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The Song is the Important Thing!

Andy7 15 May 16 - 12:20 PM
mkebenn 15 May 16 - 12:27 PM
punkfolkrocker 15 May 16 - 12:29 PM
GUEST,padgett 15 May 16 - 01:46 PM
meself 15 May 16 - 02:14 PM
mkebenn 15 May 16 - 03:00 PM
meself 15 May 16 - 05:08 PM
GUEST 15 May 16 - 08:03 PM
BobKnight 15 May 16 - 08:05 PM
GUEST,HiLo 15 May 16 - 08:28 PM
GUEST,Allan Conn 16 May 16 - 03:28 AM
GUEST,Mike Yates 16 May 16 - 03:37 AM
Jim Carroll 16 May 16 - 04:22 AM
doc.tom 16 May 16 - 04:40 AM
matt milton 16 May 16 - 06:09 AM
Mo the caller 16 May 16 - 06:47 AM
Mo the caller 16 May 16 - 06:49 AM
Jim Carroll 16 May 16 - 07:48 AM
GUEST,In good company 16 May 16 - 08:20 AM
Vic Smith 16 May 16 - 08:38 AM
Jim Carroll 16 May 16 - 08:46 AM
CupOfTea 16 May 16 - 08:50 AM
mkebenn 16 May 16 - 09:15 AM
Steve Gardham 16 May 16 - 09:57 AM
mkebenn 16 May 16 - 10:05 AM
GUEST 16 May 16 - 10:38 AM
Steve Gardham 16 May 16 - 11:41 AM
GUEST 16 May 16 - 11:53 AM
Airymouse 16 May 16 - 11:54 AM
GUEST 16 May 16 - 12:04 PM
Harmonium Hero 16 May 16 - 12:07 PM
Uncle_DaveO 16 May 16 - 12:21 PM
GUEST 16 May 16 - 12:35 PM
The Sandman 16 May 16 - 12:42 PM
Jim Carroll 16 May 16 - 01:07 PM
GUEST 16 May 16 - 01:14 PM
Vic Smith 16 May 16 - 03:04 PM
Jim Carroll 16 May 16 - 03:17 PM
Stewart 16 May 16 - 03:52 PM
Pete from seven stars link 16 May 16 - 04:06 PM
GUEST 16 May 16 - 04:37 PM
JHW 16 May 16 - 05:02 PM
Stewart 16 May 16 - 06:45 PM
GUEST,FloraG 17 May 16 - 03:12 AM
GUEST,padgett 17 May 16 - 03:18 AM
Acorn4 17 May 16 - 11:29 AM
MikeL2 17 May 16 - 11:44 AM
GUEST 17 May 16 - 11:55 AM
Jim Carroll 17 May 16 - 12:30 PM
Jim Carroll 17 May 16 - 12:32 PM
Joe Offer 17 May 16 - 01:56 PM
GUEST,Anne Neilson 17 May 16 - 03:21 PM
Andy7 17 May 16 - 09:11 PM
Jim Carroll 18 May 16 - 03:49 AM
Will Fly 18 May 16 - 03:54 AM
GUEST,FloraG 18 May 16 - 03:57 AM
Will Fly 18 May 16 - 04:01 AM
JHW 18 May 16 - 05:42 AM
Vic Smith 18 May 16 - 07:08 AM
The Sandman 18 May 16 - 07:29 AM
Jim Carroll 18 May 16 - 07:30 AM
GUEST,Anne Neilson 18 May 16 - 06:46 PM
theleveller 19 May 16 - 03:55 AM
Jim Carroll 19 May 16 - 04:53 AM
matt milton 19 May 16 - 05:03 AM
Vic Smith 19 May 16 - 06:10 AM
BobKnight 19 May 16 - 07:08 AM
Jim Carroll 19 May 16 - 08:21 AM
theleveller 19 May 16 - 09:36 AM
Jim Carroll 19 May 16 - 09:42 AM
punkfolkrocker 19 May 16 - 09:57 AM
Jim Carroll 19 May 16 - 10:19 AM
theleveller 19 May 16 - 10:30 AM
GUEST,Tunesmith 19 May 16 - 10:31 AM
GUEST,Ed 19 May 16 - 10:56 AM
Snuffy 19 May 16 - 11:07 AM
The Sandman 19 May 16 - 11:52 AM
Jim Carroll 19 May 16 - 12:01 PM
Steve Shaw 19 May 16 - 12:28 PM
The Sandman 19 May 16 - 12:37 PM
Steve Shaw 19 May 16 - 02:38 PM
GUEST,Ed 19 May 16 - 03:15 PM
The Sandman 19 May 16 - 04:26 PM
The Sandman 19 May 16 - 04:48 PM
punkfolkrocker 19 May 16 - 05:25 PM
The Sandman 19 May 16 - 05:41 PM
Steve Shaw 19 May 16 - 05:55 PM
The Sandman 19 May 16 - 06:04 PM
Jim Carroll 19 May 16 - 08:11 PM
Andy7 19 May 16 - 10:05 PM
GUEST,Anne Neilson 20 May 16 - 03:39 AM
Jim Carroll 20 May 16 - 04:32 AM
The Sandman 20 May 16 - 05:46 AM
Jim Carroll 20 May 16 - 06:21 AM
The Sandman 20 May 16 - 08:02 AM
The Sandman 20 May 16 - 08:12 AM
GUEST,Anne Neilson 20 May 16 - 03:25 PM
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Subject: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Andy7
Date: 15 May 16 - 12:20 PM

