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Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?

MARINER 10 Aug 10 - 10:45 AM
Don(Wyziwyg)T 10 Aug 10 - 10:49 AM
Richard Bridge 10 Aug 10 - 10:57 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 10 Aug 10 - 11:08 AM
Midchuck 10 Aug 10 - 11:13 AM
Jack Campin 10 Aug 10 - 11:16 AM
ClaireBear 10 Aug 10 - 11:21 AM
Uncle_DaveO 10 Aug 10 - 11:33 AM
Bonzo3legs 10 Aug 10 - 11:47 AM
GUEST,leeneia 10 Aug 10 - 11:48 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 10 Aug 10 - 12:17 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Aug 10 - 12:41 PM
IanC 10 Aug 10 - 01:24 PM
catspaw49 10 Aug 10 - 01:38 PM
The Sandman 10 Aug 10 - 01:41 PM
MGM·Lion 10 Aug 10 - 02:33 PM
Paul Burke 10 Aug 10 - 02:34 PM
GUEST,^&* 10 Aug 10 - 03:11 PM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 10 Aug 10 - 03:23 PM
GUEST,Paul Slade 10 Aug 10 - 03:25 PM
Gurney 10 Aug 10 - 03:31 PM
MARINER 10 Aug 10 - 03:55 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 10 Aug 10 - 04:11 PM
GUEST,leeneia 10 Aug 10 - 05:13 PM
GUEST,Seonaid 10 Aug 10 - 05:46 PM
skipy 10 Aug 10 - 05:49 PM
GUEST 10 Aug 10 - 06:12 PM
Deckman 10 Aug 10 - 06:15 PM
Tootler 10 Aug 10 - 06:26 PM
dick greenhaus 10 Aug 10 - 06:31 PM
Jim Carroll 10 Aug 10 - 06:56 PM
Young Buchan 10 Aug 10 - 07:17 PM
Tootler 10 Aug 10 - 07:44 PM
Bobert 10 Aug 10 - 07:50 PM
Genie 10 Aug 10 - 08:20 PM
Suegorgeous 10 Aug 10 - 08:24 PM
John P 10 Aug 10 - 09:18 PM
Deckman 10 Aug 10 - 09:29 PM
Will Fly 11 Aug 10 - 04:00 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 11 Aug 10 - 04:52 AM
Nigel Parsons 11 Aug 10 - 04:52 AM
TheSnail 11 Aug 10 - 05:07 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 11 Aug 10 - 05:13 AM
GUEST 11 Aug 10 - 05:20 AM
GUEST,^&* 11 Aug 10 - 05:48 AM
Jim Carroll 11 Aug 10 - 05:50 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Aug 10 - 05:55 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Aug 10 - 06:12 AM
autoharpbob 11 Aug 10 - 06:37 AM
Mr Happy 11 Aug 10 - 06:45 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 11 Aug 10 - 06:49 AM
GUEST,^&* 11 Aug 10 - 07:02 AM
kendall 11 Aug 10 - 07:45 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 11 Aug 10 - 07:49 AM
GUEST,^&* 11 Aug 10 - 07:54 AM
Jim Carroll 11 Aug 10 - 08:34 AM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Aug 10 - 10:53 AM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Aug 10 - 11:02 AM
Uncle_DaveO 11 Aug 10 - 11:14 AM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Aug 10 - 12:18 PM
terrier 11 Aug 10 - 03:12 PM
GUEST,^&* 11 Aug 10 - 03:15 PM
PoppaGator 11 Aug 10 - 03:56 PM
Paul Burke 11 Aug 10 - 03:57 PM
GUEST,mg 11 Aug 10 - 05:24 PM
Paul Burke 11 Aug 10 - 05:38 PM
GUEST,kendall 11 Aug 10 - 06:01 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Aug 10 - 06:08 PM
Herga Kitty 11 Aug 10 - 06:17 PM
Deckman 11 Aug 10 - 06:23 PM
Herga Kitty 11 Aug 10 - 06:28 PM
Genie 11 Aug 10 - 06:35 PM
Deckman 11 Aug 10 - 06:47 PM
GUEST,kendall 11 Aug 10 - 07:27 PM
GUEST,Betsy 11 Aug 10 - 07:27 PM
GUEST,mg 11 Aug 10 - 08:13 PM
Howard Jones 12 Aug 10 - 03:20 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Aug 10 - 05:02 AM
Marje 12 Aug 10 - 05:42 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Aug 10 - 06:29 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Aug 10 - 07:24 AM
GUEST,Ethical 12 Aug 10 - 07:25 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Aug 10 - 08:27 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Aug 10 - 08:41 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Aug 10 - 08:50 AM
Jim Carroll 12 Aug 10 - 09:01 AM
Jack Blandiver 12 Aug 10 - 10:17 AM
MGM·Lion 12 Aug 10 - 10:29 AM
Don Day 12 Aug 10 - 10:33 AM
TheSnail 12 Aug 10 - 10:41 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 12 Aug 10 - 11:08 AM
kendall 12 Aug 10 - 11:26 AM
NormanD 12 Aug 10 - 11:51 AM
dick greenhaus 12 Aug 10 - 11:53 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Aug 10 - 11:55 AM
GUEST,Goose Gander 12 Aug 10 - 12:04 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Aug 10 - 12:05 PM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 12 Aug 10 - 12:32 PM
MikeL2 12 Aug 10 - 12:56 PM
Phil Edwards 12 Aug 10 - 01:02 PM
GUEST,Goose Gander 12 Aug 10 - 01:29 PM
Jack Campin 12 Aug 10 - 01:38 PM
GUEST,mg 12 Aug 10 - 01:53 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Aug 10 - 02:05 PM
GUEST,Goose Gander 12 Aug 10 - 02:24 PM
GUEST,mg 12 Aug 10 - 02:34 PM
GUEST,Goose Gander 12 Aug 10 - 02:51 PM
Art Thieme 12 Aug 10 - 02:55 PM
Rumncoke 12 Aug 10 - 03:57 PM
Deckman 12 Aug 10 - 03:58 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Aug 10 - 04:09 PM
Don Firth 12 Aug 10 - 05:07 PM
GUEST,schlimmerkerl 12 Aug 10 - 05:28 PM
GUEST,mg 12 Aug 10 - 05:35 PM
Deckman 12 Aug 10 - 05:42 PM
Phil Edwards 12 Aug 10 - 05:49 PM
GUEST,mg 12 Aug 10 - 06:08 PM
Don Firth 12 Aug 10 - 06:29 PM
Lonesome EJ 12 Aug 10 - 06:55 PM
GUEST,mg 12 Aug 10 - 07:13 PM
Melissa 12 Aug 10 - 07:25 PM
GUEST,kendall 12 Aug 10 - 07:25 PM
GUEST,mg 12 Aug 10 - 08:06 PM
Melissa 12 Aug 10 - 08:16 PM
Deckman 12 Aug 10 - 08:17 PM
Melissa 12 Aug 10 - 08:25 PM
Melissa 12 Aug 10 - 08:49 PM
GUEST,Seonaid 12 Aug 10 - 09:00 PM
Deckman 12 Aug 10 - 09:12 PM
Don Firth 12 Aug 10 - 10:28 PM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 13 Aug 10 - 03:56 AM
Phil Edwards 13 Aug 10 - 04:52 AM
Jack Blandiver 13 Aug 10 - 05:13 AM
John P 13 Aug 10 - 12:34 PM
GUEST,mg 13 Aug 10 - 01:01 PM
John P 13 Aug 10 - 01:26 PM
GUEST,kendall 13 Aug 10 - 01:52 PM
Don Firth 13 Aug 10 - 02:42 PM
Jim Carroll 13 Aug 10 - 02:57 PM
Deckman 13 Aug 10 - 02:59 PM
Don Firth 13 Aug 10 - 03:16 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Aug 10 - 04:01 PM
Artful Codger 13 Aug 10 - 05:43 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Aug 10 - 06:17 PM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 14 Aug 10 - 04:42 AM
Will Fly 14 Aug 10 - 04:53 AM
Jim Carroll 14 Aug 10 - 08:14 AM
Jim Carroll 14 Aug 10 - 08:21 AM
Artful Codger 14 Aug 10 - 06:07 PM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 14 Aug 10 - 08:06 PM
Rob Naylor 14 Aug 10 - 09:24 PM
GUEST,Uncle Rumpo 14 Aug 10 - 10:01 PM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 15 Aug 10 - 03:55 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 15 Aug 10 - 04:10 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Aug 10 - 04:25 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 15 Aug 10 - 04:52 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 15 Aug 10 - 05:55 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Aug 10 - 06:12 AM
MGM·Lion 15 Aug 10 - 07:24 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 15 Aug 10 - 08:15 AM
Rob Naylor 15 Aug 10 - 08:24 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Aug 10 - 09:05 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 15 Aug 10 - 09:26 AM
Jim Carroll 15 Aug 10 - 09:34 AM
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Subject: Is it permissible to change
From: MARINER
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 10:45 AM

I was wondering if it was permissible or even ethical to change a word in an old song? .For instance, I am learning a song where the captain of a ship is described as a Mexican when in fact he was Norwegian. The ship was the "Mexico" (from Songs of the Wexford Coast). This is a well known fact,although the song has always been sung as the captain being Mexican . I met his great grandson a few months ago and had the nationality confirmed .


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: Don(Wyziwyg)T
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 10:49 AM

Folk process Mariner.

It's not just permissible, it's almost cumpulsory, especially if done to correct an error.

My opinion, for what it's worth.

Don T.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 10:57 AM

Damn. I'm going to have to agree with Don again.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 11:08 AM

Not only isn't it ethical, but such ill-advised tampering has nothing to do with folk process - which, if analagous of Natural Selection (though I have my doubts), makes such tampering akin to Genetic Modification. In their natural context such changes were part and parcel of the life of a song, but now there're collected, stuffed, stamped, filed and indexed we really ought to treat them with all due respect and humility. It's the original error that's part of the folk process, the correction of that error is contrary to the tradition that gave us such songs.

That wouldn't be the same Mexico that was lost off Lancashire on the 9th December 1886 would it? Be nice to see the song anyway.

S O'P for Purist


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: Midchuck
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 11:13 AM

In an honest-to-God oral tradition "folk" song, it is, as pointed out above, not only permissible but nearly compulsory.

If it's a song of known authorship, and the author is dead, and the song's gone into public domain, probably no one's going to complain.

If the song is of known authorship, and still under copyright, you'd better get permission from the author and/or copyright owner.

One of the things that bug me about "Rise Up Singing" is their love of changing lyrics to make them more politically correct, without worrying about permission.

Peter


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 11:16 AM

If nothing else connects with the misattribution, I'd say just correct it.

If the song takes off into an elaborate description of the captain's black handlebar moustache and sombrero, maybe making him a Norwegian might not work so well.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: ClaireBear
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 11:21 AM

I do it, when it wants doing -- after all, I'm a folk...


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 11:33 AM

But no horses are permitted to make such changes!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 11:47 AM

The folk police will always complain!!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 11:48 AM

You bet it's permissible. You don't have to get a permit or even pay a tax. I do it all the time.

In your case, it sounds like you are changing a word back to what it was in the first place, so you are actually being noble.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 12:17 PM

In which case, thank Christ for The Folk Police!

One minute you're all raging about the sanctity of the 1954 Definition and the next your rubbishing the very songs you have elected to be custodians of. What a truly pityful of affairs. Still, I shall redouble mine own efforts with respect of Vigilance and Pedantry in such matters and make sure the next time I hear someone singing a Traditional Folk Song they can quote chapter and verse on its provenance.

Be warned, the Volkspolizei are listening in!

Seriously, do what you want, but to do so in the name of The Tradition or the Folk Process is, to borrow one of Richard's words, asinine.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 12:41 PM

I might change a song for all kinds of reasons, mostly to do with memory slips or to help my tongue get round the words - but probably not in order to get facts right that the song has got wrong.

I rather like the way folk songs screw up history sometimes - "Santy Anna won the day" for example.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: IanC
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 01:24 PM

My answer

NO!!! it's not permissable

it's permissible

;-)


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: catspaw49
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 01:38 PM

LMAO......If you went around correcting the "facts" in most "folk" songs, trad or otherwise, many of them would completely dissolve into NOTHINGNESS. Almost every disaster song would be gone because a very few bear any actual resemblance to the event they supposedly are describing.


Spaw


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 01:41 PM

it is permissible but if youdo it on www.session .org beawre of the consequences


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 02:33 PM

To quote again my own inlay to my own record: "All these songs are traditional; but I suspect every one will have been more or less consciously modified from original sources in the course of making them my own."

It's what we do, surely...

{One example which occurs to me, not from my own singing ~~ the Coppers' Warlike Seamen has as its second line "I'll tell you of a fight my boys on board the Nottingham". But in a later verse we find "They asked from whence we came; Our answer was from Liverpool and London was our name". So the name of the ship has changed in the middle of the song. I wonder if the Coppers ever noticed; surely they must have done, but that's the way it is in The Book, presumably. I know of at least one group who change that line to "And Nottingham was our name"; which doesn't scan quite so easily. I usually keep the Coppers' words when I sing that one, as I find it flows better; but I can see the case for the alteration. I think, anyhow, that it's a great song, either way & whatever...}

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: Paul Burke
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 02:34 PM

That's utter bollocks Sweeney, and only shows that you know little about how evolution works.

1 Change
2 Test
3 If OK keep
4 Else reject
5 Endif
6 Goto 1

So the answer to Mariner's conundrum is simple. You do line 1, everyone else does lines 2 to 5, then the loop starts again.
Chane the song and see what happens.

Stuffed and stamped? In their natural context? What the hell are you on about?

As for the 1954 definition, I didn't read that tedious thread and I don't like horses, especially of the hobby variety.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,^&*
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 03:11 PM

Ah c'mon MARINER! Last week you couldn't remember the crews names, this week you think the skipper had a suntan - what next? The cabin boy was a girl?!

More seriously, after The HanToon incident the other day, Phil remarked that "that was the best recovery I've heard in a long time!" i.e. you used the "mistake" to give yet more life to the story. No better man.

At least the line makes it easy to substitute "was Norwegian" instead of "was a Mexican". Go for it, of course. If anyone asks, tell them the story.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissable
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 03:23 PM

Stuffed and stamped? In their natural context? What the hell are you on about?

