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Speaking Last Lines (of songs)

DebC 27 Aug 10 - 02:21 PM
GUEST,Russ 27 Aug 10 - 02:29 PM
Bill D 27 Aug 10 - 03:14 PM
meself 27 Aug 10 - 03:19 PM
RTim 27 Aug 10 - 03:22 PM
12-stringer 27 Aug 10 - 03:42 PM
Jim Carroll 27 Aug 10 - 03:57 PM
DebC 27 Aug 10 - 04:11 PM
katlaughing 27 Aug 10 - 04:19 PM
Snuffy 27 Aug 10 - 04:26 PM
McGrath of Harlow 27 Aug 10 - 04:42 PM
MGM·Lion 27 Aug 10 - 04:56 PM
Don Firth 27 Aug 10 - 05:05 PM
leeneia2 27 Aug 10 - 06:29 PM
RTim 27 Aug 10 - 06:32 PM
Folknacious 27 Aug 10 - 06:42 PM
katlaughing 27 Aug 10 - 07:14 PM
Dan Schatz 27 Aug 10 - 09:20 PM
DebC 27 Aug 10 - 09:25 PM
Gibb Sahib 28 Aug 10 - 03:36 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 28 Aug 10 - 04:29 AM
GUEST,Steve T 28 Aug 10 - 05:56 AM
Jim Carroll 28 Aug 10 - 06:32 AM
Geoff the Duck 28 Aug 10 - 08:57 AM
Newport Boy 28 Aug 10 - 09:17 AM
Charley Noble 28 Aug 10 - 09:47 AM
GUEST,julia L 28 Aug 10 - 09:53 AM
Matthew Edwards 28 Aug 10 - 10:00 AM
beeliner 28 Aug 10 - 10:09 AM
DebC 28 Aug 10 - 10:23 AM
Uncle_DaveO 28 Aug 10 - 12:47 PM
WalkaboutsVerse 28 Aug 10 - 01:13 PM
Cool Beans 28 Aug 10 - 01:17 PM
CupOfTea 28 Aug 10 - 02:07 PM
GUEST 28 Aug 10 - 02:52 PM
maeve 28 Aug 10 - 03:47 PM
Tattie Bogle 28 Aug 10 - 07:46 PM
Joe_F 28 Aug 10 - 08:58 PM
Liberty Boy 28 Aug 10 - 11:33 PM
Art Thieme 29 Aug 10 - 01:28 AM
raymond greenoaken 29 Aug 10 - 02:13 PM
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Subject: Speaking Last Lines
From: DebC
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 02:21 PM

I've been wondering this for a while now. Many times a ballad singer will speak the a bit of last or final line of a ballad rather than sing it.

I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on the source of this and how it has become so popular.

I don't tend to do it a lot myself, but I can certainly see some advantages to using it in putting emphasis on the final bit of the story.

Like the "finger in the ear" can (I suppose) be attributed to MacColl, can the speaking of the last line of a ballad be attributed to one singer?

Debra Cowan


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 02:29 PM

Haven't run into that phenom in the States.
Russ (Permanent GUEST)


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: Bill D
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 03:14 PM

It happens a 'bit' in the states,(mostly from Appalachian singers as far as I remember) but has always seemed to be more of a tradition of amateur UK 'source' singers, and has been picked up by a few professionals/


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: meself
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 03:19 PM

Seems to have been not terribly unusual in Canadian tradition. For an example off the top of my head, Edith Fowke makes note of it in the lyrics for 'The Backwoodsman' given in The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: RTim
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 03:22 PM

I always thought is was very Canadian!
I have a friend who collected a lot in Canada, who does it whenever she sings a song from there.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: 12-stringer
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 03:42 PM

Edith Fowke, "Lumbering Songs from the Northern Woods" (AFS, 1970), p 7:

"... many of the singers had the typical Irish habit of speaking the last word or phrase of a song (indicated by italics in the song texts).

"The practice of speaking the last words is so characteristic of the lumbercamp singers that some folklorists have assumed it originated with them, but actually it turns up wherever Irish traditions predominate. Elisabeth Greenleaf notes that it was 'a perfectly familiar convention to a Newfoundland audience' ... "

There's a couple of paragraphs further, with reference to the Miramichi, to Australia, and to some 20th century recordings including the Caedmon anthologies. She quotes a folklorist who supposes it a British tradition that had died out at home, but Fowke urges that it is Irish, rather than British.