A while ago, after I'd performed a song at our local club, another member came up and complimented me on my performance.

"What I liked," she said, "Is that the guitar was secondary to your singing, you just used it to support the song rather than letting it take over."

I didn't mention to her that the main reason for that was that I can't do anything clever on the guitar, and that I'm possibly the least accomplished player at our club!

But after that, I started to notice how often, in folk club performances, the song is less prominent than the accompaniment. Maybe the lyrics are not easy to hear, or the singing is rather flat and uninteresting, while brilliant fireworks come flying out of the instrument.

It's not that I'm jealous of your skill on the guitar (well, maybe just a bit, haha!), but however good your playing, please remember that the song is still the important thing!


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: mkebenn
Date: 15 May 16 - 12:27 PM

Andy, I could not agree more. that said I'm a lyric wonk and a luke warm guitarist at best, but unless it's "layla" I remember and rate on the words, and when I knew the words and background to that song, even that changed. Mike


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 15 May 16 - 12:29 PM

ie.. the primary principle in Punk Rock... 😎

.. errrrrrm.... not that my ability as a guitarist would have improved much since 1977,
even if I could have been bothered trying to learn "Stairway To Heaven" or "Freebird".......


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,padgett
Date: 15 May 16 - 01:46 PM

The song lyrics are the most important thing ~ the words of the song

using phrasing and stops etc are certainly most important in conveying

the meaning and sense and message of the song ~ the tune is the

vehicle by which the song is conveyed and should be basic, sometimes

however the tune and instrumental arrangement can add a great deal no

matter what genre you are working in!

Ray


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: meself
Date: 15 May 16 - 02:14 PM

Sorry, guys - the day when the song mattered is long past - all that matters now is the guitar-playing. Well - maybe it's different where you live ....


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: mkebenn
Date: 15 May 16 - 03:00 PM

Lord,meself, I pray you are wrong. Mike


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: meself
Date: 15 May 16 - 05:08 PM

Well, I must confess, I have a pretty good record for being wrong about things. Except the origin of the term jew's harp ....


