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Folk music - a sense of place?

theleveller 08 Oct 10 - 05:35 AM
Rob Naylor 08 Oct 10 - 06:27 AM
theleveller 08 Oct 10 - 06:50 AM
mattkeen 08 Oct 10 - 07:06 AM
mattkeen 08 Oct 10 - 07:07 AM
theleveller 08 Oct 10 - 07:22 AM
Mr Happy 08 Oct 10 - 07:24 AM
GUEST,glueman 08 Oct 10 - 07:24 AM
Jim Carroll 08 Oct 10 - 07:34 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 08 Oct 10 - 07:43 AM
Rob Naylor 08 Oct 10 - 09:11 AM
GUEST,Hilary 08 Oct 10 - 09:12 AM
GUEST,guest, mattkeen 08 Oct 10 - 09:53 AM
Will Fly 08 Oct 10 - 10:10 AM
GUEST,glueman 08 Oct 10 - 10:29 AM
Mr Happy 08 Oct 10 - 10:35 AM
theleveller 08 Oct 10 - 11:00 AM
theleveller 08 Oct 10 - 12:12 PM
Valmai Goodyear 08 Oct 10 - 12:15 PM
Les in Chorlton 08 Oct 10 - 12:30 PM
Wolfhound person 08 Oct 10 - 12:48 PM
The Sandman 08 Oct 10 - 12:53 PM
Will Fly 08 Oct 10 - 02:13 PM
Will Fly 08 Oct 10 - 02:14 PM
GUEST,mg 08 Oct 10 - 02:30 PM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 09 Oct 10 - 10:55 AM
mg 09 Oct 10 - 12:37 PM
GUEST,John Miles of Smiles 09 Oct 10 - 01:07 PM
Paul Davenport 09 Oct 10 - 01:52 PM
theleveller 10 Oct 10 - 06:08 AM
banjoman 10 Oct 10 - 06:45 AM
mayomick 10 Oct 10 - 07:03 AM
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Subject: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: theleveller
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 05:35 AM

Some people find the idea of a 'sense of place' a nebulous concept or dismiss it out of hand, but for me it's a vital and important element of my life (and has been since I was a small child) and it's certainly at the heart of the songs I write. In one way or another it's also at the heart of most folk song and music, although it may have become diluted by time and performance and removal from its original context.

To clarify what I'm talking about, let me give you just a few examples of what I mean by 'sense of place', related in particular to the British Isles. It seems to have been deeply rooted in the consciousness, and inherent in artefacts and man-made creations going back to Neolithic times. Fast-forwarding, its more modern manifestations can be seen in the works of Blake and Wordsworth, in the paintings of Palmer, Turner and Constable, and then on through to the neo-romantics including Stanley Spencer, Graham Sutherland, Thomas Hardy, A E Housman, Elgar, Vaughn Williams, T .H. White, Gerard Manley Hopkins and my own personal favourite author, John Cowper Powys.

More recently still, I can cite Ted Hughes, Peter Ackroyd, my old friend, Roger Deakin, and the superb series of painting of my beloved Yorkshire Wolds by David Hockney entitled 'A Year in Yorkshire'. Just the tip of the iceberg.

Get the idea? My point is: how much of this feeling is still intrinsic in traditional folk music and does it still evoke that sense when you hear or perform it? It was something that was very important to many the 'pastoral' (psych-folk?) musicians of the 60s and 70s and, I believe, is also an important element of the continuing folk tradition amongst many singer/songwriters today, Listen, for example, to Dougie Maclean's music and it's there in spadesful. It's certainly alive and well in the music of some of the local musicians I listen to and love, such as Richard Grainger, Anna Shannon and Brother Crow, whose songs are especially poignant and meaningful when performed in the area about which they're written.

So, has the universal spread of folk music via recordings and broadcasts taken away the sense of place – in fact, did this happen when the collectors gathered the songs – and do you believe that this sense is still inspiring songwriters in the folk tradition today, as it certainly is in other arts?


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Rob Naylor
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 06:27 AM

I think in many cases the "sense of place" has been lost. In a lot of cases it was probably quite nebulous to start with! Many "trad" songs, for example, exist in different versions around the country (or in several countries!) with place names and protagonist names changed accordingly. But a lot of the songs work in a variey of "place settings" anyway....a generally pastoral song can feel equally "at home" in Somerset or East Anglia. But in general, I'd say that the sense of place is less intrinsic to the music than it perhaps was in the past.

There are some "local traditions" still, however. The sessions I go to in Kent/ Sussex seem to call on a fairly localised set of "standards" for starting and finishing, while those I go to when visiting Devon have a different character.