Of Fowke's informants, Emerson Woodcock was very prone to speaking the last phrase or word of a song, though -- like O J Abbott -- he doesn't do it on evert song in his repertoire. Similarly, such Irish trad singers as John Doherty, Thomas Moran, John Maguire, and at least some of the performers on "Folk Ballads of Donegal and Derry" also use the convention. I don't have any recordings of singers from US lumber camps of the upper Midwest but would not be surprised to find that older informants there also speak part of the last line (it's never the whole last line, just the last phrase or sometimes the last word, or even syllable -- Fowke notes one in which "Michi-" is sung and "gan" spoken). I've never heard a singer do this in the Hillbilly Belt but it may well occur in the northeastern US, abutting Canada.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 03:57 PM

"Like the "finger in the ear" can (I suppose) be attributed to MacColl, can the speaking of the last line of a ballad be attributed to one singer?"
Never heard MacColl do it - it's an Irish thing.
Nor did he originate 'finger in ear' which is probably millenia old and was common all over the world - possibly introduced into the revival by A L Lloyd as a a device for staying in tune (I have noticed that those who take the piss out of it usually can't sing in tune)
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: DebC
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 04:11 PM

Thread drift: You are correct, Jim. It's not a finger, it's cupping your hand behind the ear to hear yourself better I am not very good at saying what I need to say, but I do know that many people affect that pose because of the iconic MacColl picture. I must say that the only time I have ever had to do that to hear myself was in a very noisy pub and I finally gave up singing after about two minutes.

Back to the topic: this is interesting about Fowke and the lumber camps. Now that I think of it, I seem to remember that Frank Harte also spoke the last lines of songs as does Cathal McConnell, so this being an Irish thing makes sense.

Thanks for your contributions, all. I'd love to read any other additions to this.

Debra Cowan


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: katlaughing
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 04:19 PM

Art Thieme does it at the very end of Craig Johnson's hilarious song To the North Woods.

I'm trying to remember if my dad ever did it. If he did I think it would be because a lot of the songs he sang were such poetry, or even were poems made into songs and so, speaking a part of them, would have been natural. We had a lot of poetry and songs in our family, so I think it must've been so at least once in awhile. I'll have to ask my siblings.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: Snuffy
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 04:26 PM

Alan Lomax, Penguin Book of American Folksongs, in the introduction to Section I - YANKEE SONGS, says this of the style of the come-all-ye singers:

Often he spoke the last half-line to signify he had come to the end of the ballad, as is still the practice in some parts of Ireland today. Indeed, from very early days until the present, the singing Irishman has been the principal singer and song-maker in the north.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 04:42 PM

I would think that most people who try the so-called finger-in-the-ear do it because other people whose singing they like do it. And they continue doing it because they find that it actually helps.

People who knock it remind me of those guitarists who scorn using a capo. Too worried about image.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 04:56 PM

A related phenomenon, among English and Irish singers, is the repetition in speech of the last sung line, or last few words, or of the title, as a closer to signal the song is over. My recollection is that 'Pop' Maynard of Sussex used to do this.

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 05:05 PM

Exactly so. I don't do it much myself because my hands are usually occupied with my guitar, but if I'm singing an unaccompanied song, and depending on the accoustics of the room or the ambient noise, I find that it often helps to cup a hand behind my ear.

I find some people's constant reference to "finger in the ear" a symptom of ignorance with a touch of contempt for other singers. Trying to build oneself up by tearing other people down, perhaps?

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: leeneia2
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 06:29 PM

I know a dulcimer player who says the title of an instrumental piece as he comes to the end of it. I find it rather irritating. He sounds slick and smooth, like a radio announcer calling attention to himself at the end of a selection.

Does he suppose we're too stupid to realize the tune came to an end?


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: RTim
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 06:32 PM

Some singers, I think Harry Cox was one, would occasionally say the name of a song after they sung it - I kinda like that.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: Folknacious
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 06:42 PM

I suppose if you don't like the singer/ instrumentalist speaking the title at the end, you could always stick your fingers in your ears yourself.

Seriously though, thanks for the illumination. The tradition's more widespread than I realised. When I read the first post my reaction was simply "yes, Martin Carthy does that sometimes." I should have known it would have much deeper roots.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: katlaughing
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 07:14 PM

Yeah, Art is in Illinois and my dad was born and raised in Colorado.:-)

leeneia, maybe he does it because people keep asking him what he just played? I've been asked several times, esp. if I've just played something I wrote or something they just aren't familiar with.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 09:20 PM

This came up in a college course I took in Angli-American Folksong. There also it was mentioned as an Irish tradition in ballad singing.