The Old Songs evolved in a societal context very different from our own which we might think of as The Tradition. This was their natural habitat in which they thrived until doomed to inevitable extinction whereupon the remnants were collected by way taxidermy (stuffed) subjected to an appropriate taxonomy (stamped) which gave rise to The Revival. Whilst in both academic & amateur circles the stuffing & the stamping continues, with respect of The Old Songs, The Revival is most certainly not The Tradition and Revival Singers should be respectful of the old traditional songs they sing. Change the song and it becomes something else entirely.

Otherwise, keep it civil, eh, Paul?


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old s
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 03:25 PM

Paul Burke's right. Suibhne Astray isn't.

Besides, it's not as if you're destroying the old version, is it? Anyone who wants to retain him as a Mexican is still perfectly free to do so.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Gurney
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 03:31 PM

It's permissible, but it may not be accurate! All the crew of the ship Mexico would likely be termed 'Mexicans,' Just as the crew of the Bellerophon were called 'Billy Ruffians.'
Just a thought. And a chance to do an interesting intro.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: MARINER
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 03:55 PM

Thanks folks, from now on I will give Captain Erickson his proper nationality .To answer Suibhne Astray it wasn't the Mexico he referred to .This Mexico was lost on the Keeraghs Rocks off the Wexford coast on the 20th of February 1914. I think the song also has her port of departure wrong as well. The song says she came from Lithuania, bound for Liverpool but I think she came from the States
Thank you Guest above. On reflection I think it was a fairly good recovery ,but I didn't think so at the time !.However, I didn't feel so bad when some other singers really cocked it up two days after .Guess it was that Feakle beer.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 04:11 PM

A while back, I wanted to sing Jamaica Farewell with a class of 7/8 yr olds. Knowing kids, I knew that the opening line " Far away where the nights are gay" would cause some silliness, and so I simply altered the line to " Far away where the warm winds play". Interestingly, after a few weeks of practicing the song, one kid happened to look at my copy of the original lyrics and - as predicted - started making a big deal about the word "gay" .


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 05:13 PM

Good for you, Tunesmith.

That way, the entire class got to enjoy the song, without one silly student disrupting everything.

I still like to sing that old favorite while I strum my guitar.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Seonaid
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 05:46 PM

Been known to change *every* word in an old song --
Of course, that was in translations... ;o)


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: skipy
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 05:49 PM

Yes! in the song "Edward Hollander" (flying Cloud)I refuse to sing "we hauled those niggers up on deck" I sing "we hauled those negroes up on deck".
It has the same value in the song & should not offend.
Skipy - who has not had time to read the thread, but saw the title & posted, so if it has already been covered - sorry.
Too busy with prep. for white horse folk fest to do anything really!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 06:12 PM

As a singer of mostly "traditional" songs, I'm of several minds on this age old question. By the way, being of "several minds" comes easier with age ... try it some time.

Here's where I allow myself to change a word in an old song:

1: the word is so obscure that no understanding would happen, but I try to take care of that problem in the song introduction.
2. The word is so blatently insulting ... but I usually just caution the audience befor I sing it.
3. I forget the real word, then I politely excuse MYSELF and pass the mistake off to "the folk process"!

CHEERS, bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 06:15 PM

The previous post was by me, deckman, who keeps becoming absent of my cookie for some weird reason! Bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Tootler
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 06:26 PM

As most traditional songs, at least in the English Language traditions, are story based, then the most important thing is to tell the story as effectively as you can. If that involves altering some words for whatever reason then I can't see any harm in it as long as the essential character of the song is retained.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 06:31 PM

The nice thing is that if your change(s) make the song worse, they'll probably be forgotten. That's the part of the folk process people seem to forget.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 06:56 PM

I don't believe that deliberate change in a situation where the tradition is dead (cat among pigeons maybe) is part of any folk process, but there is nothing wrong with changing words in old songs; traditional singers did it constantly and deliberately, Sam Larner, Walter Pardon, Joe Heaney... have all spoken about doing it, in Walter's case, at great length, so what we have been handed down is the changed article.
Tootler's posting is dean on the mark IMO
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Young Buchan
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 07:17 PM

William Kinmber apparently used to tell his pupils 'These are the notes you play, AND YOU DON'T PLAY ANY OTHERS!' Fortunately he wasn't a singer so he won't come back to haunt you for your cavalier attitude. Musicians on the other hand had better watch out....


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Tootler
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 07:44 PM

Oh Dear! I have been known to vary tunes. I was told it was OK as it was simply a variant. Mind quite often my variants are the result of my fingers refusing to do as they are told. They get quite wayward sometimes, especially with new tunes [g]


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Bobert
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 07:50 PM

"Take a sad song and make it better" (the Beatles)...

Shoot, if it's okay fir sad songs then it's goota be okay for other songs...

Go fir it!!!

B~


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Genie
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 08:20 PM

[['These are the notes you play, AND YOU DON'T PLAY ANY OTHERS!']]
Of course, that's not saying anything about the ORDER in which you play them ... ; D

I'm with Midchuck and Deckman:

If the "folk process" had been eschewed by our ancestors, we wouldn't have 17+ versions of Raggle Taggle Gypsies/Blackjack Davy/Whistling Gypsy/Gypsy Rover (etc.) How boring would that be?

If the song's author is known, and still under copyright, you'd better get permission from the author and/or copyright owner. (I'd add that if you deliberately change a song of known authorship, even if the author is dead, the respectful thing to do would be to ACKNOWLEDGE that you've altered the original work (especially if you've put the song on a CD or in a songbook). Otherwise, you're falsely attributing words or melody to the author.
I think this is especially important if your "revision" loses some of the poetry of the original work or if you've given that work the "Rise Up Singing" or "Unitarian Hymnal" "politically correct" treatment.

"Rise Up Singing's" habit of changing lyrics to make them more politically correct or "new-age-y" without even acknowledging the changes really annoys me too.


But as Deckman says, if a word or words in an old song are so archaic or regional that they wouldn't be understood or if they are terms that would be very offensive today, I see no problem with adapting them.   It's not always possible to explain the historical context (e.g., that "darkie" was once "the politically correct term") but I would hate to throw out all the American songs of the early 19th C. because some of their original language might be offensive today. Similarly, I don't see a problem with taking a Robert Burns song and changing a few Scots dialect words to words that American audiences would understand, especially if it's a sing-along.   

But when I pass the lyrics to a song on to other people (e.g., on the internet or by printing a lyric sheet), I try as best I can to find and use the original, accurate lyrics (if such a thing can be determined), rather than just printing them out from my faulty memory or changing them arbitrarily on my own.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 08:24 PM

Dick - errr...session.org don't give a toss about "songs".. all they care about is tunes... :)_


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: John P
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 09:18 PM

Wow, opinions all over the map. For myself, I'm glad that no one but me gets to make up rules about how or why I play any piece of music. If something works better for me, I change it, lyrics or melody. I don't care if anyone considers it a Folk Process change or a ghastly gaffe, those sorts of rules are for definitions and academia, not for actually playing music. I play almost entirely traditional folk music interspersed with medieval music and I don't pay any attention at all to historical accuracy or authenticity. As I say, caring about that is musicology, not music.

If I had to make a decision on the matter, I'd disagree with Jim Carroll and say that the folk process never died. It just changed with the times, the same way that traditional music has always done. I don't care if I learn a tune from a remote villager or from YouTube, I still learn the tune and I still feel free to do anything I want with it, and I still pass it on, either by teaching to a youngster or by putting out a CD. I don't see any incongruity.

Suibhne Ashtray seems to forget that the 1954 definition is about musicology. Deciding how to play a song is about playing music. There's a big difference between the two. I see no inconsistency in wanting a firm definition of a musical genre or folk process for the purpose of talking about said genre and process, and also not thinking about that at all while deciding what to play and how to play it.

Aren't we lucky the Folk Police don't actually have any authority over us?

John


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 10 Aug 10 - 09:29 PM

John P ... well said!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Will Fly
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 04:00 AM

One of the sayings that passed down in our family from our Irish great-great-grandmother was "Have what you will - and pay for it". It's a great saying, meaning, to us, do what the devil you want to - and take the consequences.

As musicians we have total freedom to play or sing whatever we wish to play or sing, in any key style or manner we choose - and change any lyrics we want, to suit. And, of course, we take the consequences of that, which is part of the responsibility for having done what we've done. However, the freedom to do it in the first place is something we should cherish.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 04:52 AM

Who are you going to obtain permission from?

There's a curious (and, I suspect deliberate and mischievous) misapprehension here - that somewhere there are 'Guardians of Tradition' or (dare I invoke them?) 'Folk Police' who will come down hard on, and punish, anyone who departs from certain inviolable rules. This is, of course, rubbish!

A singer must make his/her own aesthetic choices - and then Will Fly's inherited family saying comes into play, i.e. "Have what you will - and pay for it".

Thanks, Will - that's a very useful phrase!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 04:52 AM

If it improves the song (Accuracy/scansion/rhyme) then do it.
If it doesn't, then why do it?


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: TheSnail
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:07 AM

The only branch of the "Folk Police" that matter are otherwise known as the audience. They are also judge and jury. Somehow, I don't think you'll hang for changing Mexican to Norwegian.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:13 AM

My argument is simple enough - the Traditional Songs aren't ours to mess with. That the Traditional Singers messed with them is an essential part of their character, composition & diversification; this is how such songs lived and breathed in their natural habitat. For Revival Singers to do so, however, strikes me as dubious practise - and to do so in the name of The Folk Process is to display a decided ignorance of the actual nature of Traditional Song (much less The Folk Process) and a decided lack of respect to boot.

The most important thing any Revival Singer of Traditional Songs can do, therefore, is by way of research & sourcing, not changing the songs to suit their purposes. The interpretation of a song is a different matter entirely, but for a Revival singer to remake a Traditional Song in the name of the Folk Process is ingenuine and bogus (and accounts for the fact that as far as Traditional Song is concerned I only ever listen to Traditional Singers).

I take Will's point about about musical freedom; no one cherishes this more than I, but with respect of Traditional Songs we are free to sing them, somewhat less so to change them. How we choose to sing them is a different matter entirely, but that doesn't effect the integrity of the thing. That said, I've lost count of floor singers who give unaccompanied renderings of (say) While Game Keepers Lie Sleeping which retain June Tabor's ghastly syncopations and mannerisms which are a whole world away from the laid back natural crooning of Bob Roberts. Too often, I fear, there is a notion that Revival Singers are somehow improving upon things, with Traditional Singers relegated to the status of source singer rather than noble Tradition Bearers to be revered and respected.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old s
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:20 AM

Skipy said: "Yes! in the song "Edward Hollander" (flying Cloud)I refuse to sing "we hauled those niggers up on deck" I sing "we hauled those negroes up on deck".
"It has the same value in the song & should not offend."

Actually, I'm not sure it does have the same value in the song. The original word has a stronger percussive force, and vividly conveys the narrator's contempt in a way that "negroes" does not. The danger is that sanitising the song allows people to avoid the ugly truth its original wording conveys, and hence fall into a cosy illusion. Better to confront them with the unvarnished facts and let that be proof of how vile the old attitudes were.

I'm always a bit uneasy about this urge to "tidy up" old books, songs and movies to suit our modern sensibilities. I'd suggest either giving a brief intro explaining that the song contains the language and attitudes of a previous era or simply avoiding the song altogether.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,^&*
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:48 AM

Firstly, I've posted the song which prompted MARINER's question HERE.

Secondly: I recall having the same problem with The Flying Cloud. Like the last GUEST, I felt "negroes" didn't work for me. I simply substituted "bodies" - it held the rhythm, conveyed the horror and yet didn't draw attention to itself as, I suspect, "negro", does.

More generally, much of this discussion seems to reflect the difference between preserving a tradition , in the sense of maintaining some perceived, fixed integrity and keeping a tradition alive in the sense of accepting that change is inevitable. In the latter case, we can only try to ensure that any changes WE (as individuals) make contribute to the song's longevity rather than hasten its demise!

Incidentally, MARINER is a great example of just how alive the tradition is.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:50 AM

"The only branch of the "Folk Police...."
are those who would silence free discussion with terms like "Folk Police".
"My argument is simple enough - the Traditional Songs aren't ours to mess with."
Which would make us parrots rather than creative singers - crackers!.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:55 AM

Would somebody like to claim this anon post below that I've copied before the moderators delete it?

Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old s
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:20 AM

Skipy said: "Yes! in the song "Edward Hollander" (flying Cloud)I refuse to sing "we hauled those niggers up on deck" I sing "we hauled those negroes up on deck".
"It has the same value in the song & should not offend."

Actually, I'm not sure it does have the same value in the song. The original word has a stronger percussive force, and vividly conveys the narrator's contempt in a way that "negroes" does not. The danger is that sanitising the song allows people to avoid the ugly truth its original wording conveys, and hence fall into a cosy illusion. Better to confront them with the unvarnished facts and let that be proof of how vile the old attitudes were.

I'm always a bit uneasy about this urge to "tidy up" old books, songs and movies to suit our modern sensibilities. I'd suggest either giving a brief intro explaining that the song contains the language and attitudes of a previous era or simply avoiding the song altogether.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:12 AM

I agree with Jim & SOP - altering an old song isn't the 'folk process', I'm not a part of that community and I didn't inherit these traditional songs orally. I'm a part of the revival community with it's educated professionals and CD's and internet and so-on.

As for tampering not-in-the-name-of-the-folk-process is concerned, I do alter songs when I Anglicise a percentage of the dialect (as indeed I do) - as a Southerner I can't imitate a fake Scottish accent and it sounds stupid!

The 'revival process' that SOP describes with June Tabor etc. alike renderings of traditional songs, is indesputably healthy and well. Though I'd say it's quite an opposite one to the 'folk process' where evolution occurred, because now instead we tend to get standardised June Tabor songs or Anne Briggs songs or Jaqui McShee songs..


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: autoharpbob
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:37 AM

My favourite example is when Val Doonican sang "The Boxer" and changed it to "the girls on 7th Avenue". I wonder if he had permission?


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:45 AM

.........well, it makes more sense than 'the horse on 7th Avenue'!!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:49 AM

More generally, much of this discussion seems to reflect the difference between preserving a tradition , in the sense of maintaining some perceived, fixed integrity and keeping a tradition alive in the sense of accepting that change is inevitable. In the latter case, we can only try to ensure that any changes WE (as individuals) make contribute to the song's longevity rather than hasten its demise!

Can I be a bit rude here and say this is complete bullshit?

