"I can't wait to hear Brian Peters when he entrances our audience in Richmond!"

Hmm - all my pontificating on this thread has clearly ratcheted up the pressure!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST, Poxicat
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 06:25 PM

Ah Brian, you can work up that dangling moment by making people wait all weekend for the song...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 09:37 PM

LOL don't worry Brian there will be at least one ballad enthusiast in the audience - me!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Gurney
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 10:46 PM

Hey, guys, I like ballads, and I used to sing them, and still do if I'm with a 'committed' group, as I said as the first respondent. And yes, I do have the right to comment. It is based on experience, and I have heard the best over the last 40+ years.

Jim and Mary, how can ballads be the epitome of 'folk'songs when they were largely written and performed by professional troubadours? They are just long songs that some scholar recorded for posterity. Getting dangerously near ('What is a folksong here.') You like them, and so do I, but the people who paid to get in didn't come to be educated, they came to be entertained.

I stand by my statement about 'most' audiences. Smedley has it right, at 07:39


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 04:34 AM

"Jim and Mary, how can ballads be the epitome of 'folk' songs when they were largely written and performed by professional troubadours?"
You have the advantage over me there Gurney - for all the time I've been interested (and despite recent arguments to the contrary) I have no idea, and certainly no evidence of the name of one single author of one single ballad. Bronson once presented a lengthy essay claiming that 'Edward' was writted by Sir David Dalrymple - Lord Hailles, but personally, I found his argument unconvincing.
As for the troubadours...... weeeeell!
I only know that over the last forty years, if I wanted to hear any ballads from 'the folk' and not from somebody who had learned them from books, or from somebody who had learned them from somebody who had learned..... I would more likely to have found them at my local Travellers site from a community of people who didn't read or write. Failing that, we got them from Irish fam labourers, or Norfolk carpenters, or fishermen.... the essence of 'the folk'.
Who says what people pay to listen to - I found Lloyd and MacColl's approach to ballads - a mixture of entertainment and information - has been enough to stimulate my interest and keep it going for nearly half a century.
"Getting dangerously near - What is a folksong here"
It's a bit like 'Jaws', isn't it? It's always lurking out there somewhere, and if it should come up, don't forget; you were the first to draw attention to 'the elephant in the room'.
"I stand by my statement about 'most' audiences."
But appear not prepared to back it up with argument.
The question of accompaniment is a vexed one with me. I'm certainly not opposed to using instruments, but somewhere along the way they came to dominate performance and acted as a distraction - at the very best you found your attention torn between the voice (narrative) and the instrument, which presents sometimes insurmountable barriers to appreciating both songs and ballads - particularly the latter because they can be so long. The most hilarious example of this for me was Steeleye Span's recording of Lamkin, where they gave the impression of having become bored with it and played an Irish reel in the middle.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 04:34 AM

they were largely written and performed by professional troubadours

What's your evidence for that?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 04:53 AM

JIM: I'm certainly not opposed to using instruments, but somewhere along the way they came to dominate performance and acted as a distraction - at the very best you found your attention torn between the voice (narrative) and the instrument ==

If done with reasonable judgment ? as e.g. in both the, similar but just that ineresting bit variant, Martin Carthy & Nic Jones renderings of Clydewater or The Mother's Malison, I can't say I find such accompaniments incompatible with enjoyment of the ballad. It was in the early days of the electronic bit that groups would go OTT. Steeleye generally kept this tendency under control, even when combining versions and even different songs as in On Board The Victory, which I have always thought worked superbly. But Trees, and even to a slightly lesser extent Fairport, would stick an interminable instrumental break into the middle of absolutely everything, so that, when it finally ended, you would have forgotten what the bloody song was about. "That's villainous and shows the most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it" (Hamlet III.ii).


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 05:12 AM

I see no harm in putting instrumentals in the middle of ballads, same as any other song really, though not necessarily the Irish Jig approach taken by Steeleye Span. This raises another issue about ballad accompaniment, interpretation & arrangement which might be worthy of discussion.

*

As for Professional Troubadours composing ballads - well, in one fell swoop such an idea wipes out hundreds of years of exacting craftspersonship in the ballad-making genre. Whilst I argue for master song-makers, I don't see them as being in anyway aristocratic professionals (as the actual Troubadours were), rather everyday working class men & women with a canny knack for shaping a song within the genre of what we have come to think of as The Tradition - which was, just as any such tradition, essentially a creative one.   This ongoing singing, song-making & sharing & modifying & re-invention accounts for the mechanics of the Folk Process, just a shame their names got lost along the way, as is the way with folklore & oral-tradition even in our own day & age.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 05:21 AM

A master of the sort of enhancing accompaniment I wrote about a couple back has always been Paul Brady. Just played on YouTube his masterly 1977 version of Arthur McBride [not a Child ballad, I know, but nonetheless a long song with a strong narrative]. Paul's elaborate but perfectly judged and matched accompaniment, to my mind, fully enhances and brings out every overtone and nuance of this fine song. His diction is a model too ? not a word lost or unclear thruout, despite the concentration that such a complex accompaniment must have called for. Bravo!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: DMcG
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 05:26 AM

I've just noticed one of the TV music channels has a show today called "The Top 50 Power Ballads of All Time". Somehow, I don't think any Child Ballad will make the list. "All Time" indeed, humph!

I've always loved the story telling aspect of the ballads and agree that I don't actually remember the words as such: remember the story and the words flow from it. I've never been that keen on the more repetitious ballads though (eg "The Maid freed from the Gallows" aka "Hangman, stay your hand" etc), perhaps because the repititions don't do that much to advance the story.

When I do sing them at sing-arounds (which is quite rarely!), my approach is always to say I'd like to sing a ballad thats about twice the length of a 'normal' song, so if people are happy I'll forgo my turn this time round and sing it next round; otherwise I'll do something shorter now; which would people prefer?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 05:48 AM

Re Maid Freed From Gallow, DMcG: I always find the repetition a great enhancer of the ultimate effect ? the audience is lulled into expectations which are finally frustrated at the climax, the lover's "Yes, I have brought you gold". I have seen audiences almost literally jump with amazement and delight at that point. I think the folk who made this ballad, and perhaps went on as far as "I think I see my second-cousin's nephew's mother-in-law coming", knew what they were about!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 06:01 AM

SO'P
Totally disagree with sticking tunes into the middle of anything as narrative intensive as a ballad - as far as I'm concerned it was evidence of Steeleeye's desire to turn folksong into something else and displayed a total lack of feel for what the ballads are about.
This was beautifully confirmed by Maddy Prior's 'In Praise of Ballads', and hour+ long programme where she, rather than sticking to her brief and talking about and playing ballads, did a Desert Island Discs on it and played some of the worst examples I have ever heard of ballad-mutilation. She topped it off with a discussion with a psychoanalyst who was obviously totally unfamiliar with the genre telling us why they were so ingrained in our tradition. I always play the programme when I need cheering up.
However, can I say, after all our disagreements, how pleasant it is to find myself (almost) 100% in agreement with the latter half of your posting - we'll have to watch it - 'People Will Say We're in Love'
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: DMcG
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 06:28 AM

I take your point, MtheGM, but I simply find those songs less interesting. Not all repetitous ballads, though: take version B Prince Heathen (or any of the Carthy versions of it); the repeated defiance is one of the things that makes the story. Ditto Willie's Lady, where the repetition is the undoing of the various spells that have been listed earlier. No. it's just there seem to be a few songs that lots of people record that I find simply dull ("P stands for Paddy" is another, for some reason).


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 06:29 AM

We only put instrumentals in where appropriate, like in King Orfeo where he plays the Gabber Reel, or King Henry where he takes to bed with the Griesly Ghost. We might stick something into Alison Gross & True Thomas too, which might be considered a little gratuitous, but we're a fun sorta group, you know? Nothing too heavy. Check 'em out on our Myspace Page.

*

how pleasant it is to find myself (almost) 100% in agreement with the latter half of your posting

Which is no different to what I've been saying all along...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 06:51 AM

Gurney wrote:
"how can ballads be the epitome of 'folk'songs when they were largely written and performed by professional troubadours? They are just long songs that some scholar recorded for posterity... the people who paid to get in didn't come to be educated, they came to be entertained."

The authorship of ballads - and of much of the entire folksong canon - has been discussed here at length very recently. There are strong differences of opinion and the matter may never be finally settled (although 'professional troubadours' have not figured prominently in the discussion so far). However, authorship isn't really relevant to the present argument.

Ballads aren't "just long songs" - they don't necessarily have to be long at all. What they are (the traditional ballads, at least) are old songs that tell old stories. Many of them deal with supernatural subjects such as ghosts, demons, shape-shifters, witches and faeries, that later songs from a more rational age tended to avoid. They also tell tales of love, lust, jealousy and revenge, reminiscent in their bloodsoaked, epic scale of the Jacobean tragedies of a similar period. The best of them (and of course not everything canonized by F J Child falls into that category) are simply bigger songs than anything else in the tradition. The fact that they are old also has the side-effect of having subjected them to additional centuries of 'folk-processing', so that the range and scope of their variant versions is richer than that of more recent songs. All of this helps to explain why so many singers become fascinated by them.

I'm not sure why singing songs possessing some of the best storylines around should count as 'education' rather than 'entertainment'. Conceivably some singers may have been guilty of presenting ballads as if they were a nourishing but unpalatable medicine 'for the good of the soul'. Those people deserved the cold-shoulder. Much better to make the ballads as exciting for the audience as they are for the singer.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MikeL2
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 07:11 AM

hi everyone

This thread appears to be going the way of most threads here.

Am I different to most I ask myself.

I actually like most kinds of music. I also dislike some of most kinds of music.

Analysing why and I find myself coming up with the obvious answer. They have to be done well for me to enjoy them.

And I guess that this is the difference in some of the opinions posted here.

In the case of folk clubs particularly I am able to lower my expectation when going to a singers night or a singalong. Because I know that some performers are not (yet) experienced and I am able to understand that.And I like to see audiences enjoying themselves.

Trying to get back to the thread....With ballads I believe that inexperienced ballad singers are inadvised to try to sing in "inexperienced ballad audiences." They are special and require special treatment which the beginner may not yet have.

A great ballad singer ( they've all been named above) may be able to sing and get the attention he/she deserves even in the most hostile atmospheres.

I cann't give a folk example of what I mean but some ...nay many years ago I went to a Nana Mouscouri concert. The previous acts had been poor and the audience quite noisy and unattentive.

Nana Mouscouri came on and within 10 seconds the audience was spellbound and stayed so for two whole hours......most of which she had sung in Greek !!!

Believe me I am no Nana Mouscouri but from that day I have tried to capture an audience the way she did.

Is the answer all you need is not love....but TALENT ??

Happy New Year

Mike


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Diva
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 09:01 AM

My first dip into the ballads was through Steelye Span in the 70's and then I bought the Muckle sangs LP and found Kilmarnock Folk Club........and I prefer unadorned ballads but I know they are not to everyones taste. I try to judge (wrong word) an audience and a situation and pick an appropriate song or ballad.   Unless I am feeling particularly thrawn and I'll sing a ballad for no other reason than that the mysie is upon me!!!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 09:59 AM

Diva;
"thrawn" - lovely word - very much at odds with its meaning.
Brian - Nice 'put in a nutshell' posting - plenty to things to think about in MikeL2's as well - not sure of what you mean by "This thread appears to be going the way of most threads here." though.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 10:33 AM

This is one of the best threads we've had on Mudcat in a long time. Lots of good discussion, and everyone has remained civil! Long may it continue!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Don Firth
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 01:22 PM

Amen! Lotsa good stuff here!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Gurney
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 03:00 PM

Well said, Mary and Don.
My original comment, at the very top, contains advice to Crow Sister to pick your audience. If you look at the audience in a folk festival, there are a good number of enthusiastic 'folkies' who will appreciate the 'Big' ballads, -that's what we're talking about, unless you have a very different interpretation of the term 'big ballad' to mine. They will gravitate together and enjoy each others contribution, and good luck to them, I might be there myself.

In a club, another story, often. A proportion of the people are there because they are 'with' some more enthusiastic patron. Another sub-set are awaiting their turn to perform their meagre three numbers, and won't appreciate anyone who uses twelve minutes on one song. There are people who only really like particular genres, like Irish songs or Irish music, or witty stuff like Thackray or Lehrer. None of the above are likely to be enthralled by Long Lankin or Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford.
In the words of the parody 'The Folker:'
"In Sir Patrick Spens I clean forgot the 42nd verse
so I sang the 27th, out of turn and in reverse, and no-one noticed!
I laughed for hours...."

There is another thread current where a young lady is asking for suggestions on developing a repertoire, and a regular contributer suggests TWO repertoires, rather than committing to one. That is very sound sense IMO.
I stand by my opinion that travelling players were not 'folk,' but professional performers, thereby automatically disqualifying their songbook from inclusion as 'folkmusic.'

Everyone is allowed to differ, of course. I've been wrong before, in other peoples opinion. ;-)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 04:52 PM

MtheGM said
> A master of the sort of enhancing accompaniment I wrote about a couple back has always been Paul Brady. Just played on YouTube his masterly 1977 version of Arthur McBride [not a Child ballad, I know, but nonetheless a long song with a strong narrative]. Paul's elaborate but perfectly judged and matched accompaniment, to my mind, fully enhances and brings out every overtone and nuance of this fine song. <

If the performance in question is the one mentioned on the "Lyr Req: Arthur McBride by Paul Brady" thread, viz this one , then for once I have to disagree with Mike.

The clip on YouTube starts with 40 seconds of instrumental, then the singing starts in the middle of the ballad. Either the beginning of that performance is missing, in which case there was at least a 40 second interruption in the story, or the first few verses were left out and this was a 40 second introduction. Either way the ballad would be much better without it IMHO.

I would prefer to hear the instrumental on its own, as a piece of music, and the ballad with either a much sparser accompaniment or none at all.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 06:20 PM

"I stand by my opinion that travelling players were not 'folk,' but professional performers, thereby automatically disqualifying their songbook from inclusion as 'folkmusic.'"

So it's an opinion, then, and not anything based on evidence? In my experience people who invoke 'travelling players' or 'minstrels' don't know anything about folk music and are making it up as they go along.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 06:35 PM

Okay, maybe putting the Morris tune Idbury Hill (aka London Pride) in the middle of Alison Gross is more than a little gratuitous - especially as I do so on the pipe & tabor; but, like I say, we're a fun kinda group. AND the new version of True Thomas we recorded today comes in at exactly 4'.33" - including instrumentals - how cool is that?

Anyway, my new 5-string fiddle arrived today & very nice it is too; have a look HERE.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 07:02 PM

I agree with Richard Mellish[although that is not the 1977 version].
Bradys diction is also appalling,what the f;;; is he mumbling about ,however this version is not as bad as the one he did more recently on geantrai,in which he appeared tO have trouble with his breathing
no non no,instrumental breaks in ballads are a nonsense that is one of the few criticisms I have of Martin Carthy,the best way to sing them is straight through without any instrumental breaks, the only purpose instrumental breaks have is to show how good the instrumentalist is,it is one of the most stupid things I have ever come across.
sing the song, tell the story, make sure the words are clear ,the words are important,dont ponce about with instrumental breaks.
Ewan was right.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 09:43 PM

==The clip on YouTube starts with 40 seconds of instrumental, then the singing starts in the middle of the ballad. ===

No, Richard; NOT that one. I was careful to specify the 1977 rendition. So go back to the one you mentioned in YouTube & click on the one I was ref'g to in the side panel. It was when he was that young fella with the long hair, begorrah...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 09:54 PM

I see, tho, Richard that GSS aka Dick Miles agrees with you. But that is an uncharacteristically prescriptive post from him; he is usually more tolerant than that and aware that there is more than one way to do anything. Ewan said "Do it this way", so that's what Martin, or Paul, or whoever has got to go on doing for ever? Away you, Dick. Even if Jesus had said that in Sermon On The Mount you wouldn't be obliged, you know. Try to judge pragmatically and on merits.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Gurney
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 10:58 PM

Shimrod, the sort of people who look for 'evidence' in anything written and performed four or five hundred years ago are scholars. They will muse over documents left by other scholars, and document their conclusions. For yet other scholars.
I folkprocess songs that I have records of! Performance is transient, and trying to rivet it down is, to my mind, futile. When I was really interested, I researched songs, and I tried to think myself into the mind of the performer or narrator, from the position of another performer/narrator, not a desk-pilot. Not a historian, either, although I know some.

You may like to consider the idea that almost anything in any book, -non-fiction book, anyway,- is opinion. Almost everything is written by scholars after the event, collected and collated sometimes much later. War history is written by the winner's scribes with little input from the losers, science is reported by scientists and promptly refuted by other scientists. And history of the social 'sciences' and arts are also written from someone's point of view. Or opinions.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 03:52 AM

sing the song, tell the story, make sure the words are clear ,the words are important,dont ponce about with instrumental breaks.

I think the only circumstance in which I wouldn't put an instrumental break in a ballad is if I was singing it unaccompanied. I don't do unaccompanied any more, for whatever reason, and feel the odd chorus (in jazz terms) as an instrumental is perfectly acceptable. So do what thou wilt - but above all have fun & let the sun shine through into your heart. On my Myspace Page presently (track #6) is a rendering of King Orfeo on which I accompany myself on a Tibetan singing bowl. No instrumental breaks here of curse, but I was tempted.

Ewan was right

Ewan was right for Ewan; Martin is right for Martin; Dick Miles is right for Dick Miles; Brian Peters is right for Brian Peters; Crow Sister is right for Crow Sister; Sedayne is right for Sedayne. There are no rights and wrongs here - just individual approaches all of which are equally valid.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 04:08 AM

"You may like to consider the idea that almost anything in any book, -non-fiction book, anyway,- is opinion."

Right, Gurney, I've considered that and, broadly speaking, I agree with you. But there are opinions (interpretations?) based on evidence and there are opinions based on guesses - and I know which I respect the most.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 04:19 AM

"Ewan was right for Ewan; Martin is right for Martin; Dick Miles is right for Dick Miles; Brian Peters is right for Brian Peters; Crow Sister is right for Crow Sister; Sedayne is right for Sedayne. There are no rights and wrongs here - just individual approaches all of which are equally valid."

Yes, I'd agree with that.
To return to the OP, my query concerned "how do 'you' tackle the long ballads", rather than "how 'should' long ballads be dealt with."

I think it's a case with any creative discipline, that you need to find out where your personal strengths & weaknesses lie and adapt how you personally work with that discipline, to accommodate those strengths and weaknesses.

It is interesting and helpful knowing how other people go about things, whether others prefer to perform strictly according to long-standing traditional conventions, or do things utterly uniquely, or even a bit of both.

As for instrumentation, I can see the value where the narrative suddenly shifts pace or certain events takes place like riding a long distance (which takes time, but may be abruptly dealt with in the verses), a sex scene/romantic interlude which isn't explicitly dealt with, a scene of music and dancing contained in the story itself, a long sea journey. And so-on.

But like the rest of it, I guess it's gotta come down to you being 'in it' somehow - rather than stomping on it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 04:31 AM

"Ewan was right"
This is getting dangerously close to us squabbling - which would be an awful shame.
I never heard anybody dictate to anybody else in the revival how things 'should' be done when it came to singing, if for no other reason than I never knew anybody who was in the position to do so.
The Critics Group was as near to a 'musical democracy' as I have ever experienced. When it came to working on singing, the running was made by all of us for though group discussion, analysis and suggestions.
There were plenty of Ewan Emulators on the scene, just as there were Joanie Clones and Martin Mimicers and Bellamy Bleaters and Waterson Warblers, but in my experience, MacColl was one of the first to criticise this when he became aware of accusations that the Group members all sounded like him or Peggy (a number of recorded examples of him doing this) but he argued exactly as SO'P did in his last sentence "Martin is right for Martin; Dick Miles is right for Dick Miles; Brian Peters is right for Brian Peters; Crow Sister is right for Crow Sister; Sedayne is right for Sedayne."
Giving advice and arguing your corner is one thing (well, two actually), dictating how things should be done is another.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 04:48 AM

Agreed, Gurney. 'Objective' scholarship is a myth, and an unhelpful one.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 05:07 AM

A bit out of my depth with this ? a little technical, but here goes ? I apologise in advance if I don't explain it properly.
While I don't subscribe to the 'shortened attention span' theory, I do believe that one of the major problems of listening to ballads is connected with the length of some of them.
Following the making of the Radio Ballad, 'Song of a Road' MacColl and Charles Parker, with the help of a group of schoolteachers they were working with, began to take an interest in comparing concentration lengths in connection with vernacular and educated speech.
They came up with the idea that, after a certain period of time listening to speech (in the 'Road' Ballad for instance) delivered in a certain manner, the brain/ear connection appeared to become less efficient, causing the listeners to lose concentration. The length of time appeared to vary with different types of speech.
With the help of the schoolteachers they experimented by playing various recordings to young teenagers of, say, some of the technicians working on the M1 motorway, planners, draughtsmen, etc., and found that the attention span of the listener was much longer when listening to, say a bulldozer driver from Connemara or a concrete layer from East Anglia, than it was to a surveyor or inspector or manager.
Where they put some of it down to the content of the speech, they found that much of it was due to the manner of delivery, dynamic, change of volume, tone and effort, sometimes very slight, as used in vernacular speech, compared with educated/trained speech which tends to be all on one level; (several examples of this in Song of a Road).   
MacColl became interested enough to apply some of the findings to his own singing, particularly of the longer songs ? the ballads
He reasoned that if you have a ballad say of twenty-plus verses with a four-line tune ? A-B-B-A structure (one of the most common) for instance, you had to do something with that tune to keep the attention of the listener; he called it "making the ear work".
His solution was to divide the ballad up into sections and select places where he would make changes, subtle ones, but enough to retain the listeners' attentions. These would take the form of slight structural variations to the tune, small bits of ornamentation, little alterations in dynamic or tone? a whole bunch of devices that served to prevent the listeners' attention drifting.
He was aware that this could become an exercise in technique rather than interpretation, so he argued that it should always be related to the contents of the narrative, using it as emphasis of a part of the plot, such as time or circumstance or location changes.
If overdone, it could become theatrical; for me (especially in his earlier recordings) it occasionally did, but most of the time it worked ? for my taste.
It was argued by some that traditional singers never resorted to such techniques, though we only caught the dying embers of our tradition, so we really don't know what the singers did at its height.
One of the things that we have certainly lost is the familiarity with listening to the unaccompanied voice.
The lack of variation, both within a song and throughout a whole set (or even a whole night) of singing is, I believe a major problem in the revival.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,PaulS
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 05:19 AM

While there is no single 'right way' to sing a ballad, there is a wrong way - one that puts the audience off listening either to the singer, or to ballads as a style of song. I love ballads - just as well as I am married to a ballad singer - but there are singers (some renowned) who make my heart sink when they launch into a ballad.

I remember looking through the window of a door in a big singaround where the audience was almost entirely mirroring the singer's favourite posture - leaning back in their chair, and staring at their boots. Admittedly it was late in the evening, but I am sure that at least a quarter of the audience woke up suddenly when the clapping began.

A ballad is a story; you wouldn't tell a story in a dirge-like fashion unless trying to encourage a sleepless child to drop off. Singing that way doesn't help paint pictures in the mind of the listener.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 05:58 AM

"Agreed, Gurney. 'Objective' scholarship is a myth, and an unhelpful one."

So, Smedley, are you saying that scholarship should not be undertaken or the fruits of scholarship should be ignored because no-one can guarantee 100% objectivity?

My own view is that scholarship based on firm evidence, gathered in as unbiassed a way as possible, can be very valuable. The fact that it might be refuted in the face of further evidence, some time in the future, is just the way that science works.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 07:06 AM

I am judging on merits MGM,the clip Richard Mellish provided,his[BRADY] diction is unclear.
Ewan MacColls diction[On the clips i have listened to] was always good.
however you are right the 1977 version is much better,and is very good.,his breathing is good.,i still cant see the point of the instrumental break in the middle,the most appropriate place is at the beginning.,it [imo]interupts the flow.and why repeat the first verse at the end.
I once got a lecture from L Killen, for repeating the first verse at the end of a song, he was right if it is a story song, the only excuse is to encourage people to join in, almost like a chorus,other wise it is nonsensical.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 08:01 AM

I mean if you were to sing tam linn or thomas the rhymer or lord randall or matty groves ,would you sing the first verse at the end again?its nonsense.i mean if you going to do that why not sing it through again and stop halfway in the middle.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 08:33 AM

Depending on the ballad, singing the first verse again can be a closing of the circle. The first verse has a different meaning after you have heard the whole story. It's beyond logic. You go on a journey, and when you return, home is the same but not the same.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 09:14 AM

Scholarship is scholarship, and matters to people who care about it. An opinion backed by scholarship is more interesting & more worth taking seriously, to people who care about scholarship, than an opinion without the back-up. For people who don't care about scholarship, of course, my opinion and their opinion and Ewan MacColl's opinion and Lucy Broadwood's opinion are all just that - opinions.

(Whether there actually is anyone who doesn't care about scholarship is another question.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 09:16 AM

In the song under question, Dick, the point is surely that they resumed their interrupted walk. Not like you anyhow to be so excessively biddable - Louis Killen is a fine singer, but he's not God.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 09:20 AM

Nice point Matt. When I sing Death and The Lady (a short version learned off Shirley Collins), I like to start at a 'bright' pace - she's just stepping out for a walk on a May morning and everything's nice and dandy... By the end of it she's obviously dead! So when I sing the repeat first verse, I do it more mournfully. Err, I like to imagine this perhaps lends a degree of poignant counterpointing to the initial naive gaiety of the first verse.

Or something like that.. ;-)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Paul Burke
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 09:33 AM

Some songs seem to positively demand the repetition of the first verse at the end- Young but Growing being one, and to my mind the meaning of the "bonny boy" who is growing moves from the husband to the child. (I'm not sure if this is a "big" song, is there a standard for size?)

I once chided Eddie Murphy of Salmontails for repeating the first verse- the next time he was singing, he didn't do the repetition, and the song sank like a brick in a bucket. He cast such a sad look at me, I had to admit I was wrong.

Others don't demand the repetition. It's all a matter of taste and part of the storyteller's art, which I sadly lack much of.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 09:45 AM

no, he is not god,but the song he was discussing he was right i was wrong,
and in arthur mcbride why sing the first verse again.
"I'm not sure if this is a "big" song, is there a standard for size?)"
it is not thsize of what youve got but what you do with it..
MGM I have my [argue in an empty room hat on] you know "devils advocate"


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 09:49 AM

That was an excellent suggestion shared by Jim Carroll about devices to keep the audiences interested in a long ballad. I would venture to say - the longer the ballad, the more skill necessary in order to keep the audience's attention, especially if it's unaccompanied. Certainly what this thread has brought out is that there are just so many ways to approach a ballad - and you won't be able to please everybody, so go with you gut about what's right for you, and what fits your interpretation of the song. If you love and respect the ballad, and work at it, you probably won't go too far wrong. Some basics should always be kept in mind - projection, diction, and not letting the instrumentation detract from the ballad itself. If it's there, it should be just for enhancement and shouldn't overwhelm the song.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 10:04 AM

Well, just to oblige your disputatious headgear, Dick ? in this particular song, as I suggested above, the repetition implies that the singer & his cousin Arthur just casually resumed their interrupted walk, shrugging off the few minutes violence in which they had been involved as a sort of matter of routine ? the sort of thing that two such whacking·shillelagh-armed bould spalpeens would expect to happen when they went out for a tramp.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Willa
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 10:22 AM

Thanks to all posters to this thread, which I've found fascinating and, on the whole, amicable.

I do agree with S O'P's comment.'There are no rights and wrongs here - just individual approaches all of which are equally valid.'Long may it be so!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 10:34 AM

While I'm an a cappella singer of ballads, I do admire the use of skilled, usually unobtrusive, accompaniment by some instrumentalists. Some of them take an instrumental break at a point in the ballad where the story has you on edge--a matter of heightening the tension by making you wait for a resolution in the plot (sitting on the edge of one's seat...). A fine storyteller/balladsinger can use the instrumental break the way a great raconteur like George Burns used his cigar...

Timing.

--Charlie Baum


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 10:55 AM

I know there are some of MacColls ballads on YouTube, I don't know if anyone might like to point out any other recordings of ballads online? It'd be jolly interesting to hear some detailed comments about what people like / dislike in a given recording. I might try to source a few, and flag them up here for people to offer their thoughts on what they think either works well or doesn't work.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 12:36 PM

Shimrod, I'm all in favour of scholarship (just as well, as I work in a university.....) but in areas of culture & history there will always be interpretations rather than conclusive proof.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Gurney
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 01:10 PM

On the matter of keeping the audience listening: I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned Vin Garbutt. He sometimes uses the most outrageous introductions to slightly tedious songs, songs that do not naturally capture my keen attention, anyway. As a device, it works brilliantly.
I've listened VERY carefully to 'Flora on the Banks of the Dee,' waiting for the drowned gorilla!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,Bardan
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 01:45 PM

thought id stick me oar in. I think the difficulty with ballads is that the length and therefore musical repetition can put people off. (if theyve heard the theme 22 times, theyre going to be less interested in hearing it a 23rd.) At a guess, the trad way to deal with this was ornamentation and strong plotlines. Plus maybe people had a habit of listening for longer and love of a good plot whether familiar or not.

The habit of listening intensely to long unaccompanied song is probably gone for ever except in very select audiences. (Doesnt mean they wont ever listen, but you will have to work hard to keep their attention.) Instrumentation is probably better these days and people are used to hearing improvisation and bridges, so i dont see why you wouldnt use those things to hold on to attention. (So long as it doesnt really mess the narrative up obviously.)

Id tend to try and concentrate on the words I suppose and give any decent musicians around a short break if they want one. I try and pick up the pace a bit too. You get through the song quicker and any slowed up tragic bits get more impact.

Is it worth asking why pub audiences often react really well to shanteys and not to ballads? Shanteys are shorter i suppose but often more repetitive too.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 01:46 PM

".....some detailed comments about what people like / dislike in a given recording."
Sheila McGregor/Stewart's Tiftie's Annie - in my opininion, one of the most sublime pieces of ballad singing ever - after over 40 years of listening it still brings a lump to the throat.
The clear, sharp tone of her singing cuts right to the heart of the tragedy encapsulated in the story and her clarity of diction..... don't get me started - can feel the lump in the throat already!!
The ballad itself is superb, basically a tragedy of family opposition to a young woman's suitor.
Story:
Miller's wife and daughter standing at the gate watching a local Laird's entourage passing. The mother admires the handsome herald (trumpeter), Andrew Lammie and the daughter says she has been secretly meeting him in the woods. The family are outraged by the fact that he is merely a servant, lock her in her room and try to dissuade her by belittling him.
When this fails the father writes to the Laird protesting the liason and has the servant sent away (more later).
The family begin to beat the girl, eventually killing her by breaking her back (on the Temple-stane of Fyvie).
All this and also a wonderful sub-text.
The ballad was current at the time when the nobilty were losing their influence to the new trades. A marraigeable daughter was a powerful asset to the well-being of an ambitious family and would be married off simply to increase the family wealth and influence = woman as commodity.
The miller writes to the Laird:

"And Tiftie's penned a long letter,
And sent it off to Fyvie
To say his daughter was bewitcherd
By the servant, Andrew Lammie".