And there are people writing new (or newish) material who make great use of the setting. Just locally to me, there's Bob Kenward. Many of his songs are *absolutely* tied to Kent..."Man of Kent" or "Dr Syn" to take just 2 of many possible examples, are completely defined by location. I've sung both to "non folky" audiences locally and they've been pleasantly surprised to hear songs featuring their immediate environment...and asked why they're not more widely known in the area! His "Old Country Train" is about a specific line, but it has a more universal application in the nostalia of looking back to days of steam and a vanished life. I think that singing "Man of Kent" in, say, a Devon session wouldn't go down as well as it does in Kent, but "Old country Train" would transfer very well, because, although it has a strong sense of place, it also has a universal emotional appeal.

Distinct from the lyrics though, there's often a "feeling" to the music itself that can place it in a more local tradition...for example, Scottish and Irish tunes can sound superficially similar, but to me there's often something about the structure or embellishments that says "Scotland" rather than "Ireland", or vice versa. I think that was brought out rather nicely in the recent TV programme "Phil Cunningham Meets Mark Knopfler" where Phil showed that the structure of some of Mark's guitar riffs was quite similar to Scottish trad structures he played on the accordian.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: theleveller
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 06:50 AM

Thanks, Rob - that's exactly the kind of thoughful answer I hoped I'd get. It certainly reflects my experience up here in Yorkshire.

I was just thinking that whenever I hear Tam Lin, I get images of the Borders (and vice cera), so I went online and found that Carterhaugh is, indeed, in the Borders. Hmmm....sense of place coming through there, alright.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: mattkeen
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 07:06 AM

I know what you mean by a sense of place - but to me it has always been to do with belonging and working out my own relationship with the landscape. Like I am made of the same stuff!

Sometimes traditional English music sounds to me, like the clay has got up and started walking around! It speaks of the land where it comes from, perhaps because much of it was written in a time where the players, singers and originators of the music had a much closer relationship to their landscape than many of us now have.

This issue of identity or rather struggling with a lack of a sense of identity is central, I believe to a lot of problems in modern life.
Well, certainly "my" modern life anyway


Chris Wood did a very interesting piece based on the similarity between regional accents and the landscape that those people were from. He then produced musical phrases for his piece based on the intonation of spoken phrases - terrific stuff I thought

I believe that one of the main aspects of the pull of traditional English music for me is essentially about identity

PS I only keep saying "English" coz thats the music that does it for me - probably equally applies to any other traditional music.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: mattkeen
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 07:07 AM

Ooh - sorry about the typos


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: theleveller
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 07:22 AM

"Chris Wood did a very interesting piece based on the similarity between regional accents and the landscape that those people were from"

Thanks, Matt - I missed this and it sounds fascinating. Any idea where I can find it?


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 07:24 AM

Concur to some degree, but lots contemporary songs still seem to be on themes of events or lifestyles of long ago


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: GUEST,glueman
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 07:24 AM

My interest in the folk revival is born almost exclusively out of a fascination with romanticism. Probably the reason for my lack of patience with folk's roundhead tendency and its absolutists.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 07:34 AM

A Sense of Place has been a feature of the West of Ireand 'Clare Festival of Traditional Singing' for many years. Singers from different localities have been invited to sing and play examples of songs from their area and discuss how they resonate in their native surroundings.
At this year's festival it is programmed as a seminar:
"My Own Place – Does it Define Me?
Róisin White, Páidí Ó Lionárd, Jerry O'Reilly, Sean Mone, Treasa Ní Cheannabháin."
"the similarity between regional accents and the landscape that those people were from"
Alan Lomax and the Cantometrics team, which surveyed the features that went into traditional singing dealt with this in depth, discussing the effect that the landscape had on singing style. One of the most memorable statements from this work was the description of the singing of Northern singer Robert Cinnamond as "terraced style" - anybody who knows Cinnamond's singing will know what they meant.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 07:43 AM

Nothing much to add to this thread, bar those evocative verses in The Lyke Wake Dirge which conjur up not just the Yorkshire moors, but the way in which the 'otherworld' has been imagined by and mapped out with the very same landscape immediate to the people of the area. And on a circular tangent, the Lyke Wake Walk was devised over the Yorkshire moors and obviously takes it's name from the song.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyke_Wake_Walk


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Rob Naylor
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 09:11 AM

CS; Except that almost all the versions I've heard *commercially* use the line "And Christ receive thy soul", while I was brought up with "And Christ tekk up thy soul", which sounds much more authentic to me. "Receive" isn't a word that my parents or grandparents would have used much!

Same goes for the terrible attempts at glottal stops or completely inappropriate-sounding accent/intonation that most versions of "Poverty Knock" use.

