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The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)

GUEST,CJB 26 Sep 14 - 07:33 AM
Jim Carroll 26 Sep 14 - 08:06 AM
Fergie 26 Sep 14 - 09:16 AM
GUEST,Fred McCormick 26 Sep 14 - 09:24 AM
Jim Carroll 26 Sep 14 - 11:24 AM
Vic Smith 26 Sep 14 - 11:31 AM
GUEST,john routledge 26 Sep 14 - 12:29 PM
Les in Chorlton 26 Sep 14 - 02:09 PM
Jim Carroll 26 Sep 14 - 02:18 PM
Brian Peters 27 Sep 14 - 12:49 PM
Musket 27 Sep 14 - 01:00 PM
GUEST,JohnH 28 Sep 14 - 01:32 PM
r.padgett 28 Sep 14 - 02:14 PM
Vic Smith 30 Sep 14 - 02:55 PM
Steve Gardham 30 Sep 14 - 03:52 PM
Uncle_DaveO 01 Oct 14 - 08:07 PM
Jim Carroll 02 Oct 14 - 04:05 AM
GUEST,IWASTHERE 17 Nov 14 - 11:54 AM
Vic Smith 17 Nov 14 - 12:37 PM
GUEST,ollaimh 18 Nov 14 - 10:37 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Nov 14 - 07:53 AM
Les in Chorlton 19 Nov 14 - 08:13 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Nov 14 - 08:42 AM
Vic Smith 19 Nov 14 - 11:39 AM
Jim Carroll 19 Nov 14 - 12:20 PM
GUEST 19 Nov 14 - 01:04 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Nov 14 - 01:11 PM
Vic Smith 19 Nov 14 - 01:28 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Nov 14 - 01:41 PM
GUEST 19 Nov 14 - 03:00 PM
Brian Peters 19 Nov 14 - 03:07 PM
Steve Gardham 19 Nov 14 - 05:33 PM
Brian Peters 19 Nov 14 - 07:12 PM
MickyMan 19 Nov 14 - 08:50 PM
Vic Smith 20 Nov 14 - 06:38 AM
Vic Smith 20 Nov 14 - 07:04 AM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 14 - 08:16 AM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 14 - 08:20 AM
Vic Smith 20 Nov 14 - 08:37 AM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 14 - 08:45 AM
Brian Peters 20 Nov 14 - 08:58 AM
Vic Smith 20 Nov 14 - 11:20 AM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 14 - 11:24 AM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 14 - 12:40 PM
Vic Smith 20 Nov 14 - 01:07 PM
Vic Smith 20 Nov 14 - 02:27 PM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 14 - 03:19 PM
Brian Peters 20 Nov 14 - 03:35 PM
Jim Carroll 20 Nov 14 - 03:59 PM
Brian Peters 21 Nov 14 - 07:02 AM
Vic Smith 21 Nov 14 - 08:02 AM
Brian Peters 21 Nov 14 - 08:29 AM
GUEST,IWASTHERE 21 Nov 14 - 12:10 PM
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Subject: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST,CJB
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 07:33 AM

The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)

1.   Comparison of Styles.
2.   Style.
3.   Expertise.
4.   Humour.
5.   Ceremony.
6.   Ornamentation.
7.   Variants.
8.   Work.
9.   Characterisation and Reality.
10. The Best.

https://www.mediafire.com/folder/7lc29ei70wbyf/The_Song_Carriers_-_Ewan_MacColl


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 08:06 AM

50 years old and never been surpassed as a description of traditional singing
Thanks CJB
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Fergie
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 09:16 AM

I have it on a set of 10 audio CDs. I bought it from the Bob Blair Archives. It's an education and in opinion a must for anybody with an interest in the traditional singing of these islands.

Ferg


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 09:24 AM

That should surely be 1964 though, rather than 1968?


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 11:24 AM

First broadcast of programme 1, Thursday, 28th January 1965, 7.00
I think the series was repeated some years later.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 11:31 AM

Like Fergie, I obtained my copies from Bob Blair. Excellent choice of songs by some of our great traditional singers and a stimulating commentary by MacColl even in the places when I disagree strongly with him.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST,john routledge
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 12:29 PM

Bob Blair was also the source of my copies. Great material and performances and as Vic says a "stimulating" commentary. MacColl seems to settle down by disc three and overall the effect is inspirational.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 02:09 PM

Would anybody object if I put a link to the Beech Band website?


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 26 Sep 14 - 02:18 PM

"Would anybody object if I put a link to the Beech Band website?"
I very much doubt it Les - will give you an address of CJB if you're in doubt
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Brian Peters
Date: 27 Sep 14 - 12:49 PM

Coincidentally I was listening to this just the other day, from a copy that Jim made for me some time ago (thanks Jim!). It really is a great piece of work: I particularly like the analysis of Bob Copper's vocal ornamentation - the subtleties of Bob's singing seem to go widely unrecognized. Also wonderful to hear the source versions for two of the Wassails that the Watersons recorded on 'For Pence and Spicy Ale'.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Musket
Date: 27 Sep 14 - 01:00 PM

Excellent. I have enjoyed it over the years, even where MacColl wallows in fantasy. I suppose you have to forgive him his sense of theatre sometimes.