Used always to equate "bewitched" with bothered and bewildered, but in fact he is being accused of influencing her by witchcraft and is sent off to Edinburgh to face trial for same. It's a great lesson on how easy it is to miss hidden information in a ballad.
The ballad is based on real people, Have seen the statue of the trumpeter on the ramparts of Fyvie Castle, the graves of the Miller and Annie in Fyvie Churchyard, and (can't verify this) but we were told that when they were excavating for the park below Princes Street in Edinburgh they discovered hundred of skeletons of witches that were drowned in the river there as a test.

Anyway - that's what I'd take on a desert island with me along with The Good Soldier Schweik (the book- I hasten to add - sorry Dick!) and Shakespeare - wouldn't bother too much with the Bible unless it was the King James one with the beautiful text.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,Bardan
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 01:47 PM

sorry for monster post. Statrted writing and couldnt stop


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 03:08 PM

To go back to an earlier post from Jim (MacColl reassessing his approach to singing a long ballad after research on listeners' attention span) - I knew of Jeannie Robertson's ' Harlaw' long before I ever decided to "sing it out", and when I did I found the 20-22 verses and choruses overlong. But I didn't want to lose any of the narrative, so my first choice was to sing pairs of verses with one chorus - which worked fairly well because the first section of the song is question and answer between various combinations of people. Having made that choice, I found that as I worked it up to performance level the tune was changing in subtle ways:- for example, during the questionings at the start the tune might stay within a restricted range (missing out the high notes at the end of line1 and at the start of line3) but still in what I thought of as a major key. When battle was joined, these high notes quite readily reappeared and were useful in adding drama and energy. Then I realised that as the narrative progressed and Macdonald was slain, some verses were naturally falling into a more modal/minor tuning. (Apologies for being so technically ignorant!) But I would like to say that these choices were not then set in stone, and have varied in other performances - probably dependent on audience response as I was singing.
And audience response is a great thing - there was an occasion when the late Norman Buchan brought Jeannie Robertson down to Glasgow for a concert and he took her out to our school (Rutherglen Academy) the next day, where she sang 'Harlaw' to his second year English class. When he later asked the pupils what they thought, a 13year-old boy said,"See, Sir, battles must have been awful noisy in those days!" ['An' ilka sword gi'ed clash for clash']


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 04:04 PM

M THE GM,Arthur MacBride? highly unlikely,they were not playing by the Queensbury Rules.
I reckon they disappeared quickly,before reinforcements arrived, but who knows? it should be left to the imagination.
the story has finished.finish the song.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 06:21 PM

Ok here's an example of a ballad that I think is done to perfection. Tommy Makem sings "Butcher's Boy" . He sings in his natural speaking voice and with his own accent, but enunciating very clearly. There is expression in his voice, but it is subtle and delicate. Liam's guitar accompaniement is tasteful and understated, and in no way detracts from the story line. The other two join in at times with some harmony, providing some variation and interest, but the focus is on Tommy's singing. Tommy Makem could belt out a song when appropriate, but he knew how to handle a delicate and beautiful ballad. So did Liam Clancy.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 07:03 PM

And here's an example of a ballad that I think is done terribly. At least the words can be understood - but you'd have a hard time following the story. Six Mile Bridge performs Billy Taylor . Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span did 'folk rock' ballads but they did them well.

I once heard this group perform "Broom of the Cowdenowes" live. It was excruciating - like chalk on a blackboard....


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 07:13 PM

Here's an example of a ballad done with a lot of accompaniement - percussion, etc. but it's done well and for me - it works. There are plenty of instrumental breaks too, but all in all it hangs together under Ian F. Benzie's strong, confident singing (he's one of my favorites). Ian F. Benzie performs "Bonnie Jean o' Bethelnie" with Old Blind Dogs

OK I have to go out and celebrate New Year's Eve so I'll quit posting. I'd like to see other folk's examples of Ballads - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Perhaps I shouldn't phrase it that way because a lot has to do with personal preference - but anyway show us some examples and critique them, as Crow Sister suggested.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 07:30 PM

Michael said
> No, Richard; NOT that one. I was careful to specify the 1977 rendition. So go back to the one you mentioned in YouTube & click on the one I was ref'g to in the side panel. It was when he was that young fella with the long hair, begorrah.. <

Ah, fine, pity there wasn't a direct link to it, so here is one now.

GSS said
> the 1977 version is much better,and is very good.,his breathing is good.,i still cant see the point of the instrumental break in the middle,the most appropriate place is at the beginning.,it [imo]interupts the flow.

I agree. Clearly there are different opinions here about the pros and cons of putting an instrumental break in the middle. In this instance my personal preference would be either the same minimal interval as between the other verses or, perhaps, half a verse's worth of tune. A whole verse's worth, at the fairly slow pace of this performance, loses the thread of the narrative.

Part of the reason why the words in the 1977 version are so much clearer can be seen in the video: separate mikes for the voice and the guitar, and an appropriate balance between them (thanks, presumably, to someone on the sound desk). The later performance has, as far as can be seen, only a single mike.

I note the various opinions about repeating the last verse at the end. I agree that it can complete a circle, but I think that applies in very few songs. Sometimes it makes a nonsense, and usually it seems to me just a waste of time. But it seems to be increasingly prevalent, as if people think they're supposed to do it.

I suggest the crucial question to ask oneself about repeating the first verse is the same as about accompaniment: Does it enhance the performance or does it distract from the essence of the ballad?

BTW a Guid New Year to all.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Rumncoke
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 08:54 PM

My little grandson was being a real swine, so I sat him on the setee and sang Long Lankin to him.

He sat there watching me, clutching his knitted blanket, listening intently.

I reached the end, he smiled, and fell asleep until his parents arrived home.

I was impressed, and wondered how long after four months old he would lose the ability to listen to ballads - is it something like the grip that new borns have, and then lose, or a simple fascination of sound and rhythm, maybe just a philosophical outlook engendered by the inability to walk away.

It is one good reason to pass ballads on to the next generation, causing fretful offspring to be quiet and then fall asleep without resort to narcotics is a good trick.

Anne Croucher


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 31 Dec 09 - 10:23 PM

GSS writes:
===M THE GM,Arthur MacBride? highly unlikely,they were not playing by the Queensbury Rules.
I reckon they disappeared quickly,before reinforcements arrived, but who knows? it should be left to the imagination.
the story has finished.finish the song. ===

Disagree, GSS. They paused long enuff 4 Arthur to say "The Devil run with you for delaying our walk" - with implication surely that they just nonchalantly resumed their interrupted walk, which they merely regarded as having been temporarily 'delayed'?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 06:38 AM

Further to Maryrrf on Jean o Bethelnie by Ian F Benzie - very good, and well accompanied - I would draw attention also to Shirley Collins' singing of same ballad, under alternative title Glenlogie and with a slight variant of the tune, on her Love Death & The Lady album [1970]. This too is fully accompanied, even with sackbut which you might think a bit heavy: but it works for me because it's that sort of ballad; some are, some are not. I found it just by googling -Youtube Shirley Collins Glenlogie-.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 07:10 AM

"Part of the reason why the words in the 1977 version are so much clearer can be seen in the video: separate mikes for the voice and the guitar, and an appropriate balance between them (thanks, presumably, to someone on the sound desk). The later performance has, as far as can be seen, only a single mike."
yes, but sung unaccompanied, by a singer who has learned voice projection,there should be no need for a microphone.
any singer who cannot sing without a microphone and not be heard needs to go away and start singning from the diaphragm, and learn voice projection.
I am not against microphones,providing they are properly balanced[as they were not in the later version], but to be able to sing without them,is important,of course a different skill is required to sing with them,learning to hang back on popping ps and bs and not have sibilant ssssss.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: English Jon
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 07:30 AM

My approach to this is basically: Collect every version of the song/story you can find. Research anything that doesn't make sense or is ambiguous. Then build up the most complete version you can from the various sources you've gathered. Cut out any "padding". Translate the whole thing to modern english (ie, audience accessibility - I find I do a lot of translations of scots/english stuff) but try to use the same word root if possible - Change only what is necessary. Make sure it (more or less) rhymes/scans in keeping with the rest of the piece. Finally, assess whether the end result sounds "of a type" with your other songs. Revise and re-revise.

Then there's the small matter of learning the song - REALLY learning it, sussing out the accompaniment (optional) and finally, polishing up the performance. Then you gig it for a year and finally, you record it.

It's a very involved process, you kind of have to commit to these songs. We've all heard ballads done badly, and it's excruciating as some of these songs take a quarter of an hour to sing. With enough commitment they kind of take on a life of their own though, and it's worth the hard work.

Good luck!

Cheers,
Jon


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Mary Humphreys
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 08:19 AM

Following on from Rumncoke's posting, I used to sing ballads ( by request, may I add) to my two sons instead of bed-time stories. They particularly liked Lord Thomas & Fair Eleanor - they never tired of him flinging the Brown Girl's head against the wall. They also loved the elder sister ( who had just drowned her beautiful younger sister Kate ) getting away with it by putting the blame on the miller who was hung at his own front gate.
Coming back to Crow Sister's initial posting, how does one take on the big ballads? My way - and I am not in any way being prescriptive, but just saying what I do - is first, find a good story that you REALLY want to tell other people. Second, find a text version that you like - add or subtract verses to make it YOUR way of telling the story. Third, find a tune you both like and can sing without worrying about. If you are constantly worrying about pitching the notes it won't make for easy singing and the story is paramount.
After you have selected your version, learn it so it becomes part of you. Like many other posters here, I see the song in pictures in my mind's eye.
Then sing it to anyone who will listen. And don't fret about people who say audiences get bored. You can bore an audience with a one-verse song if you sing badly. You can engage an audience with any song sung well, but you must believe in it.
Mary


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 10:43 AM

Like Mary Humphries (whom I would love to see perform someday!) I regularly, and by request, sang ballads to my kids as bedtime lullabies. Their favorites were House Carpenter, The Great Silkie, and The Four Marys.

My late dog used to enjoy my ballads too. At least she would curl up next to me and appear to be listening intently.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 11:16 AM

I said
"Part of the reason why the words in the 1977 version are so much clearer can be seen in the video: separate mikes for the voice and the guitar, and an appropriate balance between them (thanks, presumably, to someone on the sound desk). The later performance has, as far as can be seen, only a single mike."

and GSS commented
"yes, but sung unaccompanied, by a singer who has learned voice projection,there should be no need for a microphone."

I agree entirely (unless it's the kind of venue where there's loads of noise, in which case I for one wouldn't want to sing there at all).

However, if you do prefer to have an accompaniment, projecting your voice so that everyone can hear it without a microphone is no good if the instrument is just as loud. This is especially tricky with a concertina, because the sound goes out sideways and seems less loud to the person playing it than to everyone else.

That can be one reason for using amplification; not to make everything louder but just to improve the balance. However there's a downside to that, if you get too accustomed to relying on the electronic mix to balance the loudness, and then sometimes sing without the electronics.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Richard Mellish
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 11:22 AM

Dunno why I've just appeared as "GUEST". Need to remind myself how to reset the cookie, but Help is currently unavailable.

Richard Mellish


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 11:25 AM

OK, I'm me again.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,Bardan
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 11:37 AM

is it just me or are people discussing the necessity of a mike for a recording? Um I'm all for just using your diaphragm and hoping the magical elves remember it, dont get me wrong.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 01:00 PM

is it just me or are people discussing the necessity of a mike for a recording?

It's just you.

I've sung with a mike four times in total; hated it. I've sung to hit the back wall* more times than I can count; love it.

*Projection, not volume - although projection and volume can be fun.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 01:10 PM

I think what Barden was pointing out was that all of the examples cited involved mics - because they are recordings, in one form or another. If you're recording - it HAS to go through some kind of a mic so there's no question of using one or not, you have no choice. Singing with/without a mic involves a different approach, certainly, and yes if the room and the acoustics permit then mic-less is the way to go. I learned to project my voice when I worked as a strolling guitarist/singer in a restaurant many moons ago, and I'm glad I did. Balance can be a problem, though, when instruments are involved and that's where a PA system can help.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Jan 10 - 03:24 PM

"However, if you do prefer to have an accompaniment, projecting your voice so that everyone can hear it without a microphone is no good if the instrument is just as loud. This is especially tricky with a concertina, because the sound goes out sideways and seems less loud to the person playing it than to everyone else."
not for me it aint,it was when i first started,one learns to play the concertina very quietly,it is a good idea to practise it seperately at firsttrying to play the accompaniment as quiet as a mouse,then practise the instrument loud,then quiet again,then put the two together ,well it worked for me anyway
now when I sing into a mike they turn my voice right down,but it is a different skill using a mike,you have to think crooner,and be wary of certain syllables for sibilance etc.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 06:53 AM

I hope nobody minds me making a couple of points in case this enjoyable thread rides off into the sunset before I get a chance?
The ballads, in my opinion, are occasionally treated with far too much reverence; quite often, even the term, 'Big' can be off-putting, both for singer and listener, creating a barrier to their enjoyment before you even start to tackle them. I once heard quite a good singer once say "Oh, I'm not ready for the ballads yet", as if she was talking about climbing Everest (or going to a Celtic-Rangers match).
They are stories; old, sometimes long (though certainly not always), and often carrying fairly obscure lore and information embedded in them; but stories, just the same.
I always found that a bit of background reading helped me to enjoy and understand them, both as a singer and a listener. Not necessarily the heavy stuff, which I often found hard going and could be a hindrance rather than helping.
Evelyn Kendrick Wells's 'The Ballad Tree' and Willa Muir's 'Living With Ballads', both at one time or another criticised for being 'too lightweight', were great general introductions to the genre for me, and both extremely enjoyable reads, if a little wide of the mark occasionally. Similarly, Madge Elder's 'Tell The Towers Thereof' and 'Ballad Country' are invaluable scene-setters for the Border ballads, as is George MacDonald Fraser's (creator of the 'Flashman' series) 'The Steel Bonnets'. Nigel Tranter's 'True Thomas' is also a good context introduction for 'Thomas The Rhymer' and an enjoyable historical' romp' into the bargain (as are many of his books on Scots history) His James v trilogy doesn't do too bad a job in adding, (albeit fictional) flesh to the bones of 'The Gaberlunzie Man'.
(Cap'n ? I was winding you up when I said I didn't like T T R ? it's a great ballad, though it can become a little turgid if it's taken too ponderously. My friend Bob Blair (sometime Mudcat lurker) makes a wonderful job of it (I think on one of the Argo 'Poetry and Song' or 'Voices' series)).   
For anybody Interested in the folklore to be found in them, Lowry C Wimberly's 'Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads' is, in my opinion, unsurpassed, both as a cover-to-cover read and as a long-term reference book.
All of these, and more, have helped me considerably to enjoy listening to and singing the ballads and prevent them becoming 'interesting' museum pieces. I would be interested to learn if anybody has any other similar inspirational reading.
There is another point related to all this I wanted to make, but this has become far too long as it is so maybe later.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 08:57 AM

Books which have interested me include "The Ballad as Song" by Bertrand Harris Bronson, which IMO encourages/provokes thinking about the songs in their variations; also "The Ballad of Tradition" by G. H. Gerould, which covers the basics in clear English; and for the most concise introduction to ballads, I would refer a newcomer to Emily Lyle's introductory essay in her smashing collection called "Scottish Ballads", published by Canongate Classics.
And, in addition to Wimberly, there is "The Silver Bough" by F. Marian McNeill, which deals with Scottish lore.
Of course, it is quite possible to sing a ballad without reading any of these books - but I find that some knowledge opens out the ballad for me and 'tunes' me in to the mindset of previous generations of singers.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Diva
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 10:04 AM

Especially Gerould I had him welded to my side when I was doing my uni thing. Cracking thread. Just been listening to Lizzie (Higgans)nae fuss nae bother just guid sangs well sung


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 02:30 PM

Happy New Year, all. Yes, Diva, this is a good thread. Lots of stuff I agree with strongly - English Jon and Mary on putting together your own version of the ballad, for instance. The more it feels like a part of you, the better job you will make of putting it over.

I want to go back to the subject of instrumental accompaniment (last discussed Dec 30). The idea is propounded regularly in certain quarters that accompaniment inevitably detracts from the storytelling aspect of the ballad. That this is utter cobblers is easily demonstrated by thinking of such fine ballad singers as Ray Fisher and Sara Grey, who tend to use accompaniments more often than not. Of course it needs to be unobtrusive both in volume and complication, it needs to be sufficiently well-drilled as to require little or no concentration, and it needs to be used on the right ballad. Even somone like me, who's fascinated by the interplay of voice and instrument, would regard certain ballads as being inappropriate for accompaniment. Others ballads, though - the less emotionally-intense, more swashbuckling kind - will actually take quite flamboyant accompaniments without complaining.

Jim mentioned above MacColl's vocal techniques for retaining audience attention over the course of a long ballad. The instrumentalist has even more weapons in the locker: a switched chord, a drone, a more insistent rhythm or a picking-up of pace can convey a change of mood without the listener realising quite what's happened.

As for instrumental breaks, I'm afraid I have to disagree with GSS ("the only purpose instrumental breaks have is to show how good the instrumentalist is... it is one of the most stupid things I have ever come across"). My old friend Charlie Baum has it right: things like the passage of time, a switch of narrator, a battle, etc. can usefully be marked by an instrumental passage. That's not the same thing at all as popping in a quick set of jigs to stop people getting bored.

Ultimately it boils down to a question of taste. I quite agree with points made above that different ballads and different singers will require or adopt different approaches. There is no right way to do it. However, I do reserve the right to cringe and make derogatory comments (privately, of course), when someone really murders a good ballad!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 03:11 PM

Happy New Year to you too Brian.
I think you are right that instrumentation doesn't inevitably detract from the storytelling aspect of the ballad, but on the other hand, it certainly can and quite often does.
I once attended a lecture given by Tony Rose at C# House on the subject where he argued that (to paraphrase - didn't record it unfortunately) ballads always needed accompaniment whereas it wasn't necessary for (what he called) 'patter songs' - have spent the last thirty years working that one out - still haven't. I think he, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, and other performers of that ilk have ruined more songs than they've enhanced with heavy-handed or unnecessary (albeit extremely skilful) accompaniment.
Peggy Seeger, who is, in my opinion, one of the best accompanists on the scene, once described the role of accompaniment as similar to that of a stage set, an unobtrusive addition against which the text can be presented - sometimes desirable, even necessary, but on other occasions totally surplus to requirements. A matrix in which to present your song, should you feel it necessary.
I don't believe MacColl's technique applies in the same way, as the voice is essential to the song where accompaniment, at best, can only ever be a desirable addition. Even the vocal techniques I described can (and have been on occasion) destructive if badly applied.
My opinion anyway.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Hardaker
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 03:18 PM

I was interested to see Jim Carroll cite George MacDonald Fraser's "Steel Bonnets", which I have recently re- read, as a background text for the border ballads. Conversely, the ballads themselves dramatise the human aspects of the historical record.
Singing them I feel like a time traveller, moving back 400 years and getting into the mindset, the devil-may -care fatalistic attitude and ambiguous morality of the border reiver.

It helps that living in Cumbria I know the territory. I have cycled that lonely road past Askerton and Bewcastle and over the Kershope Burn into Scotland; I've stood on the stump of the Armstrong Tower at Mangerton which figures in at least four ballads. And on a beautiful autumn morning I looked south to the lakeland fells from the Gallows hill at "Harribee" in Carlisle with the chill realisation that this was the last view seen be so many, like Hobbie Noble who ended their days there.

All this has become part of my inner landscape, the cinematic backscene in my mind's eye when I am performing the ballads. The trick I am still working on is how to communicate this to an audience who may not know the border country and its history.
Richard Hardaker


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 03:25 PM

I once asked Ewan MacColl in the bar at the Princess Louise at the interval of a Ballads & Blues evening in about 1957 why he had just sung Eppie Morrie unaccompanied whereas the previous week he had done it with a driving accompaniment from Peggy's banjo: "Is it just how you happen to feel?" Unhesitatingly he replied, "Yep, that's all; just how I happen to be feeling."

If it was good enough for Ewan...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Goose Gander
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 03:35 PM

I got a ukulele for Christmas and, surprising enough, it makes for a nice accompaniment for some ballads. I been working on False Lamkin, Child #2, and Valley of Knockanure. Whether or not this is something I'll ever want to do in public remains to be seen.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 04:04 PM

Can I throw in something not exclusive to ballad singing, but noticable because of the length of some ballads?
Don't know what other people call it be we used to refer to it as four-square singing.
It is when a singer breaks up words of songs by hitting each syllable with a note of equal length; (sorry if that's convoluted) it it probably on of the most common barriers to listening to singing for me nowadays.
It makes Liverpool come out as Li-ver-pool and London as Lon-don.
It just came into my mind as I was watching (and have just walked out of) a televised concert of exile songs where the singer sang E-rin's Love-ly Home - just like that!!!
We recorded field-singer after field-singer who told us, when we asked, that they tried (as they put it) to sing as near as they spoke, in other words, in speech patterns; as far as I'm concerned, essential to communicating narrative. They also told us that when the sense of a sentence carries on over more than one line they would not put in a gap, or if a long line made one necessary, they would take a snatch-breath in order to maintain the sense of the narrative.
This type of problem can arise when the singer allows the voice to follow the accompaniment, (particularly rythmical) rather than to lead it.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: jennyr
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 04:21 PM

Glad to see this is still going on!

While I agree with Brian and Jim in principle, I think an instrumental accompaniment can quite easily detract from storytelling if the performer is not exceptionally skilled. Personally, I would only currently attempt to sing and play at the same time in the privacy of my own home, because I can't play well enough to enable me to concentrate on the story and convey it well.

Also, my husband says that he finds it nearly impossible to listen to the words of a song if it's accompanied, because his brain naturally focuses on the music instead. He might have a very special brain, of course, but I can't imagine it's that rare.


On another point entirely, a lot of the comments above seem to imply that a relaxed audience with its eyes closed must be bored and/or asleep. This worries me a little as that is my preferred way to listen to a song I'm really enjoying. At my regular singaround, the highest compliment that can be paid to a performer is a room full of closed eyes, followed by a hushed silence and then some applause.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 06:56 PM

I see much good sense in the recent postings.

I'd like to pick up on Jim's point about "four-square singing".

I confess that I can't entirely follow his description, but I do have a similar dislike for singers who break up a word or a line inappropriately. A common fault is to take a breath at the end of a musical line instead of at the end of the verbal phrase that comes one or two words later. (I would quote a specific instance but I can't recall it right now.)

I have heard recordings of source singers where they stop for breath in an obviously wrong place, even the middle of a word. But I'm prepared to believe that that happened because they were heading for what would have been the right place to breathe but just couldn't get that far when they were old and short of breath.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 10:31 AM

A word in defence of four-square singing. In these degenerate times a lot of us are learning the songs either from accompanied versions - which have a definite rhythm, but not one that's driven by the voice - or else from unaccompanied versions sung in that psalmodic style Anne Briggs used to use, where each line hangs in the air separate from the others and the beat of the music gets lost completely*.

With that in mind, I often find that singing "four-square" is a great help when I'm learning a song - it gives me a real sense of the shape of the tune & how the words fit in and around it. It also helps get me out of a bad habit I have with songs in 4:4, which is letting the stress fall consistently slightly behind the beat (a bit like Radiohead's Karma Police, for them as knows it). But I agree with Jim that "four-square" isn't a good performing style - I use it as part of the process of getting to grips with a song, not a final reading.

*O what's the matter with you my lass...
And where's your dashing Jem-my...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 12:10 PM

Four square singing
Richard; that's exactly what I'm talking about - put far simpler than I did.
Pip - ok if you can confine it to practice, but I find that it is exactly then when you develop your singing habits. I know this from when I return to songs I learned in the early days when all my singing was four square. I actually abandoned one of my favourite songs 'Go To Sea No More' because of it, and am only now getting it back the way I want it.
With respect to Anne Briggs, who I admired very much, I would guess her breathing at the ends of lines is more to do with her singing in head-voice which takes twice as much breath as natural voice, forcing her to take more breaths.
Thanks for input.

And now for something completely different:
One of the things I noticed about ballad singing, my own included in the early days when I was singing regularly, was the tendency to concentrate on the spectacular to the detriment of the subtle.
I have always had a fondness for supernatural songs and tales, yet I found myself seeking out and choosing to sing and listen to the ones that had as their main subject, the eerie and unworldly and tending to overlook those where he supernatural was there, but taken for granted by the ballad makers and singers. Ballads like 'King Henry' and 'Willie's Fatal Visit' can be entertaining enough in their way; a little 'Grand Guignol' for my taste, but that's me. Nowadays I find they don't compare to say, 'The Grey Cock', which, when you examine it, is fundamentally about the final parting of two lovers, one of whom just happens to be dead. Having spent the night with her dead lover, the heroine doesn't run screaming to the nearest mad-house when she finds she's been sleeping with a corpse, as she would in a Hammer or Roger Corman Film. Rather, she asks him to hang around, and the final, apocalyptically phrased refusal verse must be one of the most spectacularly beautiful in the whole of ballad poetry:

"Oh Willie dear, oh handsome Willie,
Whenever will I see you again?"
"When the fish do fly, love, and the seas run dry love,
And the rocks they melt in the heat of the sun".

It's like comparing the two films on the same subject made in the nineties; the rather heavy-handed 'Ghost', where the villain is dragged screaming down to Hell by shadowy demons, and the, IMO, far superior 'Truly, Madly, Deeply' which has the over-mourned husband coming back to life with a few of his dead mates, watching old classic films on the television and complaining about the cold, then returning to whence he came, leaving his wife to get on with her life.
The same is true of 'The Unquiet Grave'; there is nothing bizarre or frightening about a grieving woman having a conversation with her dead lover and trying to persuade him to let her join him.
Both of these songs, while placed in a supernatural setting, are really about the suffering of and coping with great loss, a subject as significant today as ever it was.
I believe that the ballads; the folk song repertoire as a whole really, no matter what setting they are presented in, are basically commentaries on the human condition; that's why, I believe they still have something to say.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 12:13 PM

When learning a ballad, I find it helps to have a sense of the basic ballad verse format:-
                . _ . _ . _ . _
                . _ . _ . _
                . _ . _ . _ . _
                . _ . _ . _                           ( _ representing the rhythmic stresses)

I then work with the melody so that it sits on these pulses, and then I work with the text so that the significant words in each line will fall on the pulses.

Obviously, it's not always an immediate match, so that involves some adjustment which might mean altering the text, or settling for the occasional anomaly, which breaks the pattern and helps hold an audience's interest.

For example, a version of 'The Queen's four Maries' has a verse:-
               Last NICHT four MARies made Queen MARy's BED
with too many syllables for the basic pattern, but if sung with a sense of the pulse - rather than to a strict rhythm or time signature - it will carry the listeners because it's telling the story.

It all goes back to what Jim Carroll said in a earlier post -- "Sing it as you would speak it."


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 12:14 PM

"I think he [Tony Rose], Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, and other performers of that ilk have ruined more songs than they've enhanced with heavy-handed or unnecessary (albeit extremely skilful) accompaniment."

Hang one, Jim, you're talking about three of my early ballad influences there! But each to their own.

Good comments about conversational style in singing. I've been known to make workshop classes recite song verses as if conversing - it's an interesting exercise. It's also interesting to try to sing a song with the word lengths governed strictly by the note durations, and hearing how awful it sounds. However it's actually quite difficult to sing every word of a song precisely as you would speak it, and in practice it ends up being some sort of compromise. It's also worth remembering that highly ornamented singing, like sean nos style or that of your own Bill Cassidy, is working in the opposite direction to the conversational, with the ornamented syllables being stretched right out.

jennyr - regarding musical ability, what you say is one good reason for keeping accompaniments simple.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 12:35 PM

I strongly disagree with Brian Peters[re instrumental breaks]
If I was a Story teller, and I was halfway through my story,I would not bring out a snare drum and do a two minute impersonation of Buddy Rich,it just interrupts the story,and distracts the listener,neither would I start juggling halfway through the story,or taking my clothes off and doing a strip tease.
Ballads are like stories,and [imo]do not need lengthy instrumental solos.perhaps a short two bars or four bars bridge at the end of a chapter,but that should be it.
however, I would also say this,it is possible to accompany ballads well, but easier[imo]to sing them well without any accompaniment,the singer has only one thing to concentrate on,the singing of the song.
working out a suitable accompaniment to a ballad and putting the two together requires twice as much work,as singing the ballad unaccompanied and is therefore[imo] twice as difficult,that is not cobblers ,but fact.
yes I do sing ballads with accompaniment,and without,again depends on my mood.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 12:44 PM

first lesson in accompaniment is that you are accompanying,here are two clips,that illustrate this perfectly, a superbly sung old smokey.
two singers that really get inside the song
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGTCZJ-RBPw and this even better Zeeke Morris.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzoA4AaZi44


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 12:57 PM

The important thing about a ballad is telling a good story. Sometimes great length is needed and sometimes a more concise version does the trick.

There's a native American ballad called "Elk River Boys"or "The Murder of Jay Legg" that derives from the details of an actual murder in West Virginia in 1904, and is sung in many versions in a small area of central West Virginia. I'd heard eight-and nine-verse versions that never grabbed me, but it wasn't until I listened to a field recording of Henry Bowers, who had honed the tale to five verses that I wanted to learn it. Henry Bowers threw out all sorts of extraneous detail and polished the nugget. My version (I had to restore a missing half-verse where the field recording skipped when they digitized it) takes maybe one minute to sing, but still produces the "wow" you can get from a longer ballad.

I'm not saying that all ballads should be short. Complex tales take many verses to relate. But if each verse pushes the narrative along, you'll maintain the attention of the listeners to your tale.

For me, one thing that loses my attention in a story will be detailed descriptions of ships fit only for an audience of sailors, or precise details of battles fit for soldiers. Your interests may vary, but those things bore me, and i wouldn't include them in anything I sing--if they bore me, how much moreso would they bore an audience that has to listen to me, singing about those details without conviction or care.

My advice then, is to sing a version you can sing with conviction. If you include many old verses merely because they were collected in Child or Bronson or wherever, then you're singing it as a museum piece, and museum pieces tend to bore lots of folks other than historians and antiquarians. If you include the verses because they interest you, then you've got verses you need to tell your tale. Don't be afraid to trim or translate. Make it live by making it your own version of the story, and you can tell the story to most any audience.

--Charlie Baum


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 01:12 PM

The mention above of 'The Grey Cock' reminds me how much I love the very non-trad version of it that Eliza Carthy sang with Salsa Celtica. They renamed it 'Grey Gallito', sang the refrain words in Spanish & put it all to a Cuban rhythm. I dare say that taking all these liberties would not find favour with some of you, but it's an amazing track and has(IMO) Eliza's best-ever recorded vocal.

