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What makes these singers so special?

GUEST,S.T.M. 19 May 11 - 10:11 AM
DMcG 19 May 11 - 12:01 PM
Suegorgeous 19 May 11 - 04:30 PM
Ruth Archer 19 May 11 - 04:38 PM
Amergin 19 May 11 - 04:42 PM
The Sandman 19 May 11 - 04:46 PM
alanabit 19 May 11 - 04:54 PM
Gurney 19 May 11 - 05:03 PM
Little Robyn 19 May 11 - 05:07 PM
GUEST 19 May 11 - 06:36 PM
Suegorgeous 19 May 11 - 07:02 PM
GUEST,Alan Whittle 19 May 11 - 07:43 PM
gnu 19 May 11 - 08:12 PM
GUEST,S.T.M 20 May 11 - 03:06 AM
Rob Naylor 20 May 11 - 03:53 AM
GUEST,Gail 20 May 11 - 04:50 AM
GUEST,S.T.M 20 May 11 - 06:09 AM
Anne Neilson 20 May 11 - 05:01 PM
DMcG 21 May 11 - 06:07 AM
YorkshireYankee 21 May 11 - 09:56 AM
Arthur_itus 21 May 11 - 04:22 PM
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Subject: What makes them so special?
From: GUEST,S.T.M.
Date: 19 May 11 - 10:11 AM

Hello,

A while ago I posted a thread asking why I found it so difficult to sing. The thread is here.

Some will be pleased to know, as I know many had the same issues, that through lots of practice, my confidence and tuning has improved. I'm still not a great singer, but I have progressed and that's the most important bit for me; I just don't want to stop! :)

However, recently I have been thinking more about the style of singing and a persons voice.

Namely, I have been focusing on female singers, as I am female, and I have been focusing on those singers who seem to be generally regarded as the best in folk.

What do you think it is about the following singers that make them so special?

Sandy Denny
June Tabor
Anne Briggs
Maddy Prior
Nancy Kerr
Kate Rusby

Sure, they all have good pitch and great rhythm, and they can each tell a story. But what about the quality of their voice?

My favourite singer is Sandy Denny, followed by Nancy Kerr. I think Sandy's gravelly tones mixed with the vulnerablity and strength of her voice is what makes her singing so special, to me.

But what about for you? I am just interested in what people seem to look for in a great singer; how to you define them? Surely it's more than singing in tune and telling the story?

And about storytelling- how does one tell a story through song? Who pulls it off and who doesn't, in your opinion?

***

I want this to be a thoughtful, calm and rounded "debate", if you like. Try and keep it clean!

Sorry for using female examples, but of course I gravitate to them more as a female myself, but some male singers I admire are:

Peter Bellamy
Nic Jones
Louis Killen

Thanks,
Sinéad.


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Subject: RE: What makes them so special?
From: DMcG
Date: 19 May 11 - 12:01 PM

A very interesting question and I'm sure the answer will vary greatly.

For me, a key factor is to get lost in the song. I recently listened to two tracks on the same CD by the same singer: the first didn't work for me but the second did. Part of the reason was that the first was played too perfectly: every bar was exactly the same length, for example, which meant some syllables of the song had to be stretched or compressed a little to fit the precision of the melody and the effect was, to me, somewhat mechanical. In the other track the words took precidence and the bars were slightly lengthened or shortened, driven by the words. I found the second much more absorbing.

SO there is a bit of contradiction here. When I hear a song without warning, I recognise the singer as Maddie, or June, or Norma, so clearly I don't abstract them away entirely. But when they sing, for me they do it in a way where they style does not distract from what the song is about.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 19 May 11 - 04:30 PM

For me, the first three particularly of those singers (usually) get right inside the song while singing it, which is what most makes a song work for me. Thus they bring it alive.