But that's not really what the thread's about...sorry for the drift there :-)


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: GUEST,Hilary
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 09:12 AM

I think that part of what makes it folk music is the fact that the place names are changed in songs. It's being adapted to the local culture. Sadly, local culture is going out and I feel that sometimes folklore is doing the same thing. Logically this should be because we don't have people staying in the same area for more than a few generations, or sometimes even one. But I've also heard that folklore is supposed to thrive in cultural diffusion. Maybe it's because of all our new technology that it's going out. We don't have a place for it anymore. And perhaps I'm just a pessimist.
    I know that I feel like I don't have a folk tradition associated with who I am and where I live. Maybe that's because my family has been moving for the last three generations and we haven't held on to the old culture. But sometimes I feel that I am too much of a purist and I would find it if I looked.
    I think I tend to latch on to the folklore of my ancestors back when they were still in Europe. For example, nearly all my favorite folklore comes from the British Isles, but that could just be because I'm merely an Anglophillic American who romanticizes England. Maybe I am searching for the sense of place that some of you seem to have.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: GUEST,guest, mattkeen
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 09:53 AM

To theleveller:

Chris's piece was called Listening to the River (as I think the voices were taken from those living along/near the Medway)

I dont think its available to buy


It was a commission from the Late Junction programme on BBC Radio 3


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Will Fly
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 10:10 AM

Words and themes in a song can define a place, or give a sense of place. But do you get a sense of place from a traditional tune? I've no answer to this, by the way - just asking out of sheer curiosity.

Whenever I hear the Northumbrian small pipes, I can be transported in my mind to the Cumbrian fells where I used to walk as a teenager. But that's probably not surprising, as it's probably the sound of that instrument itself - rather than the the particular tune being played - which conjures up the mountains, fellside and lakes.

Is there something, for example, inherently Irish or Scottish or English in a tune, for example - and could you place a tune's origin from its melody?


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: GUEST,glueman
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 10:29 AM

Sound and place is largely symbolic, but music is full of symbolism. I don't think we can talk about pipes being an index of Northumbrian-ness in a serious way but can in a poetic sense. So long as everyone sticks to the rules it works.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 10:35 AM

Sound induced imagery is prob some kind've auto-suggestion based on associative early socialisation.

Advertisers use that ploy a lot e.g hols in Scotland showing mountain glens etc often sountrack with low whistle/ irish plumbing kit for that plaintively attractive sensation


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: theleveller
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 11:00 AM

CS and Rob - listen to Richard Grainger's version on his CD whose name I've temporarily forgotten (it's me age) - now that's the true accent.

Matt, many thanks for that - I'll search for it!

"Whenever I hear the Northumbrian small pipes, I can be transported in my mind to the Cumbrian fells"

Will, I recently had the wonderful experience of walking up towards the castle on Lindisfarne and hearing a piper called Matt Seattle busking by the roadside. That made my day and we had a chat and he told me that he was there to provide the soundtrack to the place. A superb piper - keep an eye out for him.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: theleveller
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 12:12 PM

"Richard Grainger's version on his CD whose name I've temporarily forgotten"

On Heather and Clarty Moor


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 12:15 PM

Leveller, Matt Seattle is indeed an excellent Border piper, scholar and tune-maker. His 'Lindisfarne' has been recorded by Kathryn Tickell and others. He has published an excellent set of books called Airs for Pairs, his own two-, three- and four-part arrangements of traditional tunes, and the definitive collection of tunes from the William Vickers collection of 1770 under the name The Great Northern Tune Book.

For me, the Copper Family's singing always conjures up the Sussex landscape: specifically the line of the Downs, chalk paths, short turf, flint walls and the sea never far away. Some of their songs mention the landscape, as in Shepherd of the Downs and The Innocent Hare:

'Our huntsman blows his joyful sound,
Tally ho, my boys, all over the Downs.'

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 12:30 PM

I thought I might poke this in another direction:

I have heard old songs / folks / traditional songs and tunes sung in rooms above pubs, snugs of pubs, public rooms of pubs, small conert halls, medium, large and massive conert halls, small tents, big tents etc.

By and large I prefer the former rather than the latter. Are 'old songs / folks / traditional songs' best enjoyed in a particular situation or place?

L in C#


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Wolfhound person
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 12:48 PM

Matt has also just revised his original Dragonfly publication "Bewick's Pipe Tunes" which is now published by the NPS and is just available (shameless plug)

The fact that the sound of Northumbrian smallpipes conjures up the sound of the hills, curlews etc etc to most folk(read the original foreword to the NPS 1st tunebook!!)is the subject of considerable teeth-gnashing amongst those who realise that some of the best pipers (not all)lived and worked in appalling conditions in the mining areas of SE Northumberland. And these conflicting images are still causing controversy.

Glad you like the Hill tunes book, Will Fly. Any mistakes in it are mine.

Paws


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 12:53 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peA18SO9afU this has the feel of Scarborough but also has a universal appeal


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Will Fly
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 02:13 PM

Wolfhound:
Glad you like the Hill tunes book, Will Fly. Any mistakes in it are mine.