Dan


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: DebC
Date: 27 Aug 10 - 09:25 PM

One thing that I do after I finish a song written by a known composer, I'll say the name of the writer after I finish the song. To me, this is another way to acknowledge and maybe even a small way of saying thank you for the privilege of singing their song.

And now that I think of it (singing can be so automatic that I am starting to think about what i do when I perform) I sometimes do say the name of the song after I sing it. I think it does remind the audience the title of the song and perhaps can tie the entire performance together.

Debra


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 03:36 AM

One might imagine that hand over the ear is pretty old and widespread, as many singers in India/Pakistan do it all the time, and I have read about it being done by ballad singers in this past century in the Balkans. I can say that in India it is definitely iconic of singers, especially of ballads and "weighty" material. And let's not forget that when you cover your ear, the other hand should be outstretched and raised!

For example, I did a quick search and found this (see especially after 5:20):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5sLONGdPjw


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 04:29 AM

I've seen Martin Carthy cup both of his hands behind his ears (and if it helps, why not?). Nevertheless, no-one ever mentions it - or goes on and on about it - or uses it to constantly belittle his achievements!


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: GUEST,Steve T
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 05:56 AM

I have always thought that speaking the last line of a narrative song or saying the title at the end (often in a quieter voice than the song was sung) was of Irish origin and certainly seems very common to Irish singers. I had always looked on the latter habit as a gesture of acknowledgement to the "spirit" of the song.

I tend to sing in bars and singarounds and have been trying (unsuccessfully) to break myself of the habit of singing with my eyes closed and a hand cupped over my ear. The problem is, I like to lose myself in the song so singing like that puts me in a different space and lets me concentrate on (hopefully) doing justice to the song. So it is being done, in my case, for the auditory, not the visual effect (I'm much better if you can't see me – honest!).


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 06:32 AM

While it is questionable whether it was MacColl or Lloyd who introduced the hand-over-ear technique, one thing MacColl did introduce to the scene was the back-to-front chair.
One of his major things when running workshops was the importance of relaxation, and he argued for the necessity of being able to produce a clear flow of air to handle long lines and control tones.
His habit of sitting with the chair reversed worked for him, and for those of us who tried it out at home, but I don't remember anybody else ever using it publicly (Terry Whelan maybe?) because it had been so closely (and wrongly) identified as a MacColl affectation.
It is rumoured that some prat in one club who scrawled something on the back of his chair without his knowing - which says more about the clown who did it, (and those who find it funny) than it does MacColl
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 08:57 AM

Seating position makes a world of difference to ability to control your breathing, as anyone who had played a wind instrument ought to know. The voice is also a wind instrument.
That said, sitting with the back of a chair in front of you doesn't exactly help when you are playing guitar or banjo, so that may be one reason some didn't adopt the MacColl position...
Quack!
GtD.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Newport Boy
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 09:17 AM

Speaking the title of the song at the end was thought by some singers to establish 'ownership' of the song. I know Phil Tanner said that as he got older he acquired a number of songs after the original local singers died - he wouldn't have sung them before.

Phil


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Charley Noble
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 09:47 AM

"Speaking the last line of a song" is typical of ballads sung by the lumberjacks in the 19th century. I've never run across the practice in any other type of singing but it had to come from somewhere.

I don't think it was typical for singing nautical ballads but I could be wrong.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: GUEST,julia L
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 09:53 AM

Fred Gosbee's grandfather was a woodsman in Maine and always sang really high and spoke the last line of the song.
In some of my rooting around I found a reference to speaking the last line in the ancient bardic tradition as a way of "breaking the spell" that music creates, grounding the song and bringing it into the present. I'm sure the woodsman had no idea of this consciously, although that is certainly the effect it has.
I'll try and find that reference
cheers- Julia


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Matthew Edwards
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 10:00 AM

I find the practice of speaking the last line, or more commonly the last half line, quite an attractive way to bring a song to an end. It breaks the atmosphere in which the song exists, and returns you to normality by using everyday speech pattern. It is a singer's rather crafty way of saying he or she has woven a spell over the audience, and now here we all are back in the real world again. Good storytellers have lots of devices which serve to restore 'normality' at the end of a tale.

Nice to see Emerson Woodcock's name mentioned in this thread; he had some Irish ancestry on his mother's side, I think, so that is probably where he got the practice from.

Matthew


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: beeliner
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 10:09 AM

"The Ballad of Harry Sims"

(Last verse)(sung)Now workers let us vow today that one thing we will do,
We'll organize all the miners in the good old NMU,
We'll get a million volunteers from those who wish us well,
And travel 'round the country and Harry's story tell.
(spoken)That's what I'm doing right now!