And for me that is far more important than technical ability, so that often I'm very moved by a less than perfect singer. And one of the above is far too perfect for me! :) Not gonna get into naming though.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 19 May 11 - 04:38 PM

Surely Eliza and Norma belong on that list. And there's at least one I'd take off it. So there we are. Special is subjective.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Amergin
Date: 19 May 11 - 04:42 PM

I prefer there be a soul in the voice singing the song....that voice could be technically very good, but if there were no soul in the singing, it just bores me...which is my problem with Kate Rusby...a person can be a mediocre singer, but if there is a soul in the song, it makes it brilliant, and I can lose myself in the story.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 May 11 - 04:46 PM

They are special to you,because they move you, to someone else they may not be special.
As for generally being regarded as the best in folk, please stop this puerile rubbish., it reminds of a league for top schools.
for me there are only two on your list, that are special, but thats my subjective opinion


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: alanabit
Date: 19 May 11 - 04:54 PM

In any genre, I dislike singers who show their voice rather than the song. If I feel that there is real conviction, the singer invariably moves me. The technique which I like the best is that which disguises itself and simply delivers the song. You have listed some singers whom I like too, but I should hate to put them into any sort of pecking order - and they would too probably!


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Gurney
Date: 19 May 11 - 05:03 PM

As Amergin and Alanabit said. It also helps if the singer has a characteristic voice that you can recognise, and is obviously enjoying, or being moved by, the song they are singing.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Little Robyn
Date: 19 May 11 - 05:07 PM

Charisma! And connecting with the audience.
You can have a really good voice but without that nobody wants to listen.
Robyn


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: GUEST
Date: 19 May 11 - 06:36 PM

Hi S.T.M,
I read your other thread "Why Can't I sing" and when you mention your favourite singers above I think one of your problems is you are trying to emulate them, and possibly singing songs from their repertoire, thus inviting a comparison and making you screw up. If you are interested in folk singing, there's plenty of songs available where people will enjoy the song without the need for a virtuoso performance. Real folk singing is more to do with the songs than the singer.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 19 May 11 - 07:02 PM

Agree with most of the above. And I don't think making lists is helpful, or necessary to this topic.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: GUEST,Alan Whittle
Date: 19 May 11 - 07:43 PM

I think you have to learn to walk, before you can run. Many of the singers you seem to like are able to engage audiences with tricky rhythms and songs which are difficult to sing - or even to remember the words, being long and complex.

I'd say rehearse these difficult songs - pay particular attention as to how the singer punctuates the lines, manages his breaths, keeps the narrative flowing, emphasizes certain words and phrases to punch out the rhythm,or the story. At the start though, do it at home, when you're in the car driving, run through it in your mind in the doctors waiting room.

When it comes to performance - give the same level of attention as to how good singers involve an audience with an apparently simple song - how he times the lines, and pitches the song at the audience. Anyone can do it badly and most people do - its only superficially easy. The recording of Peter Bellamy doing Yarmouth Town is a master class in this. A simple song, but he takes the audience with him ....oh SO cleverly!

When you've got the hang of that - try one the tricky ones = somewhere where you won't piss too many people off. Nothing clever in boring the arse off everybody. People say you're keeping the tradition alive by just singing folksongs - not true. Folksongs (trad or contemporary) are at their best, high art and they need whatever performance skills are within our feeble grasps.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: gnu
Date: 19 May 11 - 08:12 PM

"I prefer there be a soul in the voice singing the song..."

I sent a few songs I recorded on the PC with just a crap mic and the crap recording program on the PC a while back to several Mudcatters that I respect musically and the response was amazing to me. I used to be able to sing poorly and when I recorded the voice only songs it was because I thought my voice, which had gotten much worse due to a medical problem, would be gone altogether in the near future. I sent them the cuts because I liked these 'Catters and for reasons I just can't put my finger on.

