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Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?

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GUEST,Paul Seligman 09 Oct 11 - 07:02 AM
Musket 09 Oct 11 - 07:21 AM
GUEST,Bluesman 09 Oct 11 - 07:50 AM
Bernard 09 Oct 11 - 07:58 AM
Stower 09 Oct 11 - 08:00 AM
GUEST,Bluesman 09 Oct 11 - 08:15 AM
MGM·Lion 09 Oct 11 - 08:38 AM
Tug the Cox 09 Oct 11 - 08:48 AM
saulgoldie 09 Oct 11 - 08:57 AM
The Sandman 09 Oct 11 - 09:23 AM
DMcG 09 Oct 11 - 09:25 AM
The Sandman 09 Oct 11 - 09:28 AM
GUEST,Tatterfoal 09 Oct 11 - 09:33 AM
Eric the Viking 09 Oct 11 - 09:57 AM
Lighter 09 Oct 11 - 10:21 AM
GUEST,Bluesman 09 Oct 11 - 10:27 AM
GUEST 09 Oct 11 - 10:32 AM
GUEST 09 Oct 11 - 10:34 AM
MGM·Lion 09 Oct 11 - 11:06 AM
GUEST,SteveG 09 Oct 11 - 11:40 AM
DrugCrazed 09 Oct 11 - 11:51 AM
Max Johnson 09 Oct 11 - 12:42 PM
Will Fly 09 Oct 11 - 12:51 PM
Greg B 09 Oct 11 - 12:55 PM
Richard from Liverpool 09 Oct 11 - 03:33 PM
Stower 09 Oct 11 - 03:48 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Oct 11 - 06:34 PM
Joe_F 09 Oct 11 - 06:43 PM
Leadfingers 09 Oct 11 - 07:00 PM
Mrrzy 09 Oct 11 - 10:56 PM
beeliner 10 Oct 11 - 12:23 AM
Stower 10 Oct 11 - 03:00 AM
Musket 10 Oct 11 - 03:40 AM
MGM·Lion 10 Oct 11 - 04:16 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 10 Oct 11 - 04:42 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 10 Oct 11 - 05:18 AM
Big Al Whittle 10 Oct 11 - 06:40 AM
GUEST,matt milton 10 Oct 11 - 08:57 AM
Lighter 10 Oct 11 - 09:02 AM
GUEST,matt milton 10 Oct 11 - 09:03 AM
Midchuck 10 Oct 11 - 09:14 AM
GUEST,Working Radish 10 Oct 11 - 09:43 AM
GUEST,raymond .greenoaken 10 Oct 11 - 02:31 PM
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Big Al Whittle 10 Oct 11 - 02:38 PM
MGM·Lion 10 Oct 11 - 02:38 PM
Richard from Liverpool 10 Oct 11 - 02:43 PM
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Subject: Sterotyping in Scottish singer's prepertoire
From: GUEST,Paul Seligman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:02 AM

I am sitting in the community hall of a small Oxfordshire village in a state of some shock. Around me, an audience is applauding a singer who has just delivered a song repeating appalling anti-Jewish prejudices from the Middle Ages.

To be more specific, Alasdair Roberts, a Scottish singer and guitarist, has just sung a version of "Little Sir Hugh" in the village hall as part of the Towersey Folk Festival, a festival which supports 'Folk against Fascism'. This "ballad" tells how young, innocent and good Christian Hugh was murdered by the Jews of Lincoln.

Except that he wasn't, because this is one of the notorious mediaeval 'blood libels' against the Jews, alleging ritual murder of Christian children for religious purposes. Of 90 Jews arrested for alleged involvement in the death of 'Hugh of Lincoln' in 1255, 18 were executed (with the King seizing their property). Countless others suffered pogroms as a result of these lies being spread, so it is something more than a harmless ditty. Of course, we don't expect songs, traditional or otherwise, to be historically accurate, but this song is thoroughly unpleasant.

It would be unfair to single out Alasdair Roberts; the song has a long pedigree, being one of the ballads collected in earlier centuries by Bishop Percy and by Child; versions have been performed by many respected singers in the past, although Alasdair's version did seem particularly unambiguous.