Like many folk inspired works, it is more reliable as a music source than any accuracy of recalling lives and communities. I got quite a lot out of them when I first heard them and they remain of historical note. Folk was widening in the many styles and contents within the genre at the time of recording so it is fascinating to hear this, a late snapshot of the origins of the popular folk music which developed from it.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST,JohnH
Date: 28 Sep 14 - 01:32 PM

I have on reel-to-reel which I recorded from Midland Home Service when first broadcast. Had to use pillows round the mic as there was no output socket on my radio. Well worth it!


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: r.padgett
Date: 28 Sep 14 - 02:14 PM

Yep must get out my copies from Bob Blair some interesting comments about what constituted "traditional singers style" and crooning ~ from memory
[MacColl]

Ray


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 02:55 PM

some interesting comments about what constituted "traditional singers style" and crooning ~ from memory

... and from memory, that was one of my strong objections with Charlie Scamp, brother of Phoebe Smith and a great singer in my book, being used as an illustration of how the tradition was 'declining'*. The point that the tradition was 'changing' was well made - and change is inevitable - but on whose authority was it that these changes were for the worse?

* Without going back to the recording, I cannot be sure that this was the word that was used, but that was the gist of what was being said.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 30 Sep 14 - 03:52 PM

Wow! Some amazing stuff! Many thanks for posting this CJ.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 01 Oct 14 - 08:07 PM

I'm afraid I know the answer to this, but . . .

Is there any possible way I could lay hold of "The Song Carriers"?

I'm in Indianapolis, Indiana, for what that's worth.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 02 Oct 14 - 04:05 AM

"Is there any possible way I could lay hold of "The Song Carriers"?"
David - 'The Song Carriers' is available for downloading on this forum - CJS has been good enough to put it up
If you have trouble, P.M, me
"how the tradition was 'declining'"
MacColl's discussion of Charlie Scamp's singing was in the section on decoration - his point was how elements from other styles of singing were impinging on what he argued was "the clean, traditional sound"
It was a valid point, though I'm not sure I would have had the bottle to deal with it the way he did.
In fairness, the singer was unnamed in the programme and Charlie would have been virtually unknown to most of us at the time - he certainly was to me.
This is the section in full in which the comments were made.
Jim Carroll

"Occasionally a singer will feel called upon to emphasize or exaggerate the natural curve of a melodic line by making the voice glide gradually from one tone to the next through all the intermediate pitches. Portamento, the Italians called it and, used properly it can be an effective form of ornamentation. Jessie Murray of Buckie, Aberdeenshire, uses it with considerable skill when she sings "The Boatie Rows".

(Archives 21531, "The Boatie Rows," 1:28)

There the shallow scooping effect of the vocal line really suits the song. Portamento, however can become a very bad habit and can easily reduce a tune, rob it of its character, iron out those features which make it unique. Here is a verse of "Blackwater Side" sung by a Belfast travelling woman.

(Archives 18551, "Blackwaterside" 1 verse 1:03)

There the scooping and the sliding of the voice tend to obscure the traditional character of the song and ,were it not for the beautiful hard tone of the voice, we might well imagine that we were listening to a very mannered bar-room performer. The following singer has a large repertoire of traditional songs and ballads, all learned in the traditional way - from his parents and members of his family circle. Traditional style, however, is completely absent from his singing. The tone of voice with its vibrato is descended from classical singing; the phrasing with the unnatural pauses between naturally-joined syllables is from music-hall; the gulping of the mordents and their transformation into sobs is from crooning and the Portamento underlines as it were the complete rejection of traditional style and decoration.

(Archives 19964, "Young Leonard", 1 verse: 40)"


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST,IWASTHERE
Date: 17 Nov 14 - 11:54 AM

The link that CJB has kindly provided (top of thread) works fine, but the web site it uses is distinctly dodgy. Be cautious, be aware of it trying to get you to download all sorts of rubbish, including betting sites, and the dreaded MacKeeper (very hard to get rid of apparently).

If you are prudent, and watch each step, you can get the full Song Carriers - a treat, an education, a joy.

A.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 17 Nov 14 - 12:37 PM

MacColl's discussion of Charlie Scamp's singing was in the section on decoration - his point was how elements from other styles of singing were impinging on what he argued was "the clean, traditional sound"
It was a valid point, though I'm not sure I would have had the bottle to deal with it the way he did.


It was his use of the word declining that I objected to, when what he meant was changing in a way that does not suit my personal view. In addition what did he mean by a clean traditional sound? There are such profound regional differences in the way that decoration is handled in traditional singing and the ethnomusicologist can enumerate them, describe them, classify them - but when he starts to say that one style is right and another wrong then he is getting into dangerous territory.