Which would make us parrots rather than creative singers - crackers!.

You miss my point. The creativity of being a Revival Singer is in the sourcing, learning & (ultimately) the singing of a song. None of us are parrots, or wannabes in this respect (Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be... Paddy Tunney!) (actually you get far more imitation of Revival singers but that's another issue). What we do is by way of Revival Conceit, not by way of Continuing a Tradition (see GUEST,^&*'s post above - how many others feel this way I wonder?) It is this innability to differentiate between Revival and Traditional that is the most troubling thing here.

I often stop and ponder how different the status of Traditional Song would have been if it wasn't for The Revival messing things up and generally obscuring trhings. If all we had were the collected archives and field-recordings, might there be a greater value accorded to Traditional Song by way of our Genuine Island Heritage on a par with Chaucer, Shakespeare etc. etc.? Just a thought as I say, for folk is my country too, but, as with This England, I oft despair at the way we treat it in the name of Progress or the way it's governed in the name of Tradition!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,^&*
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 07:02 AM

More generally, much of this discussion seems to reflect the difference between preserving a tradition , in the sense of maintaining some perceived, fixed integrity and keeping a tradition alive in the sense of accepting that change is inevitable. In the latter case, we can only try to ensure that any changes WE (as individuals) make contribute to the song's longevity rather than hasten its demise!

Can I be a bit rude here and say this is complete bullshit?
------------------------------------------------------

What, exactly, is "bullshit" here, please?

FWIW, Suibhne, I agree with most of what you say about "revival" (I particularly like your "revival conceit" concept!). But I live where a tradition remains alive - not without "revival" inputs as well, of course. MARINER, for example, could tell you how to avoid the Keeragh Rocks - and introduce you to the descendants of the lifeboat crew.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: kendall
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 07:45 AM

Yes. I will not sing a word that doesn't make sense. Oscar Brand's sea songs are full of them.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 07:49 AM

What, exactly, is "bullshit" here, please?

I hold the traditional singers and the songs they sang to be sacrosanct. Both are dead, likewise the tradition they were part of. The Revival (of which I am part) is, at best, a conceited & impertinent gloss which might serve as a signpost to the unitiated; at worst, however, it is a hell on earth where the glories of (say) The Plains of Waterloo might sit alongside such turgid trash as The Band Played Waltzing Matilda - as they did in June Tabor's early repertoire. Even as a wide-eyed 14-year-old dazzled by Ms Tabor's evident genius one night in the Grey Horse in Shiremoor circa 1976 I rejoiced at the genuine emotion of the former and baulked at the mawkish sentiment of the latter. They were two very different creatures and yet the wisdom was that they belonged together - not in my heart they don't! Whilst we can't preserve a Tradition, we can make some attempt at maintaining the integrity by which it has come down to us. This is something The Revival has singularly failed to do simply by conflating two very different things to the detriment of the status of Traditional Song which is now tainted by association. As I've said elsewhere, it wouldn't bother me if no one sang these songs at all - they have been sung, that is enough.

Do I have to add that this is only my personal opinion and I don't let it inferere with my appreciation & participation in the Folk Scene as a whole? I don't throw people out of my singarounds for changing old songs nor for singing new ones; my mind and heart remain open to all, just my personal Ideal remains intact to define a very particular relationship with the soul of Taditional Song and this is what I'm talking about here. People can, and will, do what they want, but as I said earlier in this thread, to do so in the name of The Tradition and The Folk Process is misleading, unless ingenuous, in which case it's all part of the learning curve.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,^&*
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 07:54 AM

Suibhne

Oh - that bullshit? I agree completely - but it's nothing to do with my point.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 08:34 AM

There seems to be a danger of this polarising into a yes-no response; I don't believe it to be that easy.
While I have no principled objection to the changing of words, I share Crow Sister's reservations about 'tidying up' old songs, but I think this permissable, even desirable in some cases, if done with sensitivity. For me, the beauty of many of the songs lie in the words, sometimes archaic, and how they lie within the overall text.
Perhaps the answer to the question should be - "yes, if you feel you must", and only then if it can be done without sacrificing the integrity and the beauty of the song.
I have to say I'm a little at a loss to understand Suibhne's approach to this one.
He and I have fallen out in the past, mainly due to my insensitivity in heavyhandedly criticising his singing of a ballad (for which I apologised to him privately and do so here publicly).
Without wishing to give more offence (certainly none intended), I find his approach to some songs bears no relation to that of any traditional singer I have ever met.
Perhaps I have missed something in his argument?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 10:53 AM

Is this discussion "a tradition" or "a revival"? It's been around long enough. Around and around and around.

It's quite enjoyable in its way. Maybe it's true that old songs are the best, and the same is true for old arguments. And every now and then an interesting variant comes up, or an old favourite makes its appearance once again.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 11:02 AM

Getting back to Mariner's original point, looking at the words on this thread, it occurred to me to wonder whether there might have been a mistake in writing it down and the relevant lines might have been meant to be

The Captain of the Mexico, as you may understand,
And the crew was made of strangers from many a foreign land


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 11:14 AM

McGrath, I don't think that your suggested line about the captain can be correct.

"The captain of the Mexico, as you may understand" is fine as far as it goes, as an introduction to some description, perhaps, but what is it about to tell about him? That he was tall? That he was aboard? That he couldn't swim?

The verse then would abandon the good captain as the subject of a sentence, but without a verb, and would go on to deal with the crew instead.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 12:18 PM

"would go on to deal with the crew instead."

No - go on deal with the rest of the crew as well. They are all "strangers from many a forign land".


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: terrier
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 03:12 PM

Suibhne Astray posted: That wouldn't be the same Mexico that was lost off Lancashire on the 9th

December 1886 would it? Be nice to see the song anyway.


Southport Lifeboat Disaster

Listen without to the westerly wind
does it whisper and gently sigh,
or rage and roar, shaking the door,
demanding that seafarers die.

On such a night in the distant past
when the surf raged high up the beach,
the 'Mexico' barque, on a bank she was fast,
no port that night she would reach.

Three lifeboats to her aid were sent,
by fishermen manned, with good intent;
one lifeboat returned, one crew to save,
the others would drown in that terrible gale.

To this place they brought them, herein to rest.
No man can do more than give of his best.
A nation mourned but in mourning new pride,
the pride of a nation, in vain not they died.

Mark well the hour.

At twelve o'clock on the ninth of december,
pray silence and gentlemen rise.
Hark to mine host, as he gives the toast,
"to the coxwains and crews who died."

This is from memory so I can't guarantee I havn't changed some of the words from the original.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,^&*
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 03:15 PM

terrier

Great to see that one also. Thanks


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 03:56 PM

My response to the original question "is it permissible....?":

There are many who will proceed to make changes, constructive and otherwise, without asking permission. And, for those who feel a need for permission, who would they ask?

The word "sacrosanctity" immediately occurred to me when reading some of the more hard-core traditionalist responses. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the contributors with whom I most wholeheartedly disagree to use that very word:

"I hold the traditional singers and the songs they sang to be sacrosanct."

Admirable indeed. However, in reality (I would argue), what you are holding sacrosanct are versions of traditional songs as transcribed/recorded by collectors. The preservation of a particular version of a given song, as opposed to other interpretations, is an absolute accident of history ~ if Child, or Sharp, or Lomax, or whoever, had wandered into the next valley over, or found his/her way to a different fishing villiage, it's very likely that another variant of the same song (or a similar song) would have become that song's sacred untouchable text. Silly!

Also, we need to keep in mind that our forebearers the folksong collectors were urban educated types with their own preconceptions and prejudices. When they ventured into isolated rural communities, to confront anachronistic and relatively alien subcultures, they were very likely to misunderstand and misinterpret at least a few subtleties of the local idiom and customs.

(I have no doubt that this disconnect often held sway when white northeastern American academics ventured into the very separate world of the early-20th-century African-American south. By extention, I feel safe in assuming that similar problems could have existed when Oxford/Cambridge types visited the more isolated folk cultres of the British Isles.)

Plus which, of course, the local folks may have felt an awareness that they were being perceived as unsophisticated oddities, and might well have deliberately "put on" their interrogators. (I believe the British expression is "taking the piss.") How hilarious that today's sacred untouchable text of some ballad or another might still contain some "primitive" person's idea of a good joke played upon a pretentious visitor to his/her village!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Paul Burke
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 03:57 PM

the Traditional Songs aren't ours

Whose are they then? Or to put it another way, if William Kimber claimed ownership by saying you can't change his tunes, he was trying it on. Just because you know tunes or songs, it doesn't mean you are the ultimate authority on what those tunes or songs mean - except to yourself.

As for the songs being "accorded more respect" if we didn't sing them, that sounds awfully close to destroying a village in order to save it.

It's simply a fact that songs have bobbed in and out of the written tradition since printing was invented, which is a fairly long time ago now. Both before and after that, they were learnt by singers from other singers and from written sources - "collected" in fact. And sometimes as they get "collected" they get consciously or unconsciously altered by the collector (ballad printer, revivalist, folklorist, child, peasant, worker, folk club singer) to suit their view of what the song is (or ought to be) about, as well as the accidental accretions like mishearing or filling in for poor memory. Credit the "source" singers with intelligence greater than mere human record players- perhaps some were, but perhaps you can just about accept that some were, and thought themselves as, creative artists.

Ballad printers were often back- street Chattertons or McPhersons deliberately and guiltlessly forging their little Rowleys and Ossians for their "Ballads lately discovered", just as Scott and his butties did, as it seems Lloyd and McColl did, and I bet Baring-Gould, Kidson, Grainger, Quiller-Couch and the rest did too. And I also bet you sing some of them!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:24 PM

I am firmly in the group that says I would really rather you didn't although I won't press charges, that is unless you go around changing male to female and back again.

I think you must, unless perhaps you are in a small, private company of scholars, delete the word "nigger" in songs. There are some others as well that are offensive.

If someone has not made it scan nicely, my opinion is that in that case you can. This would not be true in the case of most old songs so it is not usually a worry.

Whoever tried to rhyme warrior and bore ya should have that line changed by everybody.

But in general, people generally do a bad job changing words and lose some of the beauty as well as the history. Shoudl they change Belfast City to Belgrade City in I'll tell my ma if they are from Belgrade? They probably couldn't help it. Should they change Aragon Mill to Belfast Mill? I would rather they didn't but again I won't press charges..I can see why they would want to.

Can they improve on songs by Stephen Foster? Robert Burns? Gordon Bok? They try but I have never heard an improvement, alhtough in SF sometimes words now considered racist should be taken away.

Oh well..most "improvements" are anything but and changing male to female is awful in my opinion. Most people do not have the ear or the skill to improve a song or the sense to leave it alone. But to each his own. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Paul Burke
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 05:38 PM

houdl they change Belfast City to Belgrade City in I'll tell my ma if they are from Belgrade?

Bad example. That song wasn't a Belfast song; that is only the most widely known version of it. My mother knew a version from west of Manchester (UK) from her childhood in the 1920s.

So in that case, no problem changing it to anything that can be made to scan. And as, I argued, by the same token no problem with changes to any other song either.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,kendall
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:01 PM

The band played waltzing Matilda turgid trash?
Well, you don't want to hear my opinion of that statement.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:08 PM

Whoever tried to rhyme warrior and bore ya should have that line changed by everybody.

It certainly wouldn't rhyme where I live - but I have often heard Americans pronounce "warrior" in a way that makes that a perfect rhyme.
.............................................

Of course it's as well to remember that a lot of songs were collected from people trying to remember and reconstruct songs they hadn't sung in a long while and maybe weren't too sure of all the words in the first place. If a version of a song looks like it's got the odd mondegreen, there's nothing disrespectful to the tradition in trying to correct that.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:17 PM

Well, given the ages of some of the singers whose songs were collected by Sharp, Baring-Gould etc, I think there were quite a few senior moments that resulted in oddities. Including the version of Young Edwin in the Lowlands Low sung by Mrs Hopkins and included in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, where the rhyming pattern changes in the final verse, and I think that's just because the lines came out in the wrong order...!

Kitty


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:23 PM

I'm finding this thread rather interesting. I'll make a couple of comments in the hope that it adds to the discussion:

Back in 1959, I had the pleasure of meeting James Stevens, the composer of "The Frozen Logger." The occasion was a live TV show we were preparing for and we were in the green room, just before the show started. Don Firth (GREAT SINGER) had just sung "The Frozen Logger" for Jim, but in his best Swedish accent. Jim LOVED it, but he said, with some heat, that "no one sings it the way I wrote it." The third line of the first verse is usually sung: "A forty year old Waitress ...". Jim said: "I wote it: a six foot seven waitress ...". I've always made point of singing it that way since.

Another thought, and this might bring a smile to Mary Garvey's face. By the way, in case you don't know it, Mary is a superb and prolific songwriter. Mary, do you remember a couple of years ago when we were having lunch in Illwaco, and I asked your permission to change two words in your wonderful song: "Bring The Salmon Home"? You gave me permisison and I did. But I wanted your permission first ... I feel that the composer of a song has "first rights"!. CHEERS, bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:28 PM

Kendall - I've heard some dire, turgid and mawkish renditions of the Band played Waltzing Matilda, but June's wasn't one of them!

(The first song I remember hearing June sing was Dido Bendigo, round a campfire at Sidmouth festival in 1968...)

Kitty


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Genie
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:35 PM

GUEST said "I'd suggest either giving a brief intro explaining that the song contains the [currently offensive] language and attitudes of a previous era or simply avoiding the song altogether."

I think an awful lot of very good songs from earlier eras would be lost if everyone followed that rule.   Many music programs are not meant as history lessons per se and don't work well with extended explanatory introductions to songs. Plus, sometimes there are people in the audience who would, perhaps rightly, still be very offended by the use of some words, even if you've explained the context.    I think if altering the words can minimize such offense without really changing the character of a song, why not modify them as needed? But if 'sanitizing' them (e.g., "... You're a bunch of stinkers all, gosh darn your eyes") really messes up a song, don't sing that song for that audience.

I don't think there's a hard and fast rule that applies for all songs and situations.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 06:47 PM

Hi Genie ... Funny that you should mention "Sam Hall." Last Fall I was teaching a class in "History As Found In Folk Music." I wanted to include "Sam Hall" as an example I wanted to make. I cautioned the students about the rough language they were going to hear. It was well received and I didn't get fired! bob


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,kendall
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 07:27 PM

I also have heard awful renditions of many a fine song, but the rendition is one thing and the song another.
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda is one of the best songs I have ever heard, and Eric Bogle likes the way I did it. That's good enough for me.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Betsy
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 07:27 PM

Simple answer is yes - unless you ruin the integrity and intent of the original song e.g Oh yes John yes John Oh !!!!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 08:13 PM

Thanks Bob....