And I enjoy it as an alternative 'take' on the tradition, not a replacement of it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 03:40 PM

"But each to their own."
Indeed Brian. It was not my intention to detract from any of those performers, I think they all have their merits, and you would have to travel a long way to find somebody who has done as much for folk music as Martin Carthy. That said, I have been revisiting recordings of all these singers recently to see if my opinion has changed at all; I find it hasn't reeeealy.
I am convinced that they all approach the songs as pieces of music rather than narrative, which is not what I am looking for. Martin actually puts in extra sung syllables into much of his singing which I find extremely irritating, but as you rightly say, "each to their own."
"recite song verses as if conversing"
It's a great way of work. In our workshops while working with a singer we used often to stop them at the end of a verse and tell them to recite the next verse. When working on my own singing, the first half dozen times I worked through a new song I recited rather than singing it to familiarise myself with the phrasing.
It is quite difficult to sing every word as you say it, but it is possible to shift emphasis onto words that need stressing and thus utilise the tune - overstressing 'and' and 'the' and 'but' type words is a real turnoff for me.
The old Clare singer, Tom Lenihan summed it up when he said, "do it as near as you can". Four squaring used to be one of Ewan's early problems, though he worked on it quite extensivley. I really noticed it on his Manchester Angel - he breaks up the second word on the very first line 'co-ming so the first syllable sounds as if he's trying to be sick!
"Bill Cassidy, is working in the opposite direction to the conversational,"
Bill's way of singing is interesting - as you say, not conversational. I always thought that he had been influenced by the Sean Nós style, but I have found an interview we did with one of his relatives, 'Pop's' Johnny Connors who sang in a similar style, but not as skilfully. He explained that the family learned many of the tunes to their songs from grand-uncle Johnny Doran, the piper and the style some members of the family were lifted directly from that. Johnny gave us a long session describing how the piping technique influenced his singing.
As far as all the Travellers are concerned, talking about singing style was fascinating as so much of it was shaped by street singing and ballad selling. Mikeen McCarthy said that his family sang in three different ways; one for pub singing, one for ballad selling,("slow enough to make a song last as long as the street") and then that done around the caravans at night which he called 'fireside singing'.   
Richard Mellish;
"I have heard recordings of source singers where they stop for breath in an obviously wrong place,"
I think you are quite right to put this down to age and shortage of breath. If you want a classic example listen to Phil Tanner's recording of Banks of Sweet Primroses, which he makes a magnificent job of, until he comes to the last line of the last verse when he actually runs out of puff and takes a breath.
One of the best singers we recorded, blind Travelling woman Mary Delaney, always used to make us play back her recordings and she invariably got upset with herself and said "Damn the bloody fags and booze!"
If you want to hear a source singer singing like he speaks - listen to Sam Larner's Butter And Cheese and All where, on the penultimate line he sings "The dogs they barked, the children screamed, out flew the old women and all" - then he interrupts the narratibve by saying "And you know what they are, don't you" - which is totally seamless to the singing.
Getting carried away again - must go - Wallander's on telly.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 03:53 PM

I remember once seeing Sam Larner sing B&C&A at Ballads & Blues in Princess Louise days. He not only made a great long monologue of "You know what old women are, don't you? You know what they're like, har har har", &c - he actually made a sort of production of taking out his false teeth & putting them in his pocket before beginning the song, saying "Ah, that's easier ? this is that sort of song where you need to feel easy, you know." Only time I ever heard him live; it must have been about 52 years ago but I have never forgotten it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Gordeanna McCulloch
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 05:24 PM

Thoroughly enjoying this thread but it's taking me a while to read through - very slow reader.
Glad to see Jim Carroll thinks the Big Boys are treated with too much reverence. I do too. They should be respected, but singing some of them verbatim would take a bit of doing. But above all they should be enjoyed. I've been singing them for 40+ years and still do so whenever I get the chance. These big songs are stories - and stories are, I believe, what make us. To my shame I have never done a great deal of research on the ballads but I love them and believe that changing the words slightly or altering the tunes to fit are not horrendous crimes. How else did they evolve, grow and travel to so many countries in so many different versions?
These big songs are not only enjoyable and "meaty" to sing they teach us that there is often a payment to be made for our indiscretions.   
In singing ballads my preference is to fit the tune round the words - ie follow the rhythms of speech rather than tune. This to me gives a more satisfying result for both singer and listener. Like Brian and Jim, when Anne Neilson and I run our ballad workshops we encourage people to speak the words over as though it were a piece of prose and find the stresses that naturally occur in speech. Then start fitting the tune around it. It's what Anne and I have done for more years than either of us care to remember and I feel we both sing these Big Fella's tolerably well.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 05:35 PM

Charlie,
Some excellent advice there.
To those of us who love the evolved ballads, in the vast majority of cases we know oral tradition has greatly improved on the often lengthy originals by removing extraneous material like unnecessary detail and description. Often in the past academics and literature scholars have seen this as corruption of some original piece.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 05:55 PM

Jim,raises an important point about ornamentation.
firstly,when a singer sings unaccompanied it is natural to put in more ornamentation,than when he/she is singing with chordal accompaniment,I know I sing differently unaccompanied[from the ornamentation aspect than when I accompany myself], the interpretation does not differ more, in fact accompaniment can be used to heighten the story,a difficult skill but one that is satisfying when it works.   
   however unaccompanied singers can make the mistake of concentrating on ornamentation above everything else[we are not helped by the idiotic Comhaltas judges,who give more marks for ornamentation above any other consideration,b..... f .....]
so, a singer can get the erroneous idea that the sound is more important than the interpretation of the story,it is not.when it comes to ballads it should be story telling through the medium of music , it is not just about making a beautiful instrumental sound.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Cuilionn
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 06:05 PM

As another newish Ballad-tackler, I'd advocate the gourmand approach to start: surround yourself with as many recordings of, and books about, balladry as you possibly can. Autobiographies of singers are useful too. Gather it all in, soak it up, submerse yourself in the richness and range and variety. Pay attention to the voices and styles that hold YOUR attention...ponder why and how. Then try out a few...sing a few verses of this ballad or that until you find one that seems ripe for you to embody.

To my way of thinking, embodiment is important. Work, work, work (or play, play, play) at acquiring those words, those lines, those verses and refrains, those audience-grabbing cadences, but also do your best to present a ballad with all of your being, thrumming with the harmonic and narrative power.

Yes, each singer will make technical adjustments as they deem necessary or suitable, but it's important to treat the songs like beloved elders: bow to them, honour them, and crawl right up into their laps and throw your arms around them if you can. Don't argue with them before you've developed an affectionate relationship. (BTW, I am one of those who believe it IS possible to get your ego out of the way, humble yourself, and become a host or a vessel for music that is more ancient and powerful. I've felt this ego-surpassing power in the presence of a few ballad singers--especially Sara Grey, with her eerie, spare clawhammer banjo accompaniment, and Scottish tradition-bearers Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre, at whose feet I would happily sit (and join in on refrains, if welcomed) for ages!

I would heartily recommend Alison & Geordie's recordings for the liner notes as well as their fine, engaging singing. They've done a great deal of song-and-story-gathering from source singers themselves, as well as painstakingly documenting the lives and work of some of these singers. (You can track down their work here.)

In our household, we are blowing the dust off a lot of old albums just now...endeavoring to learn and re-learn some of these Big Boys (and Big Girls!) is our mutual New Year's Resolution.

Blessings,
--Cuilionn


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 06:25 PM

More excellent advice above, but here's another approach, an ancient one if we believe the scholars: I have been singing ballads and songs for forty-odd years and had a rest from the big ballads for about 20 years but in the last couple of years have come back to singing them in a new way (to me). I select a tune and refrain I like and then from my memory of listening to lots of different versions over the years piece together a version without referring back to any one version, keeping it concise. I also remake the songs each time I sing them. So far it has worked on The Cruel Mother and The Two Sisters. About a year ago I did a workshop with a Norwegian singer and we swapped versions of Tvo Seostres, a moving experience.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 07:00 PM

With respect to Anne Briggs, who I admired very much, I would guess her breathing at the ends of lines is more to do with her singing in head-voice which takes twice as much breath as natural voice, forcing her to take more breaths.

Perhaps. I loved her recordings when I first heard them, but these days I hear a reverential quality in her delivery which I find quite off-putting. And I hear an awful lot of pauses, to the point where the melody breaks down into a series of beautiful phrases. I much prefer the almost metronomic timing of a singer like June Tabor (or Tony Capstick).

I like the work of both Tony Rose and Nic Jones, and have learnt several songs from their records, but I agree that the accompaniment is generally very important on their stuff - Nic Jones in particular is a very poor model for an unaccompanied singer.

Pip - ok if you can confine it to practice, but I find that it is exactly then when you develop your singing habits.

It's a step on the way. I need to hear the beat of the tune before I can sing it in any style at all. A good singer will break the regularity of four-square timing, but I think to learn songs like The Recruited Collier or Reynardine the way Anne Briggs sang them - as a series of lines, without any beat or forward momentum - would be to get into an even worse habit.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Jan 10 - 07:48 PM

"These big songs are stories"
We had a very odd experience back in the mid-seventies with a couple of elderly brothers we were recording here in Clare.
Between them they gave us around 15 songs, all well sung, complete and textually excellent, all narrative songs, including several classic ballads (the very rare elsewhere, but common to this area Suffolk Miracle among them). At least half of the songs were sung to the same tune. At the end of the sixth song (by then about 4 had the same tune) one of them grabbed my sleeve and said "Isn't that a beautiful air?"
After that we met several singers to whom the only importance of the tune was that it carried the words efficiently - they considered themselves storytellers whose stories happened to come with tunes.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 04:42 AM

".....on the often lengthy originals by removing extraneous material like unnecessary detail and description."
Sorry to be a bore about this Steve.
I don't know if there has been any new evidence presented on this since we last argued, but with respect, we know nothing whatever about the 'originals' of the ballads. We certainly know that many of them were taken up by broadside printers, but this certainly is no indication whatever that any of these were originals. The forms the ballads take, the insider knowledge of folklore, the use of vernacular, social familiarity and values.... everything suggests the ballads to be pure folk creations and not those from outside the communities in which they were current.
I don't know if there is an 'author's' name attached to 'Lord Randall'; I do know that Bronson made a valiant argument for it having originated with Sir David Dalrymply b.art, Lord Hailles; he didn't convince me either I'm afraid.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 04:46 AM

That should have been Dalrymple of course,
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Diva
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 05:00 AM

Looking forward to Anne and Gordeanna's ballad workshop at Celtic Connections! I'm still a bit feart to make changes to ballads, I once did a wee bit of editing to Mill o Tifties Annie and was roundly telt aff......so I've never done it since. But as Gordeanna says "how did they evolve?"

Learning all the time...as it should be

Kathy


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 06:13 AM

I have only recently become obsessed by the Muckle Sangs, and have found this thread to be fascinating and helpful, with some very valuable insights from the long experience of others, and much to agree, disagree and ponder on.

On 'editing' - I have a strong hunch that the longer versions are closer to the way the songs started their journey. It's likely that nothing is scientifically provable about ballad origins, but if you've ever tried to make a verse or two yourself (rather than a parody which I suspect is easier) you'll find how hard it is to get to the conciseness and clarity of language at the service of narrative that the ballad makers achieved. Why destroy what was so hard won? If it's too long pick a shorter one.

A case in point. The longest version of Dowie Dens of Yarrow, first printed by John Veitch from a reciter in Peebles, Child's 214L, is also the most finely crafted, with many rhymes and near-rhymes in the odd as well as even lines. It also encapsulates the comparatively slim tale of Willie's Drowned in Yarrow. Veitch is convinced it is the original, or close to it, and he also makes a case for the identity of the heroine.

With its fine touches of imagery and detail it makes the other versions look (more or less) degenerate. The master art of the singer has been acknowledged here. Why do we have such a problem with the notion of a master makar who knew what they were doing? He/she could be a ploughman-poet like Burns, but don't ignore the poet component. Even socialism needs specialists.

The idea that some people are 'folk' and the rest are something else is a strange one. We all breathe the same air. Ballad makers were very much part of the community they made the songs for - they may be anonymous now, but they were people with a craft and a function, and they knew their audience. In the case of some Border ballads, they were 'praise singers' for their lairds and usually very partisan in the way they described events, probably out of necessity. If what they wrote was any good then, it is still good now. Lang may their rhymes ring.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 06:59 AM

Nice post, Matt - I've always argued that the Revival overlooks the creative role of individual singers & makers by postulating some semi-random, semi-occult Folk Process which moves through human community like some sort of virus. Whilst this tradition-as-phantom-traffic-jam approach is interesting, I feel it's more purposeful than passive - tradition-as-Mexican-Wave maybe. In this sense genre-creativity is absolutely crucial, which is to say all idioms are essentially creative, determined by a very essential set of rules which may not have been at all evident to the ballad-makers who nevertheless used them both intuitively & masterfully, much as we might use the complex rules of grammar without stopping to think too much about it.

I must admit I've never felt comfortable about messing with ballad texts. Tunes are a different matter; in the absence of something suitable, or agreeable, I'll look for something better - or when no traditional melody can be found (as in the case of say Child #38) when I hooked it up to the Breton tune I still sing it to. My melody for Twa Corbies came about when I free-styled (improvised) it in a singaround one whilst very drunk - by chance someone recorded it and the tune stuck. These days I'm very fond of The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection where one might find consummate reductions of traditional balladry - such as Mrs Pearl Brewer's performances of Child #20 (HERE & HERE) which we've used as the basis for our rendering which can be heard as track #5 HERE.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 07:43 AM

"the Revival overlooks the creative role of individual singers"
The revival certainly does not overlook the role of the individual singers; we get our examples from the Sam Larners, John Strachans, John Reillys and Sheila Stewarts - but we have no idea how to differentiate between the influence that they have brought their songs and that of the many hudreds - thousands even, of unknown mouths that the songs have passed through, though we know for certain that this 'process' must certainly have had an influence.
Please don't spoil a potentially interesting point with loaded nonsense such as "semi-random, semi-occult Folk Process".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 08:05 AM

Jim, I think Sean's point was that Art is deliberate ('more purposeful than passive'). I am sure he would acknowledge the art of those singers you name and those unnamed who preceded them. My point is that the Art of the Makar is (at least) as deliberate as the art of the Singer, and I have long felt that there is something wrong with the very notion of a 'folk process'. Maybe I've misunderstood it, but it always sounded to me as something amorphous and aimless rather than the sum of the choices made by individuals whose names we don't happen to know.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 08:15 AM

I think it's precisely the sum of the choices made by individuals whose names we don't happen to know - at least, that's how I've always understood it. Nothing magical, mystical or [semi-]occult about it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 08:40 AM

Seems to me that we're all agreed that these ballads survive (or sometimes, don't) as the result of innumerable choices made by their singers and listeners over centuries :-
* preserve absolutely as received - even if it no longer makes as much sense as it should in
   places
* add in some extra verses to clarify (taken from another, similar song)
* 'simplify' the tune to suit an aging voice
* lose the sense of the tune when trying to produce a seldom-sung ballad, so put it to a
   familiar melody
* hear a great version from another singer and take it on board - in whole or in part
* cut down the length, perhaps as a result of failing memory or perhaps to suit an audience

and so on ad infinitum...

But I'm curious to know why SoP is unwilling to change words when he seems quite at ease with the notion of changing or importing tunes. What's the difference?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 09:08 AM

The Folk Process only becomes occult when people assume 1) the songs are anomalous products of a community rather than the deliberate work of individuals (i.e. not seeing the trees/i> for the wood) and 2) that it's unique to - er - folk music. Such a process is the common creative, communal & cultural factor of all musics from King Crimson to Joy Division to Peter Maxwell Davies to 50 Cent. The problem with folk music is it's been largely defined from the outside; it is a perceived music, one that comes into being through being collected & dissected by antiquarians and academics - unlike, say, Punk & Hip-Hop (etc.) which are defined on the street (i.e. their very natural habitat) as part of their very essence and aren't, therefore, too hung up on the back-catalogue.

I've known some great & truly Traditional Musicians - like Matt, and Tom Walsh and dozens of others - whose dedicated familiarity with the music becomes a springboard for another level of Traditional Musical Creativity. I've known a few songwriters like this too - Ron Baxter is such a one - whose craft is keenly defined by a very definite native understanding which manifests in Traditional Songs. Wasn't Jim saying back there that we needed such people least folk became the Sealed Knot? Genres & Idioms operate as language; living, breathing, evolving, but ultimately determined by the inner structural & creative mechanisms of the individual human brain which comes into focus by interfacing with the cultural context in which it finds itself.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 09:21 AM

But I'm curious to know why SoP is unwilling to change words when he seems quite at ease with the notion of changing or importing tunes. What's the difference?

I suppose it's because I'm an essential creative / improvising / mediumistic / intuitive musician, and not a song writer. Also, many ballads I sing I come across in written sources, which makes me think about them differently than if I heard them sang. Thus, whilst I never alter words, I will quite frequently do the same ballad in various different ways, such as Child #79 - which I might sing like THIS (i.e. in a traditional style even though the melody is my own) or as I do in Tack #10 HERE (i.e. freely intoning the libretto as part of an entirely improvised performance).

To tie in with my previous post, such musical creativity I see as essentially mediumistic to an inner creative process, defined by the hard-wiring of my brain and the cultural software I've been uploading these past 48 years. My idiosyncrasy is, therefore, the consequence of my cultural / collective / communal human context.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 09:36 AM

Actually... I do change one word in Usher's Well and that word is sheugh, which I sing as clough, in honour of Prestwich Clough featured in several early pictures by Kevin Cummins of my musical heroes The Fall, and named in their classic Jawbone and the Air Rifle. Never been to Prestwich Clough, but a visit is on the cards - looks like my kinda place...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 10:35 AM

"the songs are anomalous products of a community rather than the deliberate work of individuals "
The problems arise when people take an either or approach rather than recognising that the songs are a product of both and more - all part of what we call a 'folk process.'
You only have to look at the Ulster ballad repertoire to realise that it is a product of their having travelled a distance (largely from Scotland) over a great length of time - unless you want to argue for a bard, pen at the ready, waiting at the quayside for the next batch to arrive. I don't know enough about it but I'm pretty convinced that the same is true of the Appalachian repertoire.
As far as I can see it has to be a mixture of deliberate re-creativity, accumulated change while in transition and even misunderstandings and mispronounciations due to unfamiliarity with dialects and accents (a sort of cultural 'Chinese whispers').
All of these factors could be seen to be in play among the Travelling communities right up to their losing their traditions thanks to portable television.
There really is nothing 'mystical' about it - it's what happens when information of any sort is orally transmitted.
"The problem with folk music is it's been largely defined from the outside"
Why should this be a problem? We are ALL outside observers of many things; it doesn't prevent us from assessing and reaching an opinion, and as long as we have done our homework, who knows, we might just have got it right!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 01:59 PM

EKanne and Jim, Couldn't agree more with what both of you are saying here. I was simply making the point that academics generally believe that one of the major forces over time and evolution of the ballads is the last point made by EKanne to which I would add the broadside hacks cutting versions down for economic and commercial reasons. His last point doesn't apply in every case, just the vast majority.

Alarm!!!!!Thread drift!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 08:09 PM

Steve - in case I missed you - Happy New Year.
Wonder if anybody has any interest in or experience of the humourous ballads - quite a few of them - tend to get overlooked in favour of 'The Big Boys'.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 08:41 AM

john blunt here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVaI2GHZ80g


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 10:03 AM

"Never been to Prestwich Clough, but a visit is on the cards - looks like my kinda place..."

SO'P, Prestwich Clough is worth a visit. It is overshadowed by the magnificent gothic edifice of St. Mary's church - in whose graveyard are buried some of my heroes, the great working class Lancashire botanists Richard Buxton, John Horsefield and James Percival. Nearby is Mere Clough, which was once one of their favourite plant-hunting spots.

Sorry! Complete thread drift!! Perhaps some of the botanists knew some ballads ... ?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 10:16 AM

"Perhaps some of the botanists knew some ballads ... ?"
Gardener Child maybe!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MikeL2
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 10:56 AM

Hi Jim

I am not really into ballads but are monologues ballads ????...at many of the clubs and folk meetings up here in NW England you hear a few.

I know there is one performer of such right here at mudcat....

The ones I hear most are some that I associate with Stanley Holloway.

http://monologues.co.uk/Albert_and_the_Lion.htm

This link will give interested people some information.....sorry don't know how to do the clicky thing.

Happy New Year

Regards

Mike


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Goose Gander
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 11:14 AM

Sometimes the humorous ballads ARE the big ballads . . . Devil and the Farmer's Wife; Get Up and Bar the Door; Child #277 (many versions, anyhow - though I know some people hate this one); Frog Went A-Courtin' (I consider this a big one); etc.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 12:30 PM

Brian .Peters. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCG2csH2OMYhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCG2csH2OMY


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Sheena Wellington
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 02:11 PM

This thread has finally got me to register with this wonderful site into which I have been dipping for years. I am overawed by the erudition on display so offer my comments just as a lifelong lover of the ballads, not an academic.

I was lucky enough to have some ballads from the family including a fine version of The College Boy from my father's Auntie Meg. She could hold me spellbound though it was the considered opinion of the rest of the family that Meg had a rare voice for roaring 'Coal' i.e. she sounded like the most raucous street vendor.

Thinking of Auntie Meg and all the truly great ballad singers I have been fortunate enough to hear - Jeannie Robertson, Sheila Stewart, Lizzie Higgins, Jock Duncan, Maureen Jelks, Anne Neilson, Adam McNaughtan, Gordeanna McCullough and Brian Peters among them - what they have in common is a total belief in the story they are telling while they are telling it.

This does not mean they signed up to the supernatural or subscribed to the often dubious moral line taken in the ballad. It does mean that they were able, within the song, to be and see and feel as the characters in their narrative

There's been quite a lot of talk about what kind of audience can 'take' a ballad. In my own experience, virtually any kind! Ballads are stories and people of all ages love stories.

Working in a school recently I let a class of ten year olds hear tapes of schoolchildren from the area recorded almost sixty years ago. I was delighted to find that several of the songs were still in their repertoire but totally floored to find that two of them not only recognised but had a few verses of Lady Lido (Child 20). This led to a fascinating afternoon with me singing them a couple of other versions, the class starting to learn Lady Lido, and an interesting discussion on changing social mores which covered everything from the Nativity to Eastenders!

Let us have a bit more confidence in the ballad tradition. As I think someone said upthread, the ballads are not worth singing because they are old, they are old because they are worth singing!

And, btw, I tend to go with the Veronese theory on 'Lord Randal'.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 02:35 PM

Welcome Sheena
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 02:54 PM

It is overshadowed by the magnificent gothic edifice of St. Mary's church - in whose graveyard are buried some of my heroes

Serious thread drift this, but that sounds about right from the song, Shimrod - next time we're in the vicinity we'll be sure to explore....

A grim tale for sure, but what would Sir Francis have made of it?

The Fall: Jawbone & the Air Rifle

The rabbit killer left his home for the clough
And said goodbye to his infertile spouse
Carried air rifle and firm stock of wood
Carried night-site telescope light

A cemetery overlooked clough valley of mud
And the grave-keeper was out on his rounds
Yellow-white shirt buried in duffle coat hood
Keeping edges out with mosaic colour stones

Jawbone and the air rifle
Who would think they would bring harm?
Jawbone and the air rifle
One is cursed and one is borne

The air rifle lets out a mis-placed shot
It smashed a chip off a valued tomb
Grave-keeper tending wreath-roots said
"Explain, move into the light of the moon"

"I thought you were rabbit prey, or a loose sex criminal"
Rifleman he say "Y'see I get no kicks anymore
From wife or children four
There's been no war for forty years

And getting drunk fills me with guilt
So after eight, I prowl the hills
Eleven o'clock, I'm tired to fuck
Y'see I've been laid off work"

The grave-keeper said
"You're out of luck
And here is a jawbone caked in muck
Carries the germ of a curse
Of the Broken Brothers Pentacle Church
Formed on a Scotch island
To make you a bit of a man"

Jawbone and the air rifle
Who would think they would bring harm?
Jawbone and the air rifle
One is cursed and one is warm

The rabbit killer did not eat for a week
And no way he can look at meat
No bottle has he anymore
It could be his mangled teeth
He sees jawbones on the street
Advertisements become carnivores
And roadworkers turn into jawbones
And he has visions of islands, heavily covered in slime
The villagers dance round pre-fabs
And laugh through twisted mouths
Don't eat
It's disallowed
Suck on marrowbones and energy from the mainland

Jawbone and the air rifle
Who would think they would bring harm?
Jawbone and the air rifle
One is cursed and one is gone


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3skvkMYXNU0

They don't write 'em like that anymore!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 03:19 PM

Jim,
And a Happy New Year to you.
Welcome, Sheena.

Funnily enough, I don't think the people who coined the term 'big ballads' were thinking of the comic ones. Personally I think Child only included some of these as samples of what was around, as they are no older and no more ballad-like than lots of others he could have included, Marrow Bones for instance. They are just as likely to have originated on broadsides as anywhere else and most of them have their earliest versions on broadsides. (Sorry, Jim. I know you probably will balk at this.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Cuilionn
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 03:34 PM

Sheena-- What an absolute delight to see you here! Welcome tae the Mudcat!!!

I've spent the day listening to some of your recordings as I've been asked to gie a sang at a local Burns Supper--after years awa fae ony serious singin-- an find masel in serious need o courage an inspiration.

Muckle thanks for jynin in!

--Cuilionn


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 08:20 PM

"(Sorry, Jim. I know you probably will balk at this.)"
I probably will Steve -all I ask is something more than gut reaction to back up such statements.
The humourous ballads in the Child repertoire are full of folk humour, wonder how it ended up at the broadside hack's desk unless he lifted it from the folk.
'Long Johnny More.' Young Highlander goes to London, catches the eye of the King's daughter and gets sentenced to death for his pains.
He gets a message via a 'little wee boy' to his family at The Back of Bennachie; they run down from Aberdeenshire in two days and, when they are refused entrance at London Gate, kick in "three feet of London wall". Having ascertained that that he hasn't harmed any of the "wee Londoners" they free him and they, along with the king's daughter, return to The Back of Benachie. When the king threatens to hang the little wee boy they warn him "we'll come to the funeral and we will bury thee"
Come on Steve - it's the stuff of folk tales - it reads like an Alec Stewart Jack Tale
Jaik knocked on the castle door and the king answered it.
"Hello Jaik", fit dae ye want?
"Hello King, I've come for the job"
Then there's the seditious 'Queen Eleanor's Confession'
Henry II's queen, Eleanor of Aquitane is on her death bed and she calls for two friars to make her dying confession. Henry gets word of it and and he the Earl Marshall, one of her former lovers, disguise themselves as friars to take the confession. The Earl Marshall makes the king swear that no harm will come to him, no matter what they hear.
The queen confesses that not only was Earl Marshall her lover, but one of her sons, her favourite, was the product of their liason.
"Had I not sworn by the hilt of my sword,
And by the heavens so high,
That not one drop of your blood would be spilt,
Earl Marshall, you would hang high".
A dangerous song to put your name to, and folk to the core.
The Earl of Erroll, has to prove his ability to father children because his newly wed wife has claimed that "Errol's no' a man" so her family won't pa the dowry.
A 'worm's-eye view of the nobility.
All those comic songs where the poor, particularly the women, triumph over the rich and powerful; Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter, The Baffled Knight, Broomfield Hill, - all folk utterence.
The Crafty Farmer - a folk biter-bit.
Get Up And Bar The Door, Wife Wrapt in a Wether's Skin, The Devil and The Farmer's Wife - domestic comedies.
Keach in the Creel - a centuries old folk tale - attributed to Ancient India in one collection and still popular among the rural labourers of Ireland. We recorded a cante-fable version of it from an Irish Traveller.
The humour of these songs screams 'folk'.
Compare any of these to the ham-fistedly contrived products of the broadside presses.
Sorry Steve - my gut tells me something totally different, no matter which particular hack put his name to them.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 08:30 PM

MikeL;
Sorry Mike, meant to reply. "I am not really into ballads but are monologues ballads ????."
No- I don't think they are, they don't take ballad form but stand on their own.
They were extremely popular over this side of the country - local man, Partrick Lynch specialises in them and has some wonderful ones about farm-life.
My particular favourite is called 'Fogarty's Threshing' which takes place at the old country custom of 'Methal', when farmers who had harvested their own crops would all row in and help with their neighbours work.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 01:17 AM

Jim - Glad to see you include my favourite Queen Eleanor's Confession in your above synopses, as many years ago the late Tony Foxworthy, a worthy but somewhat pompous fellow to my recollection, took me to task in the course of a London Festival at C#Hse for having sung QEC 'as if it was a funny song, which it isn't'; & I could only stare blankly at him wondering what on earth he could be on about.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: jennyr
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 04:13 AM

Still loving this thread, so can I throw another question into the mix?

I think I can see a way forwards in terms of singing and interpreting solo unaccompanied ballads. My approach tends to include, among other things, leaving myself quite a lot of room to manouvre (sp?) so that I potentially sing a song quite differently each time in terms of pace, phrasing, etc.

I've recently started singing with a partner, though, and find that this doesn't work so well as we need to more or less settle more on one version to be able to sing well together. At the moment one of us tends to take the lead, develop a version and then teach the other, which works to some extent, but I'm wondering what approaches other people take to joint balladry? Thanks for any advice!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 05:05 AM

Mike,
I hope Tony Foxworthy enjoys his being described as 'late' - he was certainly alive and kicking, if a little infirm, up to 18 months ago and we haven't heard different since. He is the brother-in-law of my friend, the (unfortunately truely) late Tom Munnelly
I'd be interested in replies to Jenny's question - joint singing of ballads, or any narrative song, very seldom works for me.
Correction;
The 'ancient Indian tale collected by us from a Traveller as a cante-fable was 'Get Up and Bar The Door'. The Keach in the Creel was (I think) a 16 cent. French fableaux which also appeared as a tale of an Italian apprentice painter who distracted the attentions of his intended's parents while he seduced her by making tiny wax candles and placing them on the backs of beetles, then marching them into their chamber, making them think that an army of tiny fiery demons had come to take them down to hell.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 05:24 AM

Jim - Thanks for that info: & great apologies to Tony, whom I haven't actually met since that occasion in, IIRC, 1969. I thought I had a dim recollection of an obit, but was probably confusing with someone else - like maybe Mark Twain or Dave Swarbrick, who notoriously did get obits when still about... These things happen.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 06:11 AM

Jennyr - Like Jim, I find it hard to imagine singing any of the ballads in my repertoire as duets because the sense of commitment/involvement is such a personal thing that no two people will necessarily be moved in the same way - what Sheila Stewart calls the "conyeach".
I regularly do ballad workshops with Gordeanna McCulloch and we share the same background of our introduction to the music, as well as most of the same influences or models. We offer some less familiar ballads, so that participants come with no preconceptions, and we all move through the learning process together. But the real point I want to make is that when it comes to individual verses, or sections, of the ballad concerned we regularly have to agree to differ - what sounds convincing to me might grate with her, or vice versa. Really what we are trying to do is persuade those attending that they have to find their own way of dealing with or interpreting tricky bits.
So I'm just a bit wary that any ballad duet would perhaps involve too many compromises to be a satisfactory experience for the performers as individuals. If the vocal pairing is a new one, why not work on more obvious songs for harmony treatment etc. and use the occasional ballad/narrative song as a solo for more variety?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 06:23 AM

Re duets: yet again, it all depends on what type of ballad you are talking about. I wouldn't think there'd be a big problem with stuff like 'The Golden Vanity', 'High Barbary' (or whatever it was that Child called it), 'The Mermaid' and some of the comic ones mentioned above. Many of their versions have tunes that suit quite a rhythmic approach, so the problem of synchronizing two voices is reduced. With the 'Big Boys', you generally need more vocal freedom to put them over, and to achieve vocal congruence between two singers would probably be to rehearse the life out of them. Also, the emotional involvement required for some big ballads is the kind of thing it's difficult to share. I wouldn't want to do 'False Foudrage' with someone else!