.... his point was how elements from other styles of singing were impinging.....

Well, of course they were, Jim. Charlie Scamp was recorded in the 1950s. Inevitably, his singing style and repertoire were both a synthesis of the songs and style that he had sung amongst his family and friends and what he had heard on the radio and records; Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Rogers et al. I would regard both a good influences. The joy is in how he is prepared to sing the old songs in a way that seems vital and modern to him and not purposefully archaic.
As far as we know traditional singing style has never existed in a vacuum.
You have recorded hundreds of hours of traveller singers. The material and style will show varying influences from outside the tradition because the tradition does not and cannot exist with absorbing outside influences and as far as we know, it has always done so.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST,ollaimh
Date: 18 Nov 14 - 10:37 PM

McColl wrote good songs and was a passable singer but his "fantasies" were pure british imperialism. any one can be a scotts gael by changing his name, screw the real ones, no one listens to them anyway and no one lets them come around.

folk music is unfortunately full of that kind of cultural appropriation. at least McColl was working class. most of the fakers are refugees from the upper classes, looking for an easy career.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 07:53 AM

"McColl wrote good songs and was a passable singer but his "fantasies" were pure British imperialism"
The first two statements are a matter of opinion - the latter is utter nonsense.
The reason for MacColl changin his name are numerous, the choice of that name is connected with the Scots literary movement, when Scots poets and authors changed their names to acknowledge their Scots heritage - Christopher Murray Grieve became Hugh MacDiarmid and James Leslie Mitchel chose the name Lewis Grassic Gibbon
Far from having anything to do with "British Imperialism" it was an acknowledgement of their Scots roots.
MacColl was born in Salford of Scots parents, one Highland and one Lowlands, his roots were Scots and his home environment was Scots - the area of Salford he lived in was a Scots enclave - that was his cultural background
As that fine old Imperialist, The Duke of Wellington, one remarked about his being born in Ireland, "being born in a stable doesn't make you a horse".
I do wish people would check their facts before.....!!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 08:13 AM

"As that fine old Imperialist, The Duke of Wellington, one remarked about his being born in Ireland, "being born in a stable doesn't make you a horse"."

Xxlnt Jim, I'll save that


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 08:42 AM

"The material and style will show varying influences from outside the tradition"
Not as many as you might imagine Vic.
Most of the singers we questioned, Traveller or settled, insisted that there was a "right" way to sing a song, and once you strayed from that you were "making a mess of the songs".
A rather memorable occasion was when we witnessed a discussion on the differeing styles of two brothers, one who we recorded at length.
Both had learned their songs from their parents, primarily their father
One sand in straight traditional style, the other preferred Country and Western, and sang his songs in this manner, so you got 'The Outlandish Knight', 'The Grey Cock' and 'The Rambler From Clare' like 'cowboy' songs
The group of Travellers we were with overwhelmingly said that 'Little Bill's' straight style of singing was the 'correct' one and Andy's "messed about with the story"   
Despite pressure to do so, we refused to offer a opinion, though, in my opinion, acculturation had taken place; nothing to do with a development of styles, but one way of singing had actually killed the original style and changed its utterance - i.e. removed the narrative nature of the songs - every singer we questioned described themselves (in their own words) as storytellers whose stories happened to come with tunes.
MacColl makes the point earlier in The Song Carriers in his comments on Anthony Newley's 'Strawberry Fair'
Jim Carroll
"Is it animal, mineral or vegetable? There are those who consider it to be folk music. It certainly began life as a folk song. Both the words and the tune were conceived in the folk idiom and it has been sung by generations of folk singers. And yet, there are many people who would deny that it is still a folk song when performed in that particular manner. What then, has happened to it? Its utterance has been translated, its idiom changed to that of pop-music It is as if we were to take over a pop song and recast it in a classical mold, and then have it performed by a string orchestra whose natural metier was, say, the Beethoven quartets. Do you think it would still be pop music? Conversely, if we took one of those same quartets and performed it on three electric guitars and bongo drums, would it still be Beethoven? It would not. The imposition of styles and idioms foreign to a particular form results in that form being transformed. It becomes something different. Not necessarily something worse or better, just different".


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 11:39 AM

"The imposition of styles and idioms foreign to a particular form results in that form being transformed. It becomes something different. Not necessarily something worse or better, just different".