For example, Steeleye Span's version of Little Sir Hugh doesn't even mention the Jews, but attributes the murder to a 'lady gay'.

I tell myself that the audience are applauding the musicianship and not the lyrics. Nonetheless, I am unable to sit through any more of this performance and leave, deeply troubled.

In the days and weeks following, I run my feelings over and over in my mind. Am I being unreasonable? I am normally quite critical of Jews who see anti-Semitism where none exists, although I do understand the historical reasons for that anxiety, and my own experience tells me that we must never tolerate discrimination and hatred.

I reason with myself that I sing 'The Greenland Whale Fishery' while being opposed to whaling in the current world. But I think it is different. There are no laws outlawing a vivid description of the hardships of an old industry (when no one was aware of conservation issues), whereas if you repeated the contents of 'Little Sir Hugh' as a public speech, you would arguably be facing prosecution for spreading race hatred. Furthermore, the blood libels are still believed and used to justify hate and persecution of Jews in some overseas countries, if not in Britain.

The song is on Alasdair's latest CD, which has been well reviewed and which features other excellent folk musicians. Emily Portman, a personal favourite among the younger generation, duets with Alasdair on this one. Emily and Alasdair both sing other ballads about murders but in most we do not associate the murderer explicitly with a specific racial group; the archetypal characters are individuals representing general, if undesirable, human traits such as cruelty or revenge.

According to a discussion on the fRoots forum about Folk Music, Racism and Political Correctness, in the booklet accompanying the CD. Alasdair states "my reasons for singing it, are in no way anti-Semitic; I felt it important to mark the fact that such sentiments once existed, and indeed, continue to exist, in the so-called civilised world…". It is reassuring to know that no offence was intended, but this doesn't make it acceptable. You might as well sing Nazi marching songs because they are historical, or 'because such hatred still exists'.

Does anyone in the mainstream folk movement sing songs accusing Black men of raping White women or that rejoice in a lynching? Such songs existed in the Southern States but are nowadays confined to the lunatic fringe of 'White Resistance Music'.

The discussion is not new. For example, the arguments for and against singing the song are well rehearsed in a discussion dating from 2001 on the Mudcat Café forum. However, our social context and understanding changes. I started work in the seventies when racial discrimination was commonplace and often overt; thankfully we've moved on.

Apparently, Alasdair was uncertain about including it on his record; I think he reached the wrong conclusion. This song may have a place in academic treatises about anti-semitism in popular culture, not in being performed for entertainment (and profit).

24 hours after Alasdair's performance, I am in the same venue listening to Klezmer inspired music from Lebedek. This is followed by Coope, Boyes and Simpson, whose set included one of the most moving songs about the holocaust: A Hill of Little Shoes.

The audience applauded both: that's what we do, it's traditional.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Musket
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:21 AM

Folk music as entertainment or folk music as collecting and preserving history in the musical and narrative form.

As the former, racist songs are completely out in my opinion for what its worth. As the latter, you are walking a tightrope, but airbrushing bad bits out of history isn't a good thing either.

I would suggest a concert is entertainment and unless you are using song as part of a history lecture, (I have been to some fascinating concerts where the artiste is doing just that,) I'd question the logic of portraying it as entertainment. Of course, today people are writing and singing songs that portray their political views, and that is part of the folk tradition. Doesn't mean the audience have to agree with you. I rave over listening to Dick Gaughan, but think he is simplistic and misguided in most of his rants. Still love his concerts though.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Bluesman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:50 AM

These songs were simply of the time, in saying that, I am not endorsing them. In some way it is like television. Here in the UK, we had programmes such as, "Till Death Us Do Part" and "Love Thy Neighbour." A lot of the lines used in them were racist. I don't know of any current programmes satirising racism.

These programmes were broadcast a long time ago. Yes, with hindsight they are racist but back then they were at the cutting edge of comedy and did get people talking about racism which can't be a bad thing.