Sara Grey and Kieron Means do some ballads in close harmony - but they are, after all, mother and son, which gives them an advantage both in terms of phrasing and in their emotional bond.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 07:21 AM

Rachel & I do some big ones in harmony - it's something that's evolved quite naturally between us over the years, such as Child #102: The Birth of Robin Hood (track #4 on our Myspace Page) which I set to the medieval melody of Adam de la Halle's Bergeronnette Douce Baisselete (from Le Le Jeu de Robin et Marion) 20 years ago, and to which Rachel added her harmony 10 years ago. It's a very different discipline to singing on ones own - in many ways with two voices the narrative serves to make the dynamics all the more intense as other considerations come into play. Somewhat more strident is our take on Child #6: The Witch Mother, aka Willie's Lady, which we call The Wax Baby (track #6 on the above link) which I set to a traditional Scandinavian lullaby, rather than the more usual Son Ar Chistre (the work of the wonderful Ray Fisher of course!). Rachel added her harmony to this in singarounds, so it evolved as a duo piece with a similar regard for spontaneous dynamics inherent in the narrative structures of the song.

Truth to tell, I actually prefer singing ballads with Rachel doing a harmony part - it provides a much needed tension that pulls the thing into a much sharper focus which is essential to my personal understanding of the structural dynamics of the narrative, and what might be discovered therein by way of image, joissance & the collective necessity that has brought these ballads into being. We can never own them, but our response must, I feel, be respectful of their status as being a whole lot more than the bain of revival singarounds. This tells us more about the nature of the revival than it does about the ballads which are both bonsai soap-opera and reductions to the very essence of ritual drama, and, in both cases, very potent indeed. In both these ballads the outcome is the birth of a child - a tranfigurative nascence with prefigures a glorious happy ever after; the language of both is utterly exquisite, even to the point where I must remove myself to a certain extent during performance least I burst into tears.

Also worth noting is that neither of these songs, as far as I'm aware, are associated with traditional melodies; thus there are no traditional precedents for their performance. I took both from written sources, and though I was aware of Willie's Lady from recordings made by Ray Fisher & Martin Carthy, I only recently heard another version of The Birth of Robin Hood. What emerges are, therefore, tentative reconstructions by way of a more creative musical archaeology but which aren't too hung up on Early Music Authenticity as such. I might use the term Ante Folk to describe this, even though, ultimately, the performances are very much of the moment.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 07:53 AM

On an early page (page 2? 3?) somebody posted a link to a short but wondrous clip of Jeannie Robertson singing a version of 'Matty Groves'. It doesn't seem to be working now - can anyone assist ?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 08:45 AM

Can't help with link to Jeannie Robertson's Mattie Groves, but can I recommend those interested in the ballad should look out for North Carolina singer, Dillard Chandler's version - turns the knees to jelly just thinking of it.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 09:13 AM

SteveGardham,surely, the whole point is not who wrote the song, but the fact that they have been adapted and altered over a period of time,and in most cases improved.
an example of this is 3 score and ten , originally a broadside,written to raise money for the wives and children,by delph,but improved by the tradition[the people]


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Mary Humphreys
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 09:14 AM

Singing songs as duets - it was done to stunning effect by the Keane sisters Rita & Sarah who sang in unison.
Being sisters probably makes for a particularly close communication. The Threlfall sisters have a similar rapport and I think their singing is equally remarkable.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 01:07 PM

Craig Morgan Robson perform ballads in breathtaking unaccompanied vocal harmony. For less skillful singers, there is a danger of losing the forward motion of the narrative.

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Don Firth
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 01:43 PM

Singing ballads as duets, and in harmony. . . .    I'd have to think about that some. Although I think ballads generally go well without accompaniment, I usually like to accompany them (guitar), making sure that the accompaniment supports the ballad and doesn't detract or distract in any way. It would seem to me that two voices singing in harmony might render a ballad more a musical piece than a narrative. As I say, I'd have to think about that.

There are a few ballads that do go well as man-woman duets?dialogs?and I have occasionally performed them that way with women singers and we were well received. Two I can think of right off are (the dreaded) Lord Randal and Edward.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 01:59 PM

Dick,
I don't know what prompted this outburst. I didn't mention anything about anyone writing them and if you look at my previous posts a bit further up I said exactly what you've just said. Couldn't agree more. My arguments with Jim concern the origins of the songs and are not really relevant here.

However 'Three score and ten' is not a good example for you to choose. The version collected in Filey was rewritten by Delft's grandson some time after WWI and dispersed among the fishermen's choirs from Lowestoft to Filey. You could argue his grandson was one of the folk and I wouldn't disagree! Check out our website.

Jim, I don't want to monopolise SOE's thread with our arguments but if you want to set up another thread I will answer all the ballads you mention.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 03:08 PM

Steve,
If you are able to provide proof that there was no traditional version before they went into print - am happy to do so.
The implication of what you are claiming is that there was a school of composers (cohesion of form content, style gives it the right to that title) gifted enough to use social background, folklore and vernacular before thre was any reference literature produced, skillfuly enough to be absorbed universally into the traditions of England, and yet still remain for all intents and purposes invisible to public notice.
Alongside this, the rural classes were incapable of producing nothing of their own.
Is this what you are claiming?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 03:29 PM

Jim,
We have had this out on other threads.
To cut to the quick, we both have our strong beliefs based on many years' research on how the majority of the ballads came into being. Neither of us can ultimately prove our cases.
Apart from Peter Buchan's parody of Johnny Scot the rest of the ballads you mention all have as their earliest manifestation a broadside.    Sigh! In my opinion they have all appeared in print in their earliest form no matter what happened to them after that. You prefer to think that they came from the peasantry in some form which you are perfectly entitled to do. I can live with this. Why can't you live with my version? I have nowhere postulated a 'school of composers'. Why should these song makers not be invisible to public notice? Ballads were off the literati radar until the 18thc. I have never said the rural classes were incapable of producing nothing of their own. They certainly did, but IMHO not many were ballads, in England at any rate!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 03:47 PM

"Sigh! In my opinion they have all appeared in print in their earliest form"
What do you base this opinion on?
"Why can't you live with my version?"
Because it isn't logical - it nowhere concides what happened elsewhere in these islands, nor beyond. Why should Irish, Scots, Albanian, French, Russian.... produce their own oral litrature and not the English - or are you also questioning their ability or inclination to do so.
"I have nowhere postulated a 'school of composers'.
Your argument implies such a school. The similarities of folk songs fully entitles them to a separate identity and if this is the case the composers must be accepted as a 'school' as distinctive as 'impressionists', 'cubists' or any other artistic group.
Sigh indeed - Steve, with respect, you come at the end of a long line of people who, for one reason or another, have set out to prove that the folk, through inability, disinclination, whatever, did not produce their own folk songs. I never bought what they were selling, nor do I buy your arguments, unless they come with more to back them up than you have produced so far.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Goose Gander
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 04:31 PM

More thread drift - Is there any reason to believe that the ballads were not the production of 'talented composers' who happened to be 'of the folk?' There was no master's degree in folk composition in the eighteenth century. A ballad writer would be, by definition, someone who composed stories set to familiar tunes. Like most writers, I have to imagine these people also worked a number of other jobs throughout their lives. Why couldn't 'part-time ballad writer/singer/hawker' be a working class occupation? Certainly, print was a crucial method of diffusion, but I don't think the medium of print is necessarily a mark of middle-class/bourgoisie origin.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 04:58 PM

Jim,
I'm sorry. The 'opinion' bit was a slip. With the possible exception of 'Farmer's Curst Wife' I can prove that the earliest KNOWN/EXTANT form of all of these was in print. Of course I can't prove that this WAS their earliest form. Ironically your title 'Devil and Farmer's Wife' is the 16th century possible broadside precurser of 'The Farmer's Curst Wife'.

I am not and have never questioned the ability of the rural classes to produce folksong. I have simply said that in my opinion having spent a lifetime studying both folk song and the broadside ballad and 'popular' music, that the ballads by and large were the product of commercial enterprise in some form or other.

And I hope I am not the END of a long line of people who believe this.

Goose, I apologise humbly for the thread-drift. I see nothing to disagree with in what you say. In fact I have said similar in other threads.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Goose Gander
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 05:07 PM

No apology necessary, I only meant that I was going to drift from the thread. I guess we can get back on track now, or maybe start a new thread on the tangential topic.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 05:18 PM

Mutter, grumble. Just spent a while on a posting, clicked Submit and saw it fail to appear. So try again, and this time copy, paste and save before I try to submit.

My point was to request un-drifting this thread.

I would be happy to join Steve, Jim and anyone else in a discussion of origins, folk process, conscious and unconscious changes, oral transmission versus print, how when and why completely different versions of the same stories arose, etc -- but not in this thread.

Here, let's focus on how to SING the ballads: the pros and cons of accompaniment, duetting, choosing new tunes, etc. The fact that singers have always made personal choices, to preserve or to modify, and we can make the same choices now, which our listeners may approve or disapprove of.

Let's go on hearing from experienced singers about what has worked or not worked for them, what came easily, what was a struggle, what went down well or badly with audiences. Let's go on discussing what we like or dislike about some notable innovative singers such as MacColl and Carthy.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 05:22 PM

Steve Gardham, could you give details of your website.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 05:31 PM

Fine by me, Richard. We had a thread going on this before the festive season but it got lost.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 08:06 PM

GG
"More thread drift - Is there any reason to believe that the ballads were not the production of 'talented composers' who happened to be 'of the folk?'"
The fact is that we don't know who wrote the ballads or the folk songs, as much as it would be fascinating to find out who did. We can only go on the information we have and until other information is produced we are really stuck with what we have despite the fact that many of us have "spent a lifetime studying both folk song and the broadside ballad and 'popular' music,"
I'm more than happy to move on; I've done my best to shift this topic into areas that have not been covered.
My apologies for any thread drift on my part, but in fairness, I believe the question of who we believe wrote (made is probably a more appropriate word) them is a fundamental part of our understanding and interpretation of them, as I remain convinced that they reflect aspects of the lives and experiences of the makers.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 06:27 AM

"I remain convinced that they reflect aspects of the lives and experiences of the makers"

Absolutely, Jim, and there's also something of necessity in it. It's like Stonehenge - we may not understand it, we may have weird theories, but we KNOW it's not a random bunch of rocks, it was vitally important to the people who made it.

I believe the people who made the ballads had to do it because their life depended on it. They were creators and entertainers and they had their audience/s. Calling them 'folk' or 'not-folk' is a red herring based on ways of thinking we have inherited from Marx et al. The ballad makers knew what they were doing and who they were doing it for - those among whom they lived, from whom they were not separate. In a society such as 16th C Scotland you knew your place (just as you do now), but you also knew everybody else, whatever their rung on the ladder. And it paid to flatter your patron or slander his enemy, and you could change them round depending on who was feeding you that night; or to change the locality of your tale so that your audience had ownership of it - hence the variant versions of the big ballads.

Quite why some of us still find such nourishment in these often dark tales is a mystery - but we do, so thae bards must have got something right.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Sheena Wellington
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 06:53 AM

Thank you for the welcome, everyone! Delighted to hear you are going to be singing again, Cuilionn - athibest!

I am not going to get into the "who wrote the English ballads" saga except to mote that most of the 'professional' singers and musicians of the time, i.e. those for whom it was their living, were not of the aristocracy. They were at least as likely to pick up tunes, stories and fragments in the cottage as the castle.

Anyway, to get briefly back to Jeannie and the Mattie Groves question. As many of you know there is a major project
http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/ to put the recordings held in The School of Scottish Studies, the BBC Gaelic archive and the Canna Collections online.

Jeannie Robertson seems to have recorded Child 81 twice for the SoSS, once listed as Mattie Groves and once listed as Lord Darnell. Sadly, I did not get the job of cataloguing either version but both will be available sometime in the near, we hope, future.

Just in the passing, like most great ballad singers Jeannie loved songs and singing and she gave as much feeling to a blues number, a sentimental Victorian ballad or a rich piece of ribaldry as she gave to Lord Lovat. One of the jaw-dropping moments for me was when I came across the recording of her singing the art song "The Snowy Breasted Pearl". It was a stunning performance and it seems a shame that she was discouraged from including this type of song in her concerts.

Mind you, having said that, I once saw her at an event in Stonehaven when she gave "There Goes My Heart" the full treatment.........


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 07:51 AM

Dipping in again...

Another thread reminded me of this Max Hunter - Child Ballads - which might be of possible interest to those discussing presentation of the longer ballads (keeping in mind that the archive is of American singers).


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Crow si
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 08:24 AM

Doh! I didn't check - actually there are only a smattering of long ballads here. But still worth a look.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 08:51 AM

Probably taken up too much space but here is a list of Library of Congress commercially issued albums of field recordings of ballads. Many gems among them.
Don't know if they are still available,
Jim Carroll

CHILD BALLADS TRADITION IN THE US ED, B H BRONSON (2 albums)
The Two Sisters (Ch10)                Jean Richie, Viper, Ky 1946
Edward (Ch 13)                        Mrs Crockett Ward, Galax, Vir 1941
The Wild Boar (Ch18)                Samuel Harmon, Maryville, Tenn 193
Bangum and the Boar (Ch18)         G D Vowell, Harlan, Ky 1937
Bishop of Canterbury (Ch45)         Ward H Ford, Central Valley, Cal 1938
Lord Bateman (Ch 53)                Molly Jackson 1935
Lloyd Bateman (Ch53)                Mary Sullivan,        Shafter, Cal 1940
Cherry Tree Carol(Ch54)                Mrs Lee Skeens, Wooten, Ky, 1937
Lazarus (Ch56)                        Molly Jackson, 1939
The Three Babes (Ch79)                Mrs Texas Gladden, Salem, Va 1941
Andrew Bataan (ch167 and 250)        Ward H Ford, Central Valley, Cal, 1938
The King's Love Letter (Ch 208)         Mrs G A Griffin, Newberry, Fl 1937
Well Met My Old True Love (Ch243) Pearl Jacobs Borusky, Antigo, Wis 1940
The Ship(s Carpenter (Ch243)        Clay Walters, Salyersville, Ky 1937
There Was An Old and Wealthy Man        Dol Small, Nellysford, Va 1950 (Ch 272)
Devil And The Farmer's Wife (Ch278)    Carrie Grover, 1941
Oxford Merchant (Ch283)                Ward H Ford, 1938
The Golden Willow Tree (Ch286)         Jimmy Morris, Hazard, Ky 1937
A Ship Set Sail For North America (Ch 286)        Ollie Jacobs, Pearson, Wis 1941
The Mermaid (Ch289)                Emma Dusenbery, Plena, Ark 1936

ANGLO AMERICAN BALLADS ED, ALAN LOMAX,
The House Carpenter                Texas Gladden, Salem, Va 1941
Farmer's Curst Wife                Horton Barker, Chilhowie Va 1939
Gypsy Davy                        Woodie Guthrie, Okema, Okla 1940
Barbara Allen                        Rebecca Tarwatert Rockwood, Tenn1936
Pretty Polly                        E C Ball, Rugby, Va 1941
Rich Old Farmer                        Pearl Borusky, Antigo, Wis 1941
Devil's Nine Questions                Texas Gladden, 1941
Old Kimball
One Morning In May
Little Brown Bulls                        Emery DeNoyer, Rhinelander, Wis1941
The Sioux Indians                        Alex Moore, Austin, Texas 1940
Lady of Carlisle                         Basil May, Salyersville, Ky 1937
Pretty Polly,                         Pete Steele, Hamilton, Ohio l938
It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad Convicts, Cumins State Farm, Gould, Ark 1934
0 Lord, Don't 'low Me to Beat 'em        Willie Williams, State Pen Richmond, Va 1936
Lord Bateman                        Pleaz Mobley, Manchester, Ky 1943
Expert Town (Oxford Girl)                Mildred Tuttle, Farmington, Ark 1942
Naomi Wise,                        Lillian Short, Galena, Missouri, 1941
Edward                                Charles Ingenthron, Thornton, Cal 1941
My Parents Raised Me Tenderly         Pleaz Mobley 1943
Froggie Went A courtin'                        
Singing Alphabet                        May K McCord, Springfield, Missouri, 1941
Roly Trudum        
Tree In The Wood                Doney Hammontree, Farmington, Ark
Sourwood Mountain                I G Greer, Thomasville, NC 1941
Derby Ram                        Charles Ingenthron 1941
Widow's Old Broom        
Our Goodman                        Orrin Rice, Harrogate, Tenn 1943
Sweet William (Earl Brand)         IGGreer 1946

ANGLO AMERICAN BALLADS, ED B A BOTKIN,
The Golden Willow Tree                 Justus Begley, Hazard, Ky 1937
The Rambling Boy,        
The Two Brothers                Texas Gladden, Salem, Va 1941
The Four Marys        
The Two Sisters                        Horton Barker, Chilhowie, Va 1939
Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender        Horton Barker,
Bolankins (Lamkin)                Lena Bare Turbyfill, Elk Park, NC 193!
The Three babes                         I G Greer, Thomasville, NC 1941
Sanford Barney
Claud Allen                        Hobart Smith, Saltville, Va 1942

VARIANTS OF BARBARA ALLEN CHARLES SEEGER
I N Marlor, Boyd's Cove, NC 1936, (complete)
George Vinton, San Jose, Cal 1939 (v I and 2)
Mrs T M Bryan, Evansville, Indiana (1938)
(v I and 2)
Monroe Gevedon, (with fiddle) West Liberty, Ky 1937 (v I and 2)
Kitty Richie Singleton, Viper, Ky, 1954 (v 3 and 4)
May Kennedy McCord, Springfield, Miss 1936
Mary Franklin Farmer, Crossnore, NC 1939 (complete)
L L McDowell, Smithville, Tenn 1936
(v I and 2)
Mrs Ollie Womble, Banner, Mississippi 1939
(v I and 2)
Mrs Mary Sullivan, Shafter, Cal 1940 (complete)
Molly Jackson, New York 1935 (complete)
(v I and 2)
Mrs Emma Dusenbury, Mena, Ark 1936 (complete), Dr C L Watkins, Vancleave, Mississippi 1939 (v 1) ,
Samuel Harmon, Maryville, Tenn 1939 (v 2), Oscar Parks, Deuchars, Indiana 1938 (v 1), Ray Hawks, Galax, Va, 1937 (v 2), Bascom Lamar Lunsford, New York, 1935 (v 1), Horton Barker, Chilhowie, Va 1950 (v 1), Mrs W L Martin, Hillsville, Va 1939 (v 6), Mrs G A Griffin, Newberry ,Fl 1937 (v 1), Ward H Ford, Crandon, Wisc 1937 (v 1)
Clyde "Slim" Wilson, Springfield, Miss 1936 (vl), Archie Styles, Newberry, Mich 1938 (v1), H J Beeker, Boone, NC 1936 (complete), Mary and Cora Davis, Manchester, Ky 1937 (v 1), Gants Family, Austin, Texas 1934 (v 1)
Sunshine Robinson, Asheville, N,C 1941 (v 1), Bill Carr, Cherry Lake Farms, Fl 1936 (complete), Rebecca Tarwater, Washington, 1936 (v 1), Moses "Clear Rock" Platt, Central State Farm, Sugarland, Texas 1933


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 11:03 AM

GSS,
I was referring to the Yorkshire Garland website www.yorkshirefolksong.net which isn't MY website but I was involved.
'Three Score and Ten' is on there, I think sung by 'Three Score and Ten'. If my updated notes are not on then I obviously need to update them.

Rather interestingly the posting immediately following yours: 'Fine by me, Richard' was posted as 'Fine by me, Dick'. Wonder what went on there????


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Matthew Edwards
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 04:16 PM

Somewhere earlier in this thread Richard Mellish mentioned the Faroese ballad singing tradition; this was, and still is, very much a communal performance where one person leads the singing but everyone else joins in while they all dance together in a continuously moving ring. The ballads are typically of 100 or more verses, and they are performed during the long winter nights up to Shrovetide. I've been listening to some amazing recordings from 1959, including a great version of Harpu Ríma (The Two Sisters) on a CD Traditional Music in the Faroe Islands.

There are some more recent performances of Faroese ballad ringdancing posted on YouTube such as:-
Harra Paetur og Elingburg,
Gudbrandskvaedi,
and many more - but none of them are short!

Matthew


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 06:48 PM

Looks like you can get them on cassette, Jim, e.g. Library of Congress Child Ballads. This is a collection that would be a great one to get on line...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: sharyn
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 12:59 AM

Okay, I've read almost every word of this thread (skipped a few long disagreements at the end) and this is what I have to say.

I have been singing ballads for years, learning them off records by heart from the time I was four or five years old. I learn them by listening to them and by singing them over and over. When I come across a new version I like I will quite often sing along with it and then sing it by myself and then sing along with it again. Whenever I got a new record I would learn all of the ballads on it that I liked -- one of the things I like about them is the language, so I will sing in Scots, or my best approximation of it, if it is a Scottish version that I am smitten with. When I first happened upon Ewan MacColl recordings I sang quite a lot of Scots ballads.

Eventually, some ballads fade out of my repertoire -- they just don't grab me as much as they did when they were new to me -- or sometimes I hear a version that I like better than any I've ever heard before and will set to learning that one. Some ballads have stayed with me all of my life: I still sing "Barbara Allen" to the tune I first heard for it because I like it the best.

Several years ago I started a Ballad group in Berkeley, simply because some singers at other sessions did not want to hear ballads and ballad-singers needed a place to sing them. A note on singing ballads as duets or in groups: I have learned a few ballads, including their pacing and diction from other members of the group and there are some ballads where we will all chime in on our favorite lines, which no one minds much. Sometimes we hum harmonies softly while someone else carries the ballad -- if they look daggers at us, we stop.

Jon Bartlett: do I like the same singers now I did in my youth? Sometimes I like particular ballads by particular singers and I still like them. I have lots of opinions and preferences. Martin Carthy, for example, often chooses tunes I don't care for, so I tend not to learn things from him, and I only listen to those cuts of his I like. I don't think I will ever get tired of hearing Jeannie Robertson recordings though.

Pace: you have to sing the way you like to sing. Some people will like it, some people won't. And whether to Anglicize -- that depends on your comfort level, too: if you can't get your tongue around a language or find it off-putting, you might want to change it. You can always explain or summarize for audiences. It's not about being obscure or scholarly, Joe: for me, it's about loving the sound of the language (and that goes for the repetitions, too). End of novel.

Good thread.

Sharyn


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 07:18 PM

Going way back to a previous post about influential books, I had forgotten to mention David Buchan's book "The Ballad and the Folk". This examines why ballads are so significant in the culture of north-east Scotland that 1/3 of Child's A texts come from that geographical area. And there is a lengthy section where he looks at the differing versions of ballads collected from Mrs. Brown of Falkland over a period of many years, which explores the variations recorded and attempts to offer a theory to explain those differences.
Anyway, it occurred to me that this is very much like the process explored over much of this thread, when singers have discussed their approach to text/final version and all the personal preferences involved.
Remembering that this thread was originally about SINGING, I'd love to know if any visitors to the site have been inspired to follow any of the many suggestions - for tackling particular ballads, or for adjusting/altering their approach to any already in their repertoire.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 08:21 PM

EKanne:
David Buchan put forward the interesting suggestion that there were no set texts to ballads, but yhey existed as stories, commonplaces etc. and the singers would improvise each time they sang them.
Don't think he proved his point fully, but fascinating all the same.
One of the exercises we were given in the Critics Group was:
a: to read a song as a piece of poetry - did wonders for the phrasing.
b: to tell the plot of a song as if you were telling it as a story - a great way to analyse and make sense of anything you might have missed.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 09 Jan 10 - 10:44 PM

Well I've done it! I just got back from a gig at a coffeehouse where I performed ONLY ballads to a very mixed audience of around 40 people ? and it was a success! This was the set list:

House Carpenter
John Reilly
Billy Taylor
Dumiama
Riddles Wisely Expounded
Farmer's Cursed Wife (Kellyburn's Brae version)
Two Magicians
Scarborough Fair
Geordie
Young Waters
Willie of Winsbury
Dowie Dens of Yarrow
Raggle Taggle Gypsies
Andrew Lammie
Mattie Groves
Thomas the Rhymer

It's a nice room, not too big ? only a small sound system is needed. It is furnished with a mix of tables and chairs, along with armchairs and sofas ? very relaxing. They serve light meals, coffee, tea and also beer and wine.    The concert lasted from 7:00 to 8:45 with no breaks, and the audience paid attention and visibly enjoyed the entire evening. I had several people come up to me afterwards to tell me they'd never heard anything like these songs before, but that they had enjoyed them immensely, and I also sold several CDs.
I gave extensive introductions for each song, sketched out the plot and put it in historical context when I could. I think that was what made it possible to keep their attention. I'm really pleased. The manager wants to have me back ? he felt it went over very well.

I have been following this thread, and at times it made me a little bit nervous about this upcoming gig what with some people saying ballads just wouldn't go over any more.   But I rarely get the opportunity to focus on ballads, so I was pretty excited about it and rehearsed a lot, and also made sure I'd prepared my introductions well.   Some of the audience had only heard me at my pub gigs singing stuff like Whiskey in the Jar, but they all said they liked these "different" songs too.

I love the ballads, and it makes me feel very good when I've performed them and they've been appreciated. It was a very nice evening for me!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Goose Gander
Date: 09 Jan 10 - 11:21 PM

Maryrrf -

I'm glad your set went over well. I sing many of the ballads on your list, there are plenty of reasons why the good ones have been around so long! Did you play any instruments, or go unaccompanied?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Jan 10 - 12:12 AM

Way to go, Maryrrf!

It was hearing songs like the ones on your set list that got me actively interested in folk music and ballads back in 1952, and I've been at it ever since.

I found those ballads to be contagious. I'd say that it's a worthy ambition to become the "Typhoid Maryrrf of Balladry." You never know who might hear you and suddenly say to themselves, "I want to do that! I want to sing songs like those!"

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 10 Jan 10 - 09:03 AM

LOL that's a good one, Don - the Typhoid Mary of Ballads". But in fact, that's what I hope for whenever I perform ballads - that someone will hear them, get intruiged, and want to learn more. That's what happened to me many years ago, and it has been a very rewarding part of my life. Even if I'd never performed publicly, and just listened to recordings and sung ballads in my living room, the ballads would still have added a diminsion to my psyche.

I accompanied myself on guitar. I have a quiet fingerpicking style, nothing fancy.

I'll have to think of a different set of ballads for next time!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 10 Jan 10 - 07:31 PM

The number of hits on this thread should lay the ghost that nobody sings ballads anymore - thanks for that CS.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 11 Jan 10 - 11:42 AM

Maryff -- what an undertaking!
Maybe we've got lazy here (UK), because the only way you'd be likely to hear that number of ballads would be in a session nominated specifically for these Muckle Sangs, where there would be one song from each singer round the room. The different voices would offer variety, but there might also be other variations in style and approach which could be attractive to the listener. From my own point of view, I would be hoping that all the contributors had put in as much effort as you must have done -- to pick interesting songs in interesting versions, look into their backgrounds and have them at the tip of the tongue!

Jim -- I think I mentioned way back that Gordeanna McCulloch and I are offering a series of three workshops to learn ballads and I must say that we've been delighted with the level of interest so far. Our intention is to encourage less confident singers to tackle some of these songs (with support and advice), but we are also pleased that people who have attended workshops in previous years and who sing elsewhere have chosen to sign up too. As you say, a measure of ongoing interest!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 11 Jan 10 - 12:17 PM

One would hope the dynamic & narrative potency of the Traditional Ballads will one day come to be appreciated beyond the so-called Folk Revival, the MOR orthodoxies of which have so diminished the inherent musical supremacy of this material in much the same way that it has diminished Traditional Folk Song as a whole. To listen to a ballad in the hands of a master traditional singer (try Davie Stewart singing The Dowie Dens of Yarrow or Lizzie Higgins singing Alison Gross) is to be touched by the same hand of transcendent genius as when we listen to a John Coltrane or an Ian Curtis. This is music that grabs you by the heart and reminds you that soul is the generative power of the entire universe; something we humans might touch upon all but too occasionally.

So - along comes The Folk Revival Trilogy replete with its prissy bourgeois sensibilities and proceeds to miss the point, as noted elsewhere, by many merry country miles. The equation is a simple one after all - how can one of the finest musics in the world (i.e Traditional Folk Song & Balladry of the English Speaking World) be represented by one of the worst (i.e. Revival Folk Music)? To what power must we would-be ballad singers address ourselves with respect of that mastery that exists at once as our common vernacular heritage yet one that has been so woefully & consistently misrepresented in terms of its actual cultural significance by the very movement that claims to have its best interests at heart? Ballads are certain in right now, but only as a sub-category of a revival that has all but obscured their true significance, reducing them from the highest achievements of vernacular literature to another fad for the folkish middle-classes to enthuse over.

Interesting that Child never once uses the word Folk; best we be wary of it too.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 11 Jan 10 - 12:55 PM

"The Folk Revival Trilogy replete with its prissy bourgeois sensibilities and proceeds to miss the point,"
Why do you spoil everything you have to offer with prattish statements?
I would guess the revival introduced virtually all of us on this forum, directly or indirectly, to folk songs and ballads. I was lucky enough to see Jeannie Robertson, Margaret Barry, Michael Gorman Felix Doran, perform, at The Keele Folk Festival, a revival event. They all appeared to be enjoying it just as much as I was
And then there are those I heard thanks to the 'revival' clubs: Joe Heaney, Seamus Ennis, The Stewarts, Lizzie Higgins, Betsy Whyte, Duncan Williamson, Bobby Casey.....
MacColl, the great revivalist, introduced me to 137 of the Child Ballads that I wouldn't otherwise have heard; Lloyd threw in a few score more.
Over the last thirty years the clubs have provided us with a platform to give many of the traditional singers we met with a wider audience. Walter Pardon loved performing at them; Mikeen McCarthy and Mary Delaney were in their element.
And then there's all those other revival performers who have given me so much pleasure over near a half century; Kevin Mitchell, John Lyons, Gordeanna McCulloch.......
Without wishing to remind you of past gaffes - I very much doubt if I would have heard a siingle one of these if I had accepted your definition - how did it go again?
I also doubt if many of the above singers would have been given a look-in at any of the clubs that adhere to your non-definition.
Your vendetta against the revival is as tiresome as it is vacuuous; give it a rest.
".... the word Folk; best we be wary of it too."
The Ballad and The Folk, Folk Song in England, Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, English Folk Songs - Some Conclusions, The Greig Duncan Folk Song Collection........ Now where did I put the paraffin and matches - that should keep us warm in this cold weather.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 11 Jan 10 - 01:10 PM

A non-argument, I fear, Sweeney; since in fact, Child used the word 'Popular' in his title as his synonym for 'folk' - in much the same sense that Brand had used 'Popular Antiquities' to mean what we would call 'folk customs' a century before ? see my entry on Folklore in the Continuum Encyclopedia Of British Literature {NY 2003} where I open my entry by dealing with these differing nomenclatures for what we generally call 'Folk'. When Child called his collection 'The English & Scottish Popular Ballads', he certainly did not mean what would nowadays be called 'popular' [or 'pop'] songs.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 11 Jan 10 - 02:20 PM

Don't take it too seriously, lads - just a little polemic to warm my cockles on a cold & pissed off afternoon on account of a crashed hard-drive during some crucial mixing.

