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Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April

Valmai Goodyear 11 Apr 11 - 12:54 PM
Anne Neilson 11 Apr 11 - 01:52 PM
Surreysinger 11 Apr 11 - 06:43 PM
Anne Neilson 12 Apr 11 - 03:50 AM
Valmai Goodyear 12 Apr 11 - 04:21 AM
GUEST,THE CLAQUE 16 Apr 11 - 04:08 PM
GUEST,THE CLAQUE 16 Apr 11 - 04:10 PM
Joe Offer 16 Apr 11 - 04:21 PM
Surreysinger 16 Apr 11 - 08:10 PM
Surreysinger 16 Apr 11 - 08:12 PM
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Subject: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 11 Apr 11 - 12:54 PM

Having had a request from EKanne for a review of the event, I'm starting a new thread as the previous one had attracted a lot of spam.

Eleven people had signed up, choosing a wide range of ballads in advance to sing and talk about. Three of the participants were fairly new to folk music and ballads in particular, one having come through choral singing, one through the theatre and one through Eastern European and Indian storytelling.

The day got off to a rousing start at 11.00 a.m. with The Claque singing Henry V's Conquest of France, in stirring three-part harmony with a refrain that was fun to join in and got everyone's vocal chords working.

We all talked a bit about what attracts us to ballads: the fact that they tell stories in simple but powerful language, the theatrical qualities of the way they tell them, the powerful images they evoke, and the way that some of them connect with very ancient stories from before written records. Tom Addison gave a fascinating example of this, which I've just looted from Wikipedia, in The Outlandish Knight:

'A.L Lloyd gives much more credence to the Hungarian scholar, Lajos Vargyas, who has suggested that the origins of the song are much earlier and are based in Asia, having then been taken into Europe by the Magyars. One scene which appears in some variants of the ballad is that in which the lady sits beneath a tree whilst the villain places his head in her lap, to be de-loused. She looks up and sees his bloody weapons hanging from the branches of the tree. This image is very close to that depicted in medieval church paintings in Hungary and Slovakia, of St Ladislas being de-loused by a woman, beneath a tree from which his weapons and helmet hang. An almost identical image has been found on a sword scabbard, originating from Siberia, dating from 300BC, and now in the Hermitage collection in Leningrad. It is claimed that the scene crops up in epic ballads of the Mongols, relating to the abduction of a woman by another tribe. If correct, the basis of the ballad may have survived over 2000 years of oral tradition, and a journey from the mountains of Western Mongolia, to the villages of England.'

Sean O'Shea explained that he'd grown up with a father who constantly sang, and with a deep love of traditional stories; not the comfortable, sanitised ones, but the darker and tougher myths. Barry Lister, having a theatrical background, liked the scope that singing a ballad with three or four voices together gave for subtly characterising the protagonists without hamming things up.

By lunchtime the death count was rising briskly, as we'd already got through Henry V's French adventure and the Massacre of the Innocents (The Carnal and The Crane). After lunch The Claque treated us to a spellbinding version of The Two Sisters. It was new to everyone; Tom explained that he'd found himself singing his own version at work one day without consciously rewriting it, having heard many others over the years and finding that the song had remade itself in his head with a new tune and refrain.

Although most people stuck to the ballads they'd chosen in advance and everyone sang two, a few new ones were prompted by the discussion and what other people had chosen. There were two unusual Robin Hood ballads, Gamble Gold and Robin Hood & the Bishop of Hereford, which spurred at least two people to go away and look at some more for another occasion. There were powerful performances of better-known ballads, such as The Outlandish Knight, Tam Lin, Edwin, The Great Silkie, and The Captain's Apprentice. We had an Irish Gaelic version of Lord Randall.

'Cold Haily Rainy Night' stimulated discussion of whether this was properly a ballad: some felt it was more prosaic than truly tragic, while others thought it was allowable as a descendant of the great night-visiting songs in which the visitant is a ghost or revenant.

Ideas and songs were flowing freely as we approached the finishing time of 4.45 p.m. and we could easily have gone on much longer, but we had to clear the room for The Claque's evening performance at the Lewes Saturday Folk Club and give the chaps time to recover. Marian Button closed the proceedings with a heart-stopping Child Owlett (which goes back to the tragedy of Hippolytus and Phaedra).

Needless to say, the Claque gave us a terrific night at the folk club and the audience was full of singers. We were only sorry that Dave Lowry couldn't be with them as his presence was required at a family wedding, but we'll hope for a full hand next time they visit.

Our next ballad forum is with Brian Peters on Sunday 17th. July (full details on the club website here.

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 11 Apr 11 - 01:52 PM

Thanks, Valmai -- sounds like yet another grand (and gory) day.