Spike Milligan did a show called "The Melting Pot" 6 episodes were made but only 1 was broadcast as it was deemed 'too racist' apparently.


Going back to Love Thy Neighbour it's strange how interviews with the cast show that the leading black actors want to see it repeated but both white actors would prefer it not to be.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Bernard
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:58 AM

I think the question ought to be 'why do people want to learn racist songs?' - after all, they cannot sing a song unless they have made some sort of effort to learn it. Even reading off a page means they have made the effort to find the song lyric and its tune...

It also depends a lot upon whether the racism or racial stereotype is what holds the story together, or if it is merely a throwaway phrase.

For example, the line 'rich as any Jew' (A Mon Like Thee) can easily be changed to something that sounds like it such as 'rich as one of you', which doesn't change the sense of the song at all.

What offends some doesn't offend others...


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stower
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:00 AM

No, they're not OK.

I saw the same singer at a festival this summer and walked out after this song for the same reason. He could have spun a tale around it, given it an introdution with the background, explained the power of a story to influence, especially if the story keys into popular sentiment - for good or ill. But he didn't, he just sang it without comment. If I had seen him after the gig I may well have taken it up with him, in the most friendly way, of course, but I didn't so I couldn't. I don't know if AR knows the background to the song. If he doesn't, then he should - it's no excuse.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Bluesman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:15 AM

It is not unknown to revise or change lyrics. For example, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The N.T.S.B. revised its verdict on the cause of the disaster, and Gordon changed a line in the song accordingly.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:38 AM

Re Till Death~~~ Warren Mitchell would tell of frequently meeting those who would thank him for "having a go at the blacks". "But I wasn't," he would protest; "cant you see it wasn't them I was having a go at, it was you!"

But of course they couldn't; it is not altogether right to call it a 'racist' programme: the intention of author & producer was the entire opposite. But such things have a habit of escaping from their creators and becoming subject to Laws of Unintended Consequences.

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Tug the Cox
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:48 AM

I'm not in favour of Bowdlerism at all. We need to understand how it was to understand why issues ( including racism)are impoetant now. I would certainly object to a singer endorsing racist views. Why couldn't this singer give some background...and focus our horror at the story, rather than seeming to accept it.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: saulgoldie
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:57 AM

Great question! I don't know that I can give a straight up answer. Some songs are profoundly offensive. However, many songs have some sort of historical value that we cannot forget.

There are songs that are still widely sung that express views of women that I wince when I hear. And plenty of overtly racist or anti-Semitic songs. And I don't know how many people know that those formerly known as "Gypsies" feel that that term is offensive, and they prefer to be called "Roma." Yet, the term "Gypsy" is still used even in recent songs (at least in the "country" music genre). "Gypsy Davy" anyone? Still, some of these songs do have historical value in that they reflect the views of people of the eras in which they were written.

This harkens back to the recent discussion about "sanitizing" Mark Twain's work. And a fair amount of movies and radio shows from the earlier (and more recent) 1900s. In all honesty, I cannot give my own "one size fits all" answer. Great question!

Saul


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:23 AM

I have recently altered a word in Waxies Dargle It refers to old jew money lender, ok some moneylenders were jewish, some were not, so it is unnecessary, rich old moneylender is better, the point of the song is that the moneylender would not lend him half a crown , nationailty is irrelevant.little sir hugh is not a song I would ever sing.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: DMcG
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:25 AM

I admit that it is a difficult decision. There's plenty of songs I wouldn't sing because I disagree with what they say and I'd avoid plenty that I was taught at school as decidedly dubious. And yes, the story of Little Sir Hugh is a nasty story - as are many ballads -but also one closely related to real-world brutality, which is less common. But I still think I'd sing it providing I was able to give the sort of surrounding commentary that I normally do when singing. I'd be inclined to stress, for example, that propaganda demonising the 'other' in society is hardly new: it has gone as far as we can tell for ever, being pretty much the same in the 12th C as the 20th C and you would have to be pretty blind to think it isn't still going on today. The ballad is a salutary reminder not only how manipulable we all are but also how we actually assist that manipulation.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: The Sandman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:28 AM

however if it is introduced thus:this is a song that is historicaly inaccurate because etcetcetc, but reflects the anti semitic sentiments of the time, it would be ok