Again, I find much to question in your quotation, Jim. For a start, it asks us to assume that the "particular form" is something fixed and immutable and incapable of change. This is quite simply not the case. I would argue that within the range of traditional singers there is more stylistic variety than is heard in folk revival singers, and what your "group of Travellers" regarded as 'straight style' might not be regarded as such by another such group because there is no such style that could be described as unitary. Not only are there wide geographic differences in approach, as far as we know, there are also changes over time. No one sings at the pace and style of Joseph Taylor and the other Brigg singers today. I am old enough and lucky enough to have heard five generations of The Copper Family singing their songs regularly over 50 years. The words have remained the same and so have the tunes with only slight variations, but you wouldn't say that the style and approach to the songs are the same by John Copper's grandparents as they are by his grandchildren. Actually, I think they all just go ahead and sing the songs in the way that feels right to them.
I take it that you are familiar with the recordings of Betsy Miller. She was quite elderly when she was recorded, but you can hear a sprightly approach to her singing. She is a good example of a Scots singer but I would hesitate to call her typical because I am not sure that there is such a thing. Now compare her singing with that of her son's..... big differences. You would almost imagine from the commanding drama of his approach that he brings to some of his big ballads that he had worked in theatre. Oh he did, did he? Then that approach was a natural development because we are all open to what life's experiences throws at us in what we contribute to the flow of the river of traditional culture.
So who was the best example of ""the clean, traditional sound" - Betsy or Jimmy?
Possibly both.
Possibly neither.
Probably there is no such thing.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 12:20 PM

MacColl was not discussing the 'style' but the "idiom" - that the songs, in both cases, had been taken from one idiom and had settled into another
Of course there are varying styles, but the one displayed by Charlie Scamp and deliberately adopted by newly had changed the utterance of the song which acted against its storytelling function.
All British folk styles, wherever they were found, were used to accentuate the narrative - the singers were storytellers.
I presume by "Jimmy" you mean MacColl (oh dear - not you too!!).
Ewan was not a traditional singer and always took great pains to point this out; his approach to the songs he sang was a deliberate, self-conscious one - that of a revival singer who explored and used various styles of singing.
When Betsy sang she, like most of our field singers, was remembering a way of singing that was long gone - her tradition was dead and had long ceased to develop - apples and oranges.
As far as I can see, Charlie Scamp's approach was that of the Traveller brother I described, a rejection of any form of traditional approach, changing what was being communicated by the song.
His sister, on the other hand, sang much nearer to a traditional style and, in my opinion, maintained the feel for the content of the song far more successfully
Tom Lenihan, from Clare and Walter Pardon both dealt with this over and over and at great length   
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 01:04 PM

zzzzzzzzzzz..........


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 01:11 PM

"zzzzzzzzzzz.........."
Watch out lads, here comes the folk police!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 01:28 PM

Charlie Scamp's approach was that of the Traveller brother I described, a rejection of any form of traditional approach, changing what was being communicated by the song.
His sister, on the other hand, sang much nearer to a traditional style and, in my opinion, maintained the feel for the content of the song far more successfully


Then I would say that you were nit-picking between the way Phoebe Smith and Charlie Scamp sang. I would say that Phoebe had the better voice but that you would be hard-pressed to satisfactorily distinguish differences in idiom, style and approach between the two siblings and to regard one as showing "a rejection of any form of traditional approach" and the other being "much nearer to a traditional style" does not accord with the recorded evidence. If you cannot recognise Charlie's intense involvement with his songs and admire the way he unfolds his stories then you are missing a worthwhile experience.

her tradition was dead and had long ceased to develop
You cannot consider changes in the vibrancy of a tradition without considering changes of its function aligned with societal change. The tradition evolves to survive or it doesn't. Matters of personal taste come into it in a big way. 'Like' or 'Dislike' are probably more important factors in attracting new participants to traditional song, dance, story-telling etc. than 'right way' or 'wrong way' pronounced by an expert however eminent.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 01:41 PM

"If you cannot recognise Charlie's intense involvement with his songs"
I find Charlie's "involvement" as artificial as I do a singer of Victorian songs.
If he was 'involved' in anything, i was in the sound he was producing rather than the content of the song - Grand Guinol.
It is as far from interpreting and communicating an emotion than is, say Grand Guinol acting - parlour singing - sorry Vic - it means nothing to me
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 03:00 PM

come on gentlemen, life's too short for this.....zzzzzzzz


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Brian Peters
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 03:07 PM

"zzzzzzzzzzz.......... "

Dear dear, two knowledgeable people debating matters of singing style on a folk song forum! Soporific or what? This sort of well-informed discussion is what drives people away from Mudcat - come on, lads, lets get back to some proper off-topic digressions and personal abuse.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 05:33 PM

Why even bother responding to anonymous comments from trolls? Ignore them and they'll go away.

We have little or no evidence of singing styles earlier than recording and those early recordings on cylinders show quite a wide range of styles. One feature which was necessitated by unaided vocal projection was the high vocal range used by many singers, Joseph Taylor and contemporaries for instance.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Brian Peters
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 07:12 PM

"One feature which was necessitated by unaided vocal projection was the high vocal range used by many singers"

The high range of the singers in some of the recordings I'd played at a recent presentation was commented on by several listeners. More noticeable in the ones who were used to singing in public, I think.

"Why even bother responding to anonymous comments from trolls?"