It's funny..I don't mind if people change words to "my" songs, which I don't consider mine...maybe unless they changed the gender which drives me nuts..first it hurts my ears if I have heard another version, and whichever version I hear first I think is the correct version and what if I heard the wrong one? Then I would spend the rest of my life in confusion. Also the song is about a particular person. A particular person is generally a man or a woman and it does not matter what the singer is..or they match the person in the song...to me at least.

To me, that is the most outrageous reason for changing words in a song and I can not think of ever it being a good idea. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 03:20 AM

MG, I'm not clear whether by "my songs" you mean songs you have written, or songs which are in your repertoire.

I don't mind the gender being changed, provided it is done in a way which is sympathetic to the original sense of the song. Even if the original composer had a specific person in mind, a singer may well have someone of their own in mind, which gives the song a particular meaning for them.

For composed songs, then it is a matter of courtesy (and I believe copyright law) to get the original composer's permission to make changes. With traditional songs, it is different - there is no "correct" version, and singers throughout the ages have made changes, either deliberately or by accident. In either case, what is important is the integrity of the song.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 05:02 AM

Credit the "source" singers with intelligence greater than mere human record players- perhaps some were, but perhaps you can just about accept that some were, and thought themselves as, creative artists.

Oh but I do. As I've said here on innumerable occasions the Traditional Songs were made & re-made by creative masters of an exacting idiom and as a consequence existed in a state of fluidity even from one rendering to the next. But this was in their natural habitat - The Tradition if you like - as evidenced by the collections and versions which have come down to us, which are, as PoggaGator suggests, a chance of a partuicular collector hearing any given song at any given time. Go to the Max Hunter archive and you may hear the same song sung differently by the same singer on separate occasions - not as a consequence of bad memory, rather because they shape it differently each time they sing it, so undoubtedly the next performance of any collected song would have been different. We find many accounts of The Folk Process on Mudcat, and a good number seem to favour poor memory, mondegreens and other such random factors. Earlier on someone spoke of correcting them, and in another thread it was shown how The Shepherd of the Downs derives from The Shephed Adonis which I would imagine is less of a mondegreen than a deliberate change in order to remove the Arcadian element and bring it closer to home. Whatever the case, it remains an area that makes for fascinating exploration on any level, from casual amateur to professional academic, and though no purist myself, I do derive much pleasure from those whose dedication to Traditional Folk Song gives us a glimpse into a world now lost to us.

As for The Band Played Waltzing Matilda... Like I say I first heard this sung by June Tabor in a set of otherwise traditional unaccompanied songs when I was just getting into going to folk clubs and it struck me just how incongruous such material was alongside the real stuff. At the time, aged 14, I was naive enough to believe that Folk Music should be devoted 100% to traditional material in which I found salve from the cares of 1976, and provided respite from the ear-bashing I regularly subjected myself to listening to prog & Krautrock and emergent punk. Like kicking over ancient clay pipe-bowls in the furrows, or pondering overgrown mills and following along old wagonways, the songs gave a human dimension to a landscape whivch, like the old songs, was shaped by a very different history than that into which I was born. The Band Played Waltzing Matilda had no place in such a context; I felt (and still feel) that such songs belong elsewhere, that The Revival has become diluted by such material to the extent where most folk clubs I've been to over years favour that sort of folk over the real thing. There was worse to come of course - I stopped going to see June Tabor entirely after hearing her sing Unicorns and (horror of horrors) The King of Rome - songs which have me fleeing for the door even to this day. Anyway, some good has come of it, for if wasn't for The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, Ron Baxter would never have written Morecambe. Just personal taste though; and after a few pints I'll even sing along quite happily - hell, after a few pints I'll even sing along with Sally Weatley!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Marje
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 05:42 AM

I see traditional songs as our songs. They don't belong to anyone else, do they? Who would give or deny permission to adapt them?

We (the revivalists, the song carriers, whatever you like to call us) have inherited these songs and have every right to adapt and use them as we wish. We and the generation before us have been doing this now for about half a century, which may not be long enough for some people to regard it as a "tradition", but it's getting close to one by any definition.

We should remember that any version of a traditional song that has been recorded, either on paper or in sound, is simply a snapshot of how one (or several) singers sang a particular song in a certain place one day, probably in the early 20th century. It's a big mistake to assume that this version is somehow definitive or original - there were earlier versions which almost certainly differed in some respects, just as there will be later ones.

The "oral tradition" is neither the only method of transmission used in the past, nor extinct today. The singer who is regarded as a "source" singer may have learnt the song orally within the family, or from a printed source such as a broadside version, or a family song-book. Similarly, many modern singers have learnt the tunes of their songs orally - there are many singers who can't read music - and in some cases the words too. Most of us will know, for example, several popular shanties we've never seen in print.

So in my view, all this gives us the right to make modest changes to the words of songs to suit us and our audiences. Exactly what sort of changes constitute an improvement is a matter for further debate - some people want to modernise the context, change the genders, or remove offensive words, while others simply want to regularise the rhythm and the rhymes, and perhaps tweak the vocabulary if it doesn't make any sense to the modern ear. Many singers shorten songs by omitting or conflating verses, and it's quite common practice for a singer to consider several "traditional" versions and then combine them into one that seems satisfying and complete. Why anyone should object to this is beyond me. As someone has pointed out, if a change spoils the song, it's not likely to be taken up and perpetuated by other singers.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 06:29 AM

"As I've said here on innumerable occasions the Traditional Songs were made & re-made by creative masters of an exacting idiom "
And you've been challenged on innumerable occasions on the same issue.
Within a living tradition, such as existed in West Clare in Ireland at least into the 1940s, some (a tiny handful) of the songs were written by people known as songmakers and poets, but most that we know about were made (in some cases, not even written down) by people with hardly any skill at all and were taken up by others who firmed them up and re-shaped them until they reached a form good enough to be accepted and established by the community. We know this from descriptions of the circumstances of some of these having been made.
One song we know of, dealing with an arson attempt at a local police station during the Irish War of Independence, was made by four men standing on a street corner throwing lines and verses at each other until they finally came up with a roughly arrived-at product, which we were lucky enough to record in 1976.
Even songs that must have been made within the lifetimes of the singers who gave them to us, all came without known authors (even the singer who gave us the above song, made within his lifetime, couldn't give us the name of one of the makers).
The same applies to the Travelling communities which were still making songs here up to the middle of the 1970s, yet all of their self made ones still come with the signature 'Anon'. Several songs we've recorded come with descriptions of having been composed in similar circumstances as 'The Quilty Burning' as described above - by people passing ideas to one another until some sort of final product was arrived at. Quite often it appears that the songs were not launched as finished works of 'creative masters, but of mud-caked rough diamonds, very much in need of cutting and polishing, and the recipients, far from being exacting, did the best they could, then passed them on to the next singer to add his or her efforts.
It appears, to us at least, who have spent some time interviewing traditional singers on the subject, that the songs are the products of many singers of various levels of ability, over time, sometimes centuries. each adding and taking away what suits or doesn't suit them. What we have was the product of the end of that process.
If your argument has any validity whatever, the songs would have come to us with known authors and some knowledge of the people who composed them, especially as songmaking went on within a thriving tradition here in West Clare right up to the beginning of the 1950s, and still goes on in a very reduced and stumbling form.
The existence of a 'school' of anonymous composers using similar techniques to make songs which were so well composed and accepted as to have lasted for centuries, is inconceivable.
I would be interested to learn the name of one of these 'creative masters' if you had one - if not, why not?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 07:24 AM

I would be interested to learn the name of one of these 'creative masters' if you had one - if not, why not?

We've been here before, Jim - and as I said last time, the process you describe exactly accounts for what I mean by creative masters - i.e. the uniquely gifted working-class people entirely immersed and fully coversant with the idioms & conventions of traditional song as they were with their every day labours - be it cooper, farrier, brewer, carpenter, mason, wheelwright, bricklayer, ploughman, fisherman etc. etc. I could name a couple whose names have come down to us - George Bruce Thompson, who wrote M'Ginty's Mean an' Ale circa 1911, and Tommy Armstrong (1848-1920) who wrote innumerable songs & ballads in the traditional idiom, using traditional melodies. One thing's for sure, the songs didn't grow on trees but sprang from such individual genius - however so roughly at times - and were shaped according to the genius of others and so it goes on. Names tend not to be attached to oral folklore, any more than I could tell who came up with any of the jokes currently doing the rounds. At least that particular Oral Tradition is alive and well anyway...


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Ethical
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 07:25 AM

Oh yes, I agree it is ethical and often a very good thing to do. I do a lot of Irish ballads, and have done a lot of research into them. It's very common to come across several words that have changed from the original, usually making no difference to tthe song, and more often improving it, and as somebody else correcting it. As Pete Seeger sas in his book Rise Up Singing, it's an important part of the Folk process to keep the songs alive and add or remove things as long as it improves the song. And if it's good enough for Pete it's good enough for me.

Desi C
The Circle Folk Club
Coseley West Mid's


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 08:27 AM

it's an important part of the Folk process to keep the songs alive

We see this sort of thinking a lot here. Doesn't anyone appreciate that The Tradition and The Revival are two entirely different things and for members of the latter to tamper with the songs of the former is nothing to do with The Folk Process, rather a particular conceit the revival seems to have with respect of improving things - be it the songs themselves or the versions that have come down to us via the recordings of so-called source singers? My question is as rhetorical as it is long-winded, otherwise the Folk Scene would be devoted primarily to Traditional Song and the Singers Thereof, rather than fawning over the revival stars who have removed the songs yet further from the vital context that was their nautural habitat.

*

The condition of traditional song is perilous enough without subjecting them to any further interference. Treat them as listed buildings, the interiors and exteriors of which amount to irreplaceable national treasures all too vulnerable to the ravages of time and ill-advised DIY make-overs. What else is Liege and Leif but a sequence of tasteless, bland modernisations of some nice old characterful properties; the wattle & daub of the originals ripped out and replaced with mass produced breeze block and plaster board; sash windows replaced with UPVC and the open fires with flame-effect gas fires?

The problem is that there is a very definite cut off point between the cultural and social conditions in which the traditional songs arose, and that which exists now. We have lost the continuity in which these songs came into being and as such the only thing we should do with them is observe, and source, and delight in their myriad wonders.

In a nutshell, they are not ours to mess with in the first place - not in any way, shape or form - and God knows there is enough work still to be done in simply learning and singing them with resorting to such underhand methods as addition, alteration and interpretation.

We lovers of traditional song are not so much the keepers of a tradition, rather the volunteer curators of a museum, entrusted with the preservation of a few precious, priceless and irreplaceable artefacts: hand-crafted tools we no longer know the names of (let alone what they were actually used for) ; hideous masks of woven cornstalks (which are invariably assumed to be pagan) ; and hoary cases of singular taxidermy wherein beasts long extinct are depicted in a natural habitat long since vanished.

Not only is such a museum a beacon for the naturally curious, it's a treasure in and of itself, an anachronism in age of instant (and invariable soulless) gratification, and as such under constant threat by those who want to see it revamped; cleaned up with computerised displays and interactive exhibits and brought into line with the rest of commodified cultural presently on offer.

But not only is this museum is our collective Pit-Rivers, it is a museum which, in itself, is just as much an artefact of a long-vanished era as the objects it contains. It is delicate, and crumbling, but those who truly love it wouldn't have it any other way - and quite rightly so.

(Polemic episodes extracted from the old Harvest Home forum and collected into my blog The Liege, The Lief & The Traditional Folk Song, May 2008.)


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 08:41 AM

"Jim - and as I said last time, the process you describe exactly accounts for what I mean by creative masters - "
But they don't - not in our experience anyway.
Tommy Armstrong's song are not a bad example of songs that didn't go into the tradition but stayed within the pages of books unaltered until they were ressurected by the revival.
One of the features of songs written by identifiable authors is that 'the folk' tend to treat them with a deference that leaves them as they were first composed - the act of writing them down and in particular, publishing them, sets them is stone.
There are several examples around here of poems written by local poet, Thomas Hayes around the beginning of the 20th century, which are fairly widely sung throughout the county, all in exactly the same form as they were written (1 version of one of these includes a verse that other local singers considered superfluous and left out, but that is all).
This is what makes James Hogg's mother's statement to Scott so correct "They were made for singin' and no for prentin', and noo they'll never be sung mair."
If there were a body of skilled songmakers turning out enough songs to supply either the British or Irish repertoires, we never came across any evidence whatever, neither did you from the sound of it.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 08:50 AM

PS

(even the singer who gave us the above song, made within his lifetime, couldn't give us the name of one of the makers).

A controversial point here I know but to what extent might your sources have been feeding you what you wanted to hear? It was well known that cannier sources knew what was expected of them when faced with song-collectors & folklorists whose primary agenda was determined by pre-conceptions of the sort of a beast an Authentic Folk Song was - essential anonymous, collectively determined by the community viewed across the gulf of class condscension etc. etc. I often ponder how many well known songs were passed off as trad / anon. simply because the collectiors wouldn't have been interested in them otherwise. One is reminded of the anecdote in which singers in America warned each other to put their banjos away and sing unaccompanied otherwise Cecil Sharp wouldn't be interested!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 09:01 AM

"A controversial point here I know but to what extent might your sources have been feeding you what you wanted to hear? "
You mean we asked for the name of an author and they didn't give it to us because they knew we really didn't want one - oh, come on, keep this discussion on ground level!
Do you have any evidence whatever that this is the case with our work, or anybody's working in the same field - just a little hint will do?
If we hadn't wanted to know we wouldn't have asked and just gone ahead and made unsubstatiated claims - in pretty well the same way as youi are at present
Even the anecdote you cited concerning Sharp is little more than a myth.
Your falling back on throwing stones from your armchair again.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 10:17 AM

I'm not throwing stones, Jim - just pointing the disparity between the Source and the Collector which has long been known & accounted for, something which, as long ago as 1941, Flann O'Brien was using to hilarious effect as part of An Béal Bocht.

Otherwise...