It's a great book, Paws - my congratulations to you on putting it out! Your effort is greatly appreciated.

I'm working my way through "(The) Beeswing" at the moment - lovely tune. I've read elsewhere that he played it in Bb - but G suits me on the fiddle at the moment!

And thank you again.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Will Fly
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 02:14 PM

Bum - forgot the ...


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 08 Oct 10 - 02:30 PM

I think the southern US might just have th emost sense of place..but there are also lingering issues concerning the Civil War..some songs that are very precious to people are verbotin..such as Dixie..Old Black Joe..the ones that are precious to some as memories of the sweet sunny south bring back horrible memories to others. I think that is one factor whereby US of AMERICA (I won't go into my definition here but if you want to call yourself an American be my guest) has lost its sense of place...mg


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 09 Oct 10 - 10:55 AM

In one of his letters, or perhaps one of his CommonPlace Books, Burns wrote that virtually every river in Scotland had at least one song associated with it.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: mg
Date: 09 Oct 10 - 12:37 PM

I have mentioned this before..but I think we need to google map areas and put little clickies where they have songs about them...like Kelly the boy from Killane..little google flag and a click to lyrics or you tube..Brazos river..likewise...bright blooming star of Belle Isle.click...how do we do this? We meaning someone else. I wonder where the highest density would be..I would say somewhere near Galway Bay, leaving out songs of a particular battle or something. mg


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: GUEST,John Miles of Smiles
Date: 09 Oct 10 - 01:07 PM

(Apologies as I've only skim-read the above so if my two-penneth has already been discussed or dismissed I'm very sorry for my hasty ignorance!)

I guess there are two principle things that tie an artform to place - the influence of the place in the content or texture of the piece (in musical terms these could be in terms of vocab, accent, dialect of the lyrics, mention of local people, places, customs, sensibilities etc, or just the way in which the music reflects a place's atmosphere or character) or the extent to which a piece is fully reflective of the dominant place-bound sub-culture.

In folk terms, the former still stands but there are few places now where traditionally percieved folk would be encountered as the domminant collective cultural expression of a place, and so the chord between place and piece is immediately loosened (as it was whenever Sharp, Karpeles, Lloyd, Lomax etc re-expressed (by playing the recordings of or by performing anew) the materials that they found amongst new people in new contexts.

I live in south London at the moment, so the dominant 'music of place' would be grime or dubstep - absolutely ubiquitous coming from shops, flat windows, car stereos, teenager's tinny mobile speakers on the top decks of buses, etc... reflecting ever-shifting accents and dialects to subregions of the south and east of the city very accurately, and, in the musical construction mirroring the anxiety and excitement of concrete hyperreality illuminated by flickering neon tubes...

However, the non-specific pastoral aesthetic can be transportive in terms of sense of place or temporality/heritage. I guess music is always connected to place as long as somebody tells you where it comes from, either geograpically or psycho-geographically!

(Sorry to lapse into fragmented hyperbole again, it's what I do I'm afraid)


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 09 Oct 10 - 01:52 PM

I was surprised to be told, quite correctly as it turned out, that my song output was locked into a thin strip of countryside along the East Yorkshire and Humber coastline. That s to say, I had unconsciously written, almost exclusively, not about the place I have lived in for most of my life but rather the place where I spent only my first eighteen years. Now, when a song idea springs up I question its origin a little more but the song still gets written (sometimes it even sees the light of day). The sense of place in a song or tune surely is in the composer/player? I think they used to call it 'genius loci' but don't quote me on that.
Paul


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: theleveller
Date: 10 Oct 10 - 06:08 AM

Paul, funnily enough, most of my songs are about East Yorkshire although it's only fairly recently (9 years ago) that I returned to live here after leaving at 18 - obviously the area has very strong associations.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: banjoman
Date: 10 Oct 10 - 06:45 AM

What a great thread. I've not much to add to what has already been said, other than to say that for me at least, certain songs do evoke a sense of the time & place in which they were written. This even applies to places I've never been, which probably says much for the skill either of the writer or the performer. Its true of both modern and "Traditional" material, and can also apply, in a few cases to instrumental pieces.


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Subject: RE: Folk music - a sense of place?
From: mayomick
Date: 10 Oct 10 - 07:03 AM

I think it's because people get a sense of the universal from any particular location whether they live there or not .
I was listening to Chuck Berry sing Promised land the other day for instance. I have never been to Norfolk Virginia, but I know what home is . When Chuck Berry wrote "I left my home in Norfolk Virginia" ,he conveyed the sense of "home" much more than if he had just said I left my home in North America . Chuck Berry localizes his songs and that's part of what makes them so strong and universal in my opinion.


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