Ooh, because sometimes you just feel like it. I can make my own decisions there, thanks.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: MickyMan
Date: 19 Nov 14 - 08:50 PM

I am listening to this program right now, and I must say that I find it's judgmental tone to be quite refreshing. If one is going to be speaking about the elements of fine performance within a certain idiom, one had better be ready to make a call concerning the qualities that are valued.    MacColl has the guts to put himself on the line and tell us what he likes, and then he attempts to speak coherently about what he finds likable. This is always risky business, but isn't it so much better than being struck dumb by the fear of offending somebody or contradicting oneself.
This gets me thinking about the problems I often have when listening to a lot of the "World Music" that is out there. It seems to seek out the most shallow and obvious elements of the traditional style being mimicked, mixing it up with whatever else is "in" at the moment. Give me a well schooled, judgmental revivalist like MacColl any day!

(Just a little chuckle at how MacColl rattles off the names of a good number of conquerers which subdued Syria over the centuries, but fails to mention the British Empire. Hmmmmm. Weren't they around there for a while ....... like when the present day borders were drawn up in the early 20th century?)


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 06:38 AM

Discussion Suggestion -
Compare and Contrast Cecil Sharp and Ewan MacColl

•        Both made enormous contributions to the folk revivals that happened in their lifetimes. All those with a love of and a keen interest in the traditional arts owe a huge debt to these pivotal figures.
•        Both seemed to have difficulties in accepting the views of those whose views on the traditions differed from their own leading to disputes which to a limited extent undermined the importance of their work and distracted their attention from it.
•        The two men came from hugely different backgrounds socially and politically and lived in different ages with different social and moral mores, yet they shared one important flaw. Both came to believe that their vast knowledge of aspects of the tradition gave them the right to be the arbiters of what constituted good standard of performance. In their different ways, they tried to impose a "top-down" imposition of the principles that they had developed. Others, by their very human nature, have sought to operate in way that has opposed such an approach.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 07:04 AM

Memory tells me that I have never met Jim Carroll and yet we have known of one another since the 1960s. Indeed, starting around that time, we worked together in organising manageable folk club tours for the traditional singers, mainly from Scotland and Ireland, that we admired.
Since these days we have had discussions either by email or on Musical Traditions or here on Mudcat. Often we disagree. On this thread it has been because Jim sees virtue in Phoebe Smith and none in her brother whereas I am delighted that we have recordings of both and in their variety. All this is part of a wider disagreement about the nature of traditional singing style. Not that this difference is important except that, as Brian points out, it is a divergence of opinion that is being conducted on Mudcat without rancour and without descending to insult, which is some achievement compared with many recent Mudcat threads. It seems also to have the quality of making trolls fall asleep which can be no bad thing.

No, I am sure that I have never met Jim Carroll, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if we ever did meet that we would get on very well, like a house on fire, in fact, with the sparks of the heated discussions causing that conflagration. Being the sort of people that we are, we would probably ignore the 95% or so points that we are in complete agreement about and concentrate on the few where we could conduct a stimulating argument.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 08:16 AM

Don't get e wrong about Charlie Scamp Vic - I don't dismiss his or anybody's contribution to the magnificent BBC project - I just believe that all the singers who contributed had different things to offer, I don't think his was an example of good singing, that's all.
I have spent the last six months or so digitising 200 tapes of recordings of Critics Group meetings, and have just spent three glorious days in Oxford, recording Peggy Seeger, in preparation for two hour-long radio programmes to be broadcast on Irish radio in January, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ewan's birth.
To say that Paula Carroll (the producer - no relation) and I returned somewhat gobsmacked at what we got would be putting it mildly.
Ewan wrote very little on his ideas and aims, which has left the field wide open for misunderstanding and sometimes, deliberate misrepresentation
Virtually all the Critics Group meetings ended with a soliloquy by Ewan on one aspect or other of folk song, theatre, art, culture...., often lasting an hour or longer - I have said before that I came away from many of these walking a foot above the ground, inspired to lift the corner and find out more.
The last six months has had just that effect all over again.
I am hoping to persuade someone (maybe a family member) to cut out some of these soliloquies and publish them - they would, I believe, fill a huge gap, and possibly cut through some of the fog surrounding him and his work.
I share Vic's feeling of how we would get on if we ever met - as he says, we haven't met, nor was I part of the organisation of tours, but my partner, Pat Mackenzie was - Vic's club was always one we could co-operate with in booking guests.
Back to the digitisation.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 08:20 AM

PS - Our friend, Bob Blair has just reminded me that The Song Carriers was first broadcast on Thursday, 28th January 1965, not 1968
I think I may have already pointed this out
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 08:37 AM

Don't get (m)e wrong about Charlie Scamp Vic ....... I don't think his was an example of good singing, that's all.

Well, no-one could have a problem with that. In fact I think it is an accord with what I wrote earlier that - 'Like' or 'Dislike' are probably more important factors .... than 'right way' or 'wrong way' pronounced by an expert however eminent.

We are going to have to be very careful here, Jim, or we are going to end up agreeing!