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Tatterfoal
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:33 AM

Will we then start to question Sexist song, ageist song, social injustice song in case we inftinge someones human rights, no, I think we allow traditional song in its origional form.   I can think of songs that denigrate the Portugese, French, Irish etc. but all are sung in clubs regularly.   It is a rocky road you travel if you censor songs, leave em alone is my advice.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Eric the Viking
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:57 AM

Interesting but if this is taken to logical conclusion then Shakespere could be banned. (Merchant of Venice etc). I'm not wishing to insult anybody and have no beef about race, colour, creed or sexuality and over my lifetime have had friends of all religions, colours and sexual identity but historical fact is historical fact (even if the history is a bit doubtful or twisted by time or victor) and to deny it is unjust. I'm not suggesting that we sing songs glorifying rape,murder, racist or religious crime or suchlike but removing songs, theatre and broadcast media that give a historical perspective or slant is to deny the fact. There are people who deny the holocaust, we consider them, rightly, part of the lunatic fringe. If we sanistize history to the point that all events of the past however terrible are removed, then we'll have a rosified view where nothing terrible happened and we as individuals or nations have been guilty of nothing and future generations will not understand where the basis of changing attitudes comes from. In Britain alone we are very guilty of removing and denying our nasty past. Much is written and sung about our glorious empire and those who fought for and founded it, but we never mention the barbaric acts perpetrated in the name of the British Empire. We see the crusades (historically) as much to be admired when in all honesty they were the barbaric and cruel invasion of the middle east in the name of religious persecution. (They also link with the Blood libels)


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Lighter
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:21 AM

All this talk about "sanitizing history" (which has been covered before on other threads) suddenly makes me think: what exactly are people referring to?

It's one thing to say that "Little Sir Hugh" is a historical artifact that shouldn't be bowdlerized. That's my position, but my position also is that it shouldn't be sung, except as a classroom illustration of antisemitism. Nor should "Little Mary Phagan."

I get the impression, however, that some of the "sanitizing of history" people may be objecting to may not be in the song itself.

Does anyone who actually *likes* the song believe that medieval Jews killed Christian children for their blood? Maybe no one here, but....

OTOH, knowledge of pogroms and the Holocaust has become so weakened that most singers may just think of it as a fun Halloween song that happens to have a Jew in it.

They're wrong.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Bluesman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:27 AM

Just thinking about Blue Mink's hit "Melting Pot". I doubt it would be allowed today.

"Take a pinch of white man
Wrap him up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of red Indian boy
Oh like a Curly Latin kinkies
Oh Lordy, Lordy, mixed with yellow Chinkees, yeah
You know you lump it all together
And you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true, you know, you know

What we need is a great big melting pot
Big enough enough enough to take
The world and all its got And keep it stirring for a hundred years or more
And turn out coffee coloured people by the score."


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:32 AM

"It is reassuring to know that no offence was intended, but this doesn't make it acceptable. You might as well sing Nazi marching songs because they are historical, or 'because such hatred still exists"


Alasdair has stated his position and I completely agree, if we go with your thinking perhaps anyone else who confronts such subject matter shouldnt , so Coope Boyes & Simpson shpuldnt perform "Hills of little shoes£"?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:34 AM

or anyone who performs the bitter withy ? for
instance.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 11:06 AM

Ah, now ~ yes, The Bitter Withy. As far as I know, Peter Bellamy himself invented the line where the three young lords say "Thou art nothing but a Jew's child": interestingly absurd historical irony, to be sure. But has anyone else come across that particular variant on what is usually, in all othe versions I know, rendered either as "poor man's child", or [as in DT] "maid's child"? And, if I am right, why did my dear friend Peter choose to sing it that way? To add an extra frisson? Or just being a bit perverse as he sometimes delighted in being [see various threads, including the present 'PB 18/20 years dead' one]?