Prattish, Jim? Hardly - the serious bit here is the exalted significance this stuff ought to enjoy as an essential part of the Literary Heritage of the English Speaking World. That it presently languishes as a sub-genre of an ever dwindling minority music is little short of criminal.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 11 Jan 10 - 02:36 PM

When I read English at Cambridge, Sweeney, The Ballads were indeed taken thus seriously as you demand as part of the Literary Heritage of the English Speaking World: required reading as part of the curriculum to be covered in the Medieval Paper along with such as 'Sir Gawaine & the Green Knight' & 'Pearl'. I never understood why that paper, as they belong rather to Early Modern and even Augustan periods [16-18Cs] in the form we have them: but the examiners for the English Tripos did nevertheless take them seriously as literature, as you require.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 11 Jan 10 - 02:43 PM

Back to Maryff - yes, well done indeed!

At the risk of coming over as a Border chauvinist (born in Kent) I'd point out that the Ballads have some popular currency here. The Ballad competition at Newcastleton last year, held in a packed-to-overflowing schoolroom, fanned the embers of interest I already had, and it was just such an event as Anne Neilson describes above - an hour and a half of ten singers, varied approach, all committed to their sangs, with tactful judging by Alison McMorland and Geordie MacKintyre.

I have several local friends who share the obsession; I recently saw Jimmy Hutchinson sing Dowie Dens wonderfully and to a non-specialist but appreciative audience at a village hall 'variety' concert in Bonchester Bridge; there are (now that I'm aware of them) ballad-related public talks to go to; the local libraries are well-stocked on the subject; and there are people around (hi 'Diva') who learnt from 'tradition-bearers', which makes them tradition-bearers.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 03:26 AM

"the exalted significance this stuff ought to enjoy as an essential part of the Literary Heritage of the English Speaking World"

The result of exalting ballads as literary treasures was that they became academic artefacts which their enthusiasts, like Francis James Child, never actually heard being sung. The folk revival (as Jim has pointed out) persuaded a lot of people that they were worth singing, and also gave a platform to those - like Jeannie Robertson et al - that had been singing them all along.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 06:19 AM

Well said, Brian -- reminds me of the opening scenes in that smashing wee film "Songcatcher" where Janet McTeer is lecturing passionately in a conservatoire about ballads before demonstrating "Barbara Allan" with piano accompaniment (in a musical but uncommitted voice); within a few minutes she has been transported to Appalachia where she hears an unaccompanied traditional version of the same song. And the scales drop from her eyes!
Personally, I love ferreting away into song versions, folklore etc. - but I'm well aware that for many/most(?) people the story rightly comes first. And I also worry at times about putting ballads on pedestals; I know how important they are to me, but I would hate to scare off someone else who might prefer to enjoy them in a different way.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 06:49 AM

When Child called his collection 'The English & Scottish Popular Ballads', he certainly did not mean what would nowadays be called 'popular' [or 'pop'] songs.

Thanks, MtheGM - this actually distracted me from my more pressing concerns last night & lulled me into nice sleepy reverie in which it occurred to me that the use of Popular in both senses is exactly the same. There has been some sterling discussion on the wellsprings of the Big Boys from the - er - Big Boys (Jim, Brian et al) which has shed light on the nature of an essentially creative vernacular tradition in which ballads were wrought by virtue of an idiomatic mastery in precisely the same way pop songs are today. Jim has even suggested many ballads were, in effect, free-styled, which wouldn't surprise me in the slightest, given that free-styling is often the mark of true mastery in many narrative idioms - from Hip-Hop to that of the Serbian bards.

The essential difference would appear to be one of transmission. Time was the only available recording media was Human Memory - which comes supplied with a pair of excellent stereo binaural microphones and, as is supposed, near perfect recall especially when used in a (mainly) non-technological culture where people are more creative by default - thus playback is apt to emphasise the idiosyncratic nature of the thing. In terms of sampling and remixing of existing material there is evidence enough of the sort of fluidic mastery I've been arguing for elsewhere with respect of Folk Song. This is the exact same mastery that would have been commonplace in the trades of the time, so it shouldn't surprise us that ordinary people (so-called) were making & singing these songs any more than a so-called ordinary person (such as a Susan Boyle or an Alfie Boe) can capture the hearts of millions today with what is, in essence, a natural born talent defined by the traditions of their respective cultures.

The nature of Popular Music in both senses is Idiomatically Creative - the idiom being the very wellspring of its creativity, which is the actual germ of The Tradition, determined as it is by the prevailing Zeitgeist which on one hand gives us The Ballad Tradition and on the other The Hip-Hop / Rap Tradition. Both of which are Popular Traditional Musics in precisely the same sense - but neither are Folk as both the common usage of the term and its 1954 Definition renders it essentially meaningless*. Thus whilst we might lose ourselves pondering What is Folk? - or indeed Does Folk Exist? - the nature of Popular Music remains pretty constant throughout history even unto this day - applying equally to the ballads Child included in his collection and to the music we call Pop in all its myriad forms. Both are the results of living traditions of vernacular mastery and creativity - and both are a perfect reflection of the human society in which they were / are created.

S O'P

* As indicated elsewhere the folkloric understanding of the term community has expanded to the extent that the use of the term in the 1954 Definition becomes so nebulous as to make The Horse Definition look pretty exacting by comparison. Thus Folk is either nothing or everything...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 06:51 AM

"Personally, I love ferreting away into song versions, folklore etc. - but I'm well aware that for many/most(?) people the story rightly comes first."

I love ferreting, too, and I like to discuss the finer points in places like this. In performance, though, it has to be heart and soul, never academic - which of course is your own practice, Anne.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 07:07 AM

Sorry SO'P, your last posting was little more than a trip down Memory Lane to Pseuds Corner - ah, the limitations of a Secondary Modern education!!! I hope others got more out of it than I did.
If you really want to re-open an argument on the fatuous comparison of folk and modern popular music, please re-open an old thread and start a new one.
Like EKann, I find myself coming to ballads from two directions. I quite enjoy and get a great deal of pleasure from lifting the corners and looking underneath (Wimberley's Corroboree statement always works for me).
Having said that, the sheer pleasure of the story when they are well sung still makes the hairs on the back of my neck bristle.
It's worth remembering that in the tradition the ballads survived best in the mouths of non-literate Travellers, both in Ireland and Scotland, who enjoyed them as bloody good stories.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 08:41 AM

Fatuous? Bleedin' hell, Jim - this a celebration of the dynamics of human collective vernacular creativity here. I used to work at a youth club in a ex-mining village. One girl, aged 12 or so, would bring her Karaoke Machine along and amaze everyone by singing her own songs to the pre-recorded backing tracks, which struck me as pretty significant on all sorts of levels. One hand the Celebrity Machine grinds away, but on the other, as with Football, the kids in the backstreet are still dazzling with their innate understanding of the craft in hand. In a Manchester music store (Forsyths) the other week I excused a protracted drooling session over the display of Fender Jazz & Precision bass guitars by listening to a young lad ripping his way through entire chunks of Piper at the Gates of Dawn on one of those weird looking Danelectros. Made me smile anyway - albeit with a consideration of the function & necessity of a Vernacular Traditional Music, if not the actual content, which is, in any case, immaterial to the overall process &, more importantly, experience of the thing. I assumed the stuff he played that I didn't recognise, though of a similar idiom, was his own compositions, or else improvised accordingly...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 08:58 AM

You do want to turn this thread into such a discussion - good luck!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Diva
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 09:21 AM

I think there is plenty of room for the dual approach.....the academic and the singing them just for the love of it and I think it is healthy that we have both.   For me I will always prefer to hear them sung. I remember going to a ballad conference in Glasgow to celebrate 100 years of Child, maybe about 15 years ago, and a fair bit went ower ma heid until Jo Millar got up and sang as part of Dr Emily Lyle's paper..... Since then I have entered into the research and seeking them out and all through my time at Uni ( I went in as a mature student in 2000) I got ballads into everything. They last because they deal with the stuff of life...birth, marriage, death and everything else forbye.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 09:41 AM

You do want to turn this thread into such a discussion...

Well, into a discussion anyway - just responding to something MtheGM said, who was responding to something I said, and so these things go on... Process, you see.

*

Otherwise, at this distance from such processes in respect of The Ballad Tradition, can we approach them with pure heart & soul - much as we might EastEnders (which is more soap ballad than soap opera)? And to what extent does heart & soul inspire our academic passions anyway? And vice-versa? Whatever, I reckon Brian had the balance about right at his show at the Fylde last year - invigorating the audience with his authority in both respects.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 10:47 AM

Diva,
I think there is room for a dual approach too - but not down this dreary cul-de sac; surely.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 11:47 AM

Without question, I think it is the stories that grab the attention of the general concert audience, and they are enhanced by the beautiful, simple but descriptive language used in the ballads.   I try to give enough background to put the songs in context and if I can find a few anecdotes I'll recount them too. For example, when I sing "Thomas the Rhymer" I might mention his famous prediction about Alexander III's death. Sometimes it helps to have a "flow" too. For example, I sang "House Carpenter" followed by "John Reilly" followed by "Billy Taylor". That enabled me to spin a little yarn about how when people went to sea they might be gone a long time and you'd have no word from them, and they might not come back at all. So what did you do - remain faithful and wait for them ? Find someone else? And if you did, what if they came back? And what about the intrepid young lady who decided to go looking for her sailor lover, and found he'd married another... So the whole concert becomes a narrative. For example, "Geordie" - heartrending injustice and cruelty for somebody who only poached the king's deer. Then followed by "Young Waters" - my god the man's only crime was being good looking, and he was beheaded! Then on to "Willie of Winsbury" - well being good looking saved his skin! And the audience is surprised and delighted by the happy ending.

In some ways it may be harder to sing to a 'ballad savvy' audience. The general audience is surprised and delighted at the twists and turns in the stories. An audience that already knows most of the ballads will be looking at whether or not you can uncover a new and interesting version they hadn't heard, or if you sing a version they know they'll be comparing you to somebody else. And there's no suspense, since they know most of the stories.

An academic lecture is a different matter entirely, and something I wouldn't attempt to do.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 12:02 PM

Maryrrf - indeed I know what you mean about reactions of audiences new to the story. Might not be out of place in this connexion, just as rehearsal of similar experience, to draw yr attentn to my post above re Maid Freed from Gallows, 30 Dec, 05.48 AM., which was in response to another post just before saying the poster thought that a dull ballad.

Michael


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 12:43 PM

I played Matty Groves for a circle of bluegrass pickers one night. The reason was, many of them were familiar with Shady Grove but not Matty. I contend that Matty Groves is the ancestral version. Anyway, I sang the thing in its entirety, with little room for picking breaks (which are the be-all for lots of bluegrassers), and nobody fell asleep. In fact, the story in the song is interesting enough with the sex and violence that I seemed to have everybody's attention. But I'm pretty sure they would balk at a more frequent repetition of it. Timing, I believe, is the key factor in these long ballads.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 01:45 PM

Excellent programming, Maryrrf! That's the way to put a good concert together.

I try to do pretty much the same thing, grouping songs with a similar theme, or putting them together so they seem to form episodes in an even longer narrative.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 02:04 PM

I agree about "Maid Freed from the Gallows", MtheGM, and the repetition helping to create the suspense. I usually sing the American "Hangman" version and I like to mention to the audience that when I first heard this, I assumed it was a man that was being hanged. Then I learned that it was, in fact, a female. (That fact wouldn't be clear in the version that I sing) And the other thing is that I haven't come across any version that mentioned why the hanging was taking place. What was her crime, and what were the circumstances that caused her family to turn against her. This mystery, I feel, gives the audience a chance, while the song is being sung, to picture the scene in their minds and speculate on their own about what the details might be - sort of allows them to fill in the gaps on their own, and draws them into the song.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 02:50 PM

Yhank you, Maryrrf - Child's headnote admits most English language versions of Maid Freed [#95] are defective. In most of his versions, it is the judge, rather than the hangman, who is being appealed to ? tho this puts the matter back to the sentence, presumably, rather than the actual imminent execution, and so is perhaps less suspenseful & dramatic ? tho, predictably, the variants are not always consistent about this: it sometimes appears as if the judge is there to give the hangman the order to get on with it, which scarcely likely, eh?. Altho the generic title given is "The Maid"..., it is sometimes a man. In some of the other European versions, both northern & southern cited by Child over 4½ pages, it is ransom from capture by corsairs &c which is demanded. Sometimes the maid/man is to be executed for having lost a golden key, or ball, which the lover finds at last moment...

But it is the suspense, in whatever version, isn't it? One of those where one feels, never mind why ? just let the story work! And, as we agree, doesn't it ever. It is perhaps the one where those two great attributes of balladry, advance of the story by dialogue, and incremental repetition, have the freest rein to work. Along, as you say, with the audience's imaginations.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 02:54 PM

MtheGM, now that you mention it - I do remember the 'golden ball' version, which is still kind of mysterious!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 02:57 PM

... even more mysterious perhaps ? who gave her the ball? why? what for? what its purpose? why its loss so sternly punishable???


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 03:13 PM

letmefind a charming version of the golden ballSubject: RE: Briery Bush/Prickly Bush/Hangman songs
From: Good Soldier Schweik - PM
Date: 04 Aug 09 - 10:55 AM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8ZFVD7qkRU
peggy seeger sings it in this interview
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8ZFVD7qkRU


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 04:13 PM

Take at look at this fairy tale The Golden Ball. Could this be the basis to "Maid Freed from the Gallows" or vice versa?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 07:39 PM

There's a beautiful lyrical version of 'Maid' entitled 'The Streets of Derry', as sung by Armagh singer Sarah Makem.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 08:28 AM

Jim, you printed the words before, it does look like a good version, Sarah Makem was alovely singer too.
Sam Henry No 705.

1       Oh, it's after morning, there comes an evening.
And after evening another day.
And after a false love, there comes a true one.
It's hard to hold them that will not stay.

2       As he went walking up the streets of Derry,
I'm sure he marched up right manfully;
He was more like a commanding officer
Than a man to die on the gallows tree.

3       The very first step he went up the ladder,
His blooming colours began to fail,
With heavy sighs with dismal cries,
"Is there no releasement from Derry Gaol."

4       The very next step he went up the ladder.
His aged mother was standing by?
"Come here, come here, my old aged mother
And speak one word to me before I die."

5       The very next step he went up the ladder.
His aged father was standing by.
"Come here, come here, my old aged father.
And speak one word to me before I die."

6       The very next step he went up the ladder.
His loving clergyman was standing by.
"Stand back, stand back, you old prosecutors,
I'll let you see that he will not die."

7       "I'll let you see that you dare not hang him.
Till his confession unto me is done;
And after that, that you dare not hang him.
Till within ten minutes of the setting sun."

8       "What keeps my love, she's so long a-coming ?
Or what detains her so long from me ?
Or does she think it a shame or scandal
To see me die on the gallows tree ?"

9       He looked around and he saw her coming.
As she rode swifter than the wind.
"Come down, come down, off that weary gallows.
For I bear pardon all from the Queen."

10    "Come down, come down, off the weary gallows.
For I bear pardon all from the Queen,
I'll let them see that they dare not hang you.
And I'll crown my Willie with a bunch of green."


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 10:07 AM

Take at look at this fairy tale The Golden Ball. Could this be the basis to "Maid Freed from the Gallows" or vice versa?

This is an odd one because I was long familiar with the story (from Joseph Jacobs' More English Fairy Tales which I first read when I was seven) before I was the song-type (from - er - Led Zeppelin 3, which I first heard when I was nine). I remember the shock upon realising that Zeppelin were singing something from my precious book of folk tales, so, in my head at least, the story in the antecedent of the song! However, Jacobs' notes on the matter don't give too much away (the entire text is on line HERE) apart from the mention of game in Plunket's Merry Games - which I don't have & haven't been able to find further reference to on-line. He seems very keen on the notion of the Cante Fable, rendering Tamlane (and others) in this manner too, so - I've no doubt the essence of Child #95 is a lot older than the story, supposing Jacobs et al weren't above a bit of tinkering by way of improvement...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 10:11 AM

jim,I believe its sung to the tune of anach cuin?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 10:23 AM

Cap'n,
"anach cuin"
Never thought about it, but I believe you're right - if not, something very near it.
Jm Caroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 12:09 PM

Thanks for posting the full text of "Streets of Derry". I'd only heard the abreviated version.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 04:14 PM

this documentary shows what a fine singer she was
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RHdNCh0f1U&NR=1


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 06:40 PM

Thanks for the clicky to Sarah Makem's singing - a great reminder of what the tradition really is!
It's a salutary experience for many younger musicians to realise how integral these songs/this music would be to the particular performers in their own circumstances. And I love the real sense of continuity from Sarah to Tommy


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 07:53 PM

And Tommy's boys - Shane, Conor and Rory,have continued their family's musical legacy.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 06:32 AM

Not wishing to take sides but Sarah Makem once said "Our Tommy's a lovely boy, but he can't sing".
Wonder what she meant!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 08:46 AM

Jim,I think she meant he couldnt sing in a tradtional unaccompanied style, he clearly could sing in tune,and had a good voice, and was a fairly good musician, and a good songwriter.,and the choirmaster missed his voice.
I prefer Sarahs singing,re interpretation of the big songs, but he was a good singer, not in sarahs league, on unaccompanied songs ,I think she was being over harsh.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 01:11 PM

I really don't know what she meant Cap'n.
Whether Tommy was a good or bad singer is a matter of opinion, but it does raise an interesting point in my mind about a traditional singer's sensibilities regarding how traditional songs should and should not be sung.
We spent a fascinating night with one of the Traveller singers we were recording (who specialised in long narrative songs) when we took her to a folk club as a member of the audience. Her estimation of the proceedings was, shall we say - extremely educational.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 03:11 PM

Jim - I'm wondering if you could help me with this.
In all of your recording of Irish travellers and ensuing discussions, what did you learn of how the songs were passed on or "taught"?
I ask because I recollect a conversation with Sheila Stewart where she was telling how she learned some of her songs from an uncle and there was one particular ballad that she had to sing for him (almost like an audition) every year: after hearing it, he would say it wasn't ready yet, and she wouldn't be allowed to sing it for anyone else until she had his approval!
And I'm also well aware that Jeannie Robertson had very clear ideas as to whether a singer "had the right wey o' a song".
All of this would seem to be at odds with what many posting to this thread have been advising (including myself!). Although perhaps advice to love and respect a ballad would cover it?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 08:24 PM

EKanne;
I'm not sure that there was a set rule on how the songs were learned, though I do believe that learning the 'right' way to sing followed a set pattern.
Most singers we were able to ask talked about a main influence - usually, but not always a family member who they used as a guide.
They appeared to have developed a way of singing which they believed to be 'right' and then got their songs from wherever they could and adapted them to how they sang.
One of the most accomplished of the Irish Traveller singers, Mary Delaney, who was born blind, said she could remember a song well enough to sing it after two or three hearings. We were thrown with Mary at first because she referred to all her traditional songs (we recorded over 100, but she probably had nearer 200) as "my daddie's songs", though when we questioned her, it transpired that she had only learned around a dozen from him - she was talking about the type of song rather than the individual ones.
On the other hand Tom Lenihan, a West Clare small farmer, described how he worked on his songs, in detail, wherever he got them from, planning the breathing and the phrasing and making sense of the narrative. Tom talked about putting the 'blas' - pronounced bloss (Gaelic trans. 'relish', 'taste', 'good accent') on the songs.
Similarly, Norfolk singer Walter Pardon spoke about a song having 'the right strook'.
Wexford Traveller, 'Pop's' Johnny Connors, from well-known piping stock demonstrated in great detail how he ornamented a song and compared it to playing slow airs on the pipes. The word he used was 'Yawn or Yann'.
Kerry Traveller, Mikeen McCarthy, who was a street singers and ballad (songsheet) seller, talked about three different styles of singing, for the street, pub singing and what he called 'fireside singing', that done around the fire at night among family and close friends.
Sorry - am going on far too long about this; the overall answer to your question is that in general the most accomplished singers developed their singing abilities and adapted their songs to fit what they could do. The ones we met, rather than learning directly from their mentors, would pick up their way of singing by listening and emulating, though some of them would seek approval for what they were doing, directly or indirectly. None of the Travellers learned from print as they were either non-literate or nearly so.
Virtually all of them referred to a 'right' way of singing and most identified traditional songs as being different from modern songs (even though some of the latter were far older than the former). Some called them Traditional, or old, or Clare or Traveller songs, or come-all-ye's.
Two of the great Sean Nós (old style) singers from Connemara, (who we never recorded) Joe Heaney and Johnny McDonagh, spoke about going to their uncle, Colm Keane, to learn to sing, but they were the only ones we ever heard of who did so as formally as that.
Bet you're sorry you asked now!!!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 12:07 AM

==We spent a fascinating night with one of the Traveller singers we were recording (who specialised in long narrative songs) when we took her to a folk club as a member of the audience. Her estimation of the proceedings was, shall we say - extremely educational.
Jim Carroll ===

I recall a Sunday afternoon in 1956 at C#Hse when Peter Kennedy used to run a monthly singaround. Good occasions - all sorts of people used to come: first place I ever heard Bob & Ron Copper. This partic day Mervyn Plunkett brought along several of the Sussex source singers he had been collecting from. Old [80+] George "Pop" Maynard looked around at the assembled guitarists & said, with mixture of contempt and curiosity in his voice, "What's all them wires for? Going to catch some rabbits?"

I suspect a line he might have used before ? there was a sort of 'twinkle' in his voice: but, as they say, up to a point applicably here, se non è vero, è ben trovato.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 06:08 AM

Jim -- thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed answer, and I'll now take the time to digest all the fascinating descriptions.
One little addition you might like -- Jane Turriff, in describing how she interpreted or ornamented a song, would talk about "putting in the curves", and as she said this, she would make expansive gestures with one arm!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 06:15 AM

More great stuff on this thread - but I just wanted to thank Dick for that link to Sara Makem on Youtube. Wonderful.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Mary Humphreys
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 06:20 AM

Quote from Jim Carroll:We spent a fascinating night with one of the Traveller singers we were recording (who specialised in long narrative songs) when we took her to a folk club as a member of the audience. Her estimation of the proceedings was, shall we say - extremely educational.

Jim,
Would you elaborate your comment above? I would find it extremely educational myself.
Thanks.
Mary


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 07:51 AM

all[traditional and revival] singers have different opinions about how a ballad should be sung.
"Virtually all of them referred to a 'right' way of singing and most identified traditional songs as being different from modern songs (even though some of the latter were far older than the former). Some called them Traditional, or old, or Clare or Traveller songs, or come-all-ye's."quote Jim Carroll.
sorry, there is no right or wrong way of singing anything, there is a way that a particular singer might like[whether they are traditional or revival]thats a subjective opinion.
neither are traditional songs necessarily different from modern[traditional style songs],[I mean particularly] a song that can be sung successfully[and which works] without an accompaniment.
finally [imo],great care needs to be used on accompaniments to traditional ballads,that have lines for the audience to join in with,the accompanimant must not inhibit the audience from joining in the song[songs such as Swan swims so bonny,false knight etc]


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Mary Humphreys
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 07:57 AM

Dick said: "sorry, there is no right or wrong way of singing anything, there is a way that a particular singer might like[whether they are traditional or revival]thats a subjective opinion."
I would agree Dick, it is all a matter of personal taste. But it would be good to hear what someone steeped in the tradition thought about a revival singer's interpretation of a song. It could inform the way that one approaches a song in future.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 08:23 AM

possibly,but it must be remembered that all singers and this includes traditional singers are not always objective about other singers, in my experience,traditional singers can be quite competitive,Harry Cox was dismissive of Sam Larner,on one occasion saying,I dont need a pint of beere before i start singing ,not like some.
one old traditional fiddler I played with, had the utmost contempt for musicians who played the pipes, referring to it as the squealing of a pig being butchered, and dismissed pianists [hello Reg Hall]as music only fit for ding dong bell pussy in the well.
when I lived in Suffolk, I also noticed that some members of the old hat party,started looking very glum when other members got too much accolade, some of these traditional performers have big egos, and their utterances can be influenced, by their competitive outlook.
in a folk club situation,which would be a foreign and unfamiliar environment,its quite feasible that traditional singers would be scathing about revival performers,not necessarily with justification,but because of the reasons I have mentioned.
on the other hand , perhaps the revival singers were not very good and deserved criticism, after all not every traditional singer is good either.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 08:32 AM

"sorry, there is no right or wrong way of singing anything,"
The 'right' and 'wrong' way to sing a song is dictated, not by the individual singer, but the song itself - does it work as what it is purported to be.
If Peter Pears sings the ballad 'The Lyke Wake Dirge' (as he did), his manner of singing it makes it something else entirely, a piece of operatically styled singing. Composers like Grainger, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Bartok, Kodaly... all used folk songs and music in their compositions. In doing so, they turned them into something else. This is not a value judgement, just a simple fact.
Those of us involved in folk song as a specific genre make our judgement on how those songs reach our ears and brain; whether they still retain their original function as folk songs or whether they have been given a new function.
The old argument - if a Beethoven quartet is performed on guitar, drums saxaphone and synthesizer - is it still a piece of classical music or has it become something else?
Hi Mary - haven't missed your question - will get back to it later.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 08:42 AM

Sorry Cap'n - cross posted
All the examples you have cited can be equally applied to any group of musicians revival or traditional - or anywhere else. We are all subjective in our tastes and choices.
The traditional performers' view is one I would seek out first because it comes from nearer the source of our music - not to say I would automatically agree with it, but I would certainly give it more credence than has been given by the revival as a whole Our traditional singers, by and large, have been treated as sources for our material and nothing else; this is why we know so little about the tradition IMO.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 08:45 AM

Pears' singing of LykeWake always within context of Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings, along with Tennyson's Horns Of Elfland &c. One of finest vocal/orchestral concert pieces of C20 IMO, but I agree, Jim, only distantly related to the real LykeWakeDirge. None the worse for that, of course, so long as one retains consciousness of which genre one is listening to & adjusts one's expectations accordingly. Remark here, however, that I could never bear Britten's use of ballads like Musgrave as accompaniment for over-elaborate taradiddles on the piano ? those make me gag.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 09:11 AM

"so long as one retains consciousness of which genre one is listening to & adjusts one's expectations accordingly."
Thanks Mike -that's what I was trying to say.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 09:57 AM

"The traditional performers' view is one I would seek out first because it comes from nearer the source of our music - not to say I would automatically agree with it, but I would certainly give it more credence than has been given by the revival as a whole Our traditional singers, by and large, have been treated as sources for our material and nothing else; this is why we know so little about the tradition IMO"
I agree, but with the proviso,that the more I liked or respected the singers singing,the more credence I would give to their view point.
so while I would listen and consider the viewpoint of say Gordon Hall[were he with us],I would probably put more value on Sarah Makems comments[were she here], because I prefer her singing.
however I would base my judgement on[my perception] of what was good,rather than label,so I would value [say] Bob Blakes comments[revival mistaken for traditional]above Gordon Hall[traditional], because I think he was a better singer.
there are also some revival singers [Sean Cannon MacColl,Lloyd and some others]whose opinions on singing Ballads,I would consider wortrhy of serious consideration.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 10:09 AM

The extent to which Ewan can be considered a source singer, or anyhow a true tradition carrier [lot of his songs learned from parents Will & Betsy Miller] has been considered on these threads before. Just to remark here that Bob Thomson, who knew so much about the oral/broadsehet ballad tradition that he was the first person ever taken on by Cambridge for a PhD course without any earlier degree or academic qualification, said to me more than once that he never believed that Ewan had got the tune for Eppie Morrie [the only one in Bronson] from his father, but had probably made it himself. A fine tune nevertheless, which I have sung often just becoz...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 10:34 AM

For the views of a traditional singer who also helped shape the revival, come to Shirley Collins's all-day masterclasses on English song in Lewes on 17th. and 18th. April. On the Saturday evening Shirley gives her illustrated talk on southern English gypsy singers, 'I'm A Romany Rai' and on the Sunday evening a new one on Peter Kennedy's song collecting in southern England.

There will be opportunities for floor singers on both evenings.

There is a separate thread on the subject.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 12:07 PM

"The extent to which Ewan can be considered a source singer...."
At no time in my presence did I ever hear Ewan describe himself as a 'source' or 'traditional' singer - it seems to have been a far more important issue to others than it was to him.
I do know that Betsy had songs - she sang them to me. I also know from William Miller's contemporaries, particularly Eddie Frow, that he had a lot of "queer old songs", many of these in fragmentary form.
It was Ewan's practice to take many of those fragments and build them up into full texts from printed sources. Whether that qualifies his being a 'souce singer' is a matter of opinion; not in my book, and as I said, it didn't appear to matter to him.
My grandfather and great grandfather were both merchant seamen and through the former I grew up with a number of sea shanties - does that make me a 'source singer'; I don't think so.
Eppie Morrie:
Whether Ewan wrote it or not will, like the "who wrote the ballads", question, never be known.
When Peggy was compiling Ewan's songbook she sent us a list of his songs and asked us to identify their sources; we managed to trace them all back to traditional tunes.
Ewan wrote very few, if any new tunes, but based certainly most of them on existing ones.
He used the Eppie Morrie tune for several of his own songs - The Iron Road, The Fitters Song, The Ballad of Stalin....
I don't believe Bob knew where the tune came from any more than we did.
If somebody had told be thirty years ago that a ballad that had been missing from the tradition for several centuries (Maid and the Palmer) would turn up out of the blue in the mouth of a non-literate Irish Traveller I'd have told them they were barmy! Just shows how much we really know, doesn't it?
Cap'n:
"the more I liked or respected the singers singing,the more credence I would give to their view point."
I hope you don't mind me saying so but that's a very odd way of coming to a conclusion - surely the point of view offered must take precedence over your personal likes and dislikes? I can think of several people whose views I respect utterly, but who I find a pain in the arse; and even more people I like very much who I wouldn't trust to go down to the corner shop for a pint of milk.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 12:12 PM

its not aquestion of liking their personality,but liking their singing,if i like the way they interpret a ballad ,I am more likely to take seriously their points about how to sing ballads


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 12:18 PM

Re Bob Thomson & Eppie Morrie: he was no way dogmatic about it: just expressg opinion, that he thought it odd that the only tune to have come to Bronson's attention should be that one...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 12:40 PM

"its not a question of liking their personality.."
Fair enough Cap'n, then it's all down to personal taste - as long as we listen to what everyone has to say"
"I would probably put more value on Sarah Makems comments"
Even after what she said about Tommy's singing?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 12:41 PM

Sorry Mike, missed your comment.
"Re Bob Thomson & Eppie Morrie: he was no way dogmatic about it:"
I know he wasn't - we had the same discussion - several times.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 01:59 PM

yes,Jim,
because I understood what she meant, she is looking at singing from the perspective of an unaccompanied traditional singer,who was capable of interpreting long ballads,something Tommy Makem didnt attempt to do,and probably couldnt do,I think she meant he couldnt sing certain kinds of songs[perhaps he didnt want to],that still doesnt mean he couldnt sing, he certainly could,and he could entertain.
Sarah Makem, would have probably thought gus elen couldnt sing, but, he could, but only in a certain style.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 02:04 PM

For the matter of that, Dick, what would Gus Elen, I wonder, have thought of Mrs Makem's singing? These are deep waters, to be sure...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 03:15 PM

I was listening to some troubadour songs from Aragon and thought of this thread. Many of them go on and on. Some of these XIII C. songs are preserved with their musical scores. Noted in the music are breaks in the narration, with solo or group instrument melody between verses.
Some polyphonic music of the same period is intermixed with spoken verses.