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 08:45 AM

Nah - never happen!!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Brian Peters
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 08:58 AM

Compare and Contrast Cecil Sharp and Ewan MacColl

Who's starting the thread, then? It's a good idea - though, since both men tend to provoke extreme reactions, I can see endless possibilities of rancour.

I must say I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the ghosts of both. Having recently given a presentation on traditional singers that included sections on both Sam Larner and Queen Caroline Hughes, I was struck by MacColl's good collecting practice in both cases, and his insistence on giving a full and fair account of both singers' lives - in 'Singing the Fishing' and his and Seeger's Introduction to 'Travellers' Songs'. Yet only the other day a non-folkie friend who is involved with the Mass Trespass commemorations in Hayfield told me how aliented he'd felt after hearing MacColl's demolition of a songwriter at the Critics' Group, that was aired on Radio 4 a while ago. A complex character.

And don't get me started on Cecil Sharp...


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 11:20 AM

I must say I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the ghosts of both.

Well, exactly, Brian, as I'm sure many of us will have. I gave three points of similarity above to kick off this discussion. I was going to add a fourth opinion though three seemed to be enough for starters. It is this:-

•        It has proved to be difficult for song collectors and academics to come to the body of English language folk song without some prior outline in their minds of what was going on. Let's take Sharp first; in 1903, Sharp visited Marson, who was vicar at the village of Hambridge in Somerset. Whilst they were sat out in the garden, they heard the gardener, whose name was John England, singing The Seeds of Love, his first encounter with an English Folk Song. In 1907 he wrote English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions. Bloody hell, Cecil! That was quick! From absolute beginner to published expert in four years! Here's something that I cut out of The Guardian on Friday 4 May 2007 by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor
The English folksong collector Cecil Sharp was interested in isolating white Britishness. He travelled the country lanes of England seeking out rural workers for their unadulterated traditional material. In their songs he saw a distant reflection of the "merrie England" of myth. Sharp then travelled to America to document the survival of the English and Scottish tradition in the isolated communities of the Appalachian mountains. At the time, one out of every eight Appalachians was black, but Sharp dubbed black Americans "a lower race", recoiled from towns with too high a proportion of them, and concentrated only on those songs he considered pure British folk song.

Ewan MacColl along with friend and fellow communist Bert Lloyd was looking for evidence to support their passionate desire to 'revitalise' the interest in and the enthusiasm of the British working class in what he saw as the traditional culture that was in their best interests. Fred McCormick, in his article Joe Heaney (20.4.2000) at http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/heaney.htm writes:-
Ewan MacColl remained a passionate advocate of working class musical art, arguing that the revitalisation of folksong was essential for the realisation of socialist ideology, and for the psychological desegregation of the human race. Unfortunately, very little of this argument was ever committed to print, * MacColl preferring to propagate his convictions via live and recorded performances and through the training of young singers, whom he and Peggy organised into The Critics Group.

So the pair of them clearly had an agenda. Of the two MacColl's seems the healthier to me. If what I have quoted about Sharp is accurate then there are some worrying things in his intentions. Clearly, however, neither of them came to the study of folk song with an open enquiring mind, forming hypotheses and theories from the raw material they found as a clear minded academic should, but arriving at the subject with some pre-conception of what they were going to find.

* Are you reading this, Jim Carroll? "very little of this argument was ever committed to print" No more arguing with bloody Vic Smith on Mudcat; get that transcription, editing and publishing work done.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 11:24 AM

"MacColl's demolition of a songwriter at the Critics' Group, that was aired on Radio 4 a while ago".
Having gone through all the tapes (1964-1971), I found virtually no examples of criticism of anybody outside the Group - that isn't what it did.
I spoke on the Group during the symposium for MacColl's 70th, and one of my main criticisms was that they isolated themselves from the rest of the revival, rather than trying to influence it.
That didn't mean that members, MacColl included, didn't have opinions on individual performers or clubs, nor did it mean that they didn't express their views during the meetings, but we were there to work on each others singing and to explore different aspects of the song tradition
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 12:40 PM

"Are you reading this, Jim Carroll? "very little of this argument was ever committed to print"
I am indeed Vic - have had it in mind for at least ten years, since I was first given permission to copy the Critics tapes.
I would point out that MacColl made no pretence of being an academic - his aim was to create a situation in which the songs could be sung and where the forms could be used to create new songs
His greatest contribution as far as singing was to develop singing and relaxation techniques and to assist singers to relate to the songs - that was what lifted my feet off the floor - and still does when I listen to the tapes.
I think Bert's claim to scholarship created a number of problems.
As for the working class asect of folk song - pretty well my experience as a collector.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 01:07 PM

I would point out that MacColl made no pretence of being an academic

Great - thanks Jim - another similarity to Cecil Sharp ....it says here that Cecil left school at 15!
Hang on..... it goes on to say "and was then privately coached for the University of Cambridge, where he rowed in the Clare College boat and graduated B.A. in 1882..... BUGGER!