I'd argue that Tommy Armstrong was part of the tradition he was writing within; his songs are therefore traditional in every sense and well known in his lifetime. George Bruce Thomson likewise, whose masterpiece M'Ginty's Meal an Ale was written for Grieg's column in the Buchan Observer in 1910. The notion of change in the 1954 Definition is a singular caveat which can't be a deciding factor in whether song can be considered traditional or not simply because, as we've seen, the tradition gave rise to written songs by known authors whose work remained essentially unchanged thereafter. The notion of literature in vernacular usage comes through in various songs considered to be otherwise Traditional - The Kerry Wedding is one, The Limerich Rake is another. I'm currently working up a version (with fiddle) of Paddy Tunney's translation of An Bunnan Bui which no one seems to know a fat lot about (see thread Lyr Add: An Bunnan Bui / The Yellow Bittern), least of all myself, though wading through the various versions and translations I reckon none is in quite the same league as Paddy's which is a work of singularly sublime perfection which features very much as part of the tradition.

If there were a body of skilled songmakers turning out enough songs to supply either the British or Irish repertoires, we never came across any evidence whatever, neither did you from the sound of it.

I come across it whenever I look at a traditional song - songs made and sung by true masters of their vernacular craft; the ordinary working class people, uniquely gifted, as ordinary working class people can be, much to surprise of Middle-class Folklorists, who insist on emphasing collective random process instead of considering the evidence in hand. I'm not talking about some elite school, any more than the kids I see churning out virtuouso heavy-metal licks in Manchester music shops of a Saturday belong to an elite school, or the teenage London rappers once in evidence on Channel U (when I had access to such a thing) who were upping the anti on anything coming in from America at the time. No doubt they still are, whilst holding down regular jobs too. There is great Vernacular Music everywhere I look - of all genres - the creative genius of popular culture is alive and well. Even in the Folk Scene where songwriters such as Ron Baxter, Wendy Arrowsmith, Scowie and Ted Edwards (to name but four) have created some pretty impressive stuff within an idiomatic revival tradition; Peter Bellamy likewise, who recognised that Rudyard Kipling was deriving much of his inspiration from the same vernacular sources he celebrated in many of his poems.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 10:29 AM

Jim: Take most of your points here, but don't entirely agree re Mrs Hogg being 'correct' ~~ at risk of vanity, let me nevertheless quote from what I wrote about Mrs Hogg in my article on Folklore in The Continuum Encyclopedia Of British Literature [NY 2003]:

'"They were made for singin' and no for readin', but ye hae broken the charm now, and they'll never be sung mair." [Mrs Hogg's] words have been called 'prophetic', but the resultant decline in living folklore was probably a factor of the same influences that led to the folkloric researches of Scott and others in the first place — awareness that urbanization and the spread of easily accessible forms of popular entertainment (pleasure gardens, music-hall; later, radio, cinema, television, recording) were undermining those popular roots on which the uninhibited spread of living folklore depends, and a consequent desire to preserve what could be saved before it vanished entirely. Although the folk forms have turned out tougher than this pessimistic view suggested, it is true that, from the invention of printing onward, every technological and popular artistic development had tended to fix the form. Mrs Hogg, alas, was too late.'

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Don Day
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 10:33 AM

There is nothing wrong with changing the words to a song, what matters is if anyone takes a blind bit of notice of the change. I don't think anyone on this forum has the influence.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: TheSnail
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 10:41 AM

GUEST,Suibhne Astray

The problem is that there is a very definite cut off point between the cultural and social conditions in which the traditional songs arose, and that which exists now. We have lost the continuity in which these songs came into being and as such the only thing we should do with them is observe, and source, and delight in their myriad wonders.

Sedayne aka Suibhne Astray


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 11:08 AM

"There is nothing wrong with changing the words to a song, what matters is if anyone takes a blind bit of notice of the change. I don't think anyone on this forum has the influence."

Good point. I've no idea about who does - or who doesn't - on this forum, might happen to have 'the influence', but it's certainly true that many 60's revival artists *have* indeed had that influence, and it remains an enduring one.

Not only on words (check any lyrics site for this traditional song by Sandy Denny, or that traditional song by June Tabor) but on stylistic presentation and so-on. I count myself among the many who have in fact absorbed the revival plus all the trimmings as a consequence of resorting to revival recordings in order to traditional songs.

But then I'd wager that few enough regular folkies own a leather bound set of Bronson and I'd guess few regular folkies on modest incomes own the twenty volume VOP set either. One can but wonder WHY?


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: kendall
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 11:26 AM

I have to admit that the Band played...is not a folk song, but it stands at the top in whatever category it does belong in.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: NormanD
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 11:51 AM

I've been listening to Joseph Spence today. Did he change a word here and there in old songs? No, he changed the whole song here and there.....


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 11:53 AM

Crow Sister-
if the regular folkies can't afford a "leather bound set of Bronson", might I suggest that they might consider investing in the hard (but not leather)bound four volumes ($50 per) or the soft-bound 4 volumes ($40 per). Or possibly in Bronson's single-volume condensation ($50/$40 for hard/soft cover versions.) Or even the single CD-R version of the entire 4 volumes in a searchable PDF format ($40).

All available from CAMSCO Music, of course.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 11:55 AM

Sedayne aka Suibhne Astray

The quote comes a polemical blog on the same page, TheSnail. Like most polemical writing this sets out a series of ideals rather than a practical code for living, other than to delight in their myriad wonders of course, which is what any revival singer of traditional material is doing anyway - myself included - not by way preserving the tradition, or being part of the folk process, but by simply doing what they want to do. After all, who's going to stop them?

Of the traditional material on that site you'll hear The Collier's Rant sung in a traditional manner with fiddle; two sets of Gently Me Johnny, one trad.,the other Bowderised by C#; Child #19 : King Orfeo sung to the traditional melody using a Tibetan singing Bowl as a drone; Seeds of Love sung traditionally with feral hurdy-gurdy in an otherwise freely-improvised context; and Child #49: The Rolling of the Stones sung with freely improvising viola, pocket cornet & frame drum accompaniment. Maybe this gets back to an earlier post of Jim's (which I've just read) but in all of these examples the inspiration comes from the Traditional Source rather than a Revival reading of same. In my adolescence I was faced with a choice of two roads - one way said FOLK MUSIC, the other said EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC. After a momentary deliberation I decided to go off into the uncharted wilderness between the two, which certainly accounts for the songs on my myspace page, which is just revival folk, just my non-traditional accompaniments might not be what you're used to. Whatever the case, I would never purposefully change a traditional song to suit my own needs. The closest I come to this is with those ballads that don't have traditional tunes - The Wee Wee Man and The Twa Corbies - or those I've first come across without tunes, such as The Wife of Usher's Well, for which I've composed my own in the traditional idiom, but not in the tradition.

As I said in my second post to this thread: Seriously, do what you want, but to do so in the name of The Tradition or the Folk Process is, to borrow one of Richard's words, asinine.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Goose Gander
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 12:04 PM

"My argument is simple enough - the Traditional Songs aren't ours to mess with"

"The most important thing any Revival Singer of Traditional Songs can do, therefore, is by way of research & sourcing, not changing the songs to suit their purposes."

Everyone who sings traditional songs changes them, to some degree or another. They aren't museum pieces, and if they were there would be no need to sing them at all - we could just go back to the recordings. You yourself take considerable liberties with melody and phrasing (if your youtube postings are representative), so why are you up there on that hobby horse telling the rest of us what to do?


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 12:05 PM

Suibhne keeps on asserting that "The Tradition and The Revival are two entirely different things" - with the implication that that means two wholly separate things. I'd say there's always been an overlap and a degree of continuity. It's useful enough to keep the distinction between those two terms, as a way of navigating these waters - but as the saying goes, the map isn't the territory.

The assumption that its possible to draw a line in the sand and proclaim that "the Tradition" is ended and completed is a bit like that young historian who decided that the end of the USSR marked "the end of history". But history wasn't listening...


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 12:32 PM

You yourself take considerable liberties with melody and phrasing (if your youtube postings are representative), so why are you up there on that hobby horse telling the rest of us what to do?

Messing with the words is what we're on about, and doing so in the name of the tradition, the folk process, or because source singers did it etc. etc. Do I really take liberties? Phrasing maybe (largely determined by chronic asthma) but saving the odd thing I've supplied myself, I'm a bit of a stickler for tunes. Accompaniments are a different matter - in the words of The Great Beast, do what thou wilt.

with the implication that that means two wholly separate things.

There is a point where Traditional Singers have intersected with The Revival, but not to the extent where it wasn't clear what was going on. The Revival pretty much invents & determines Folk as a cultural concept, even The Tradition to a certain extent, which owes both it's taxonomy & taxidermy to The Revival. To be honest though, I don't lose sleep over any of this.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: MikeL2
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 12:56 PM

hi

Here we go again.....

I belong to the view of the members who say that any singer that sang any songs regularly changed them either conciously or sub-conciously...and the World still goes on !!

Do you know that if you google Folk music and folk music you get the same thing !!!

cheers

MikeL2


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 01:02 PM

Is it permissible? No, certainly not - the tradition forbids it.

Can you do it? Yes, of course - who's going to stop you?

Two very different questions.

Personally I regularly change lines to make them more singable or patch a song together from two different versions; if I can't find the right patch, in Child or on a broadside, I have been known to interpolate a line of my own. I don't preserve songs unchanged in the belief that preserving songs unchanged is What A Folk Singer Does. On the other hand, I don't glory in changing songs in the belief that changing songs is What A Folk Singer Does; I change them when I need to in order to make them work, and don't shout about it (although I don't deny doing it either).

A bit boring, but I'll take Thou Mayst If Thou Hast To (But Don't Go Mad About It) over Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not any day.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Goose Gander
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 01:29 PM

"I'm a bit of a stickler for tunes"

I'm pretty sure that in past threads you've told us that you often improvise tunes. And tunes and words go together, so my comments weren't entirely off topic. And my original point remains - Everyone changes songs, and there's no point in singing folk songs if you're not trying to make them your own. Why slavishly recreate someone else's work? They have paint-by-numbers if you like that sort of thing.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 01:38 PM

I've come across some interesting analogues in visual art.

I once met a woman in Greece who did Orthodox icon painting. She was an American convert, so much into Orthodoxy that the only music she listened to was Byzantine chant. She claimed that nobody could tell one of her paintings from one done a thousand years before - the iconography was absolutely fixed. (She also thought this was a good thing).

Some time in the 1980s some arm of the Australian government decided to protect Aboriginal rock paintings as if they were mediaeval church art, with nobody allowed to touch them. This conflicted with what the Aborigines themselves wanted - they would regularly overpaint them as a sacred ceremony. Their position was that as they'd been doing this ever since the Dreamtime, they were the authorities on how those paintings should be cared for. I believe the Aborigines won the argument. This was not quite the same situation as the Greek artist's work. Over 50,000 years, the images must have drifted a bit, even though nobody could observe the change in one lifetime.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 01:53 PM

there's no point in singing folk songs if you're not trying to make them your own...


------
Say what???? That sounds nonsensical to me. There are all sorts of reasons to sing them as you found them. Because your grandmother sang them. Because you like things the way they were in the olden days. Because the words and tune are very pretty. Because there is some important history contained within. Because you have a philosophy that is of preserving them. All sorts of reasons I thought of in about 5 seconds. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 02:05 PM

"I'm not throwing stones, Jim "
Yes you are SO'P and it seems to be one of your favourite occupations.
In the past you have accused collectors and researchers of lying and distorting the information we have collected in order to 'invent' an oral tradition; here you have toned it down somewhat by suggesting we are stupid by allowing ourselves to be conned by a bunch of lying and distorting traditional singers who have fed us the information they believe we wanted.
You never produce evidence to back up these claims - which collectors work have you researched and what have you uncovered to have reached the somewhat low opinion you appear to have of us? I have to say that reading your postings quite often leaves me with the overwhelming feeling of "Why the **** bother; why don't we just archive it and let the future decide".
Regarding the somewhat bizzare distinction between changing words and tune - sorry; don't understand a word of it.
Listening to your recordings leaves me with the impression that the path you have chosen is that of musical theatre - the difference in your approach and that of a traditional singer lies not in alteration of word and tune, but that of a change in the function of a song - it is no longer the narrative piece that is started out as, but has become something else - nothing wrong with that, it just has lost its traditional objective - that of communicating a story.
Mike,
Agree with what you say about Mrs Hogg - to an extent - I believe that literacy and publishing has had an effect on the songs and singing, but not necessatrily as she believed they would.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Goose Gander
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 02:24 PM

mg, my comments were in the context of a discussion about whether it's "permissible" to change words in songs. My comment in full reflects my point. Here it is, again (12XU!) . . . "Everyone changes songs, and there's no point in singing folk songs if you're not trying to make them your own. Why slavishly recreate someone else's work? They have paint-by-numbers if you like that sort of thing." My friend sings The Galway Shawl, which he learned from his mother. He does NOT sing it precisely as his mother sang it. He has learned more verses, smoothed out the diction, substituted some awkward bits, etc. That is an example of what I mean.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 02:34 PM

I guess I have sort of what we think the Native American philosophy is to the land, and we may or may not have heard it right..but that they are not "our own"...maybe unless we wrote them and even then if we took extreme legal measures somehow. I think they belong to the community, certainly the community they are about or that created them, but also a worldwide community, as in whoever likes them, barring certain sacred songs, can sing them.

It is like going into a forest in a national campground and saying I am going to make this tree my own, not by sitting under it and photographing it etc., but by trimming the branches and painting happy faces on it or whatever. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Goose Gander
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 02:51 PM

"It is like going into a forest in a national campground and saying I am going to make this tree my own, not by sitting under it and photographing it etc., but by trimming the branches and painting happy faces on it or whatever"

No, it isn't. A tree is damaged forever by such 'improvements' whereas if I change a song that I sing to my dog, no material damage is done and no one really even knows the difference unless I talk about it.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 02:55 PM

Folks, permissible has nothing to do with it.
We do what we do. I never sang a song the same way twice. If the director of my old NPR radio show was telling me we were out of time, I'd figure a way to sum up the song and end it. Hell if a great folksinger decides to be another gender, who is to say anything about permissible??!!

The more things change, the more they get different. It might take an individual a few decades to understand the complete truth of that, but it is the way of this world. Hell, it's the way if this universe------and a few others maybe.

Love,

Art


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Rumncoke
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 03:57 PM

But there isn't 'A tradition' there isn't 'A revival' - not here at my house.

There was only ever singing. My mum sang, so did her mum, they had a piano - in his youth my dad played an auto harp, we had a piano at home.