In any case, a musical break, or a brief spoken piece that furthers the lyric's story, may be one answer.

I appologise if this has been posted before; I have not read every post in this long thread.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 03:58 PM

Q
"In any case, a musical break, or a brief spoken piece that furthers the lyric's story, may be one answer."
I don't know anything about Aragon singing, but would be very interested in finding out in order to compare.
For me, the tight, bare narrative of the English language balladry militates against introducing musical breaks in ballads, or any narrative song for that matter. In the end, I really don't believe that a ten minute ballad presents any problem to the listener as long as it is well enough sung. Some of the techniques that could be used have been discussed earlier on. I think there is more room for discussion as length is an (I believe) over-exaggerated problem - usually blamed on the audience's attention-span but far more likely to be down to the singer's lack of confidence in his/her ability to hold the attention of an audience. MacColl admitted as much when he described how, when he first started singing ballads at clubs, he broke the ballad Gil Maurice into two parts, one before the interval, the other after it. He desisted when audience members complained.
Up to twenty years ago here in Ireland we were still able to record storytellers with tales lasting well over an hour long, and the shorter ones were far longer than the avarage ballad.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 04:50 PM

Right upto the middle of the 18thc many of the longer street ballads were presented in fyttes (separate sections or chapters if you like), best known examples probably Chevy Chase or The Gest of RH. I couldn't say whether this had anything to do with performance but it's possible. More likely it was similar to splitting prose up into chapters or paragraphs for the READERS.

SteveG


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 05:54 PM

I think audiences used to have a lot more tolerance of long songs than we think they have now. I'm thinking not of ballads but of songs like The Three Ravens -

Line 1
Refrain 1
Line 1 again
Refrain 2
Line 1 yet again,/i>
Line 2, finally
Refrain 3

When I've done it I've always wimped out and done four lines of verse instead of two, with no repeats. Do it with the repeats and I fear modern audiences would be champing at the bit after three or four verses - "His hawks do all about him fly", yes, yes, we heard you the first time, then what? Songs where the verses themselves include lots of repetition without variation fall into a similar category - after a few verses of the Prickle-Eye Bush it's hard not to hanker after a bit of complexity or narrative development...

"Yes, I shall bring you gold,
When I've got it back you see,
For I lent it to my two best friends over there
And I'm sure they'll give it to me."

Hangman, stay your hand
For ten minutes or thereabout
For my brother's financial affairs sound complicated
And he needs to straighten them out...


(Time to revive this thread, maybe.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 05:57 PM

Oops. Let's try that again.

I think audiences used to have a lot more tolerance of long songs than we think they have now. I'm thinking not of ballads but of songs like The Three Ravens -

Line 1
Refrain 1
Line 1 again
Refrain 2
Line 1 yet again
Line 2, finally
Refrain 3

When I've done it I've always wimped out and done four lines of verse instead of two, with no repeats. Do it with the repeats and I fear modern audiences would be champing at the bit after three or four verses - "His hawks do all about him fly", yes, yes, we heard you the first time, then what? Songs where the verses themselves include lots of repetition without variation fall into a similar category - after a few verses of the Prickle-Eye Bush it's hard not to hanker after a bit of complexity or narrative development...

"Yes, I shall bring you gold,
When I've got it back you see,
For I lent it to my two best friends over there
And I'm sure they'll give it to me."

Hangman, stay your hand
For ten minutes or thereabout
For my brother's financial affairs sound complicated
And he needs to straighten them out...


(Time to revive this thread, maybe.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 07:02 PM

Jean Ritchie collected Sarah Makem singing "Derry Gaol" many years ago, but it is a bit different than that posted in Sam Henry's book. (one added verse, several omitted)

Here it is for reference

(I'll leave this up a few days..here is the album. It has been reissued as a CD on Jean's Greenhays label.

[Link corrected- JoeClone]


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 07:16 PM

I don't think that link is right...

http://home.comcast.net/~somethingextree/music/095_Sarah_Makem_ Derry_Gaol.mp3
let's try that one


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 07:29 PM

trying to get it right

It works for me when I paste in in from home, but not when I C&P it out of the thread...I'm confused.

http://home.comcast.net/~somethingextree/music/095_%20Sarah_Makem_%20Derry_Gaol.mp3


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 07:35 PM

ok...that seems to have done it. Some odd space in the link, I guess.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 03:35 AM

In reply to Pip Radish, are we not back to the question of whether the singer values the song, is committed to it? Without making the performance into a melodrama, it should still be possible to convey the tension in a repetitious song like 'Hangman, stay your hand' or 'Lucy Wan' -- if the singer believes in it!
I've been in clubs where such songs have been included in a performer's programme for the seemingly sole purpose of encouraging audience participation, at the expense of the central narrative. But if the principal purpose is to have the audience make a noise, then surely there are plenty other songs which would do the business -- 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', 'One Man Went to Mow' etc.
Try thinking back to when you were wee -- even when a child is more than familiar with a fairy tale like 'The Three Billy Goats Gruff', there is never any urging of the adult reading the story to cut out the unnecessary repetitions and get to the point (although that may also have something to do with prolonging bedtime!).
Bottom line -- trust in the power of a good story.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 05:13 AM

Without making the performance into a melodrama, it should still be possible to convey the tension in a repetitious song like 'Hangman, stay your hand' or 'Lucy Wan' -- if the singer believes in it!

I agree, actually. I think my point was that we've got used to a different kind of song: one that doesn't (usually) tell a complete story, doesn't (usually) include a lot of repetition, but just moves along nicely for a couple of verses and choruses & then stops. In terms of interpretation, a song like that basically sings itself - it tells the singer what to do. Both the long songs and the repetitious songs give the singer much more work to do, & both can be a turn-off for the audience - if they're not done well.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 06:07 AM

Anything, Pip, will be a turn off for the audience ? if it is not done well.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 06:52 AM

Choruses/refrains, if used thoughtfully can be a great help both in keeping the attention of the listener and of underlining the tension of the narrative. Repeated parrot fashion, they can be a problem, even to the extent of lulling the audience into an almost hypnotic trance, but slight tonal changes or the slight holding on of key words can underline the tension of a narrative. I've heard this work brilliantly, particularly on such ballads as Sheath and Knife and The Cruel Mother.
However - this raises what I believe to be a major problem - insensitive audiences who don't listen to what the singer is doing but instead, plough ahead with what THEY want to do.
I know from our visting a number of clubs with him, that Walter Pardon occasionally became very disturbed at audiences who tended to drag the pace of chorus songs so that he was forced to slow them down rather than sing them at his own speed. The audiences in question were insensitive enough to completely ignore what he was trying to do, and he was far too polite to mention it. He was forced to drop two of his favourite songs from his public repertoire because of this.   
I have been completely thrown by audiences singing loud harmonies on choruses that demanded sensitivity - this was some years ago now; I get the impression that things have become much worse.
For me, one of the worse displays of bad manners is the singing along with the verse of the song without having been asked to do so - I've even known club organisers to boast that they encourage such arrogant behaviour. For me, the main singer must always be allowed to set the song, not the audience.
I really don't know how to handle either of these problems - wonder how others feel about it.
Anyway - time to put the hobby-horse back in its stable.
I hope this fascinating thread is still going on Monday - we're off to a music/song weekend.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 09:24 AM

yes, the singer should always be allowed to sing how he/she wants.
mind you the same bad manners occur occasionally in music sessions,where musicians do not pay courtesy to the person who started the tune, please listen and play how they want to play it, it is a particular problem with hornpipes,the same applies to strummers if you do not know the chord sequence, shut up, or play quietly,you strummers are alright if you know the chords, if you dont, you are a hindrance.
   however it is wonderful when you do get good chorus singing.
people should think of the voice as an instrument,no one would have the cheek to get up on stage with the main performer[uninvited with an instrument]and play along slowing the main performer down.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 10:14 AM

I continue to enjoy this thread. There is so much good commentary, advice, and things to think about and stimulate me to try out new ways to approach ballads. Thanks so much to everybody who has contributed, and please let's keep it going - especially since we all appear to be able to 'agree to disagree' sometimes in a healthy way. The clips posted of Sara Makem were divine, and I wouldn't have found them if it hadn't been for this thread. (BTW it certainly isn't true that Tommy couldn't sing - maybe her comment was taken out of context...?). Crow Sister suggested a while back that we find and post clips of good examples of ballad singing, or for that matter clips that aren't to our taste, in order to analyse and discuss. I think this is a good idea.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 11:40 AM

That's a good idea, Maryrrf...that's why I posted Sarah Makem...(I did this time post the whole song for comparison, but I would usually do only a clip of one verse or so, and refrain/chorus if it has one.)
   I have a large number of Child ballads available I could give examples of. If anyone has a particular request, I'll see what I can do. (PM me, as I may be in my workshop a lot and miss checking the thread).


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 11:49 AM

yes, thanks bill d,
i realy liked that
here is leadbellys version of the gallus pole
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmTNgJxlrCY


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 12:43 PM

cananyone work out the second line,second verse of Sarahs version,thisverse is mising from the sam henry.
the first line is,my love he is as niceas any man.
then it sounds likes
as any ? friend the sun shone on


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 12:53 PM

And from the Max Hunter collection, Mrs. Laura McDonald

(There are 6 versions from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee there ....as well as 30 or so other Child Ballads)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 12:57 PM

it sounds like ger friend?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 01:01 PM

http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/childballads.aspx

(I have over 100 versions of "Maid Freed from the Gallows". Obviously, I shall not overwhelm the thread with them.
There are many other ballads to consider. There are separate threads already for many of them, and specific discussion could be carried on there if anyone wishes to explore one ballad at length)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 04:48 PM

"However - this raises what I believe to be a major problem - insensitive audiences who don't listen to what the singer is doing but instead, plough ahead with what THEY want to do."

I agree with what Jim said about choruses/refrains - it's one of my bugbears as well. I would actually distinguish between a 'chorus' and a 'refrain'. A chorus is something for the audience to join in with (if they must - yes, even the tiresome bellowers, dirge merchants and the pestilential harmonisers) but a refrain is an integral part of the poetry of a narrative song - a device to build tension, and sometimes, I feel, it's best if it's left to the singer.

By the way, if I think the bellowers, dirge merchants etc. in the audience are slowing me down I try to carry on regardless at my own pace, or even occasionally miss a beat at the end of a verse to really throw them off.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 05:17 PM

here is a version of the False Knight.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBouEwP1WHM


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 06:44 PM

I've always been fascinated by this version of The Dowie Dens of Yarrow, sung by Max Hunter and collected from Herbert Philbrick in Crocker, Missouri.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 07:10 PM

My favourite Yarrow is, of course, Davie Stewart's, which might be previewed HERE. Not quite sure what Max Hunter is up to there; & sadly there doesn't appear to be a recording of Herbert Philbrick's version to compare it with. There are however a couple of absolute crackers up there more than worthy of our attention:

Almeda Riddle - Fair Willie Drowned in Yarrow

Mrs. Lola Stanley - The Derry Dems of Arrow

Play 'em and weep!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 07:12 PM

I was bemused by the alternate version noted at the bottom of that page.... "The Derry Dems of Arrow"


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 07:26 PM

Yes it's always interesting to see the various permutations that happened once the ballads crossed the pond.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 04:22 AM

It is, of course, evidence of what we call The Folk Process, which is an essential / defining factor of an / the Oral Tradition. I think in the case of Derry Dems of Arrow we're seeing a very purposeful transportation of Child #241 into a western scenario. Do we know of any other versions that feature cowboys? Might even Mrs Stanley have done the work herself? Whatever the case, the Wild West frontier mythos provides a worthy context for the ballad, in much the same way that Sergio Leone reinvented Kurasawa's Yojimbo as A Fistful of Dollars - only 6 years after Hunter recorded Mrs Stanley! Being both a fan of Ballads & Westerns (Spaghetti & others) I must say this one appeals to me greatly.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 05:13 AM

If anyone's in the Lewes area today, come to the Elephant & Castle from noon until at least 3.00 p.m. where the Lewes Saturday Folk Club is running a free ballads-only session. Sandra Goddard is in the chair.

This follows our successful and thoroughly delightful annual Sussex all-day singaround yesterday, which brought in about a hundred people from a very wide area in the course of the day.

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 09:29 AM

Ballads and Westerns - while getting immersed in Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodheid I kept thinking, this is a Clint Eastwood movie - goodies and baddies, some treachery on the goodies' side, the goodies win but one of them gets killed. Then I remembered some of the cowboy songs I used to love as a kid - El Paso, Ghost Riders in the Sky - are these - I venture to ask - essentially different from what we call ballads?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 10:11 AM

Westerns ? didn't Sharp or Karpeles {or was it the Lomaxes} report somewhere of collecting a version of the Douglas Tragedy, at the conclusion of which the singer said, "And my father saw it too ? it happened in the valley over yonder, two men got quarreling over a girl & one of them got shot."? This from a vague memory, as will be realised ? anyone a more precise reference?

No, stop ? I've found it: I had remembered it sort of right, so will allow the above para to stand {as example of my own sort of folk process, perhaps} ? but here is the full & correct citation:? It is at the end of Ch VII of Matthew Hodgart's The Ballads [Hutchinson 1950], attributed to "a recent collector in the Appalachians" {citation at end of quote}: "The Americans have a ballad called 'The Seven Sleepers', a version of 'Earl Brand' ({Child} 7), which ultimately derives from ancient germanic epic. One old man told the collector: 'The Seven Sleepers was a true song. It happened way back yonder in Mutton Hollow. i was there myself. Somebody got killed over the girl. I was there soon after it happened. Another man was after the girl and one man shot him'." (Footnote - Quoted by Entwistle in 'European Balladry' 1939,p3, from Dorothy Scarborough, "A Song Catcher In The Southern Mountains", NY 1937.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Bill D
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 10:45 AM

Ahhh...I'm not a bit surprised at that story, MtheGM. So many of the themes are common to people down thru the centuries. Not nearly as many sisters pushing each other in the river, perhaps....but men fighting over a girl? Jilted lovers getting revenge? A girl running away with charismatic strangers?
All it takes is a couple of name changes and someone hears the song and says: "Why, sure....I think my daddy knew them."


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 11:41 AM

There are a number of accounts of singers claiming direct knowledge of real events underlying the ballads they sang. I'm thinking about a very gruesome backstory to 'The Unquiet Grave' described in David Atkinson's 'The English Traditional Ballad' - and wasn't there something like this concerning Jeannie Robertson and 'My Son David'? If anyone's got any more specific examples I'd like to hear them. It's the same kind of thing as you find with apocryphal tales, that are always claimed to have happened to someone known to the teller.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 11:53 AM

... or more, Brian, to someone known to a friend of the teller. My friend Rodney Dale, who has published many books on so-called 'urban-legends', coined the name FOAF-tales ? FOAF = 'friend·of·a·friend', the person whose grannie's corpse was always the one stolen with his car, or who woke up after a binge minus a kidney...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 01:11 PM

The Western version of the Cowboy's Barbara Allen is discussed in this thread by Q and Art Thieme.

--Charlie Baum


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 01:29 PM

made all the boys ride saddle sore,she was either a nymphomaniac,or a sadist,or possibly both.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 04:20 PM

To go back to Brian's post about the 'backstory' for singer's versions of their songs -- I'm not sure that there was any explanation behind Jeannie Robertson's version of 'Son David', but I am sure that it was a very significant song for her, because her only son had died young, so her memory of loss was very strong. (Apologies for not taking the time to check this just now, but will do later, and if there's any further info. - I'll post it.)
Before I go, you might be interested to hear that Gordeanna McCulloch and myself did the first of three ballad workshops in Glasgow this afternoon - not part of Celtic Connections - and had 23 hardworking participants, between one third and one half of whom were ballad novices. All were enthusiastic and some were passionate, which confirms my belief that there is a real audience out there for these songs.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: meself
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 05:25 PM

By way of illustrating several matters that have been discussed here, I'm submitting a link to a "preview" of the NFB documentary about song-collector and folklorist Helen Creighton: A Sigh and a Wish. In it, you will find four or five samples of field recordings of 'source singers' juxtaposed with 'revivalist' interpretations of the same songs, as well as an unusual rendition of False Knight in which trad. singer and fiddler Ben Henneberry intersperses the verses with alternating A & B turns of Flowers of Edinburgh on fiddle. Some commentary and pontification from various folkie nabobs as well.

(Btw, if you like the 'preview', you will certainly like the full documentary. And vice versa.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: meself
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 01:13 AM

(Correction: that's Ben's son Edmund Henneberry doing False Knight.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 04:02 AM

Interesting link. The 'source' performances belong to a different level of musical vibrancy to those of the revival. Where did it all go so horribly wrong I wonder?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 04:27 AM

Actually, that should be why did it all go so horribly wrong; the where is pretty much self evident.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 07:56 AM

it hasnt always gone horribly wrong,its just changed.,and there are some good revival singers performers ,who clearly still listen to source singers.
commercialism has played a part,plus the idea of listening to sounds rather than words,result: over elaborate accompaniments.,and on occasions thoughtless singing
but the real difference betwen Sarah and Tommy,is that she sung the songs all the time for her enjoyment while she was doing different jobs .
Tommy clearly didnt sing around the house,he practised his songs and performed them for audiences.,he clearly played for his own enjoyment as well,but he didnt sing while he was working at other jobs[otherwise Sarah would not have made the statement"I never heard Tommy sing]
so the attitude to the songs was different.
one other difference[in style] is that Tommy has a slight classical sound[possibly as a result of his choir training].
the other day I listened to the Transatlantic sessions[aly bain],all competent musicians,but the result [imo]was a bland mish mash of rootlessness,the music lacked something, the joi de vivre was missing


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Crow Sister (flying vist)
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 09:25 AM

Many thanks for everyone keeping this thread flowing.

"all competent musicians,but the result [imo]was a bland mish mash of rootlessness,the music lacked something, the joi de vivre was missing"

Aye, I'm afraid I can't disagree with that summation Good Soldier - it tallies with some of my own thoughts! Despite best intentions and worthy efforts, I've found a lot of revival folk tricky in the whole to 'get into', but especially the more current 'revival' bands. But while there is good stuff out there, I finally cracked the other day upon listening to Jim Causley's 'Rolling of the Stones', which (IMO) was so devoid of any heart or genuine feeling for the *song* that I likened his rendering to a lifeless corpse being dragged along behind a jolly waggon of rustic merrymakers (fiddles, squeezeboxes and all).

The *song* however was so good, that I was inspired to learn to sing it for myself. (..luckily for me of course, Mr. Causley will never be in a position to slag my rendering of RotS's orf, hehe!)

Keep on Keeping it Real Folk Fans!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 09:44 AM

Regarding the Sarah : Tommy Makem issue, it may be interesting to some to hear them sing together, for example on the Diane Hamilton collection recording 'The Lark in the Morning' (where they sing the Little Beggarman), which was recorded in the latter half of 1955


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 09:54 AM

Rolling of the Stones is, of course, one of most fascinating bits of fragmentation of a big ballad, Two Brothers [Child #49] - sometimes down to only 3 or 4 quatrains, so that the story turns into a sort of mystic incantation like Heather Woods' exquisite version on Young Traditions 'Galleries' all those years ago. I have a particular, purely mnemonic. affection for it myself coz it just happened to be the first song I ever sang on tv, in a documentary about a Poets' Picnic that Valerie & I were performing in in Somerset.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Diva
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 09:58 AM

Anne you are Absolutely right about Son David it is in Porter and Hershal's book about Jeanie. Delighted to hear about the turnout for the ballad workshop and I'm looking forward to next Sunday


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 10:26 AM

I've been taking a long hard look at Rolling of the Stones recently myself, a song that has been with me now since 1976 and one which Jim Causeley's rendition prompted a similar reaction to CS (see HERE) for which I received a double tongue-lashing from Diane Easby & Joan Crump who mistook what is a fair & honest appraisal as nastiness. Nothing could be further from the truth - after all, it takes a lot of talented musicianship, professionalism & dedicated hard work to make such wholly dispiriting & soul-destroying music - just listen to Mantovani, or The Carpenters, or even Queen. For my own post-revival version of RotS see HERE.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,CS
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 11:16 AM

MtheGM: "Rolling of the Stones is, of course, one of most fascinating bits of fragmentation of a big ballad, Two Brothers [Child #49] - sometimes down to only 3 or 4 quatrains, so that the story turns into a sort of mystic incantation"

Yeah, fragments can be so captivating somehow, so many open spaces for the imagination to animate (or imbue with anima/Soul). On a bit of a tangent, but fragments of say Sappho for example can have the most profoundly evocative impact. In any event, yes indeed, the incantatory nature of the repeated phrases in conjunction with (and counterpointed with) the necromantic verses, is genuinely enchanting.

And with token reference to the thread topic, I'll have to take a proper look at Two Brothers now.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 04:50 PM

crow sister and suibhne,take no notice of abuse.
I have had loads of it on this forum,I just go off and play some music.
I saw mawkin causley,without Jim Causley,when I was playing at Ryedale,not my taste at all.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 07:53 PM

There's a great deal of speculation around what Sarah Makem said about her son's singing - I wonder if anybody can back it up with solid information - I can't.
I (and the person who first told me of it) always assumed that it was that she felt that he had no feel for traditional songs. It wasn't that he couldn't hold a tune or project his voice - he certainly could.
It's always made sense to me that Tommy Makem was one of the people who became swept up in the comemercial side of folk singing, donned the uniform (in this case an Aran pullover), and, along with the Clancys became a 'formulaic' singer, applying a set technique to everything he/they did.
It's like the old musician said in the film, Round Midnight - "Your notes are fine, but where's your story".
I have to say that 'group' singing of traditional songs, with very few exceptions, never worked for me on narrative songs. There are examples of traditional songs that cry out for group treatment: shanties, waulking songs, some of those connected with rituals or customs, but as far as 'story' songs go, I have always thought that an individual approach is the most effective. Anything else becomes too much of a compromise on both technique and interpretation.
My feeling - for what it's worth.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Crowsis'
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 03:44 AM

"crow sister and suibhne,take no notice of abuse."

I didn't see the cited abuse Good Soldier, but I must presume it was a disgruntled Causley fan? Of course one must never criticise the quality of the art of young(ish) folk slebrities around here - how silly of me to forget ;-) However abuse aside, this tangential discussion does have some significance to the core subject of the thread. Repeatedly on this thread, we are hearing from lovers of ballads about the crucial importance of getting *inside the story* and *communicating the story* to the audience. I'd suggest that requires gentleness and humility. Being not so impressed with your talents that you end up using the the song merely as a vehicle for a display of ones vocal and instrumental expertise.

This crucial aspect, is *for me* what I feel is absent from much of what I've heard of the current flush of British folk bands, which is perhaps why I find myself unmoved (and even disheartened by) such display of excellent musiscianship, which nevertheless fails (for me at least) to 'connect' to the soul of the song. And even (or so it seems) appears to make no attempt whatsoever to do so, which oddly I somehow find genuinely saddening. It's probably also why I'll never really be a 'folk music' fan (by which I mean "folk" as defined by the Music Industry and its punters) but will conversely inevitably remain thoroughly taken by traditional songs and learning to sing them myself.

I've been discovering how thoroughly precious they are this past year or so. And it's like a minor revelation when you start to feel your way inside and the song begins to live for you, unfolding itself delicately like a magical miniature world. When I first started singing people told me I had a lovely voice and I get lots of compliments for my voice still, but however pleasing that may be (and of course it's nice to hear) it means absolutely dick if I fail to address the *song* with gentleness and humility and thus allow that magical little world to show itself to me and to those I sing it for. But I'm literall only just beginning to find my own 'voice', by which I mean discovering how the song wants to be sung through me, so to speak. So stepping into ballads is proving quite intriguing as it feels like I'm exercising newly discovered muscles! And frankly I'm not all that happy with my efforts thus far. But I'm so glad that people here have shared so much about their intimate relationships with these long ballads, because at least I feel like I'm starting off down the right road..

'And see not ye that bonny road,
Which winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where you and I this night maun gae.'


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 04:57 AM

it takes a lot of talented musicianship, professionalism & dedicated hard work to make such wholly dispiriting & soul-destroying music

Anyone got a number for Jim Causley's marketing people?

GSS: I saw mawkin causley,without Jim Causley,when I was playing at Ryedale

You were diddled - that was just Mawkin.

I'll get my coat.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 09:44 AM

Returning to my 'singer's backstory' angle for a moment, Anne wrote:

"I'm not sure that there was any explanation behind Jeannie Robertson's version of 'Son David', but I am sure that it was a very significant song for her, because her only son had died young, so her memory of loss was very strong. (Apologies for not taking the time to check this just now, but will do later, and if there's any further info. - I'll post it.)"

I've now found the snippet I was thinking about, and (like the 'Unquiet Grave' example I mentioned) it's in Atkinson's 'The English Traditional Ballad'. I was wrong in thinking that Jeannie claimed any personal connection with the events in 'My Son David', but she did give both Herschel Gower and Alan Lomax a detailed description, in the most everyday language, of the motivation behind the ballad, in which 'Son David' was merely defending himself against his jealous younger brother, and killed him in a fight. No hint of the folklorists' 'incest' theories in her account! Despite the absence of any 'friend-of-a-friend' connection, it's interesting that the singer provided such a detailed rationalization of the ballad she sang - if nothing else, it's another demonstration of the singer getting inside the ballad tale.

And going back to how we sing them, I explained above why I'm sceptical of the 'let the song sing you' school of thought, but I do think Crow Sister is on the ball with:
"I'd suggest that [ballad singing] requires gentleness and humility. Being not so impressed with your talents that you end up using the the song merely as a vehicle for a display of ones vocal and instrumental expertise."


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 01:05 PM

I was not diddled, because I was paid to perform,so obviously I didnt pay to see other performers.
thanks Brian for the info on my son david, a song Ilearned from the singing of Jeannie Robertson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJhyDS_jd3I


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 01:34 PM

=== Being not so impressed with your talents that you end up using the the song merely as a vehicle for a display of ones vocal and instrumental expertise."===

I see what CS means by this, & why Brian quotes it approvingly. But surely every performance one gives of anything should be to the best of one's ability which surely = using such 'expertise' as one has. The word 'merely' is a bit tendentious here, I can't help thinking; as if there were something dishonourable in being as expressive as one can & that someone who puts real effort into performing is somehow acting against the true interests of the song. I don't want to push this point too far or seem as if I am totally disagreeing with the attitudes expressed; perhaps I just mean that there might be a tendency to lean too far in the other direction against putting anything 'personal' into one's rendition.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 02:07 PM

good point, MGM.I think what was meant, was to avoid being over dramatic.
IMO Ballads do not need to be sung in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan,or in an operatic style.
I do remember seeing a floorsinger years ago who over dramatised ballads and made herself and the song look ridiculous, however I am not trying to tell people how to do it, merely stating my preferences.
can you imagine William Topaz mcgonagle singing ballads


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 03:22 PM

Crow Sister spoke of tackling ballads with "gentleness and humility", and while I'm absolutely in agreement with the notion of humility, I'm not sure what is meant by gentleness. I'd appreciate some elucidation.
Other posts spoke of not over-dramatising and not using the song as a vehicle for instrumental prowess.
Now I have no problem with the latter, having never played an instrument, and I hope I don't over-dramatise -- but for some of the ballads I sing (Lamkin, The Twa Sisters, Lord Donald/Randal, The Bonnie Hoose o' Airlie, Lizzie Wan and possibly others) I do need 'access' to a harder edge. This is not a calculated, rehearsed 'performance', but rather where the story takes me.
So "gentleness" threw me!
Help, please, Crow Sister.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 04:15 PM

"Help, please, Crow Sister."

Sorry KEanne, it was a poor choice of words! I couldn't quite sum up what I was thinking. I think what I was getting at was a metaphorical 'treat with condideration' or 'integrity', to tread gently with it at first - much in the way you might on first reading a poem, or indeed meeting someone you find attractive!

I keep thinking of the cautionary Legend of Knockgrafton in reference to treading gently here, and how Jack Madden foolishly offended the wee folk by blundering arrogantly into their song.. and we all know what became of him!

I don't know, I think others with much more experience have described things better than me!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 19 Jan 10 - 05:35 PM

Crow Sister, thanks for your prompt reply. Of course, I should have realised what you meant, because here in Scotland there is a saying - "Ca' canny" - which means something like 'Go carefully/Take care' and (by extension) 'Don't rush in!".
Seems to me that what we're saying is that the initial approach to any ballad is exactly that -- the start of a process of familiarisation during which the singer gets to grips over a period of time with the story, finds solutions for the tricky bits, and settles into the ballad until it becomes like a second skin.
It's not a quick fix, but good things come to those who wait!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 04:59 AM

"But surely every performance one gives of anything should be to the best of one's ability which surely = using such 'expertise' as one has... "

Yes, definitely. I'm all for personal interpretation and brilliant performances. But nonetheless I can remember performances during which I felt that I was being treated primarily to an exhibition of vocal or instrumental technique, and that the performer had been less interested in the ballad and its story than in their own accomplishments. Where you draw the line is of course a matter of personal taste.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 05:04 AM

No disagreement between us, Brian. A performance such as the one you describe is not 'to the best of ability', practically by definition. But I do indeed certainly take your point & agree re line-drawing variables.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 05:23 AM

I've also had the experience of sitting in a singaround when the next person to sing was known to have a lot of interest in ballads but no great voice (in a technical sense). My heart was preparing to sink when my eyes were snapped open by a performance that nailed the story -- and I know that I wasn't the only person in the room to be taken by surprise.
So, what was the difference on that occasion? I've thought about this often and the best answer I can offer is that in that particular singaround the singer in question had set self aside; earlier performances by the same person had possibly required the audience to like the singer before liking the song.
Does that ring any bells with anyone else?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 05:31 AM

but this applies to all music.
music should not be not about showing off, it is about sensitivity, interpretation, communication of feeling.
doing justice to a ballad,is the above poster stated,about interpretation,a good accmpaniment should be an accompaniment,it should not be about a 32 bar instrumental.
that sort of thing belongs in the jazz world,where sounds are more important than lyrics.
dont misunderstand me I like Jazz too,but it is a different genre


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Drumshanty
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 08:06 AM

Set self aside?

Oh aye, this one rings many bells for me.

I rarely sing ballads, although I have done so in competitions. In fact, EKanne, you once judged me, and told me that I'd seemed to lose interest in the song halfway through, which came across in my singing. I suspect that was at the point where my mind started going "Oi! You! You can't do this. What do you think you're doing? This song's too long. Look, they're not listening. The judges are bored. And that was a really really bum note you just sang. What's the next line? What's the next line?!" This happens to me all the time, ballad or no, competition or no, and I am wondering if dealing with that sort of thing is what you mean by setting self aside.