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 02:27 PM

I would point out that MacColl made no pretence of being an academic

You are spot on as usual, Jim. MacColl was just an ordinary working class gigging folk musician...... (though if I were a cynic, I might add that) he was a gigging folk musician who just by a complete fluke was awarded a ten-part series of programmes on the BBC national radio to examine traditional song in minute and sometimes fascinating detail that are listed in the opening post...... an ordinary musician who was given huge budget over a number of years from the BBC Midlands Arts Funding allocation for his brilliant 'Radio Ballads' programmes. Many other broadcasters thought that the money spent on them was hugely disproportionate to the length of the programmes but they were probably just people who were jealous and vindictive because their projects were not funded as a result of this, (but I am not a cynic so I won't add this.)


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 03:19 PM

MacColl was first discovered busking to cinema queue, and taken 'to the bosom of the BBC in the 1930s' as an actor
In those balmy days there were BBC producers such as Douglas Clevedon, Olive Shaply and Lawrence Gilligham (some mat remember his neice Clare, from when she worked at the BBC) - who were interested in representing the working peoples lives (if not their voices) to a wider audience.
"(1931) MacColl had been out busking for pennies by the Manchester theatres and cinemas. The songs he sang were unusual, Scots songs, Gaelic songs he had learnt from his mother, border ballads and folk-songs. One night while queueing up for the three-and- sixpennies, Kenneth Adam had heard him singing outside the Manchester Paramount. He was suitably impressed. Not only did he give MacColl a handout; he also advised him to go and audition for Archie Harding at the BBC studios in Manchester's Piccadilly. This MacColl duly did. May Day in England was being cast at the time, and though it had no part for a singer, it certainly had for a good, tough, angry Voice of the People. Ewan MacColl became the Voice, a role which he has continued to fill on stage, on the air, and on a couple of hundred L.P. discs ever since."
Prospero and Ariel, D. G Bridson, Victor Gollantz 1971
Both he and Bert, along with Alan Lomax, got the Beeb interested in folk song - Bert did radio programmes from all over Europe, Ewan did a few projects such as St Cecilia With a Shovel, Landscape With Chimneys, Pit Stop, The Ballad Hunters and The Song Carriers.
The Radio Ballads started when Charles Parker was commissioned to collect material for a programme on a railwayman who died attempting to stop his tran from ploughing into a station.
They idea was that he should record railwaymen, bring the recordings in to write into a script and give to actors to read - Ewan and Peggy were to write the music.
MacColl came to the conclusion that the talk stood up by itself and did not need actors, but stood up on its own merits.
I once stayed with Charles when he lived in Birmingham, and prised him for "his" Radio Ballads - I recieved a sharp rap on the knuckles - "they weren't mine, they were Ewan's"
Contrary to rumour, they did not cease because they were too expensive; the Beeb found the final one too hot to handle, especially the penultimate section, which featured Midlands Justice of the Peace, Harry Watton declaring that all Gypsies who refused to conform should be exterminated - the powers-that-be wanted it removed, Parker refused, it went in as recorded and the rest is history - there were no more Radio Ballads and eventually the Features Department was was run down and Parker was dismissed.
Ewan did very little work for the Beeb after that and he and Peggy made a living as well as they could by touring - then along came 'First Time Ever'...
The Radio Ballads were prize material (2 Italia entries - 1 winner) and difficult to get rid of without an excuse - they were more or less the first programmes to feature the working mans' voice to any great extent.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Brian Peters
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 03:35 PM

I've spent some time recently listening to some of those Radio Ballads. They are staggeringly good and, although the subject matter has dated, the format has not. Utterly gripping.

I'll reply to Vic about Cecil Sharp tomorrow.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Nov 14 - 03:59 PM

Sorry - my mistake
(some mat remember his neice Clare, from when she worked at the BBC)
This should read 'some may remember his niece Clare Gilligham, who worked as Malcolm Taylor's assistant in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library' in the early 1990s.
There was a further Radio Ballad produced for schools, set in the East End of London, based on Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' and Charles went on to produce two more, without Ewan and Peg and on a greatly reduced budget - Ian and Lorna Campbell did the music.
These were entitles, 'Cry From the Cut' (canals) and 'The Jewelry' (based on the area of that name in Birmingham).
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Nov 14 - 07:02 AM

Bloody hell, Cecil! That was quick! From absolute beginner to published expert in four years!

Sharp's 'epiphany' in Marson's garden is a bit of a myth, possibly propagated by his disciples. By the time he heard John England sing 'The Seeds of Love' he'd already been a member of the Folk Song Society (and thus a recipient of its Journal) for two years, and had been using folk songs in his school teaching for longer than that. As for being the prime expert, he simply set himself up as such, as described in Lucy Broadwood's quote: "He puffed and boomed and shoved and ousted...[and] came to believe himself King of the whole movement". 'Some Conclusions' is, as Vic says, a rather premature piece of work - one wonders whether he'd have reached different conclusions after his Appalachian trips, although perhaps his views were so set by then that nothing would have changed his mind.