I have had people come and ask me about the songs I sing, but I can't tell them much about them - I don't take songs off records only hear people singing them and write them down. OK these days I can't manage to remember a song at one hearing like I used to do and it bothers me when I look around for written down words and can't find the rest to the bits I remember.

I know I have put in thee's and thou's in places - my dialect is from Barnsley South Yorkshire - it is my natural way of speaking and surfaces when I get angry. It is not a conscious changing of the words, I just open my mouth and those are the words that come out.

I think there is studying songs and there is singing them and it might be interesting to collect, and being the man on the bicycle seems a bit of a cushy number to me, but I am 60 years old next April and life is too short for such luxuries.

I sing my songs to my grandson, not to pass them on but because that is what a nana does.

And it shuts him up, diverts him from things he should not be doing and lulls him to sleep.

Anne Croucher


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 03:58 PM

The thoughtfull comments on this subject continue! One way that I KNOW I have purposefully changed songs that I've sung over the many years is that I sometimes now emphasize interpretations that were always in the song, but I didn't have the wisdom to recognize them when I was younger.

Maybe I should sue myself, as a blaspherer of tradition songs ... anybody know a good lawyer! bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 04:09 PM

Off topic a little, but can I highly recommend a newly published book on the work and gleanings of the early English collectors entitled 'The Late Victorian Folksong Revival' (The Persistence of English Melody 1878-1903), by E.David Gregory; loads of songs and good commentary which provide an excellent background to our folk repertoire.
It's a meaty book (583pp) at a meaty price, but if you feel like re-morgaging your grandmother, it's available on the net.
For those who havent come across The Book Depository, they have a good stock, including this, and don't charge postage.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 05:07 PM

What was the figure? 90 different versions of "Barbara Allen" found in one county in Virginia alone?

If you learn a song from a collection by Sharp, Lomax, Sandburg, et al., that's the version that that particular collector picked up from that particular singer, who may very well have made changes, either intentionally or inadvertently, from the version that he or she learned from someone else. Who in turn—
Little dogs have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite 'em.
And little fleas have littler fleas,
And so ad infinitum.
And the same goes for learning songs from records. What I said above holds for both field recordings and commercial recordings as well as for books. Many people, including me, have learned, and continue to learn, songs from commercial recordings, a very rich source of material. And there is much variation there. For example, I have two recordings of The Unquiet Grave, one by Joan Baez and the other by Andrew Rowan Summers. They differ. Only slightly, but a word here and a line there. And I believe Baez sings a verse that Summers does not. Along with this, I have texts of the same ballad in several books, all essentially the same, but each one differing a little from the others. The version that I sing is a blending of several of the versions that I have heard and read, mostly this one, some of that one, and a bit of the other.

But all the versions tell the same story and tell it quite effectively.

Check the Child collection. There are sometimes dozens of versions of the same ballad, all telling, essentially, the same story, but with many variations in the way the story is told.

In the late 1950s, I took a class in "The Popular Ballad" from Prof. David C. Fowler in the University of Washington English Literature department. Dr. Fowler has written a book or two on the ballads, and he sang a bit himself. When the class was finished (along with the final exam), one of the students who sang and played the Celtic harp, invited the class to her home to have a song fest. During the course of the evening, Dr. Fowler asked if anyone knew a version of The Gypsy Laddie, Child #200. I knew one: The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies. So I sang it.

But a couple of years before this, late one night, a singing friend of mine and I sat in an all-night restaurant over coffee, going over the words of The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, which, incidentally, both of us had learned from a Susan Reed record. We came up with the notion that if one small change were made in the final verse, it would really add a dramatic punch to the song, which we both felt it seemed to lack.

The second to last verse goes
"Last night I slept in a goose feather bed
With the sheets turned back so bravely-oh.
Tonight I'll sleep in a cold, open field,
Along with the wraggle-taggle gypsies-oh."
The final verse in the "official, ordained, and certified" verse merely repeats the same thing, but in the third person.
Last night she slept in a goose feather bed. . . .
What we came up with at two o'clock in the morning over coffee was to keep that verse in the third person, but change one word. So it came out
Last night she slept in a goose feather bed
With the sheets turned back so bravely-oh.
Tonight she sleeps in a cold, open grave,
Along with the wraggle-taggle gypsies-oh.
Ka-POW!! Maybe that's a bit much, but it certainly gives the end of the song a dramatic punch!

Okay, back to the class song-fest. I'd been singing the song that way for a couple of years, and that's the way I sang it that night.

Dr. Fowler's eyebrows went up.

"Where," he asked, "did you learn that version? That last verse?"

I figured, "Uh oh! I'm busted!" I confessed what my friend and I had done along with our reasoning on the matter, and threw myself on Dr. Fowler's mercy.

"You're right!" he said. "It really ends the ballad with a shocker."

"But," I stammered, "I'm not sure that we should have been messing around with a traditional ballad like that."

"I like it," he said. "I don't know for certain, but there may be versions already in existence that end that way. It makes sense dramatically and it does lend impact to the ending. I don't believe field collectors and scholars should make changes, even though many of them did, thinking they were 'improving' them, or 'cleaning them up' and making them less shocking to the easily shocked. That's poor scholarship, really. But performers—now, I think that's different. Changes should not be made indiscriminately, but if you have a good reason for it, then why not, if it makes for a better story?"

And then he used what I consider the magic words: "That's a minstrel's prerogative. Minstrels and traditional folk singers [Emphasis mine—DF] often altered words for the very same reason you did."

I knew that what Dr. Fowler said was true. I felt guilty and vindicated at the same time.

But before one starts making changes right, left, and center, I think they should ponder the matter carefully and have a darned good reason for making a change. If changing of a word or two makes the line easier to sing and doesn't alter the meaning, then why not? Or some verses may be a bit of a jolt or a distraction to an audience, in some cases possibly eliciting inappropriate snickers from the immature. For example, going back to The Unquiet Grave. The "task" verse in some versions:
"Go fetch me water from the desert,
And blood from out of a stone,
And fetch me milk from a fair maiden's breast
That young man never has known."
I've had the occasional audience member either look shocked or get the giggles at this verse. A distraction from the narrative and from the point of the song. So I've dropped it. And—since the moral of this particular ballad is that one should not mourn overlong for the departed because it was believed mourning overlong would disturb them in their grave and "wet their winding sheet with tears." So mourn, yes. But after a decent interval (a year at most), get on with your life and let the dear departed rest. I included this verse from another version, putting it toward the end.
"Mourn not for me, my own true love.
Mourn not for me, I pray,
For I must leave you and all the world
And turn down to my grave."
Then he asks "When shall we meet again?" and she responds, "When the autumn leaves that fall from the trees turn green and spring up again." Meaning, it isn't going to happen, so let it go. And get on with your life.

A sad lesson, really, but one to take to heart.

The problem with making changes that are simply not well thought out is that all too often someone will not understand a word or two and will change it to something they do understand, not being familiar with what might be, say, a technical term in a sea chantey or other work song. Or certain traditions behind a song. A little ballad scholarship can help avoid this. Learn as much about the background of the song as you can. If you don't really understand a word or a line, probably best to leave it alone.

And some really dumb changes take place sometimes when a perfectly good line containing an evocative image doesn't rhyme. Someone changes a word or two to make it rhyme, producing a line that sounds awkward, is awkward to sing, and at the same time, loses the image. If it doesn't rhyme, probably best to simply let it go.

As Dr. Fowler said, if you are going to change a traditional song or ballad, know what you are doing, and have a good reason for any change you might make.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,schlimmerkerl
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 05:28 PM

My favorite example is that Jon Boden took Feste's song from Twelfth Night, "The Wind and the Rain", completely re-wrote it, added new verses, deleted others, new title ("The Rain it Rains"), and gave it a brand new (very nice) tune-- all confirmed by him in email correspondence. The other night, someone in a local group sang it, completely unaware of the Shakespearean origin.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 05:35 PM

OK. Here goes. I do not think you improved that song. You changed it entirely. You put her from alive to dead. If you want to do that, fine...but I think the audience should have information about what you have done. If I knew a person was doing that willy nilly in all sorts of songs, I would not listen to them, buy their CDs etc. If they have a lot of skill, let them write new songs and make up their own stories. I don't think we should change the story that dramatically...or at all..even if we don't understand what the story is. I don't think you have to announce everything at a concert what you did..but maybe tell people that you have a habit of doing that and yu think that your changes improve the song but that they might want to research other older versions. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 05:42 PM

The above posting by Don Firth is a perfect example of why I love this guy so much. We met in 1953, and he's been teaching me ever since! Bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 05:49 PM

Don talks a lot of sense in that comment, but on one point I have to agree with mg - I hate that cold open (mass?) grave.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 06:08 PM

I would like to hear from others who have made changes in songs and have them put it out there for honest feedback as to how people find the changes...not for the purpose of stopping them from doing it; they can do it if they like. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 06:29 PM

I have since re-evaluated the last line of The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies and some time ago, pretty much decided that the change is a bit too radical. Rest easy, folks.

But I do remind you that Dr. Fowler, as knowledgeable a ballad scholar as anyone I've ever met (including Charles Seeger, patriarch of the Seeger family, whom I met and conversed with at the 1964 Berkeley Folk Festival), thought the change was all right and even remarked that there may be versions that end that way.

I'll do some further research. And if I do find one, I may re-re-evaluate my decision. . . .

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 06:55 PM

Way up there somewhere, my esteemed colleague Catspaw told the truth of it...
Folk Music is an art form. It may also be a historical art form. But it's not journalism. And changing a song to reflect a current view of historical accuracy is counter to the true historical significance of the song, which is that the song itself is a piece of living history.
As lovers of traditional music, we owe a certain debt to those who came before us, and a responsibility to pass the music on as we received it.
As musicians, we will no doubt make changes depending on the venue, the audience,or our own sense of ethics and propriety. But if we do so, it should be with the sense that we are in fact the ones tampering with history.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 07:13 PM

To me it is like pulling up treasures from the Titanic and saying..oh I can make that pottery prettier..just let me take my magic markers out and put some daisies on it. There. What an improvement. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Melissa
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 07:25 PM

mg,
I'll give you a non-folk example of one I change slightly when I sing it.

John Denver sang Jenny Dreamed of Trains.
When I sing it, I change the phrasing so it feels more storylike coming from my mouth. His version sounds (to me) like a series of nice phrases in a row. My melody is a little bit different also.

Words:
He sings "No one believed her when she said she heard the trains"
I sing "No one believed her when she told them 'bout the trains"

Why? Because I think it sounds better than repeating the word 'said'


He sings "very next morning, all she could find was a little piece of copper squashed flatter than a dime"
I sing "very next morning, all she could find was a little piece of copper smashed flatter than a dime"

Why? I don't think Jenny needed proof..I sing it that way so the townfolk catch a glance of the magic (or whatever) I like the eerie surprise of Maybe she went on the train..maybe she's still in town and they won't think she's just a little girl acting kind of strange anymore.


I do not change gender in songs.
The reason I don't change gender is because some songs don't switch easily and I don't want to limit myself by skipping out on ones I might otherwise like to acquire..but that don't switch gender easily. It would be inconsistent to switch the easy ones and sing the others without switching.


I heard a couple phrases of Hoyt Axton's Rusty Old Halo, wanted to see the words and wasn't able to hear him sing it.
I got the words and started singing it.
My melody is quite a bit different and my chords do not match any recording I've been able to hear after I learned it.
I would sing Jenny nearly anywhere, but I'd keep the Halo out of situations where folks would be likely to tell me I wasn't doing it right.

Is that the type of example you wanted?


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,kendall
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 07:25 PM

Change is enevitable. Resistance to change is also inevitable.
Nothing in this universe is static; if things didn't change, we would be still in the caves trying to invent fire.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 08:06 PM

Yes..and I will give you my honest opinion..which is that the first change is not an improvement to my ears so I don't understand why it was changed..

The second is sort of a draw to me...if I didn't know which was the original I could go either way but maybe prefer squaushed. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Melissa
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 08:16 PM

Fair enough, mg.
My question in return is whether you think your opinion is any of my business.

Where I live, bugs are squashed.
Coins on the track were squished or smashed.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 08:17 PM

Melissa ... Not being able to hear the two versions, I have to say that I am drawn to your changes. This likely represents what some have referred to as ... "making the song your own." As a singer, this is entirely O.K. to me. bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Melissa
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 08:25 PM

wait..after looking back, I see that I didn't write what I meant.

He sings "all she could find"
I sing "all they could find"


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Melissa
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 08:49 PM

Thanks, Deckman!


If I had to choose between singing the songs the same as these recordings or not singing them at all, I wouldn't want to keep either of them.

In my ear, Denver's Jenny sounds vapid and shallow.
In my ear, Axton's Halo sounds like it would be fun to sing in the car but not in public.

When I sing Halo, I do it in 3/4.

Here's Jenny

Rusty Old Halo

If I had recordings of me, I'd poke them in here too for comparison in case anyone was interested.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Seonaid
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 09:00 PM

Songs, like genes, live in those who carry them, and it's natural to have old as well as new strains. As the originals of Bach and Beethoven never suffered from the release of rock versions, the virtues of the old traditional stock continue despite imitation, rip-offs and Bowdlerizing. Some were terrified in the 60s that the "Hootenanny" type popularization would obscure the true tradition. Doesn't seem to have happened.
There's room (especially given the constantly widening circle of communications)for everyone. New ways of presenting songs and their ideas can bring the songs to new people, who may well be inspired to look further into the field. (For instance, I started with the Clancys and have researched my way into hard Gaelic, but I often sing translations in order to interest newcomers. That has worked well, BTW, and I *always* refer them to the originals.)
The circumstances of knowing, singing and transmitting a song change from minute to minute (you can't step in the same song twice, etc.).
I believe it's perfectly OK to encourage those who keep the tradition as well as those who reimagine it. As has already been said, that which doesn't work will die out. And meanwhile, we'll get some hot new versions!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 09:12 PM

"Reimagine" ... neat word ... I'll bet I can get 36 points out of that in a good scrabble game ... I LIKE IT! bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 10:28 PM

Okay, mg and Pip—

"OK. Here goes. I do not think you improved that song. You changed it entirely. You put her from alive to dead. If you want to do that, fine...but...."

Changed it entirely, mg? I don't think so.

I ran a Google search on "The Gypsy Laddie" and "Child 200" and hit a long list of web sites.