Is it a novice thing? A confidence thing? Can it be dealt with by practice or experience?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 09:58 AM

Practice, practice, practice. Eventually it gets to the point where - if somebody yawns at the wrong moment or you catch the wrong person's eye - you can feel yourself starting to go blank and panic, but you find the next line is still there when you get to it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 10:03 AM

Yes, yes, yes to having been moved by a ballad sung by someone who wasn't a particularly good singer - moved to tears, as a matter of fact, by someone whose voice was rather quavering and not always in tune. But they nailed it. Conversely I've been left cold by people with beautiful voices who hit every note.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 10:46 AM

Drumshanty - I think most of the answer to your question lies in the opening remark "I rarely sing ballads". Remember that a competition is an artificial situation anyway, so to tackle a ballad that you don't sing frequently is to put yourself under undue pressure. Pip Radish offered good advice, to practise a lot, and I would also suggest that choosing the right ballad is very important.
If you're fearful that it's too long, then try to find a shorter version; if you worry that it might be dragging, then consider learning one of the more rhythmic or pacy ballads like 'The Wee Toon Clerk'; and if you don't love, don't do it!
Remember too that people you may hear who sing ballads impressively now, were probably just as beset by doubt as yourself when they first started. And also bear in mind that most of these same people would be happy to talk ballads with you, and perhaps offer you some tips about what works for them.
There's some great advice on this forum, from the points of view of both novices and more experienced singers -- but the best advice is to keep doing it!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 10:56 AM

the problem is that even professional singers cant get it right all the time.
I recently sang[at gigs] willy of the winesbury,twice in three nights,the first time it was ok,the second time I really got in to it,in fact I have never sung it so well before or since,I thought afterwards how do i follow that.
one person in the audience realised and compilmented me on my singing of it[hello Helen Pitt].
the problem is we are not machines, that can always get it right 100 percent of the time,if we can get it right 50 percent of the time thats good, but its important to keep trying to get it right.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 11:47 AM

All the vocal and instrumental techniques that Brian Peters refers to a few posts above may be tools in my toolbox, but I need to see the story play out (like a movie) and tell the story afresh each time. While I have access to all those tools (breath support, timbre, timing, etc.) and have an idea of how to use them to get the effects I want, each telling of the tale or singing of the song needs to be freshly assembled if it is to be any good. Otherwise, I could just play some recording. But creating it anew each time in the present moment is what engages me, and my listeners notice and take pleasure in that.

--Charlie Baum


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 02:24 PM

Drumshanty:
"....I'd seemed to lose interest in the song halfway"
All singing is, or should be a balance between technique, involvement and interpretation - it sounds to me as if you've lost that balance and have become more concerned with how you are doing a song and how the audience is feeling rather than the song itself.
It happened to me when we first moved to Ireland a found the songs I was singing were totally different than the usual repertoire here.
In the end I said, "Sod it; these are too good not to sing", so I retreated totally back into the songs themselves, and began to enjoy them again.
The best bit of adivice I ever got was when we interviewed MacColl - excuse me if you've heard it - I do tend to quote it a lot.
Jim Carroll

"Now you might say that working and training to develop your voice to sing Nine Maidens A-milking Did Go or Lord Randall is calculated to destroy your original joy in singing, at least that's the argument that's put to me from time to time, or has been put to me from time to time by singers who should know better.
The better you can do a thing the more you enjoy it. Anybody who's ever tried to sing and got up in front of an audience and made a bloody mess of it knows that you're not enjoying it when you're making a balls of it, but you are enjoying it when it's working, when all the things you want to happen are happening. And that can happen without training, sure it can, but it's hit or miss. If you're training it can happen more, that's the difference. It can't happen every time, not with anybody, although your training can stand you in good stead, it's something to fall back on, a technique, you know. It's something that will at least make sure that you're not absolutely diabolical
The objective, really for the singer is to create a situation where when he starts to sing he's no longer worried about technique, he's done all that, and he can give the whole of his or her attention to the song itself she can give her or he can give his whole attention to the sheer act of enjoying the song."


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 03:08 PM

Certainly it's about so much more than learning the song!

Singing a ballad (to myself) the other day, I realised I'd started using a particular bit of ornamentation to emphasise certain lines. I couldn't immediately think when I'd started doing this, but I eventually traced it back to when I learned Out of the window (a relative of She moved through the fair). That tune included this particular run of notes, which must then have got stuck in my voice memory, & re-emerged in the completely different ballad I was singing the other day.

But the real point of the story is that I had dreadful trouble learning that tune, that run in particular: to begin with my voice just wouldn't do what I was telling it to, and I had to sing it at half speed so as to get the notes right. So there's a case where a few hours of really dogged, mechanical Figaro-Figaro practising resulted in a real extension to my singing technique.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 03:49 PM

Ihave had a problem with the streets of derry ,I have to avoid going in to come all you fair and tender ladies.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: zozimus
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 03:58 PM

Hi Jim,
While I totally agree that voice training and working can no doubt improve performance, have you found any evidence amongst the travellers you collected from that they did any sort of exercises or work to achieve the performances they give? Did they just have a natural talent developed from the oral tradition ?
I have lately taken an interest in the Child collection and a friend loaned me a copy of "My Precarious Life in the Public Domain", a CD of Child Ballads by John Jacob Niles. Now there's a singer who definitely did his exercises .Whilst his high voice singing style comes close to opera, he still puts the story across in dramatic fashion. These recordings were made from 1939 to 1942 and are well worth a listen


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: TheSnail
Date: 21 Jan 10 - 04:00 PM

Jim Carroll

The best bit of adivice I ever got was when we interviewed MacColl - excuse me if you've heard it - I do tend to quote it a lot.

Indeed you do Jim which leaves me a bit puzzled when so much of what you say contradicts it.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 04:30 AM

"have you found any evidence"
Many of the older singers (not necessarily Travellers) certainly did work on technique - Joe Heaney talks about his awareness of technique on the interview he did with MacColl and Seeger in the 60s. I know singers like Paddy Tunney also worked on technique.
The revival singers are in a somewhat different position than source singers in that that many of them grew up surrounded by singers they could take their techniques from by emulation.
Also, and probably more importantly, source singers tended to confine themselves to a 'type' of song which they handled within a fairly narrow range of technique, while those of us on the outside were taking our repertoire from a much wider range of styles, requiring a larger grasp of skills.
As far as J. J. Niles's singing - personally it has never worked for me as I find it far too mannered and unsuited for narrative singing - but that's me.   
"Indeed you do Jim.............."
Oh dear - I'm being stalked by our resident dumber-downer.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 05:05 AM

"Indeed you do Jim which leaves me a bit puzzled when so much of what you say contradicts it."

I'm a bit puzzled as to what TheSnail means. How would you suggest singers tackle long ballads? Do you agree (or not) with the MacColl quote Jim posted?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 05:07 AM

Jim = certainly agree re the horrible J J Niles; who also adept at ruining good songs [e.g. the beautiful But Black is The Color Of My True Love's Hair printed in Sharp's Eng FS From Appalachians #85] by horrible artsy-fartsy over-arrangements which then seem to drive out the originals by some folky perversion of Gresham's Law. Why so many have the appalling taste to prefer such perversions to the originals is something which has always exercised me.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 06:18 AM

There's a lot of good advice in this long thread, but something in one of Jim Carroll's posts struck me as particularly to the point, in a way encapsulating of a lot of the different things said in greater detail by many contributors -

"All singing is, or should be a balance between technique, involvement and interpretation"

I hope Jim will forgive my comments on this.
Technique - training and use of the relevant physical instrument
Involvement - participation of the emotional faculty - 'feel'
Interpretation - deliberate shaping of the performance in line with your understanding

The above are referred to elsewhere, in a different order, as "the disciplines of the hands, the head and the heart". Seems to me that's all we have to work with, and if we are fortunate to get the balance "right" on occasion, then perhaps something more can happen.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 06:19 AM

CS,
I'm really sorry you asked that
Bryan and I have 'issues' regarding the basic standards of singing which I beleive necessary before a singer is asked to perform before a club audience. I have already allowed myself to be driven from one thread rather than indulge in a slanging match which had nothing whatever to do with the question under discussion, thus interfering with the progress of that thread. I have neither the desire nor intention of allowing the same to happen with this thread, which, I believe, is probably one of the most valuable, positive and enjoyable discussions I have taken part in since joining Mudcat.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 07:25 AM

A lot of good sense from Pip Radish, EKanne and Jim Carroll about (a) knowing the ballad well enough to be able to keep it coherent in the event of distraction or personal fluff, and (b) having faith in the song itself - something I touched on in one of my first posts to this thread. If you don't believe in what you're singing, who else is going to? Conversely, if you very obviously do believe in it, then even a sceptical or disintered audience (that was meant to say 'disinterested' although I have had the disinterred kind as well) can be won over. At least some of them, anyway.

Believing in, and enjoying the songs for their own sake, has carried me through one or two of those hellish gig situations that happen occasionally, where it seems like no-one in the room is interested at all. "This is a great song, and I'm going to enjoy it even if you aren't, you bastards."


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 08:05 AM

"I'm really sorry you asked that"

Sorry JC. On reviewing the thread for some fuller context to that comment, I couldn't find any. So I guess TheSnail isn't interested in the topic under discussion here, and is simply trolling..

"this thread, which, I believe, is probably one of the most valuable, positive and enjoyable discussions I have taken part in since joining Mudcat."

Ditto.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Sailor Ron
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 08:38 AM

Over the last 30 years or so, hearing, and enjoying the 'big ballads' albeit almost exclusivly from 'revival' singers, I have noticed that there seems to be two types of deliverly.There is the 'just sing the ballad',let the story speak for itself,then there's th 'verbal acting' style. I would equate Shirly Collins with the former & Ewan McColl with the later. As an 'audience' I hace no quarrel with either, as I am in love with Shirley's voice, and admired Ewan greatly. Incidentally a few months ago I called in to Preston folk club, not my usual venue, and was treated to one of the greatest performances of a 'big ballad' I have ever heard. A woman came in to the room, and produced a spell binding version of Clerk Coville, and then left.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 08:50 AM

As they are relevant to this discussion, I've already mentioned Shirley Collins's song masterclasses at the Lewes Saturday Folk Club on 17th. and 18th. April this year.

Two more relevant all-day workshops at the club are with Chris Coe, who leads an all-day ballad forum on Sunday 10th. October, and with Frankie Armstrong, who leads one on vocal technique on Saturday 13th. November.

Bryan 'TheSnail' Creer is a dedicated, hard-working and enthusiastic member of the club's committee.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 09:42 AM

Matt,
What is there to forgive?
Perhaps I might expand on the three aspects of singing (and I did include all songs). In a way it touches on what Sailor Ron has to say about MacColl's 'verbal acting' style.
MacColl's was very much influenced by his theatre experience, but not in the way it is usually discussed (except in his very early recordings). I never found his singing theatrical in any way, certainly not over the 25 years I was listening to him, but he did use theatre techniques in order to involve himself in his songs. These were the techniques evolved by Stanislavski - 'The Application of the Idea of If' and 'Emotion Memory', as dealt with in his 'An Actor Prepares'.
MacColl argued that the best way to make your songs work work is, if possible, to relate them to your own experiences.
Earlier I raised the question of supernatural songs and how you identify with them if you don't believe in ghosts - it was on these that the technique worked most effectively for me. Rather than being about bogies and ghosties, they became songs about parting and loss.
The technique worked on most subjects of song - occasionally too well.
Can I stress that this was part of the intitial preliminary work; if it came together it left you with enough momentum for when you performed in front of an audience.
It didn't always make things happen, but the songs on which it did work have stayed with me right up to the present day.
It may sound complicated, but it isn't really, and it produced some spectacular results in the Critics Group workshops and, I believe, improved the performances of most of the singers.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Drumshanty
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 11:08 AM

I just want to say a quick thanks for all the advice since my questions - I will have to take some time to read and inwardly digest but am off to Celtic Connections in a minute... some things are definitely starting to fall into place for me. Thank you all again.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 02:12 PM

Earlier I raised the question of supernatural songs and how you identify with them if you don't believe in ghosts - it was on these that the technique worked most effectively for me. Rather than being about bogies and ghosties, they became songs about parting and loss.
The technique worked on most subjects of song - occasionally too well.


That chimes with my comment above about the Bonny Hind.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 02:18 PM

It does Pip - great minds...!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 03:58 PM

I seem to remember, way back, answering that point also when first raised, with a reference to the necessity for empathy ? it's, after all, what actors do all the time: otherwise how could any of them play Hamlet or Macbeth, for instance? One has to be some sort of actor when singing, esp a narrative like a ballad ? & actors have all sorts of techniques from the melodramatic to the deadpan-throwaway ? just as have ballad-singers [cf refs to ShirleyCollins/EMacC above].


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 23 Jan 10 - 04:32 AM

"with a reference to the necessity for empathy"
You did raise it at the time Mike; I intended to respond.
Empathy is an obvious approach, as is simple storytelling.
In the short term they are fine, but I found the problem with both was after a while they wore a little thin and repetative, especially if you are singing regularly. IMO, if you want to keep the songs fresh and alive in the long term make them part of yourself.
Sam Larner sang at the Fisherman's Return in Winterton once a week thoughout his adult life. According to him, he sang the same songs each time with very little variation, as did the other singers there. Of all the traditional singers I have heard, Sam is the one who gives the impression of 'living' his songs; of their being a part of his experience.
I hope you don't mind if I describe how I saw this involvement work with another traditional singer, not so much as an emotional connection with the song, but as a singer's emotional state informing the singing.
Mary Delaney was/is (not sure if she is still alive) one of the most amazing individuals we ever met. Her life reads like a Dostoveski novel.
Blind from birth, she brought up 14 children on her own, on the road, until the authorities, in their wisdom, decided that, due to her blindness, she wasn't fit to look after the younger ones and took them into care.
Eventually, after a long struggle, she got them back and in order to get them educated, moved into a flat in Bethnall Green. We were visiting her regularly and noticed that she was becoming more and more depressed, due mainly to lonliness; the young children were at school all day and the rest of the family was up North, on the road.
We recorded a rake of songs from her, including a magnificent, long version of Lord Randall, which she tended to overpitch and run out of breath at the end of lines (she was a chronic asthmatic).
One afternoon we turned up at the miserable flat to find her as depressed as we had ever known her to be. She said she wanted to sing for us, and everything she sang was spot on, good, competent singing. She asked us to record 'Buried in Kilkenny' (Lord Randall).
It was the most emotionally charged, knife-edge singing I have ever heard, she poured all her feelings into it, it shimmered with her emotion.
If ever we were asked to choose one of our recordings as 'the best' (GF), it was that one.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: TheSnail
Date: 24 Jan 10 - 07:27 AM

Crow Sister

How would you suggest singers tackle long ballads? Do you agree (or not) with the MacColl quote Jim posted?

I don't think I am qualified to advise singers on how to tackle long ballads although much of what has been said here seems very sound. As a musician, I know that the way to a floorspot, leta alone Carnegie Hall, is "Practice. Practice. Practice."

I heartily agree with the MacColl quote. The particular part that resonates with me is -

"Anybody who's ever tried to sing and got up in front of an audience and made a bloody mess of it knows that you're not enjoying it when you're making a balls of it,"

In other words, the drive for quality comes from the motivation of the performer. They must WANT to do it and wanting to do it means wanting to do it well.

Jim has said that it is the responsibility of folk club organisers to impose standards and tell people to go away and not come back until they can do it right. He has often made it clear that he considers encouraging people simply because they want to do it as "crass" and that it is "dumbing down" and "promoting crap standards" which seems to be rather at odds with his favourite MacColl quote.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 24 Jan 10 - 07:53 AM

it is important that performers are encouraged to have a go,it is also important that performers are encouraged to improve.
Folk clubs that run workshops are giving performers the opportunity to so this,no one can be forced to go to a workshop,so the onus must be on the performer wanting to go ,which means they want to learn more.
one other point,to some extent,learning to perform ,is something that has to be done on the hoof,I dont think anyone minds a beginner,who can be seen to be improving even if the improvement is slow.Dick Miles
http://www.dickmiles.com


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 24 Jan 10 - 08:02 AM

"Jim has said that it is the responsibility of folk club organisers to impose standards and tell people to go away and not come back until they can do it right."
I have said no such thing - if you would like to point out where... but won't hold my breath.
I have said that singers who can't hold a tune or remember or understand words should not be put before an audience until they have reached the basic standard of being able to do so.
I have also said that clubs should take on the responsibility for providing help for new and inexperienced singsrs (over and over again).
Snail, on the other hand, has said that the only criterion for putting a singer in front of an audience is that their desire to sing - and he consulted his club committee for confirmation that this was his club's policy
"wanting to do it means wanting to do it well."
No it does not - I've met many 'singers' who are quite satisfied with their own mediocrity and have expressed their gratitude on this forum for the opportunity to do perform at folk clubs.
Wanting to sing is not the same as being able to do so - or have I missed something?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 24 Jan 10 - 08:36 AM

PS
I should have added that this is the last word I have to say on this subject ON THIS THREAD.
While I am more than happy to continue this apparently insoluable argument elsewhere, I have no intention whatever of ruining an excellent thread on BALLAD SINGING with a Tweedledum-Tweedledee battle that has nothing whatever to do with the subject in hand.
Bryan - you want to continue this - open an old thread or start a new one.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 24 Jan 10 - 01:21 PM

Jim -- I, for one, would be sorry if you left this thread, which has been of great interest to me since December.
Today Gordeanna McCulloch and I held the second of three ballad workshops in Glasgow, with the intention of supporting less experienced singers who want to think about singing ballads. There were 27 in attendance (some fairly experienced, in fact) and all very enthusiastic.
And the bottom line is that they want this to continue as a monthly session, because there are so few opportunities for singing ballads in a sympathetic community. But I imagine this will be different from singing in a folk club, and much more like a singaround, which seems a more appropriate place for novices than a venue with a paying audience .
As you can see, I'm with you on the folk club/standards issue, and would much prefer it if Snail would start his own thread if he thinks this is an important matter.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 24 Jan 10 - 07:47 PM

Thank you Anne - whoops; I'm not supposed to know who you are!!
I'm delighted that you seem to be having the success you are - if ballads don't work in Scotland, they won't work anywhere.
I have no doubt whatever that, apart from physical defects, which are very rare, anybody can sing as long as they are prepared to put the work in. In my opinion, a reluctance to put that work in shows a contempt for the songs - 'they aren't worth the effort' in other words.
Good luck with your workshops.
I have no intention of leaving this thread; but I will not be part of turning it into a slanging match.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: TheSnail
Date: 25 Jan 10 - 02:41 PM

My apologies peeps. I shouldn't let Jim get to me the way he does.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Jan 10 - 02:45 PM

The ballad workshop in Glasgow yesterday was brilliant. Many thanks to Anne and Gordeanna for the good sense, advice and knowledge that they bring to this subject. It was a delight to see so many folk, so keen and so enthusiastic to learn about and to sing these songs.

Kathy Hobkirk


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 25 Jan 10 - 08:23 PM

"My apologies peeps. I shouldn't let Jim get to me the way he does. "
Bryan - with respect, it is you who have rehashed the subject again and again and ....., whereas I have pleaded that we agree to disagree.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Mary Humphreys
Date: 26 Jan 10 - 06:36 PM

Jim, you commented many posts ago "We spent a fascinating night with one of the Traveller singers we were recording (who specialised in long narrative songs) when we took her to a folk club as a member of the audience. Her estimation of the proceedings was, shall we say - extremely educational."
I would very much like to hear a little more about the reaction of this singer. Education is what I, for one am looking for in this extremely useful thread.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 28 Jan 10 - 12:38 PM

Mary said she was looking for education on this thread, as am I - but I'm also just nosey! And curious.
The very first ballad I sang was 'The Twa Corbies', to the Breton tune married to it by Glasgow teacher Morris Blythman. I was 13/14 years old and had added several others by the time I left secondary school aged 18 - including 'Son David', 'Sir Patrick Spens', 'The Gypsy Laddie', 'The Silkie o' Sule Skerry', 'The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow' and 'The Baron of Brackley'.
I know why I learned them, but I'd love to know what attracted others to the first ballad they learned.
Any volunteers?
I'm working on the principle that your first ballad should be do-able, so that there is encouragement to continue.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 28 Jan 10 - 01:12 PM

It was Jamie Telfer O The Fair Dodheid, only last Autumn, and came about through a convergence of life-threads - friendship with fellow piper Bill Telfer of Langholm who may be Jamie's descendant, going to the ballad competition at Newcastleton last July, knowing the places referred to in the sang, investigating the conflicting theories about the ballad's origins by earlier scholars (more ink has been shed in arguing about it than blood was shed in the events it describes) and reaching my own conclusions, and the challenge not only of learning it but singing it - I play instruments in public but have scant experience of singing.

I now have the joy of not only one, but two (or barely three?) obsessions with deeply unpopular forms of music. Rock on!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Diva
Date: 28 Jan 10 - 02:36 PM

The Twa Brithers because I heard Sheila Stewart's recording on the Muckle Sangs LP


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 28 Jan 10 - 03:20 PM

And going back to the original thread, how satisified were you with your performance? What did you get out of it, and could you evaluate audience response?
(I promise to answer these questions myself later.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Hardaker
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 04:15 PM

I think my first ballad from the Child canon was "Dives & Lazarus" - I had first encountered the tune - the archetypal English folk air - as a hymn setting in my school choir days.

Latterly the greatest stimulus to my learning and performing ballads has been the afore-mentioned Newcastleton festival border ballad competition which I regard as an annual kick up the backside to go and learn something new and bring it up to as high a performance standard as I can manage. Beyond that, it is an excellent showcase for balladry, with encouragement and support from such judges as Ray Fisher, Sheila Douglas, Dave MacFadzean, an appreciative and attentive audience and the chance that you might walk away with a cup and an inscribed tankard.

Incidentally, Matt, are you thinking of entering "Jamie Telfer" in this year's competition? If so I will have to come up with something different and save my Jamie Telfer until 2011, when, according to the rules, you will have to present something new (No repetitions for 3 years.) Therein lies the encouragement to learn!

Richard Hardaker


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 30 Jan 10 - 04:52 AM

Big choices for first outings!
And I have another question -- would I be right in thinking that a singer with a lot of ballads in the repertoire, will learn a new ballad quicker? I'm thinking in a technical sense (the tune will fall into shape, phrasing will adjust more naturally or unconsciously etc. - because of the wealth of experience behind the attempt).
But would I also be right in thinking that it's not necessarily put into performance at that time? And if so, then why, and when?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 30 Jan 10 - 06:48 AM

It is borne in on me that I'm a bit puzzled by this thread in many ways. I know a lot of [what are called] The Big Ballads. The first song I ever learned to accompany on the guitar was the 'Scarlet Town', fairly familiar English, version of 'Barbara Allen'. A ballad is just a narrative song with certain recognisable techniques and characteristics. But what's to be so scared of? I often sang them at gigs. Some are quite long ? but so are other songs. I love to sing 'Rosie Anderson' for instance ? very long; & where does that fit in? A ballad in form, perhaps, tho not one of the 'recognised canon' of big ones. Ditto 'Maria Marten'. I can't help feeling that more is being made here than need be about a particular body of what are, after all, just songs like others, which some like to sing, others not. Not even very long, all of them. Who would balk at singing 'Lizzie Lindsey', or 'The Bonnie Earl of Murray', or 'Bonnie George Campbell'? Or 'The Brown Girl ['dance·on·grave', I mean, not American misnaming of 'Ld Thos'] ?...

Yet here we have all this soul-searching on this long-long thread; and all these specialist events and workshops ?

Maybe we should all just lighten up a bit?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 30 Jan 10 - 11:26 AM

I never was scared to sing ballads either. I just plunged right in! But for years, since I was fourteen (starting with House Carpenter that I learned from a Joan Baez record) I had been singng ballads to myself. I spent many an evening just sitting in my room 'visiting' with 'imaginary friends' from the ballads (many of whom lived very tragic lives) - visualizing every nuance as I sang, while the dog listened and dozed in the corner. When I did start singing professionally I'd always incorporate a few ballads. It often (not always) worked - especially if I explained it to the audience first. That seems to help them follow the story.

And yes, I think if you're accustomed to ballads it's easier to learn new ones. You aren't as daunted. You have the storyline and the melody to "hang" the lyrics on, so it isn't as hard to memorize as a random poem would be.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 30 Jan 10 - 12:32 PM

"Incidentally, Matt, are you thinking of entering "Jamie Telfer" in this year's competition?"
Richard Hardaker

I don't think it's an issue Richard. Last year we heard two Parcy Reeds. Jamie Telfer's hardly ever sung, it's a lot more fun than Parcy Reed, and it would be good to hear two different interpretations. And it's January now, the comp is in July, let's see if we're still around and still want to sing it!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 30 Jan 10 - 01:41 PM

"It is borne in on me that I'm a bit puzzled by this thread in many ways... I can't help feeling that more is being made here than need be about a particular body of what are, after all, just songs like others."

Oh dear, Michael, I fear you're succumbing to a classic Mudcat syndrome: posting to a thread to inform all the previous posters that they are wasting their time over a thread that you consider inconsequential. People discuss these things because they find them interesting, that's all.

The facts that some ballads are long, others short, that some are heavy laden and others frivolous, that some are gripping and others dull, have all been acknowledged in many comments written above. The thread title does, however, refer specifically to the big long ones, so hardly surprising that we should address ourselves mainly toward those.

Although many of us would quarrel with some of Child's choices, the fact remains that his canon represents works that are older than the plethora of 18th - 19th century broadside songs, that deal with different kinds of topics, and that tell their tales in a different kind of lyric. The best of them (and that's quite a large category) are without peer as emotionally-involving pieces. There's nothing wrong with 'Maria Marten', but emotionally it's not on the same level as 'Tiftie's Annie' or 'Lucy Wan'. And people respond to them; I bet if you asked Martin Carthy what his most requested numbers have been over the years, he would tell you 'Famous Flower', 'Willie's Lady' and 'Prince Heathen'.

If you think that striding out to sing 'Tam Lin' or 'False Foudrage' requires no more thought, preparation or plain guts than 'The Black Velvet Band', then I wonder what you've been listening to for all your years of involvement with folk song. It's not a question of being 'scared', but it is a question of taking serious material seriously. Judging by the success of the ballad workshops EKanne was describing, it seems that your derision for all this 'soul-searching' isn't universally shared.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 30 Jan 10 - 02:15 PM

Thanks, Brian, for your usual clear exposition of some of the issues around singing 'big' ballads.
But from a personal perspective, I don't always equate length with 'big'; to me, big also means having huge emotional weight - 'Fine Flowers in the Valley' is a 7 verse telling of 'The Cruel Mother', and 'Son David' is 'Edward' in 8 verses. And although 'Bonnie George Campbell' is only 3 verses long (or 4 if you repeat verse 1, which I think is justifiable in this particular story), it can require a 'big' effort to bring home all of the background without over-dramatising.
Hope this doesn't confuse the issue!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 30 Jan 10 - 02:24 PM

Not 'derision', Brian: I should never dream of deriding any serious discussion of an important issue. And I do take your points indeed. And I have contributed to quite an extent to the thread above myself, so would not accuse anyone of time-wasting, which was not my point at all. It's just that I think there isn't quite as much to be scared of in singing 'Tam Lin' [have never done 'Fause Foudrage'] as some seem to find. It's a fine song, with good strong narrative: very enjoyable to sing. I would, in fact, much rather sing it {or "Little Musgrave" or 'Young Johnston and the Young Colonel'} than 'Black Velvet Band' any day of the week. If one has the feel for that sort of song I can't see what there is to be so terrified about; that's all. And if you are not someone who feels comfortable with them, nobody is twisting arms. And anyone who tries to sing one but loses the audience is just as likely to do so with 'Black Velvet Band' also, for that matter.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 31 Jan 10 - 04:48 PM

MtheGM talked of feeling comfortable with a ballad - which is exactly what Gordeanna McCulloch and I were trying to do today in the third of our ballad workshops. We chose a ballad which we haven't heard sung up here in Glasgow and which neither of us knew - 'Jamie Douglas' (Child no.204).
There is a great historical backstory and a connection to the earlier 'Waly Waly' (source of many of the most-recognised floating verses -"I wish, I wish etc."). But all 20 participants plus the two of us struggled with the chosen tune, wanting to push it in another direction for the final line. And there was much agonising over quite a few of the verses, which lacked sufficient syllables to sit 'comfortably' on the tune.
The final consensus was that we should give each other permission to make sensitive adjustments according to our own taste and with acknowledgement of ballad style. And all the participants were well aware that we would probably end up with 22 subtly different versions.
If this encourages singers to think about ballads before tackling them in performance, then it may be worth pursuing - and there seems to be a desire from those in attendance to continue. So, watch this space!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 02:43 AM

That is a very interesting way of getting a group of people to focus on a single ballad and think about it.

The tune written down for any ballad has to be an average of what the original singer sang throughout, because everyone varies it according to the demands of an individual verse. If they didn't it would come out sounding like a hymn, with the phrases straightjacketed into the tune. Sometimes the words noted down are very strange, with six-line verses in a four-line ballad or a sudden change of metre, and the only way of dealing with that is to repeat part of the melody or more likely rationalise the words. Perhaps in those cases the source was reciting rather than singing.

It's interesting that everyone in EKanne's group needed to alter the final line of Jamie Douglas's tune; was that because it was difficult to sing, or because it felt like a bit of an anti-climax?

For our all-day ballad forums in Lewes, we ask all participants to nominate their chosen ballad in advance because we haven't so far planned to study a a single one. This means that we avoid duplication and can weed out anything that couldn't be considered a ballad even if you stretch the definition until your knuckles stand out white under the strain. Every participant sings their ballad and starts a discussion about it. The tutor also chooses a couple to sing, and may bring source recordings or literature to shed light on them. (One of our tutors is taking part in this thread.)

Discussion of everyone's choices covers history, folklore, geography, performance style, emotional content, medicine, religion, and anything else thrown up by the ballads themselves.

This is just one way of many possible ones of encouraging people to think more deeply about what they are singing.

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 03:55 AM

Valmai, our workshops have not primarily been about 'teaching' ballads (although some participants with limited access to good libraries for either books or cd's are grateful for any additional repertoire). Rather, we have been trying to encourage the PROCESS of assimilating a ballad, making singers aware of all the choices open to them - both musically and textually - and hoping to give them the confidence to listen critically and make those choices.
As far as the 'Jamie Douglas' tune was concerned, there was an interesting rising leap in line 2 which took the tune into its upper range for line 3 - but instead of some run down to the starting notes, it bumped itself straight down onto a stodgy repetition of the first two notes for 6 syllables. Everyone felt it as a real anticlimax.
For myself, I was vaguely aware of echoes of another tune in my head (possibly a friend's version of 'Tam Lin') but couldn't nail it because of the group discussion. So that's today's homework sorted out!
Your workshops sound fascinating - pity they're so far away!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 04:50 AM

EKanne, perhaps we should find a way of getting you down to Lewes to lead one. 'Tutor' was a misnomer on my part, used because we run a lot of instrument workshops as well. We call the ballad days 'forums'. We don't aim to teach, either - we simply encourage people to explore ballads and think about how they sing them.
If you might be interested, please email me on valmaigoodyear[at]aol[dot]com.