The positive responses to my crappy singing had a common thread... it's not "polished" or "perfect"... it's a human being singing... with the imperfections making the cuts "raw" and "real". I was so taken aback that I insulted one of my most treasured Mudcat friends in a manner that only came to me in "the light of day" (read, "when I sobered up"). He actually wanted to put up a link to my singing but I was embarrassed because I felt it wasn't anywhere near as good as my past abilities... in my stupid and vain opinion. I am still sorry for that, buddy... you know who you are.

So, sorry to be long winded but I am trying to make a point... you are special... sing your heart out! That is the only way others will see YOUR soul. Doesn't matter about the imperfections YOU perceive. Just sing!


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: GUEST,S.T.M
Date: 20 May 11 - 03:06 AM

Thanks for your responses guys, Alan's seems to be particularly insightful. Just to clear a few things up, I wasn't asking whether you thought the singers on that list were good or not, whether they were folk or not or whatever- I simply chose them because they are amongst the post popular I could think of, within the folk genre. If you don't agree with them; that's fine, just tell me about the singers you do like and why!

Secondly, I wasn't asking for a critique on why I do or don't sing badly. I don't try to emulate others, at this point, because I am only just used to getting myself in tune and in time; that is enough for me. I am simply interested in what it is, generally, that makes a good singer. However, I do think learning to imitate others is a great way of exercising your skill, learning new skills and finding your own style- in whatever you're trying to do, whether it be art or sport or anything. Also, I was looking at this from a singing point of view more than a folk point of view. I focussed it more around folk because obviously, this is a folk forum! :)

I have another question now though...what is "soul"? Does the singer need both soul and technique? Or is the soul simply enough?

Quite honestly, I don't think if Sandy Denny or June Tabor or whoever sang flat, with no rhythm and boring ornaments, they'd be half as popular- soul or no soul.

I do agree though that putting some story, some "feel" into a song is very important. I'm not trying to cause an argument, I'm just trying to explore different types of thought.

Thanks :)
S. x


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Rob Naylor
Date: 20 May 11 - 03:53 AM

Sinéad, I hadn't met you, or heard you sing, when the thread you refer to in your OP was going, a year ago. Since then though, I've heard you sing a couple of times and IMO you have a lovely voice. It needs a bit of discipline, but that'll come with experience.

The main thing you were missing when I heard you was *confidence* (and I can REALLY relate to that....I mess up my tunes and singing regularly due to nerves!). You seemed to be giving out an aura of *apologising* for yourself all the time...but there's absolutely no need. I know you hang around with some superb musicians, and this may skew your perception of your own talents, but I loved listening to you sing the couple of times I heard you, and once the confidence grows, so will the amount of "feeling" and "soul" you get into your songs. You're very young still and right at the beginning of developing your talent.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: GUEST,Gail
Date: 20 May 11 - 04:50 AM

This may not be very helpful, but I often hear singers who sound to me like they're actors/actresses playing a singer. They may have good voices but they seem to be acting out their image of themselves as a singer rather than sharing the song with the listener.
I'd include in this category a couple of singers who are very popular at the moment, so clearly this is completely subjective.

Eliza Carthy is, to me, the most heartfelt, genuine singer currently performing. She sings with love and she sings straight to the listener.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: GUEST,S.T.M
Date: 20 May 11 - 06:09 AM

Rob, thank you very much, it's always nice to hear encouragement. I'll try not to be so apologetic about my singing, but sometimes I just feel so silly because I know that these stories, as I view them, have really strong stories that deserve to be told, and I just feel I can't quite do it yet...but they only way I will be able to is if I just keep trying. But anyway, thank you. I haven't forgotten you guys either, but I crashed my car the week after I came to that singaround, so I couldn't go anywhere far away, and now I am mainly living up in Sheffield. But I do hope to see you all again!