I found many versions of the ballad on one web site alone. The following are the final verses of several versions that end in a manner very similar to what my friend and I came up with at 2:00 in the morning in The Coffee Corral in Seattle's University District bask in the late 1950s.
200A.10
And we were fifteen well-made men,
Altho we were nae bonny;
And we were a' put down for ane,
A fair young wanton lady.

200B.18
They were fifteen valiant men,
Black, but very bonny,
And they lost all their lives for one,
The Earl of Cassillis' ladie.

200C.14
'We are sixteen clever men,
One woman was a' our mother;
We are a' to be hanged on ae day,
For the stealing of a wanton lady.'

200D.14
'Yestre'en we were fifteen good armed men;
Tho black, we werena bonny;
The night we a' ly slain for one,
It's the Laird o Corse Field's lady.'

200F.13
Then we were seven weel-made men,
But lack! we were nae bonnie,
And we were a' put down for ane,
For the Earl o Cassilis' ladie.

200G.11
There was seven gypsies in a gang,
And they was brisk and bonny,
And they're to be hanged all on a row,
For the Earl of Castle's lady.
It would seem that in some versions, the Lord heaves a sigh and simply goes home, leaving his lady with the gypsies. In some, he kills his lady, then either hangs the gypsies who vary in number from three to sixteen. In some, he may or may not kill anyone, but he drags his lady home, kicking and screaming, Or he kills everyone in an unspecified manner.

Here's another variation on the lady's fate:
Oh, soon this lady changed her mind,
Her clothes grew old and faded,
Her hose and shoes came off her feet,
And left them bare and naked.

Just what befell this lady now,
I think it worth relating,
Her gypsy found another lass,
And left her heart a-breaking.
But—let's cut to the chase here. Is this ballad based on a true incident? Yes, it would seem so. And what really happened?
The gypsies were expelled from Scotland in 1541 and then in again in 1609. In 1624 Johnny Faa (a title of prominent gypsies) and seven other men were sentenced to hang and Helen Faa and ten women were sentenced to be drown, but the women's execution was stayed.

Circa 1788 this ballad became associated with John, the sixth earl of Cassilis and his first wife, Lady Jean Hamilton. Before her marriage Lady Jean was in love with "Johnny Faa, of Dunbar". Years later, after she had borne two children, Johnny Faa returned and persuaded her to elope. Johnny Faa and seven other gypsies (which correlates to the 1624 sentence) were hanged and Lady Jean was banished and confined for life in a tower built for her imprisonment. Eight heads, effigies of the gypsies, were said to be carved in the stone tower.
As commentator Paul Harvey used to say, "And now—you know the rest of the story."

So Dr. Fowler was right in his belief that there were probably already existing versions that ended violently, because not only were there, but the incident that inspired the ballad in the first place ended violently. There was nothing in the change that Dick and I made that was not already within the tradition.

Before you get on someone's case for making an unwarranted change in a song or ballad, you might want to do a little research of your own. They might have known exactly what they were doing. Or, at least, had made a pretty good guess!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 03:56 AM

Before you get on someone's case for making an unwarranted change in a song or ballad, you might want to do a little research of your own. They might have known exactly what they were doing. Or, at least, had made a pretty good guess!

Hmmm - is that any excuse I wonder? Seems to me the onus is on the perpetrator to do the research into the variants rather than making any modifications of their own.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 04:52 AM

Don - lucky guess! I wonder if it'd work better if the last verse was in the lord's voice - Tonight you'll lie in a cold open grave, etc.

Here are my own bits of patching (the ones I'm conscious of having done, anyway). My additions in bold:

But the page, he was Lord Barnard's man
And there he would not bide
And he was away to the greenwood
As fast as he could ride


I wanted to emphasise that the page did a triathlon that night (he rode then swam then ran).

The other one is a slightly larger change; it's a bit where I reckon that most versions of the ballad are corrupt, as the normal version of the line doesn't seem to make sense:

Seven long years they were not past
Years had passed but two or three

When she packed up all of her gay gay clothing
She said Lord Bateman she would go see


(If the seven long years had passed she'd have no claim on Bateman any more, so why would she wait so long?)


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 05:13 AM

Must ballads be governed by this sort of pedantic logic I wonder? Such corrections do run contratry to the spirit of the thing rather - the genuine products of more random elements of The Folk Process all of which add to their - er - folk character.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: John P
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 12:34 PM

S'OP and mg, It sounds to me like you shouldn't change the old songs at all. However, as soon as you start telling other people that they shouldn't do so, you've stepped over the line. Mind your own houses, please. Folk Police are not very popular.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 01:01 PM

Listen up. I did not tell people they should not ... I said they could do whatever they want. I reread everything I wrote here..and one place is a little toward that direction I admit. But what I consistently said, and please get it right, is do what you want. I personally will probably not like it and probably lots of other people won't either, but plenty will or will not know the difference. I probably wouldn't know the difference most of the time. I think it is arrogant to change what has been around for hundreds of years, and sometimes in certain locales it is unchanged and sometimes it does have many variants. I don't think the old old songs are mine to change. But our paths will never overlap in person so I am not going to worry about what you do or don't do. mg


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: John P
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 01:26 PM

I think it is arrogant to change what has been around for hundreds of years . . ./

Perhaps you could say something like, "I personally don't like changing old songs . . ." Calling other people arrogant is, whether you want it to be or not, an attempt to get other people to follow your rules. I you said "I think it is arrogant", but that doesn't really matter. If you want people to understand you and not jump to conclusions about what you mean, you might consider your choice of words more carefully.

You see, I don't think it's arrogant. I don't think the folk process ever stopped, and I think that updating traditional songs for modern listeners is part of the process. When you use words like 'arrogant' you are also saying the other person is wrong.

Just out of curiosity, why are you so sure our paths will never cross in person? And why are you so sure that you would dislike what the ways in which I play traditional music? It starts to sound like the scholarship is more important than the musical and lyrical quality of the song.

John


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,kendall
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 01:52 PM

Very few things in the world are beyond change.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 02:42 PM

GUEST,Suibhne Astray, I'm not looking for excuses for making the change. Or for any change I might make in a song. Granted, Dick and I didn't know much about the background of the song when we started diddling with it back in the early 1950s, but it turns out that there is precedent, both in the history of the ballad and in variations of the ballad itself. But since then, if I make any changes, those changes are pretty thoroughly research (after learning how to do the research in Dr. Fowler's "The Popular Ballad" class.

What precipitated Dick's and my late night/early morning discussion was the matter of verses that appear to be extraneous, especially the ones that slow down the drama, drag the song out, and often bore the hell out of the audience. A couple of cases in point:

Greensleeves. Have you ever heard the whole song? All the verses? The song has a lovely melody, but after hearing a couple of dozen verses (as Pete Seeger said, "I gave thee this, I gave thee that" and still she wouldn't hop into bed with him), you want to either run screaming or leap up and strangle the singer. So I sing three verses, four at the absolute most. Enough to get the idea across, but without boring the socks off the audience.

Same with Lord Randal. Very dramatic song. But when you get to the "last will and testament" part as he's gasping his life out, by the time you get to "And what will you leave your third cousin on your father's side's pet chicken, oh, ill-fated one?" one is thinking, "Look, mom, just let the poor SOB die in peace, will you please!??" So I drop these verses, singing only "What will you leave to your mother, Randal my son?" (in days long before Social Security, who's going to take care of his elderly mother when he's dead?), and the punch verse, "What will you leave to your sweetheart?" "A rope from hell to hang her!!"

And I note that many other singers, including Richard Dyer-Bennet and Burl Ives did the same thing. Made the same cuts.

Now, there was a time when a few of the ballads might be a whole evening's entertainment, but modern audiences—including folk music enthusiasts—generally will not sit still for really long songs, particularly ones that are very repetitive, and they (especially folkies) will sit there sighing and rolling their eyes. See many posts here on Mudcat, by folkies, about which songs bore them silly, and why;   the longer ballads tend to lead the list!

So—what Dick and I were thinking of when we came up with that change in that particular version of The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies were extraneous verses that don't advance the story or add anything in particular to it. For example, why repeat the exact same verse you have just sung ("Last night I slept in a goose feather bed. . . .") in the third person (Last night she slept in a goose feather bed. . . .)?

Two points:

1.   In no way were Dick and I trying to turn The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies into some sort of "morality tale," warning a woman to stay home and be bored stiff with a husband she didn't love and more than likely didn't chose (married to a "suitable husband" by her parents) rather than seek a freer, exciting, and more fulfilling life, lest she wind up lying dead in an open field along with her lover, struck down by the hand of her righteously outraged husband. Not a bit of it! If anything, it would have underlined the callous brutality of the husband and a system in which a man such as that regarded his wife as mere property rather that a person in her own right. You may not like the change we made, but let's not turn our objection into some kind of feminist tract, because that's far from what we had in mind.

2. Even though I (and many others) sometimes pare down highly repetitive songs to make them more palatable to modern audiences, it's not as if we are "ruining" or "destroying" the songs. The full texts of these songs and ballads are still there in a large numbers of books, so anyone who is so motivated can go and look up all eight-hundred and eleventy-fourteen verses of The Geste of Robin Hood. Or the seemingly endless last will and testament of the ill-fated Lord Randal.

Again. I don't think one should make changes unless one knows a good deal about the song in question and has a well-thought-out reason for making the change. I've seen and heard too many of what I would consider indiscriminate and unnecessary changes made by people who didn't understand the background from which the song came, didn't understand a technical or perhaps archaic term, or who destroyed an evocative image by insisting on forcing a perfectly good line into an awkward and unnecessary rhyme-scheme.

Think! Or as a friend of mine used to say, "Thimk!"

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 02:57 PM

SO'P
You still ahven't explained how you rationalise the fact that the way you sing bears no resemblence whatever to the way a traditional singer.
"Folk Police are not very popular."
Neither are those people who would stifle discussion with terms like 'Folk Police' - a good example of 'folk policing' if ever I saw one.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Deckman
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 02:59 PM

AHA ... "THIMK" ... another Waltism? bob


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 03:16 PM

Nope. Dick (Landberg), as a matter of fact!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 04:01 PM

Interesting change there from Don Firth. And it occurs to me that maybe it's not so much a change to the story, but more a question of bringing out one possible meaning that is there all along.

Tonight she sleeps in a cold, open field,
Along with the wraggle-taggle gypsies-oh


might actually have precisely the same meaning as

Tonight she sleeps in a cold, open grave,
Along with the wraggle-taggle gypsies-oh.


After all, sleep often means the same as death in songs - as in

Go dig me a grave, both long, wide and deep
And strew it all over with roses so sweet
That I might lie down there and take a long sleep
And that's the best way to forget her


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 05:43 PM

Why is it not permissible to change a word, but condoned--even encouraged--to muck with the tune and performance style? I think that altering the performance style shows greater "disrespect" since it frequently results in anachronistic mutants, as convincing as your father wearing your son's clothing. Before indulging in such adaptations one would do well to listen to modernized folk arrangements from the 40's, 50's and 60's, and consider how cringeworthy they were just ten or twenty years later (while period performances remain timeless). In comparison to this, changing the wording is a trifle.

While I venerate the tradition, I have few illusions about the quality or sanctity of folk songs--as with modern songs, most are doggerel, and can be well served still by judicious editing. That songs are usually improved by the folk process, however, is a myth: the tyranny of mediocrity tends to pull all things to its own level. A single discerning editor can do more good than hundreds of years of "folk processing". Of course, the art of revising should be like legerdemain in a magic trick: it should support the desired illusion while drawing little attention to itself.

I see no particular merit in continuing to repeat misguided corruptions which have "entered the tradition".


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Aug 10 - 06:17 PM

That songs are usually improved by the folk process, however, is a myth: the tyranny of mediocrity tends to pull all things to its own level.

A glance at the early broadsheet version of any number of songs which have survived and changed through oral transmission demonstrates that typically this results in striking improvements.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 14 Aug 10 - 04:42 AM

You still ahven't explained how you rationalise the fact that the way you sing bears no resemblence whatever to the way a traditional singer.

I don't set out to imitate traditional singers in any other respect than to sing in my own voice, which is what traditional singers did, and quite idiosyncratically so at times. I differ because, like most other Revival Singers, I use accompaniment - although there again I can think of numerous traditional singers who used accompany themselves, and I'm sure you could think of a good deal more. Unlike most Revival Singers I eschew the use chords in favour of drones & doubling the monophonic lines of the melody on whatever instrument I'm using (the fiddle is a favourite right now, which several fiddlers have assumed I've tuned to an open tuning because of the drones; being the boring old traddy that I am, of course, I keep it tuned in 5ths). Also unlike other Revival Singers I favour a certain amount of improvisation, though when it comes to the song itself, rarely do I deviate from the melody, unless for comic effect, such as in M'Ginty's Mean an' Ale. As a storyteller, narratives are first & foremost in my mind, though with ballads I tend to sing, and hear them, in terms of images first, story second; which is to say the narrative is secondary incantatory layer which we know anyway, so it's the images that concern me the most, the language of the thing - even with M'Ginty's Mean an' Ale the narrative is essentially occult and to translate the thing, or else make explicit those elements, would be the ruination of the piece.

When I'm I'm working with my wife, Rapunzel, it's a little different - we sing in evolved diaphonic harmony, using instruments and traditional material in a way which might be considered unusual by revival terms, but nevertheless doesn't really set out to challenge the listener - on the contrary, given the areas we work in it's in our interest to be accesible as possible without going down the usuial easy listening / MOR roads which have mired the revival since its inception. One gig we did invoked the displeasure of a guitarist on the same bill who accused use of using non-traditional elements because we used a Turkish fiddle & an Indian harmonium to accompany ourseves on Come Write Me Down. As I pointed out, in the world I grew up in these instruments were traditional to the immigrant communities I absorbed the influences of in my childhood, likewise the wider frameworks I've been open to since via the Global Media. And besides the guitar is the least traditional instrument of all, likewise the imposition of chords on essentialy modal lines which tio my ears kill the thing stone dead anyway.