I'm interested in the notion of singing a ballad with several voices and can see some attraction, but I'd be curious to know how an audience responds to this method: part of me wonders if it might diffuse the tension of a ballad such as 'Lamkin' by allowing for the possibility of subtly differing emotional approaches. Seems to me that it would inevitably involve compromise, and I suspect that I would find that difficult on a personal level!

But perhaps it brings a ballad more immediately to an audience not familiar with long story songs?

Are there any 'Catters out there who have more relevant experience, please?


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: Surreysinger
Date: 11 Apr 11 - 06:43 PM

EKanne - rest assured that when the Claque sing a ballad in harmony it works extremely well. They are all fine ballad singers in their own right. As I think Barry Lister explained, having more than one voice available allows the introduction of some light and shade into something that, with one voice, might be a little hard on the listener. Of course it will not work for all ballads - it certainly serves the Henry V ballad, with it's line,response,line, response format well. I don't think that they would necessarily advocate it in every case -- we were also treated to a superb solo rendition of Thomas the Rhymer from Tom Addison.

By the way, I'd take issue with your implied suggestion that ballads are, per se, long stories. I have one ballad (A version of Henry My Son) that is four very short verses long (short?), another (a very powerful one, The Bloody Gardener, which is only six verses long), and my version of Long Lankin is only seven verses long. Sometimes less can actually be more - and to be truthful I tend to choose the shorter ones to perform much of the time. Ballad forums or workshops do allow the devotee the opportunity to perform some of the longer ones; however, I for one would not dream of performing one of the longer ones in a club or session setting. I can recall more than one session where someone stood up to sing "Tam Lin" and the heart sank - firstly with the knowledge that there would be less singing time for everyone else, and secondly with the knowledge that the singer in question wasn't up to delivering the song, and that you would have to sit there for nearly a quarter of an hour while they proved it!!!

I shall certainly be endeavouring to sign up for another couple of these sessions during the rest of the year .. thanks for organising them Valmai!


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 12 Apr 11 - 03:50 AM

Apologies to those concerned as i think I've wrongly imagined the delivery of a ballad from several singers (from Valmaia's comment about Barry's approach to ballads) -- of course I've heard several voices in one ballad and appreciate how that can colour the mood, especially with the addition of appropriate harmonies. But I was wondering more about the use of different voices for different characters and/or a narrator, which is where the word 'theatrical' had wrongly lead me.
Has anyone out there ever tried or seen such a performance eg..narrator/Lamkin/maid/Lady/
Lord in "Lamkin'? I can imagine a situation where someone might try this with one of the longer narratives but I've always had reservations about the notion -- based on what, I don't quite know....
And I would certainly agree with Surreysinger that sometimes "less is more", especially in the scenario of a singaround!


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 12 Apr 11 - 04:21 AM

In trying to keep my report short, I misled. As Surreysinger says, Barry wasn't advocating using single voices for the different characters, but different combinations and types of harmony here and there, giving a subtly different vocal tone.

Applying vocal harmony to ballads is certainly dangerous territory; it's very difficult to do well. The Claque do a superb job, as do Craig Morgan Robson, but it requires great skill and delicacy not to hamper the forward movement of the narrative or put the tune in a straightjacket. (When the chaps did Henry Vth, they created a powerful feeling of an army on the march.)

I can think of one ballad which might respond well to single voices for single characters: Robin Hood and the Tanner. Most of the text is dialogue and most of the dialogue is also in the mumming play of the same name; it's comic, and could stand being hammed up. Generally, though, I suspect the technique wouldn't feel right for the way ballads tell stories: nevertheless I'm ready to be proved wrong by a good example.

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: GUEST,THE CLAQUE
Date: 16 Apr 11 - 04:08 PM

We should like to express our thanks to Valmai and Brian Creer for their hospitality over the day.We had a lovely day in the presence of some very erudite peopleand it was lovely to see the depth of scolasticism some folks display in their knowledge and the expression thereof.


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: GUEST,THE CLAQUE
Date: 16 Apr 11 - 04:10 PM

I think I may have spelt SCHOLASTICISM wrong in that last post.Have I?
Shows we're more Araldite than erudite.


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Apr 11 - 04:21 PM

As I asked in the previous thread - are there recordings of the Claque available, or just what I found on YouTube?

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: Surreysinger
Date: 16 Apr 11 - 08:10 PM

Joe - the fellas have a CD available on Wildgoose Records- details here.

@: The Claque... who are you calling Araldite ?? :-)


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Subject: RE: Review: The Claque ballad forum, Lewes 9th April
From: Surreysinger
Date: 16 Apr 11 - 08:12 PM

Oh, sorry,erudite!! It was a lovely day!


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