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST
Date: 15 May 16 - 08:03 PM

The song's the thing. Quite often better, more accomplished guitarists hide beind their instrument. Or they play the song in the key that makes the guitar sound good, which in many cases is the wrong key for their voice. Seen it dozens of times. I describe my guitar style as, "barely adequate." Yes, I would like to be a better guitarist, but not at the expense of the expression and continuity of the song.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: BobKnight
Date: 15 May 16 - 08:05 PM

That was me above as "Guest." I didn't realise I'd been signed out.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,HiLo
Date: 15 May 16 - 08:28 PM

"Song" implies music, yes ? It seems to me that all components should be performed well. I do have to say that a good song done by a " barely adequate" guitarist is seldom a pleasure for me to listen to .if you have a good singing voice and can't play, sing unaccompanied.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Allan Conn
Date: 16 May 16 - 03:28 AM

I don't think the original poster said he couldn't play HiLo. He just said his guitar playing was less accomplished and to tell you the truth I am the same. I can play adequately on my own and people seem to quite like it but it is the voice conveying the song that I think is the important factor - and the guitar playing is pretty basic compared to some others at the club. I am lucky in that our night is a two venue, two type of gathering night. The early part is more individual floor spots where I normally do a couple of songs on my own. We then move to the Cobbles Inn which goes on to the wee small hours where I have the pleasure of singing songs often with full guitar, fiddle, accordian, and percussion backing. I love the later part of the evening and it is a pleasure to sing with some really good players but it tends to be crown pleasing songs by then. More the overall sound and atmosphere etc. The early part does tend to be more about the song and I don't find the less than brilliant guitar playing a real hindrance as I do concentrate on the song.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 16 May 16 - 03:37 AM

"Twenty men and boys scythed the corn and sang as they went."
"What was the song, Davie?"
"Never mind the song - it was the singing that counted."
Ronald Blythe - Akenfield


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 May 16 - 04:22 AM

We have spent over forty year recording and listening to the older generation of singers and, when we could, we asked them what they considered to be the most important aspect of their songs - each time the reply was "the story"
I suppose that meant "the words", but you can sing words without making sense of the story - lots of people do, especially if you allow the accompaniment to dominate the song.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: doc.tom
Date: 16 May 16 - 04:40 AM

I agree totally with Jim. It's also interesting that the thread talks about the accompaniment: I have as much problem with performers who put themselves in front of the song! The song IS the important thing - not you OR how good an instrumentalist you are.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: matt milton
Date: 16 May 16 - 06:09 AM

So many contemporary folk performers sing songs with a kind of "professional smile" in their voice. It seems particularly inappropriate when singing a song about murder.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Mo the caller
Date: 16 May 16 - 06:47 AM

I agree about letting the words tell the story, but see nothing wrong with an instrumental break that echos and builds the feeling of the song, and I really enjoy it when the song is followed by a related tune.

The tune is the important thing too. And the way things work together. E.g. a story followed by a song, song followed by a tune.

Same with dancing. Some bands - particularly some American bands the play 'English' (which in England we call 'Playford') get so complicated with there harmonies, counter melodies and volume changes that it is hard to follow the beat. But some English groups - Assembly Band, Falconers, etc manage to do enough variation to keep things interesting without obtruding or losing the dancers (enough to be noticed when standing out at the top of the set, or your attention isn't needed for a difficult figure).


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Mo the caller
Date: 16 May 16 - 06:49 AM

Grr. I did preview but the should have been who and there their.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 May 16 - 07:48 AM