Anyway, here's Rapunzel & myself singing Come Write Me Down at our Morpeth Gathering gig earlier in the year; apart from quoting Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart here and there (it was approaching the 30th anniversary of the untimely death of Ian Curtis) all the instrumentals are improvised.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IJQzcyDTQI


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Will Fly
Date: 14 Aug 10 - 04:53 AM

I enjoyed your version of Come Write Me Down very much - and I liked the mixing of voices and instruments. Just the sort of thing that I personally find extremely interesting. We can argue all we like on pages such as these but, in the end, live performance in company is the thing. The more the merrier.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Aug 10 - 08:14 AM

"I don't set out to imitate traditional singers"
I'm not talking about imitating traditional singers, and I suspect you know that; your basic approach is entirely different to them, as described above - you cease to become a 'teller' of songs, as traditional singers call it here in the West of Ireland, an become a musical 'performer' of songs.
"I can think of numerous traditional singers who used accompany themselves"
Would be interested to see a list - I've always been under the impression that, barring a tiny handful of traditional singers, in the British Isles the tradition was overwhelmingly unaccompanied. There are recorded cases of a few singers accompanying themselves - Bob Roberts, Charlie Bate.... and there are also cases of folkies turning up and persuading traditional singers to accompany themselve when they can, even accompanying the singers themselves (a case of this happening at the moment with one new-found singer).
"Also unlike other Revival Singers....."
Hardly anything you describe here has anything whatever to do with traditional singing - certainly not as I know it.
No problem with any of this as a personal choice but if your approach is permissable, ie - eschewing the traditional FORM of singing for approach which is as remote from the tradition as Peter Pears singing The Lyke Wake Dirge, how can you possibly object to someone else changing a few words to suit themselves - it seems to me you are writing a rule-book for others which you do not adhere to yourself.
I partly agree with Artful Codger on this, but disagree with the mundane bit (there are more things in heaven and earth....)
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Aug 10 - 08:21 AM

PS thanks for the musical illustration BTW - it made my point far more effectively than ever I could
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 14 Aug 10 - 06:07 PM

To McGrath: While some broadsides are "strikingly" improved by oral transmission, others are diluted by it. In preparing my own versions of songs, I consider both broadside and collected versions, and revert to broadside wording or apply my own edits more often than I use folk alternatives. Bear in mind that the collected versions have usually been culled, collated and edited before I see them--they presumably represent "the tradition" in its best light rather than depicting the mean. Of course, many broadsides were dashed off and rushed into printing, leaving ample opportunity for improvement.

Move to a higher-quality original sources--like the average newspaper poet--and folk erosion versus improvement is more apparent. The folk process becomes largely a matter of too many cooks spoiling the broth: faulty memories that dilute the wording, gratuitous substitutions, deletion of critical bits, loss of vibrancy, misunderstandings, continuity violations... What they add in more natural expression, more colorful wording, tightening and such is usually offset by the defilements that also creep in.

Most telling, if improvement were the usual result of the folk process, every folk song would by now be a gem--hardly the case!

But this is getting rather far afield from the thread topic, and I know that assailing the vaunted integrity of the folk process is tantamount to challenging someone's religious convictions or debating ecology with a cattleman.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 14 Aug 10 - 08:06 PM

Would be interested to see a list - I've always been under the impression that, barring a tiny handful of traditional singers, in the British Isles the tradition was overwhelmingly unaccompanied.

I was thinking of Bob Roberts, John MacDonald, Davie Stewart & Jane Turriff. Do the McPeake's count? And Margaret Barry? I'm sure I've heard of others too here and there. I was hoping you'd maybe be able to flesh it out a bit. Elsewhere in the English folk song tradition (America / Australia) it's not so uncommon; and singing with instruments seems to have been a pretty standard aspect of human musical activity the world o'er these past 50,000 years or so, so I'm not doing anything too radical.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Rob Naylor
Date: 14 Aug 10 - 09:24 PM

Jim: ...as remote from the tradition as Peter Pears singing The Lyke Wake Dirge...

An aside here, but relevant i the context of this thread.

Whenever I see the lyrics for Lyke Wake Dirge printed anywhere, the chorus always finishes "And Christ receive thy saule".

When I learned the song as a nipper (and when we sang it as teenagers, doing the walk AND carrying a coffin!) we always sang "And Christ tekk up thy saule"

This to me seems much more in keeping with how it would have been phrased in Yorkshire dialect, and I'd heard it sung that way so often that when I first started hearing "receive" it grated badly, and still does.

I wonder if anyone still sings "tekk up" now, or whether, because it's written down, Suibhne would consider "receive" to be the "correct" form :-)


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Uncle Rumpo
Date: 14 Aug 10 - 10:01 PM

"Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?"


errrm.. excuse me for being.. well... Uncle Rumpo..

but how come it's taken over 150 replies from all around the world
to just agree

"YES"

.. who cares.. who's gonna arrest you if you do...???



Exhibit A: Old Song

"My Husband's Got No Courage in Him"


Change:

"My Husband's Got No Cyborg Time Travelling Shape Shifting Planet Destroying Future Powers in Him"

there.. see.. done..



.. so has the world stopped spinning on it's axis..????


errrmm.. yet ???


oh f@ck.. what have I done.. run for the hills...!!!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 03:55 AM

as remote from the tradition as Peter Pears singing The Lyke Wake Dirge

In the history of LWD post-Revival I dare Peter Pears is just as close to the tradition as anyone else really, unless you have a particular source singer in mind for the song, in which case I'd dearly love to hear it.

The Dirge came before the Walk anyway, an association that dates back to 1955. A quick search on-line reveals that Tak up seems generally favoured of LWWers. We used to sing it at school on account of a treacher who was very fond of the song, the LWW and Folk in general. Can't remember if we sang tak up or receive though. Did I hear the Young Tradition version back then I wonder? I was just a nipper - 9 or 10, circa 1970-71 - and listening to it in more recent years it's always felt more than a little familar, but certainly no more or less effective than Peter Pears.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 04:10 AM

PS - Might I just add that as far as Revival Singers go I'm just as likely to listen to John Jacob Niles and Jack Langstaff as anyone who came after them. I'd never heard Jack Langstaff until THIS came out, when it brecame a matter of life & death to hunt out the source!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 04:25 AM

"I was thinking of Bob Roberts..."
I might have added another four or five singers to your list but, as I said, our (British) song tradition tradition is overwhelmingly an unnacompainied one and by adding instrumentation, particularly with instruments from elswhere other than those common to the British Isles you are making a profound personal change to the songs.
You might add ornamentation to that; the song tradition we received was either an unornamented one, or had long lost an traces of decoration (moot point), so many singers are intervening in the way they are presenting their songs.
so why is it not permissable for someone else to change words, as long as it is done with skill and sensitivity?
Many of the songs in our collections were made when the tradition was way past its prime; we were recording songs from singers who hadn't sung for thirty - forty - fifty years and were struggling to remember them. What we were given was examples of the tradition as an particular singer was capable of producing it at that particular time from that particular singer in the particular circumstances we he/she learned it (and sang it to us).
We recorded a rather beautiful song from a singer named Tom Lenihan; Cailín Deas Crúit na mBó (Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow). I was knocked out by it (still am) and if I had been actively singing I would have had no hesitation in learning it. Some time later I was talking to a collector friend who also knew Tom and he said, "I suppose you know he deliberately left out a verse?" It turns out that one of the verses is somewhat disparaging to women, so Tom didn't sing it for fear of giving offence to Pat. A traditional singer had intervened in his song tradition, making what he gave us another traditional version - which one should I have sung?
Our tradition is made up of tampered with, half remembered, guessed-at at songs; if we want them to be listened to and taken up, I think it is up to us, as singers, to present them in an articulate and entertaining form, as long as we respect what we believe to be the objective of the song; otherwise singing becomes an acedemic exercise.
Rob; Lyke Wake Dirge:
Thanks for that - perfect example of a song being adapted by people who continue to use it for the purpose it was made.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 04:52 AM

so why is it not permissable for someone else to change words, as long as it is done with skill and sensitivity?

I don't do it myself because it falsifies the thing itself, detracting from its essense and - dare I say - authenticity.

A traditional singer had intervened in his song tradition, making what he gave us another traditional version - which one should I have sung?

As I've said, Traditional Songs existed in a state of fluidity in their natural habitat thus giving us many versions, all of which have equal validity surely? Otherwise, I don't have a problem with dropping the odd verse here & there, but adding a new verse, or changing the text, is a different kettle of fish. For example I seldom sing the final verse of Come Write Me Down, and am duly horrified by the mawkish additions made to Felton Lonnen by Johnny Handle, which have become standard practise even to the point of being enshrined in the Digi Trad.

as long as we respect what we believe to be the objective of the song; otherwise singing becomes an acedemic exercise.

I would say the impulse to sing is objective enough; otherwise singing is never an academic exercise, though I believe things might have been different in The Critics Group. ;-]

perfect example of a song being adapted by people who continue to use it for the purpose it was made.

Er - not quite, seeing as how no one really knows why it was made. The LWW association only dates to 1955!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 05:55 AM

Furthermore...

our (British) song tradition tradition is overwhelmingly an unnacompainied one

Agreed.

and by adding instrumentation, particularly with instruments from elswhere other than those common to the British Isles you are making a profound personal change to the songs.

Ultimately culture is determined by the experience of the individual. As I've said elsewhere, I've had folk guitarists get sniffy at the instruments I use and I've had vielded threats in singarounds for using an electronic shruti box. I'd say this had less to do with any allegiance to ant tradition per se as it does to the small minded pedantry one frequently encounters in a revival which seeks to enshrine the colloquial at the expense of the cosmopolitan. At tuch times it reeks of religious fundamentalism, and as with religion, doesn't bare too close a scrutiny either, political or otherwise. My Tradition is, therefore, the Indo-Euporean continuum which is born from the tribal migrations as once eloquently celebrated by A.L.Lloyd to account for the coincidences of modal melismatics from the Himalayas to the Hebrides. Hell, even MacColl was tuning into Islamic melismatics for his own vocal style, just as the celebrated Northumbrian Piper and ne'er-do-well Jimmy Allen was picking up on Indian influences on this travels!


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 06:12 AM

You appear to be moving away from your not altering things because "they don't belong to us" line
"detracting from its essense and - dare I say - authenticity."
What YOU do with your songs certainly distracts from their authenticity, and, for me, their essence - so again - why is it permissable for you to do it and not others?
Sorry - you appear to have painted yourself into corner - again.
The original poster was talking about the changing of someone's nationality - no one here is talking about adding verses of their own; collating different versions to come up with something more satisfying certainly - no problem.
"for the purpose it was made."
Perhaps I should have said 'the integrity of the song' - that's what I meant.
The aim of the Critics Group was far from making singing an academic exercise - I suspect that once again you are wandering into unfamiliar territory, perhaps you might care to prove me wrong by providing some examples of our methods of work - or is this yet another hit-and-run comment in passing?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 07:24 AM

Suibhne: This might appear a vain & conceited post, but if anyone finds it so I beg pardon as it seems relevant here. You were kind enough to write kindly of my version of Butter·&·Cheese·&·All on my YouTube site [http://www.youtube.com/user/mgmyer], which you were good enough to tell me you considered "masterful again" {I had posted it there in response to a request from you, as you had liked my version previously as the title track on my cassette/CD on the Brewhouse label}. This, I stress, was your judgment, not mine.

Yet, according to all you have written here on this thread, you should have disapproved entirely of this rendering of mine, as it follows the principles I enunciated above in my post of 10 Aug, 2.33 pm, and contains many alterations I had made from the version by Sam Larner from which we both learned it — 'in the course,' as I say there quoting my inlay note, 'of making it my own' ~~ which is what I, and those who agree with me, both on this thread and in general, do.

I adduce this, I reiterate, not from vanity, but to demonstrate that I think you are not being entirely consistent within your views expressed here as distinct from your most kindly appreciative and favourable comments regarding my performance of that song.

Best regards   ~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 08:15 AM

Would I ever be so nickpicking to point such a thing out, Michael? After all, how (for all I know) might those changes be unconscious on your part? For sure, a word ot two might get altered unconsciously in the course of a performance, but the gist of the thing remains intact. This is a very different thing from setting out to deliberately change the words of a song because you think you're somehow making an improvement on them, as many have done with Butter & Cheese & All (though I have pinched the tune for another song altogether, which is a different issue!), or that in so doing you're particpating in The Tradition & The Folk Process, which none of us are.

Sorry - you appear to have painted yourself into corner - again.

Appearances can be deceptive, Jim - that's because there's another door - one you obviously can't see. A song is a song - as such it is the conceptual springboard of the corporeal performance. I'm not changing anything; most of traditional songs I do I've never heard sung by a traditional singer - like any other singer I'm doing it according to how I do things. That you don't like it is simply a matter of personal taste - and that it differs from revival conventions is because my musical background is a little different. So what? Again, you're looking for trouble where there isn't any.

Didn't you see my little smiley face after the comment about The Critics Group? People still talk of TCG in hushed tones - how their seriousness was feared even by God. But that was all a long before my time really, so your influence on my life, and singing, is remote to say the least. When I saw Ewan MacColl he was singing ghastly self-penned trash about Apartheid which I found as patronising as it was embarrassing, but righteous politics were never my thing anyway.

If this thread were about revival style it would be a different matter entirely - because I base my much of my musical philosophy on the evident fluity and modality of The Tradition of English Speaking Folk Song. That I prefer drones to chords and improvisation to musical arrangements is, of course, simply a matter of personal taste, but one that derives, ultimately, from the tradition.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Rob Naylor
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 08:24 AM

The fact that the walk put together in 1955 and named AFTER the dirge doesn't detract from the fact that "tekk up" is more natural sounding to a Yorkshire person than "receive".

I *do* object to the replacing of "fleet" by "sleet" in many versions, which does show ignorance of its origins by those doing the replacing...."fire, fleet (flet) and candle-leet" historically being the three comforts of a home (a hearth, a good wooden floor and night-time illumination).


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 09:05 AM

You still haven't explained how you are allowed to change the whole presentation of a song - its utterence, so it no longer resembles any traditional rendering of it, yet others aren't allowed to adapt it by adding or subtracting the odd word. Methinks thou hast placed thy foot firmly in thy mouth and knoweth not how to extract it.
The Critics Group is the stuff of urban legend and pretty much open for any eejit to take a pop at it - as youi have just proved.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 09:26 AM

Do what thou wilt, Jim - just don't do in the name of The Tradition or The Folk Process. Otherwise, be true unto yourself. Apart from which - what else can I say?

Sorry, on hoof right now... must dash.


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Subject: RE: Is it permissible-to change a word in an old song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 09:34 AM

"Do what thou wilt, Jim - just don't do in the name of The Tradition or The Folk Process."
My point exactly
Jim Carroll


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