Hugh Of Lincoln is also, of course, a variant of the folktale told on the pilgrimage to Canterbury by the Prioress in Chaucer's The Cantebury Tales; another of the great classics of our literature. As someone remarked above: how are we to look at The Merchant of Venice [which has anyhow Shylock's own cogent anti-antisemitic arguments ~ "Hath not a Jew eyes?..." !!never try to oversimplify the works of Will!!] ~ which in any event pales into insignificance compared to Marlowe's near-contemporary The Jew Of Malta, in which Barabbas is not really a Jew at all so much as just a conventionalised satanic figure. How about Dickens' Oliver Twist, of which he became so ashamed in later life that he invented the super-virtuous Jew Mr Riah in Our Mutual Friend, who unhappily has none of the vitality of Fagin but is a boring old fart? Or Trollope's Melmoth in The Way We Live Now?

'No simple answers', is, I suppose, the non-answer I am somewhat inchoately striving towards...

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,SteveG
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 11:40 AM

I'm in agreement with the majority view expressed here. If we start sensoring songs for whatever reason, we are sensoring history, as those in power have done for so long. We do this at our peril.

However when singing or publishing any song that contains any sort of material that is not deemed to be politically correct, I feel it is important that we explain our own stance and why we are still using the material.

In this specific case, as someone has already suggested, it is useful to present the song as an example of England's historical treatment of Jews, which compares with the 20th century holocaust.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: DrugCrazed
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 11:51 AM

If it offends you, don't sing it. If you're singing it as a "Yeah, life was good in them days!" then you shouldn't be singing it. If you're singing it because of the lyrics/tune then it's like any depiction in a medium, which is to say it should be used with care and you should be able to explain why you're singing it.

Also, "Lady gay" I thought was a way of getting an extra syllable out of a line when you needed one, and thus didn't mean gay. It's like "He went down the street all fine and gay" isn't it?


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Max Johnson
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:42 PM

It is reassuring to know that no offence was intended, but this doesn't make it acceptable. You might as well sing Nazi marching songs because they are historical, or 'because such hatred still exists"

At Ripon folk club in the '60s, Les Pope used to sing 'Fahren Gengen England'. Not because he was a Nazi or a German Nationalist - in fact Les was a very active member of the Communist Party - but because he felt that it was quite a jolly tune, and that for a room full of British kids to look it in the eye and sing along with great gusto completely defused it.

I think it's silly to be afraid of a song, per se. But it's sensible to ask why it's being sung.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Will Fly
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:51 PM

But it's sensible to ask why it's being sung.

Absolutely. Motive is everything. I sing Gus Elen's "The Postman's Holiday" - a great song but with the opening line, "I works just like a nigger and I isn't very strong". In a club of like-minded people I suppose it would be OK - with an appropriate introduction - to sing it as is. But I don't - because just such an introduction would draw even more attention to the line.

So I sing, "I works just like a navvy..." - same effect and no-one's offended. The song works just as well, it won't wither and die in any way because of my editing, and the original words are preserved in sheet music and on record for those who want a snapshot of a typical commonplace view in Gus Elen's day.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Greg B
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:55 PM

I think there's a "temporal proximity effect" that breaks some comparisons. Singing the antisemitism of "Little Sir Hugh" feels different than reviving some antisemitic Nazi anthem. Perhaps because the latter are part and parcel of horrific events of recent memory. Things evolve. 50 years ago, absolutely no cultural relic of the 3rd Reich would have found much acceptance among "right thinking" people. But, in recent memory I have heard a WW2 U-Boat sailor's song, one that made no antisemitic references, but rather was about the service itself, revived.

I'd wager that Confederate Army civil war songs didn't find many sympathetic hearings north of the Mason-Dixon circa 1900. Now, they're a sub-specialty.

There's 'history' and there's 'recent memory.' The two are distinct.

Then there's words that aren't worth bothering with, because they've changed their meaning, and their very utterance by (certain) performers will shut down many listeners. I mean, white shanty singers can't sing "Hogeye Man" in the original. Though African American hip-hop artists can use the n-word in every other line.