"instrumental break that echos and builds the feeling of the song"
Sound somewhat like a theatrical rather than a narrative device to me - I have yet to hear instrumental breaks be anything other than interruptions to a narrative and the longer the break, the greater the interruption, but maybe that's just personal taste.
Can I add that I feel the same way about the over-use of vocal ornamentation.
I now live in Ireland where there can be a tendency to over-decorate, which can be very beautiful, but often strips the song of its narrative qualities.
When we started recording the old singers in here in Clare, which is now our home, while, for various reasons, ornamentation tended to be sparse, the repertoires included many narrative songs, including songs and ballads from England and Scotland - particularly ballads.
In the latter half of 20th century it was found that 50 Child Ballads were still to be found from source singers, including several that had entirely disappeared in mainland Britain.
Nowadays, these narrative songs are rarities, though a recent project by Wexford couple, Aileen Lambert and Michael Fortune, backed by the National Library of Ireland, (Man, Woman and Child) has breathed new life into the old ballads.
It seems have been very much a case of "use them or lose them".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,In good company
Date: 16 May 16 - 08:20 AM

I have yet to hear instrumental breaks be anything other than interruptions to a narrative and the longer the break, the greater the interruption

One striking example of using an instrumental break to great effect is in Mr Fox's 'The Gypsy'. The story is quite a simple one but well told in the usual Bob Pegg style. Between the lad learning where the Gypsies are camped and him arriving at the site, the instrumental break portrays his urgency in crossing the Buttertubs Pass pretty well and, in my opinion, enhances the narrative. I am sure there are other examples.

Cheers

Dave


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Vic Smith
Date: 16 May 16 - 08:38 AM

" We have spent over forty year recording and listening to the older generation of singers and, when we could, we asked them what they considered to be the most important aspect of their songs - each time the reply was "the story" "

" I have yet to hear instrumental breaks be anything other than interruptions to a narrative and the longer the break, the greater the interruption"

" Can I add that I feel the same way about the over-use of vocal ornamentation."


Three 'likes' by Vic Smith for comments by Jim Carroll! He must be going soft in his old age - nothing to disagree with either.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 May 16 - 08:46 AM

"nothing to disagree with either."
Early days yet Vic!!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: CupOfTea
Date: 16 May 16 - 08:50 AM

From the days when I was more audience than singer, the view I acquired was one that became more important and basic as I started to sing out, lead songs, perform:

It's not the singer it's the song.

Don't remember where that dictum came from, only that it was part of a list of parallel constructions of relative values - " it's not the------ it's the -------, it's not the------ it's the -------, " etc. I dearly wish I could find the rest of the list and the source.

NEVERTHELESS this ethic has served me well and informed my taste. It has led me to appreciate singers without "pretty" voices, and value what they have studied, researched, collected. It is also difficult to deal with the frustration when the songs from Peter Bellamy, Frank Harte, or The Copper family don't get much recognition or air play (in the US) until someone with a spectacular voice, like Ann Hills, Connie Dover or Karan Casey cover them. Then you also get the contemporary writers with little to say and precious little traditional song in their background being touted as " folk stars" on the basis of a great voice and/or guitar expertise.

I do not know if it is more difficult to let the song shine through when one has the skills and the voice, but I know I cherish it when I hear the likes of Deb Cowan, Cindy Mangusen, Archie Fisher or John McCutcheon. The brilliance of their playing is just a setting for the gem of the song.

Joanne in Cleveland


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: mkebenn
Date: 16 May 16 - 09:15 AM

I in no way meant to say that instrumentation wasn't important. It adds a dimension to a work that would be missing without. I also don't feel that an "all star" voice is vital either, though I recognize them and love them. To me, you need words to tell a story, Wagner not withstanding, to tell the story. Hence the focus of the song. Mike
ps meself I now know FAR more about kazoos than I thought there was LOL


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 May 16 - 09:57 AM

Like Vic,
It's not very often I am 100% in agreement with Jim, but on this occasion, absolutely!

That doesn't mean to say I sing totally unaccompanied. I probably nowadays sing more accompanied songs than unaccompanied but I am very careful to make sure the words are clear and nothing is distracting away from them, and the people I sing with do the same.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: mkebenn
Date: 16 May 16 - 10:05 AM

meself, meant jew's harps, of course.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST
Date: 16 May 16 - 10:38 AM

I'll agree that the words have to be conveyed clearly for anything to make sense but I think there are too many variables (nature of the song, skills of the artist(s), etc.) to try to come up with one "right way".