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: DebC
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 10:23 AM

Thanks so much to all who have contributed to this. Julia, I'll see you on Tuesday and we can discuss this further. I also love the idea of "breaking the spell" or "atmosphere" that the song creates.

Debra


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 12:47 PM

The immortal Peter Bellamy quite often, at least in personal appearances, would speak the last line or the title of the song after he'd finished. I don't know if he did this in renditions done specifically for recordings, but I've run across a number of so-ended tracks which were recorded live.

I also noticed that he would speak that line or title in a rather more hurried delivery than the rhythm of the singing of the song.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 01:13 PM

Interesting - intil this thread, I'd only heard of extending the last line to signify the end of a song. And didn't MacColl try hand-to-ear after observing muezzin..? Also, I think announcing the name of a song or tune at the end is a good idea - helps keep maintain the tradition by allowing others to look it up.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Cool Beans
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 01:17 PM

Beyond traditional songs, Johnny Cash did at the end of "A Boy Named Sue."


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: CupOfTea
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 02:07 PM

I always thought of this as a quirk of Irish traditional singers, though not every singer and not every song. Those DebC mentions, particularly Frank Harte, I clearly recall doing that. So do several others I've known from Dublin, so I got the feeling it was common in that city. Frank Harte was such a great source & disperser of songs, I'm thinking that this quirk got passed along in a number of places.
My memory doesn't cooeprate in remembering if Clancy & Makem did this occasioanlly or not, but if they did, that'd have spread this practice even further.

Often, the version of a song I sing is strongly modeled on that done by an Irish or Scottish performer, and frequently the way the words are pronounced are lifted entirely from my source. I remember in early days of learning longer songs and ballads, I tried on this quirk, but found I just didn't have the history of it being common in my life, and it never felt natural to me, even after a ballad class with Frank Harte.

Interestingly, I only remember hearing the spoken last line from those who were deeply steeped in promoting traditional song and never from those who merely dipped a toe in that pool occasionally.

Joanne in Cleveland


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 02:52 PM

You're dead right Jim Carroll, those who mock the Ear cuppers are usually the selfsame tuneless joiner inners, who's interference the singer is trying to block out, but this thread is about speaking the last line. Jim I defer to your greater knowledge on this but isn't there an entire body of Irish songs where the intention is for the last line to be recited. The Night Before Larry Was Stretched being one that immediately springs to mind.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: maeve
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 03:47 PM

Years ago, Norman Kennedy told me that he speaks the last line of song if he learned that way from a source singer.

maeve


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 07:46 PM

Speaking the last line: definitely an irish thing, as Jim C has said.

Cupping your ear means you may just hear your own voice slightly better by AIR conduction.
Putting your finger in your ear means you hear your own voice by BONE conduction (as well as obliterating extraneous noise).
Quite hard to do either if you are playing an instrument and singing at the same time, so how DO we manage, I ask myself?? (and therefore, why do non-instrumentalists have to do it at all!!??)


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Joe_F
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 08:58 PM

You could always put an earplug in (greased with antibiotic salve to make it airtight & noninfectious).


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Liberty Boy
Date: 28 Aug 10 - 11:33 PM

I suppose speaking the last line is merely a device to indicate the end of the song. The old singers I've heard do this here(Ireland) would be too numerous to mention.


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: Art Thieme
Date: 29 Aug 10 - 01:28 AM

It was a way to indicate that the ballad was over. People I learned from did it for that reason and, sometimes, it felt right to do it because it signaled a finality. George Armstrong, Sandy Paton, Almeda Riddle on occasion. Aunt Molly Jackson. Horton Barker sometimes did it. I never heard Roscoe Holcomb do it. But sometimes I did it---but mostly not. In the instance of my performance of Craig Johnson's song "A North Country Tragedy" it was at the University Of Chicago Folk Festival and WFMT-FM happened to tape record it. A decade or two later we happened to use it on a CD. Pure chance.

Also, the song was a ballad spoof--a parody of the type. By doing that in a large concert setting, it was intended to be another something to spoof the ballad formality a little. ;-)

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Speaking Last Lines (of songs)
From: raymond greenoaken
Date: 29 Aug 10 - 02:13 PM

It is rumoured that some prat in one club who scrawled something on the back of his chair without his knowing - which says more about the clown who did it, (and those who find it funny) than it does MacColl – JC

According to my moles, it was Tom Gilfellon at The Bridge in Newcastle. The offending word: "God". I'm not laughing, honest...


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