Even "gay" is becoming a problem. I mean, how much time do you want to spend explaining the etymology of a given song to all of the under-30's in an audience?

The value in the historical is understanding how people thought, talked, felt, and reasoned.

And the fact is, that historically there was a good deal of unintended or even well-intentioned racism, sexism, and what-have-you-ism. The fact is, that until several decades ago, who you were in the eyes of others, even of yourself, and your place in society was highly determined by accidents of race, gender, culture, religion, and so on.

If you're nor prepared to deal with that, well maybe traditional music isn't the place for you.

Perhaps you should stick with sensitive new-age urban singer-songwriters.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Richard from Liverpool
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 03:33 PM

I think singing is a form of storytelling, and I'm happy to tell stories where things happen that I don't approve of, but it's a different question if the story is clearly pushing an agenda that I can't hold to. For the same reason, I don't feel I can sing Irish rebel songs, etc.

I wanted to post because I'm surprised The Bitter Withy has been brought up here; a) I learned it as "you are but some poor maid's child born in an oxen's stall", not "poor Jew's child", and b) it's clear that the sympathies of the song are with Jesus who's being picked on by three snotty kids. If they did call him a "poor Jew's child", then that's a part of their being snotty and offensive, and they promptly get drowned by Jesus for it. Hardly a ringing endorsement of anti-semitism!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stower
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 03:48 PM

Doesn't this all boil down to one simple question of motive and context?

Racist words in a song don't necessarily make the song racist - ask Randy Newman (Sail Away, Rednecks) or Jake Thackray (One Of Them). Their intentions were to reveal and ridicule racism.

Hugh of Lincoln contains no racist words but it is a racist song, as its intention is to promote racism.

So if we're sitting in a room with someone who sings Hugh of Lincoln, we want to know his intention: is the singer a racist, because the song certainly is? The way the singer introduces the song gives it its meaning in that context. When the singer sings the song without comment, then we are entitled to ask questions of motivation and judgement.

I, for one, am uncomfortable being sung to by someone whose motives may be dishonourable. I feel that remaining in that audience gives my tacit acceptance of the unacceptable. From the info our originator, Paul Seligman, has given us, it seems Alasdair Roberts is not singing the song for racist reasons. But he doesn't help himself, or us, when he sings the song without giving any introduction or context, as he did on both ocassions.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 06:34 PM

Well, my two cents- I'm Chinese Australian, 18 now, with an interest in becoming a calypsonian, and there are a number of Calypsos that have racist language in them, like "Chinese Children" by the Mighty Terror, which I would only sing very cautiously


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Joe_F
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 06:43 PM

Child 155. Child's notes on the song are well worth reading. He traces the blood libel all over Europe (Britain got a fairly mild case of it, as such things go) and is very far from concealing his moral judgement of Jew-baiting in general and this piece of propaganda in particular.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:00 PM

So we all stop singing 'The Bantam Cock' from the late Jake Thackery
because it "Glorifies" rape ??


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 10:56 PM

I like to take beautiful music with beautiful-sounding-lyrics-till-you-actually-understand-them and rewrite the lyrics, as slightly as possible.

If it isn't beautiful, I don't sing it.

If the lyrics offend me in meaning only, I can cast them out and make new ones.

And it can be fun, especially trying to keep as much of the old song as possible.

I've rewritten The Magi that way, for example. Not racist, but dehumanizing IMH.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: beeliner
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 12:23 AM

This was discussed here recently before.

By the time Nelstone's Hawaiians recorded "Sir Hugh" (as "Fatal Flower Garden", included in the Harry Smith anthology), The Jewess had become a gypsy. Of course, that group, in fact, had no such ritual either.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Stower
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:00 AM

Leadfingers, Jake himself changed the odd word in his songs as public awareness - and his, too - developed over time. Specifically, the "rape" songs. There are two. Family Tree is a song about his disreputable lineage, with the line that a relative "had no nobility" except that "he once raped a duchess". In his later years, Jake changed this to "once shagged a duchess". Much better. Jake realised that rape isn't funny. I cannot imagine rape ever being funny. In Bantam Cock, the singer expresses admiration for the "champion brute". Presumably the line, "He gave me a grin and a terrible wink, the way that rapists do" is there for laughs? Why else? Nothing much admirable or funny in a rapist. That's why I heard it sung the other night with the singer changing the word to "perverts", which does improve it, though I'm not sure it saves the song.