Gail, I do have to agree with Eliza. I had never really heard of her (well, I had heard of her, obviously but I never bought a CD...not sure why really), but I did eventually buy two this year and have fallen for her voice head over heels. But I only heard her live for the first time last week, at the Spiers and Boden 10th anniversary gig (they really did spoil us with the line up). I thought she was great, and I really love her post-baby voice- deeper and richer, a lot like Norma's I thought, but still with that lovely quality and warmth. Her tone reminds me a lot of Sandy Denny actually. And I have to agree- "genuine" is a great word to describe her singing, I think. Someone you may like if you enjoy "genuine" singing is Fay Hield.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 20 May 11 - 05:01 PM

Guest STM, like previous posters I do hope you keep singing -- there's nothing more heartening to us older singers than to see the songs we cherish taken forward by younger ones with a good heart.
Which reminds me of Sheila Stewart's advice to aspiring singers, when she talks of the importance of the 'conyeach', which equates to singing from within, from the heart and from the depth of your life experience -- and at that point she inadvertently and always puts her hand on her heart. It sounds very much as if that's how you also value these songs, and I do believe that it will show in your performance, and that it will develop and mature as you grow more confident.
Listen to singers like Chris Coe and Peta Webb, whose immersion in the song almost takes precedence over "performance". But most of all, enjoy your singing and try to find opportunities/situations where you can let go and not be either nervous or over-critical of yourself!
Final thought -- maybe some of the quality you're looking for is age-related(?), and some of it comes from a time when there was a lot less analysis and a lot more of the 'go ahead and attack it' approach. (Can't comment on some of the more recent singers, who do less for me personally.)


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: DMcG
Date: 21 May 11 - 06:07 AM

I'm stuck in a traffic jam at the moment - my wife is driving, so its ok to post to Mudcat while 'travelling' - and I've just been listening to the Nancy Karr/James Fagan version of 'Locks and Bolts' and mentally comparing it the Martin Carthy's version. To me (personal opinion only) the NK/JF version illustrates what I meant above: they have worked so hard to make the arrangement interesting and sophisticated that they have rather lost track of the song. It's high quality, of course, but for me it doesn't quite work.


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 21 May 11 - 09:56 AM

Guest, STM -- you say you're mostly in Sheffield now?
I'm in Sheffield, and just wanted to make sure you know how many great singing opportunities there are here: singarounds, floorspots at folk clubs,
and (especially!) a ballads session where we not only sing ballads, but have fascinating discussions about them, and where the quality of the storytelling
is valued as much or more than the "voice quality" (we have singers of varying abilities -- from struggling amateurs to pros).

As has been said above, the more you jump in and sing, the better -- for your voice, your technique and your confidence!

I'd PM you, but I see you're a guest. I can post a bunch of info about Sheffield sings here, but I'm not sure it's appropriate.
If you are interested, I could perhaps start a new thread.

Then again, you may already be in the know about Sheffield's amazing folk scene -- I may even have heard you sing, without realising it...

Cheers,

YY/Vikki Appleton Fielden


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Subject: RE: What makes these singers so special?
From: Arthur_itus
Date: 21 May 11 - 04:22 PM

I have seen lots of top acts and Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson, know how to float my boat. They have charisma and when you hear them sing a song, they just leave me spellbound.

IMHO you have to see people live to be able to make a judgement.

It is important IMHO to recognise also the quality of the musicians backing a lead or mainsinger in a band. They can make or break a singer.

Here is an example of how Eliza and Norma float my boat with excellent musicians backing them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmtEy_2rv3Y

Now, about 7/8 years ago, I went to the moor and coast festival at Whitby and saw a band for the first time. I was wowed by the purity of the lead singers voice. On top of that I was stunned by the quality of the backing vocals and musicianship of the rest of the band. So much so, I said I will get them to my venue one day. I did do it and they are coming back again on June the 18th.
The name of the band is Real Time and everytime I see them, I go into a sort of spellbound environment and get so chilled and on many of the songs, the hairs on the back of my head stand on end. Here is an example of a recent gig they did in Holland.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN58fQEbygs

The lead singer Judy Dinning is so brave and is being treated for cancer and had just completed a session of Chemotherapy, before going over to Holland on tour, of which this video is part of that tour. It just brings tears to my eyes.


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