Is the Jamie Douglas tune the one printed with Version O in Child, from Motherwell's Minstrelsy?

Valmai
Lewes Saturday Folk Club


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 01 Feb 10 - 06:13 AM

To answer your question about the tune, it is indeed the one printed with Child's O version, though we used the text of the A version from Kinloch. And I've already been twiddling with the tune, which is slowly settling into some new hybrid, with unconscious importations from who knows where!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 02 Feb 10 - 04:46 AM

EKanne, thanks for making me look at Jamie Douglas again. I've only heard this sung by one person and she used a different tune (but not Waly, Waly).

Replying to your question of 30th. January, I'd say that the more ballads you know the easier it is to learn a new one and also to put in a patch if memory fails, because the vocabulary and phrasing style are there in the subconscious to help. Ballads take a while to bed in, though. I don't pretend to be a good singer, but I hope I'm a conscientious one; although I learn a ballad in a day or so once I've arrived at a selection of verses which tell the story satisfactorily for me, I won't attempt to sing it out until I've lived with it at home for a few months.

The first ballad I sang out was a version of Banks of Green Willow which I'd larded with verses from Fair Annie in order to make emotional sense of it for me. I think it worked, because I could feel the audience concentrating, but there's always a lot of room for improvement and I haven't got much of a voice. I'd learned several others from recordings but never sung them out because plenty of other people locally were already doing them (and better than I could).

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Feb 10 - 08:49 PM

I'd love to know what attracted others to the first ballad they learned.
Any volunteers?


The first one I learned (and I never learned many more, I'm more of an instrumentalist) was "The Baron of Brackley", from Ewan MacColl's "Songs and Ballads of Scotland". It's got a strong and distinctive tune.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 04:55 AM

I have come to Mudcat rather late, and would like to chuck in an oar or two.
On the subject of "fitting the text to the tune" (or vice versa)it is documented by William Motherwell (Child's "favourite" ballad collector, second only to Percy in quantity) that singers would alter either. He notes that singers would change the sound and the stress of words to emphasise a rhyme, or simply to fit the tune. In part, this is how we get spellings in written-down ballads of words such as "hie" for "high". They actually changed the pronunciation. In a similar vein, Motherwell records how the tune would change from verse to verse. I'm sure it wouldn't break into a rock or tango timing, but something subtler and closer to what pipers cal the urlar, or "ground" tune.
On the subject of tunes: Motherwells collection needs to be treated with some care. There seems to be no doubt about their authenticity or their accuracy (the notations were carried out by two accredited musicians, Robert A. Smith and Andrew Blaikie), but no-where are you told which text goes with the tune.
On the issue of "The first Ballad" - mine was at school, in the mid 1950s, when we got Barbara Allan (whether we like it or not - I loved it). However, having been drawn to folk music in the early 60s, I set myself a challenge - Captain Wedderburns Courtship.
And lastly - for Jack Campin - The Baron of Brackley is a very strident and stiking tune, BUT, gavin Greig doubted it's authenticity (it came from Dean Christie).
Is that important? - discuss!
    Please note that anonymous posting is no longer allowed at Mudcat. Use a consistent name [in the 'from' box] when you post, or your messages risk being deleted.
    Thanks.
    -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Willa
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 09:11 AM

Valmai and EKanne (I wish you'd become a member, E!-it would make 'conversation' easier)

You are both too far away from me for me to benefit from your ballad workshops; I would love to attend!

I do think that each of us has 'our' version of a ballad, which may vary only slightly from the original, perhaps because we have picked it up from another singer, or perhaps even because we've never heard it sung. In some cases for me, it is because a verse I didn't know but heard someone else sing made the story much clearer to me.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 11:21 AM

Weird, I just wrote this, clicked on 'submit' and it vanished. Here I go again.
On the subject of tune fitting I think that the old singers had a more flexible approach than the modern singer. Hamish Henderson recalled mentioning a song to Jeannie Robertson and how it resembled her 'Gypsy Laddie'. Next time they met she sang him the ballad set to the tune of the other song. Similarly, I found a Flemish tune called, 'Schoon Lief' (beautiful girl) which fitted 'Barbara Allen' so beautifully that it is difficult for me to believe that the two don't belong together. (Liz and I recorded this on our second album)
The first ballad I knew was 'Raggle Taggle Gypsies' from my Dad who couldnt hold a tune very well.Then I got 'Lord Randal' from my Mum, who could. I then learned 'Barbara Allen' at school. I didn't like any of them particularly as a kid and saw no real merit in them until much later in life. I wonder if ballads are a bit like food and drink? Perhaps you need to be older and have a certain amount of life experience under you belt to fully appreciate their sublety?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 12:51 PM

I have been singing so long ,I cant remember,but I do remember the first song I sang at a folk club it was the Cunning Cobbler.
I used to sing another song which might have been the second called will the weaver,which Ihave not heard for many a long year.
anyone sing will the weaver?


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 01:24 PM

Same as Paul, 'Barbara Allan', 'Raggle Taggle Gipsies', and 'Knight and Shepherd's Daughter' watered down, at school which I enjoyed. I think the first big ballad I consciously learnt as a folk singer was Child 21 'The Maid and The Palmer'. For several reasons. I liked the story and no-one else at the time was singing it. Also I fell in love with Bert Lloyd's and Mike Waterson's 'Tam Lin' and wanted to use the tune for something. I didn't want to just do their version of 'Tam Lin' so I set the tune to 'The Maid and the Palmer' altering it slightly to fit the new format.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 06:53 PM

Yes Dick, I sing Will the Weaver. Great song!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 13 Feb 10 - 10:46 PM

Steve's comment reopens the point I have made on other threads, but which seems to fit well on this one also, tho I don't think it has yet been explicitly made here: how most ballad tunes, as they have the 'common metre', can be fitted to most ballads; & sometimes one of these refittings ~ whether deliberate as in Ray Fisher's & Martin Carthy's use of that Breton tune for Willie's Lady; or inadvertent, as when Andy Irvine claims to have unconsciously slipped into Fause Foodrage tune while doing Willie Of Winsbury so it has become universally assoc'd with the latter ~ will catch on. All folk process, I suppose...


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 04:36 AM

By all means, MtheGm, but don't you also think that there's a further critical faculty involved, and that is that the 'mood' of the tune should fit the emotion of the song?
For example, I could just about imagine squeezing "Son David" into Jeannie Robertson's tune for "The Gypsy Laddie" - but even if I adapted it to a more solemn pace (which I might think appropriate), I suspect it would sound horribly wrong and far too major in mood/not modal enough.
(Please note, I haven't got to grips with the niceties of musical theory, but I think my ear has 'tuned in' over many years and my own musical preferences have clarified.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 05:53 AM

Yes, indeed, Anne: one must certainly have an air appropriate to the mood ? but within such parameters, I find one can have a lot of fun trying swop-arounds; tho perhaps best kept, in general, as a private activity, I feel!

~ Michael ~


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 06:41 AM

Valmai said
> EKanne, perhaps we should find a way of getting you down to Lewes to lead one (of the ballad workshops)

Yes please!

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 12:12 PM

Has anyone commented on how these songs seem at times to mutate into each other? Is 'The Unquiet Grave' a missing section of 'Two Brothers"? If so should they be re-combined? Liz was chasing texts to 'A Farmer of Sheffield'. This seems to start off as 'The Crafty Farmer' (Child), then the farmer's boy seems to become the protagonist and in later versions, where Liz had got to, the farmer's daughter outwits the highwayman. The song by now is heading towards 'The Outlandish Knight' There are loads of variants and variants of variants and it is not beyond the imagination to forsee the creation of a hybrid ballad from all of these which is a completely new song. The question is, does this contravene the unwritten rules of balladry?
Paul


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 12:32 PM

Agreed Paul.
In some circles it is suggested that the beautifil 'Clerk's Twa Sons of Owsenford' is a prequel to 'The Wife of Usher's Well', which has always made sense to me.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 01:10 PM

Paul, I'm sure the answer would be that you can suit yourself about the melding of crafty farmers, clever girls and wicked/outlandish knights. But I'm confused by the conflation of 'The Unquiet Grave ' and 'The Twa Brithers'.
Surely the first is about two sweethearts parted by death, while the second is about fratricide.
I'm having difficulty following your reasoning here.
But perhaps of more interest is why you might want to move beyond the recognised 'originals' to some composite/amalgamation? [I know there is much (ongoing) discussion about the 'folk process', but I know that I find personal satisfaction sooner in the 'polishing' of a version of one of these ballads, rather than a combination of several.]


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 01:33 PM

Paul-
The point you raise demonstrates the basic problem with using geneological techniques to create "Ballad Families". Considering the degree of cross-pollination of such elements as intermingling roses with briars, proud porters and elaborate funeral processions, I find it hard to say that A came from B, rather than A and B share certain thematic elements.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 04:08 PM

But I'm confused by the conflation of 'The Unquiet Grave ' and 'The Twa Brithers'.
There are a number of versions of this ballad where the death is accidental and the lover of the dead brother comes along and sings/charms him out of his grave.
My point wasn't about a deliberate process but an accidental one in which versions of one song move closer to another. 'Lord Bateman' isn't the same as Harry Cox's 'Turkish Lady' but they're very close relations. Maybe there's a third song which contains both of the aforementioned?
Dick, I was thinking of larger themes than common floating verses. Leaning one's back against an oak doesn't make 'The Cruel Mother' a version of 'Waly,Waly' but 'The Maid and the Palmer' seems to have lent the 'Cruel Mother' a set of undeserved punishments. Or are they actually different. Sorry, I think I'm repeating my original point.
Paul


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 14 Feb 10 - 06:55 PM

Apologies if this appears twice, but the first time I submitted it it seemed to vanish.

Apropos recombinations: although Child chose to identify 77, Sweet William's Ghost, as separate from 69, Clerk Saunders, he acknowledged that in some versions one is a continuation of the other. The first version that I ever heard included both as a single story and I have continued to perceive them thus.

Richard


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 06:07 AM

This discussion of prequels/sequels to ballads, or other conflations of text caused an almost instinctive discomfort which I couldn't understand at first. But the more I thought about it, I realised that it had clarified one of my own requirements for a ballad which I had never really articulated, probably because it was so deeply embedded.
My own personal preference is for a single-issue ballad where the focus is unremittingly on that issue; for example, 'The Cruel Mother' would be diluted for me if there were a lot of verses at the beginning about the love between the clerk/whoever and the woman and why it was impossible, and if it then continued with the return of the male protagonist after the 'punishment' so that he could bewail/die/be buried near her with twining roses and briars etc.... It would more and more resemble the plot of an ongoing soap opera, rather than the perfect tragedy in miniature that I believe it to be.
I have absolutely nothing against soaps, but the relentless need to keep an audience watching means that there is seldom any pause for reflection - which is what I think happens at the end of a well-sung ballad.
And by the way, I don't mean that the action of a ballad has to happen in real time. Think of 'Lamkin', which obviously takes place over a lengthy period, where the underlying impetus - consistently - is revenge. I think that's what I mean by single-issue or single-focus, but I am well aware that others like a more epic "production number" like 'Young Beichan'.
So it's just as well that there are plenty to choose from!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Smedley
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 07:00 AM

Odd that you should mention soaps, as that comparison came (differently) into my mind when I was reading an earlier exchange on this thread. There was a discussion about the recurrence of similar 'plots' (or narrative themes) in different ballads, and this brought to mind the way in which different TV soaps often seem to sprout similar storylines. Coincidence, or creative copying, or maybe there are just only so many permutations of the highs and lows of the human heart.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: randjgc
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 07:30 AM

re the usage of "the red rose and the briar", "leaned her back against an oak" etc., I referred in aprevious Guest post to the collector William Motherwell. It is often the case that Introductions are better than the books. But not always: in his 1827 Introduction to "Minstrelsy", Motherwell points out that -
"This uniformity of phraeseology...which pervades our ancient ballads might appear to argue a poverty of expression...the use of such common places is abundantly obvious. They not only assisted the memory....but served as a kind of groundwork. With such common places fixed in his mind, the minstrel could....rapidly model any event which came under his cognizance into song. they were like inns or baiting places on a journey.....they were the general outlines of every classof human incident and suffering...They were like a commodious garment that could be wrapped expeditiously round every subject of whatever nature or dimensions."
So - from a contemporaneous source, phrases did not link songs or even suggest any association.
Hope this helps


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 15 Feb 10 - 03:41 PM

Thanks to Randjgc for a most useful post, reminding us that these commonplaces are part of the descriptive process of ballad creation rather than being specific links in plotting stories.
My own belief is that the 'bones' of a ballad are relationships (mother/son, sweethearts, husband/wife, siblings, employer/servant etc), because that's where dramatic tension lies.
And dramatic tension is surely what the ballads are about.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: jennyr
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 03:34 PM

EKanne: I completely agree with you about the beauty of a 'perfect tragedy in miniature' - that is the root of my love for a lot of ballads, I think, although not all.

But you also said: 'But perhaps of more interest is why you might want to move beyond the recognised 'originals' to some composite/amalgamation? [I know there is much (ongoing) discussion about the 'folk process', but I know that I find personal satisfaction sooner in the 'polishing' of a version of one of these ballads, rather than a combination of several.]'

Surely there's room for both approaches? Sometimes I find a ballad I love, in a version I love, and I learn it - obviously my own interpretation and my lapses of memory will alter it slightly, but it's basically the 'original'. But sometimes I find a story I want to tell, but I don't like the tune, or the words don't feel genuine in my mouth, or it's too long or too short or there's a bit of the story missing. Surely it's better then to combine it with different versions (which probably came from the same root) than to give up completely? And many of the Child ballads are incomplete, so the only way it's possible to perform them is by combining different fragments, reworking some lines, maybe even adding in the odd stock verse from elsewhere, if it fits...

I've heard some beautiful ballads in recent years which had obviously involved a lot of work on the part of the singer, either in reconstructing the narrative or in editing to give a different angle on the story. I really can't see the harm. (And on a personal note it makes me slightly less likely to panic when I see that the Davenports - damn them and their limitless free time! - are working on the same song I've just started learning, as I can be fairly confident the two versions will end up sounding sufficiently different not to offend!)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 18 Feb 10 - 07:52 PM

Jennyr - I think we're singing from the same hymnsheet here!
In response to Paul Davenport's post on 14th Feb (12.12pm), where he wondered about the propriety of re-combining (notionally) linked ballads, I said that my personal preference is for what I could best describe as a "single issue" ballad.
But I have little compunction about importing lines or whole verses from other versions if it helps me present a clearer, stronger story. In fact, I once set this as a task for adults studying ballads on a university outreach course : I sent them three versions of 'Lord Gregory', asked them to identify what they felt were the key story elements and then present their composite version in no more than 15 verses. Some of their efforts were really convincing, and one person in particular even combined half-lines as well as making up her own short phrases in a couple of verses. (I also did the homework, but failed - because I couldn't jettison an almost repeat verse near the very end, and therefore had 16 verses!)
I'm sure many, many singers do this, some more intentionally than others, and your description of your own approach, and that of the Davenports certainly resonates.
Mind you, at our ballad workshops, Gordeanna McCulloch and I are always reminding participants that any changes/imports have to be sympathetic -- so the king cannot send Patrick Spens "a quick text message/ and pinged it wi's ain hand"!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 19 Feb 10 - 11:25 AM

When I first clicked on this video I didn't think I'd like this version, but I found it extremely compelling. I could do without the "rap" section that is mixed in and in my opinion is totally unnecessary, but I think Jim Moray really captured the tragedy of this awful (awful in a good sense, as in dramatic and emotional) ballad. I'm not usually a fan of modernized renditions of ballads, but this one really haunted me and I listened to it several times.

Jim Moray singing "Lucy Wan"


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Feb 10 - 11:38 AM

Maryrrf, this works for me too. There's full honesty in Jim's vocals here. I also really like those thin tinny synth pipes adding strain and tension. I think musically it's a piece of fully engaging drama. The synth drums bring a driving inevitability to the drama (as I think does the rap somewhat. Though I agree that this element doesn't really click fully into place - though there's no reason IMO why it *couldn't*). Like the fade out at the end... ... ... ... as he rides off into the forever distance.

JimC will hate it!

Otherwise folks, so chuffed to see this thread still running well.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 19 Feb 10 - 11:53 AM

Best version of 'Lucy Wan' I ever heard was Hedy West's - sorry I can't do the downloading!
Everything about it was so complete (can't think of a better word): the accompaniment laid a lovely rolling rhythm and the voice was clear and pure.
Wish I could have seen her.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Maryrrf
Date: 19 Feb 10 - 12:07 PM

I was able to listen to a snippet of Hedy's version (which I hadn't heard) at this link: http://digital.thinkindie.com/search/release.php?RELEASE_ID=75760

The album is simply titled "Ballads" and although it contains 12 ballads it's only 29 minutes!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,daniel robbins
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 07:26 PM

can anyone suggest a classic ballad (not a man from snowy river) cause im doing a year 6 project and i have to do a project by 30 march so if you have a ballad please email me on
danny_boy98@l;ive.com.au
thanks


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Tootler
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 08:01 PM

Try here. You will find just over 300 of them - 305 to be precise.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 08:20 PM

Daniel, if you follow Tootler's link you'll find texts for hundreds of ballads, As your project is due very soon, could I suggest you look at ballad no.20 'The Cruel Mother', just to get you started?
Big story, big decisions, big emotions - plenty to get your teeth into!
Good luck, and hope you enjoy it.( And if you're feeling adventurous, try Googling that title, and you'll find audio links too.)


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Lighter
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 08:35 PM

The adlib setting of familiar texts to new or newly borrowed tunes is one of the very greatest differences between trad and just about everything else.

Singers should go to it and let the chips fall.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 04:44 AM

"JimC will hate it!"
Yup - certainly did.
Jimn Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 05:12 AM

Lol!


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 05:20 AM

Sorry, didn't mean to leave it like that.
I wonder what people get from an approach like that to what is essentially a piece of high tragedy.
For me, the strength of the tragic ballads lie in the sparseness of the text, the stripping away of all the surplus so you are left with just the bare facts which serve to communicate the tragesdy, with the refrains (those that have them) adding a sense of inevitibility.
Moray's version starts off fairly straightforwardly (bit too bland for me), and then he appears to become bored with it and goes off and does something else. It's like the Steeleye version of Lamkin, where they break off from the story part of the way through and play an Irish reel - 'they lost the plot' as they say.
There's nothing 'wrong' with doing what he/they did - but ballad singing it ain't, it has become something else.
Personally, if someone is going to muck about with our songs and ballads I'd much rather it was Vaughan Williams, or George Butterworth, or Percy Grainger, or Aaron Copeland... or all those who used them to create something else entirely with an identity and integrity of its own.
Moray's version, for me, is neither fish nor fowl - it's Hamlet on roller skates. And the ironic thing is, of course, is it's all been done before and, for me, sounds so 'old fashioned'. Steeleye, Pentangle, et al... (they called it 'folk rock, or electric folk); Laing, Dallas, Denslow and Shelton covered it quite well in 'The Electric Muse'.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 05:23 AM

PS
Morning CS
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 05:57 AM

"Moray's version, for me, is neither fish nor fowl - it's Hamlet on roller skates. And the ironic thing is, of course, is it's all been done before and, for me, sounds so 'old fashioned'. Steeleye, Pentangle, et al... (they called it 'folk rock, or electric folk); Laing, Dallas, Denslow and Shelton covered it quite well in 'The Electric Muse'."

Morning Jim & all - fair points. I'll have to listen again and think on. However as far as 'mucking about' is concerned, I think it's interesting to hea people trying to respond in a personal way. I really don't believe that the songs themselves can be harmed by any treatment - so long as people contintue to return to *source material* as their starting point.

On a recent thread elsewhere there were some comments made about the unwritten 'codification' of revival stylings of traditional songs. As I commented there, contemporary theatre productions of classic works of drama, can be highly innovative and as someone myself who initially leaned on rivival recordings to learn some of these songs (and now regrets it, I might add), I think it would be interesting if more artists attempted to respond in contemporary fashion to traditional songs. For you Moray's attempt with Lucy Wan didn't achieve that however, which is fair enough.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 06:06 AM

I'd have thought it entirely legitimate to re-arrange and re-edit pretty well any song to assist it (or to try to assist it) to travel to a new set of listeners. Although I don't much like the outcomes of some of Moray's experiments, I would entirely support and indeed encourage his efforts.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 06:33 AM

"I really don't believe that the songs themselves can be harmed by any treatment"
Nor do I - and I would support Richard's argument completely, as long as you recognise that the ballad has an integrity of its own and once you ignore that it becomes something else.
"classic works of drama, can be highly innovative"
They can - I enjoyed 'All Night Long', 'West Side Story' and 'The Forbidden Planet' enormously, but not necassarily as Shakespeare.
On the other hand a few years ago we went to to see a production of ''Tis Pity She's a Whore' performed entirely with unrelated sounds and gestures - a piece of impenetrable nonsense - it had been stripped of its function as a piece of narrative.
What Moray appears to be doing is what we used to do after the pubs closed; sit around with guitars upturned biscuit tins, spoons - whatever came to hand and rock up the folk songs - great fun (except for the head in the morning).
In the end, I believe you judge a ballad, or any narrative or 'word-based' song, by how it reaches your brain (heart?), not your ear.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Lighter
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 12:12 PM

Jim, I concur. But Hamlet on roller skates would be more interesting and entertaining. Maybe Moray's other stuff is better. "Lizie" didn't induce me to listen further.

What some find compelling about the "Lizie Wan" tune, I find insufferable. It's almost no tune at all. And the hiphop adds nothing.

Not whining. Just reporting. We get the culture we deserve. Always.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 12:38 PM

Lighter;
"It's almost no tune at all"
Moray uses a standard tune - for me, his treatment of it totally destroys it as a communicator of the story. Personally I've never found his handling of any folk song I've heard particularly inspiring.
Put in the mouth of a singer who understands the ballad - try Terry Yarnell or Dennis Turner (both have recorded it at one time or another) and the starkness of the tune underlines the tragedy of the plot superbly.
The same goes for the two line tune MacColl used for Clerk Colville.
In the end it's down to a matter of personal taste, but I prefer the tune to deliver the words, not the other way round.
Lloyd was the first one I heard sing it; his (English) tune communicates sadness, as if recounted in retrospect, rather than immediate tragedy.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Howard Jones
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 02:49 PM

I'm rather inclined to agree with Jim about Jim Moray's version of Lucy Wan. It does nothing for me either.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to look at the comments it's attracted on Youtube, and the enthusiastic response it's generated from people who I suspect are not folkies. If he can bring ballads, and folk music in general, to a wider audience then it can't be all bad.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 03:02 PM

"I'm rather inclined to agree with Jim about Jim Moray's version of Lucy Wan. It does nothing for me either."

What has happened as a consequence of Maryrrf flagging it up, is that it's provoked some analysis of a specific example of a treatment of a ballad - which is something that has hitherto been lacking in so many of the threads on Mudcat - to my frustration as a learner! I'd like to see much more similar debate about particular renderings of traditional songs. Actual examples - love them or loathe them - are great for the practical and focused anchoring of discussion.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 03:54 PM

"the enthusiastic response it's generated from people"
The problem for me with this age-old argument is that I am always left with the opinion that it only generates an enthusiasm for that particular approach, and when other methods are presented it leaves a potential audience cold.
I first came into contact with 'live folk' in Liverpool with the Spinners. After I had been attending their club for a year I was on the point of pulling out altogether (there are only so many renditions of 'Fried Bread and Brandy O' you can take) when somebody said "have you heard MacColl's Folkways set of 'English and Scottish Ballads'?
While it's true that I wouldn't have been there in the first place if it hadn't been for the four lads (and Jaquie McDonald in those days), 'gawd bless 'em', their particular approach wasn't enough to hold me and I had to start virtually from scratch.
This argument was used when Shirly Ellis's 'Rubber Dolly' hit the top of the charts - "folk music had arrived' - but it hadn't, of course.
Some years ago the organisers of the Clare Traditional Singing Weekend (exclusively unnaccompanied) was offered the services of Christie Moore, a perfectly valid reason for having him was that they themed the week-end as 'Political Songs'. When the news got out, hordes of youngsters decended on Ennistymon and it was believed that this would be the big breakthrough - it wasn't. Even though we were treated to a festival of superb singing from all the performers - the youngsters never came back. Christie has a large following for his own style, which isn't traditional - and there's the rub.
If an audience is to be won for traditional singing, it has to be for its own merits and not for something else, and thereby hangs our problem.
"I'd like to see much more similar debate"
I agree with CS - I'd like to hear such a debate on renditions of ballads which turn people of and off (on the understanding that we are expressing personal opinions and not trying to impose our own likes and dislikes on others).
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,FairEllender
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 07:18 AM

I have come to this thread very late, but may I just say how much I have enjoyed reading it (only took me about 4 hours!) As many of you have mentioned, it's great that a thread this erudite, informative, generous and (surprisingly for a lot of Mudcat) civil is around. I do hope it will continue to evolve.

There have been some wonderful links to other resources (many thanks for the OU Norma Waterson documentary) and some inspiring and thought-provoking posts, particularly from Jim Carroll (where have you been all my life?!), Brian Peters, EKanne etc - and how wonderful to hear of such commitment to and passion for singing ballads from posters like CrowSister and Maryrrf - keep it up!

I am very passionate about ballads, and traditional singing in general - like a few of you have mentioned from your own experiences, the ballad can play like a film in your head when you sing. To me, the people in the ballads and the emotions they feel are *real* (as singers like Jeannie instinctively realised and expressed). I feel that the ballads encapsulate human experiences in a far more direct and powerful way than almost any other artistic form. For instance, I have never heard quite so moving a depiction of a mother's grief than in 'Wife of Usher's Well' (and of course this can be extended to anyone's grief experience).

I could, and have on a number of other occasions, put forward my strident opinions on how I feel that many ballad (or even traditional 'folk') singers are struggling to find appreciative audiences...but reading this thread shows that there are still many of us who are care about these songs. Also, I feel that many of my feelings about the ballads I sing not being 'welcomed' in sessions and folk clubs are due to my own ego and insecurity issues, rather than the audience...but that's another thread in itself! So I will focus instead on the positives, which include singing 'Lord T and Fair Annett' at a (non-folk) open mic once - the audience was perfect, despite my trepidation. Many had not heard ballads (or much unaccompanied singing before), and reacted with a wonderful childlike (in a good way) appreciation, even hissing when Annett/Ellender denigrates the 'brown bride' and squealing when her head hit the wall! A wonderful experience.

Another positive is a friend of mine who possesses the same 'childlike' quality- I recently played her a selection of some of my favourite Child ballads, and when she had not grasped the story fully from first hearing, she asked me to tell it to her as a narrative, and listened with wide-eyed wonder. When telling her the story of Mill o' Tifty's Annie we both cried like bairns. A wonderful example of how these songs and stories still have immense power.

Thanks again to all contributors, I hope to see the discussion continuing.

Fair Ellender


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Tannywheeler
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 09:38 AM

Many years ago my mother, Hally Wood, was engaged in research & found several sources for a ballad called "Tam Lin". Scottish. She told me she once put out a stopwatch & sang all the way through the verses she had corralled & it was 17 minutes of story!! In fact, there exists a recording of a session of her trying to commit this story to tape. But it was an informal session which involved repeats of verses which she felt were less than perfect 1st time thru. It would require serious editting to extract the best presentation of each verse. & probably 1st transferring the whole thing from tape to something else. The verse that intrigues me is about our heroine, the Fair Janet. She "girds her kirtle aboon her knee, & breeds her yellow hair aboon her bree, & hies off..." from point A to point B 5 times in this thing. Probably on horseback. Get out of the road...Tw


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 09:57 AM

"Many years ago my mother, Hally Wood,..."
Isn't it wonderful who you get to meet on this forum - Hally Wood's rendition of 'The Young Girl Cut Down' still makes the hairs on the back of my neck bristle - after forty years of listening. She was one of major influences that made me appreciate American traditional singing.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 12:24 PM

Great to see this topic revived, and to be reminded by Fair Ellender that the wonder of these songs is in the sharing - the performance, the experience, the knowledge.
A recent ballad workshop in Glasgow (Scotland) saw Sheila Stewart at her inimitable best, in total command of her material and her audience. And half the audience was under 30/35 years old! After Sheila's contribution, there were unaccompanied ballads from the audience, including 'The Two Sisters', 'Lord Randal', 'Earl Richard', 'Fair Rosianne', 'May Colvin', 'Young Emsley', 'The Unquiet Grave' and 'The Wife of Usher's Well', in addition to other great songs.
Feedback was very positive, people talked of feeling uplifted and the camaraderie was palpable.
Both Gordeanna McCulloch and I have been so heartened by the ongoing response (8 events since January and the 9th to come on 27th June) that the workshops will be continuing in September. It all goes to show that ballads are both attractive and accessible and that the time-honoured technique of learning from the auld yins still has something to offer.


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Brian Peters
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 12:54 PM

"Many had not heard ballads (or much unaccompanied singing before), and reacted with a wonderful childlike (in a good way) appreciation, even hissing when Annett/Ellender denigrates the 'brown bride' and squealing when her head hit the wall!"

Thanks for reviving this thread, Fair E. I once had a non-folk audience break into a unanimous cheer at the moment Pretty Polly rebuffs the drowning Outlandish Knight's last desperate offer of marriage with "Lie there, lie there, false-hearted young man".

Audiences of folk and non-folk persuasions have been known to raise a cheer at the point where evil Sir Aldingar's diminutive nemesis chops his legs off, and challenges: "Stand up, now you're a match for me!"


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 12:54 PM

Jims comments are interesting[ re christy moore].
a professional performer once told me a similar story about Martin Carthy, yes ,Carthy filled the club, but very few of the Carthy audience came back,in following weeks.
that is no fault of Martins but illustrates the point that the audience treated Carthy with the reverence of a pop star, but were not interested in other forms of folk music, but would only turn out for Martin.
back to subject, fairly important in my opinion is: not to over dramatise the story


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 03:00 PM

"a professional performer once told me a similar story about Martin Carthy,"
Nice to see you back Cap'n - where you Been?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 03:18 PM

hanging about in folk clubs ,Jim, and getting paid,as Joe Gargery said What larks Pip old chap


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: GUEST,Fair Ellender
Date: 23 Jun 10 - 12:32 PM

Great to see the thread continuing.

Many thanks to Anne and Gordeanna for the passion and enthusiasm they have shown for the ballads. Without their commitment and hard work in keeping the workshops going and making them so enjoyable, Glasgow and the surrounding area would be a poorer place indeed.

Love your anecdote about The Outlandish Knight, Brian - I myself can't help but utter an inner cheer when she dings him in the water ;-)

FairEllender


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Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long bal
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 23 Jun 10 - 02:44 PM

To Fair Ellender - it may interest you to know that the plan is to continue with the ballad workshops in Glasgow, starting again in August. There are two guests lined up, special offers for workshop members and - we hope - plenty of ongoing input from our regulars.
And could I just say, in relation to the original post, that it has been immensely rewarding as well as instructive to learn from workshop members who all have their individual responses to a ballad text and who can, and often do, offer surprising insights and approaches.
It's been a pleasure from the very start to be dealing with such enthusiasts!


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