Now Jake's song, One Of Them, is pure genius, in my opinion, using lines from tired old racist jokes to show them for the divisive, insensitive claptrap they are.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Musket
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:40 AM

Jake never missed an opportunity to remind his audience, presumably trying to get an entry in The Book of Quotes... "I cannot tolerate intolerance."


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:16 AM

""I wanted to post because I'm surprised The Bitter Withy has been brought up here; a) I learned it as "you are but some poor maid's child born in an oxen's stall", not "poor Jew's child", and b) it's clear that the sympathies of the song are with Jesus who's being picked on by three snotty kids. "

Not "poor Jew's child", Richard from Liverpool; just Jew's child: & I made it clear that we all learned it as you did, not as Peter Bellamy, who was a great man but could be a perverse showoff when he liked, was the ONLY one to sing it thus. & if the sympathies are with Jesus, why did his Holy Mother punish him with a birching, then? Why, to teach him [& us] not to overreact or misuse our powers. I think it a far more interesting and edifying ballad than you seem to give it credit for.

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:42 AM

As Lighter wrote above:

"It's one thing to say that "Little Sir Hugh" is a historical artifact that shouldn't be bowdlerized. That's my position, but my position also is that it shouldn't be sung, except as a classroom illustration of antisemitism."

My sentiments entirely.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 05:18 AM

Who would it have been that I heard on Folk on 2 several years ago singing a lovely slow version of The Butter Withy in session and introducing it as a socialist song or somesuch notion? MtheGM has it exactly right there - at least that's how I see it myself; Christ getting thrashed for abusing his powers. But even then he can't turn the other cheek and must curse the withy... I remember first singing this (along with the Cherry Tree Catol etc.) in school when I was ten (1971) under the direction of a very Folky teacher who had precisely the same take on it as MtheGM. Christ the Socialist? I think not somehow; this was a petulant brat lashing out to murderous effect. Beats me how he only got away with slapped arse from his mother - I blame those absentee fathers myself.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 06:40 AM

basically the problem arises from the star system in our folk clubs. Its difficult - you sing folksong to satisfy yourself, when you perform its difficult - but you can't presume the sophistication of your audience - unless they know you intimately, and you play there every week.

If you're a star going round to strange audiences, not really that well known but enough of a name to be a star - well you have a mountain to climb and you ignore it at your peril. There are a number of questions raised by this - one is, why do traddies suspect the skills of minstrelsy and preasentation so much, and just heave their goods in front of the audience as though emptying a sack of potatoes. you are left to guess at their motives and mindset. let the music speak for itself?.....tricky one!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 08:57 AM

Alasdair Roberts singing Little Sir Hugh surprised me too, when I first heard it.

I was glad to hear that he prefaces it on his recording with some context - that he in no way condones the sentiments.

It did make me wonder why he chose not to introduce it that way when I heard him singing it live.


Roberts is deeply into his musty antiquarianism. Like Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, Julian Cope (and psychegeographers and conspiracy theorists the world over), Roberts loves his old tomes, lore and esoteric societies and cults.

I imagine he felt he could sing this song because he assumed he was amongst like-minded people, who would simply presume that he couldn't possibly be condoning the sentiments, who already knew of his politics and who would treat the performance of the song as a piece of dredged-up scholarship, from a time when a Jew was presented as a bogeyman like "Long Lankin" (another song also in Roberts repertoire).

I imagine Roberts thought he was presenting hate as nothing but hate, and crediting his audience with the maturity to understand that. (After all, his lyrics are generally anti-war, anti-patriarchy, and, in their oblique and abstract way, on the Left.)

Having said all that, I don't think you can automatically credit the audience that way - and vice versa, you can't assume the audience is au fait with where you're coming from.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Lighter
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 09:02 AM

Actually I'm a little surprised that there's been no fundamentalist objections to "The Bitter Withy," which could be interpreted as disrespectful of Jesus and denying his innate moral perfection.