That piece Vic pasted from the Guardian is largely accurate although slanted unsympathetically. I don't know that Sharp ever used the phrase 'Merrie England' - it was Dave Harker that did, in mediating what Sharp actually did say, about "the tap-room, the poaching, heathenish, Bohemian element in our villages" (which sounds much more exciting than 'Merrie England' to me).

To an extent I can forgive the narrowness of his search criteria when collecting in the Appalachians - he was seeking British folk song and had set ideas of where it could be found. In fact, quite a lot of what he noted was clearly not of British origin, and it's to his credit that he recorded it anyway. However, he did use that nasty phrase about 'a lower race', he did bypass at least one black settlement, and he made one or two other derogatory remarks about African-Americans. Before setting out for the mountains he expressed incredulity at the notion that 'negroes' could actually have any folk music of their own, but he did nonetheless collect songs from white singers that he knew had African-American origins, and he seems to have got on very well with the former slave Aunt Maria Tombs when he met her.

Sharp's ideas about folk song were inextricable from his notion that it was a racial product - which is why he thought it could be used to advance a sense of English-ness. 'Racial' in that context was used to mean something very similar to 'national', and deployed to distinguish the English from the Germans, so it wasn't necessarily used in its modern ethnic sense. So was Sharp a racist? By our standards, yes. On the other hand, those kind of views (the superiority of the white man, etc) were mainstream in his time. I think it was Martin Carthy who said something like, "He was a man of his time, but how much better it would have been if he'd been a man ahead of his time".

Sharp's work, particularly in the Appalachians, was truly heroic. Such a pity I can't embrace him as a hero.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Vic Smith
Date: 21 Nov 14 - 08:02 AM

It would be worth pointing out to those who are not aware that Brian has fairly recently conducted extensive research into Sharp as part of his project Sharp's Appalachian Harvest in which he worked with Jeff Davis. The result was a delightful multimedia show which we were able to present to an enthusiastic capacity crowd at the 2013 Lewes Folk Festival along with an excellent CD.
Funnily enough, the song that really remains in my mind most from the album and the show is a version of Barbara Allen that Sharp collected from an old African-American woman who, I seem to remember without going back to the album notes. was born a slave. The tune has a slightly bluesy quality. Sharp noted only the tune and a couple of verses and Brian reconstructed the words from other sources - but has come up with a really worthwhile version.
It is known that the slaves were strongly forbidden to communicate in their own African languages and who were removed from their own musical cultures were encouraged to adopt the tunes and songs of their slave owners. I wonder if Cecil Sharp had been aware of this, if he would have tried to seek English songs amongst black ex-slaves. He was not above working with outcast groups. His interactions with English gypsies when collecting from them seem to have been mutually enjoyable.

This all reminds me of seeing the Carolina Chocolate Drops on their first British tour. This black group were researching and performing the neglected black repertoire of their state from the early part of the 20th century, My most vivid memory was when Rhiannon Giddens stood up and said that where she was brought up, a lot of the plantations had been owned by Gaelic-speaking Scots and that she was going to sing unaccompanied a song in Gaelic that was collected from an old black woman. What??? A friend of mine, a Gaelic-speaking fiddle player was in the audience and I made a bee-line for him afterwards. "What was her accent like?" I asked. "Pretty damn good!" was his reply.


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Nov 14 - 08:29 AM

Yes, Vic, 'Barbara Allen' was sung by the freed slave Aunt Maria Tombs. I'd love to know what made him call on Aunt Maria, given his general attitude towards black communities in the mountains - perhaps someone tipped him off that she knew the ballad. It seems to have been the only one, though.

I'd heard about slaves being forbidden to perform African music, so it's quite possible that ex-slaves would have known English songs. The one generally known as 'Seven Drunken Nights' was in the repertoire of black musicians like Coley Jones, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Boy Fuller. It was also popular with early white string bands (Mainer's Mountaineers sang almost identical words to Coley Jones), which makes me wonder whether a version was used in minstrel shows - the risqué humour would probably have fitted right in. And I wonder how 'The Maid Freed from the Gallows' got to Lead Belly as 'Gallows Pole'!


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Subject: RE: The Song Carriers - Ewan MacColl (1968)
From: GUEST,IWASTHERE
Date: 21 Nov 14 - 12:10 PM

Why waste your time listening to MacColl's programmes about the ins and outs of folk music. Choose one of the many other versions instead.

There's always.... let's think, didn't Richard Stilgoe do a programme about folk music once, back in the 70s? Or was it Steve Race, another radical musicologist.

Or really get up to date, and go on Twitter. So many MBAs in traditional folk music these days that there must be thousands of fellow academics willing and ready to share their views.

Or...

Until history throws up a new MacColl, man or woman, with his dynamism, his passion, his knowledge, his skills (to which anyone who saw him in front of an audience can attest), then for god's sake temper your often-justified criticism with heart-felt thanks that Ewan MacColl lived, and lived in our time.

A


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