On the other hand, that kind of rigid literalism may be more typical of some American denominations, and the song here is hardly known at all.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 09:03 AM

If I sing "in the pines", I don't sing it as "black girl, black girl, where have you been?", I sing it as "little girl, little girl, where have you been?" for the obvious reason that I'm white in a still-racist society. It helps that lots of bluegrass (rather than blues) versions of the song sing this anyway.

To my mind, any white person who considered using the word "black" (pace Leadbelly's "Black Girl") on the basis that they were "telling a story" or "playing a part" is socially and politically naive, living in a bubble.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Midchuck
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 09:14 AM

If you eliminate all racism from folk music, you essentially eliminate folk music. If you edit and revise folk music to clean out all the racist references music, it's still music, but it isn't folk any more.

Racism, in the sense of being angered by and/or afraid of people who "aren't like us," is pretty much natural to a species that evolved as pack hunters. That's not to defend it, or imply we can't choose to intentionally override it, but it's still part of history if we do.

Or so it's always seemed to me.

P.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,Working Radish
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 09:43 AM

If you eliminate all racism from folk music, you essentially eliminate folk music.

I'm not aware of any racist content in Young Hunting, Musgrave, Sir Patrick Spens, Young Waters, A Week Before Easter, Searching for Lambs, the Blacksmith, Pleasant and Delightful, Gilderoy, Just as the tide was flowing, Lemady, The cruel mother, Over the hills and far away, McCaffery, Van Diemen's Land, Goodnight Irene, When Jones's Ale Was New, Who's the Fool Now?, Arthur McBride, The Unfortunate Lass, The Trees They Do Grow High, Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy, Haul Away John, The Plains of Waterloo, The Bonny Bunch of Roses, Poor Old Horse (either version), Blood Red Roses, Come Write Me Down, Thousands or More or Ranzo. So I think we'll manage!


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,raymond .greenoaken
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:31 PM

Bitter Withy –

if that soupçon of anti-Jewish sentiment was inserted by Peter Bellamy, I'd say his instincts were sound. Now the rich young lords are not just snotty young snobs but snotty young racist snobs to boot. Drown 'em all!

Interestingly, I've always heard it as "a Jewess' son" and always sung it that way. Makes even more sense theologically.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: BTNG
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:37 PM

Little Sir Hugh is indeed anti-semitic, and I for one will continue to sing it,as an illustration of such. I do cater to our politically correct crowd by explaining that this is the way the song was written and this is the way I will sing it. What they do after that is entirely up to them.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:38 PM

Yeh and read the comments on Youtube following Paul Brady's Arthur MacBride. lots of people don't like anti- English sentiment or the child murder of the wee little drummer.

You can't say much without upsetting some folk.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:38 PM

Never come across that, Raymond ~~ interesting. But, of course, bringing any commonsense to the matter, they were ALL Jews, weren't they?

~M~


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Richard from Liverpool
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:43 PM

"I think it a far more interesting and edifying ballad than you seem to give it credit for."

I think it's a fascinating ballad, one I sing often and enjoy the meaning of (one that hints at apocryphal texts of the Bible, to boot). Can't imagine how I gave the impression that I somehow didn't find it of interest - it just seems clear I have a somewhat different interpretation of it to you.

My only point was bemusement that it could be considered anti-semitic.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:20 PM

(one that hints at apocryphal texts of the Bible, to boot)
and how many trad songs can you say that about?

a fascinating and interesting song, for sure


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: Vic Smith
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:13 PM

No, they're not OK.


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Subject: RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK?
From: GUEST,raymond greenoaken
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:33 PM

> bringing any commonsense to the matter, they were ALL Jews, weren't they?>

Ah, fair point – but it depends on one's perspective. As with many other trad songs featuring JC, I've always visualised Bitter Withy as being set in the English countryside, with the rich young lords as solid native stock. And the "small hail" sounds more like the English climate than the Levantine.


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