Pondering Jim's

I have yet to hear instrumental breaks be anything other than interruptions to a narrative and the longer the break, the greater the interruption, but maybe that's just personal taste.

My first thought goes to Planxty's "Jolly Beggarman". I love the short instrumental in the middle and the move to the "Wise Maid" at the end is just "wow!". (But maybe it also really hit's my own personal tastes - I love jigs and reels, Liam O'Flynns playing...)

Another thought could go to "The Ballad of St Anne's Reel" as it's something I've tried to do at home. I can scratch out St Anne's Reel melody at sort of "session pace" on guitar and would get away with doing that as a sort of "3rd row session player" but I can't make the transition from playing chords to melody or convey the melody well enough to even consider trying it even in the very easy going, mostly folk, mostly songs type small informal clubs that exist round here. From my own perspective, this song feels naked without the working in of the reel and I can't pull the reel off well enough.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 May 16 - 11:41 AM

If you think it's hard on guitar it's pretty difficult on push pull squeeze-boxes!


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST
Date: 16 May 16 - 11:53 AM

OT maybe but thinking instrumentals, etc. One thing I personally can not stand is long intros. You get a few chords and I guess a "build up" but after what feels like a minute into the thing, I'm sort of feeling "for F's sake just get on with it and let me hear the song".

Is it just me put off by this?


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Airymouse
Date: 16 May 16 - 11:54 AM

"I have yet to hear instrumental breaks be anything other than interruptions to a narrative and the longer the break, the greater the interruption."
This reminds me of Emperor Joseph II's famous complaint about Mozart's Marriage of Figaro: "too many notes." No doubt Mozart could have improved his opera by taking out all those pesky musical interruptions.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST
Date: 16 May 16 - 12:04 PM

Steve, I'm more mandolin/tenor banjo and it fits easily on them but I'm pretty much single melody and wouldn't find a chordal accompaniment I like - another of my own limitations...

As for boxes, I still own a battered Honer Erica. I had a brief spell with a Morris side before Irish sessions became my preferred area (not that when I do get out, I might not try other folk things). I would not get St Anne's to speed on a box - Winster Gallop is more my level. Sometimes I toy with the idea of a (heaven forbid B/C) "Irish Baube" or maybe find out about an old Paulo Soprani... in my dreams, I'd play anything on them but down to earth I think I have to settle for doing as best I can on fretted strings...


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Harmonium Hero
Date: 16 May 16 - 12:07 PM

To me, as far as song accompaniment is concerned, a good instrumentalist is one who can accompany. The instrument should be playing a supporting role. If you want to show off your stunning dexterity, play some instrumentals, but the songs, if accompanied, should be supported by the accompaniment, and not be in competition with it. As the performer, it is up to you how you accompany the song, and there are no rules about how to accompany a folk song, any more than there are rules about how to accompany anything else. You play what seems appropriate to you, and it is up to the listener what they think about your performance, but I think your guiding principle should be what's appropriate to tell the story. I agree that it seems nowadays that instrumental prowess, and vocal gimmickry (as opposed to traditional singing styles) seem to be taking over. Many of the young performers seem to be using more pop oriented singing styles, which I find distracting. This will be seized upon by some mudcatters as me being a curmudgeonly old git. It isn't. We were all young a few years (be honest - decades) back, but I don't seem to remember this kind of delivery being prevalent then. (Although, on reflection, there used to be a kind of 'folksinger's voice' adopted my some, which, thankfully, seems to have pretty well disappeared). In pop and rock music, the singer is pretending that the song is about them; in folk, we are telling someone else's story (which is also why it doesn't matter what gender the singer is). And modern popular music is essentially dance music, and the words are less important. In folk, the songs were traditionally for listening to; the dance music was instrumental. So the instrumental accompaniment, if there is one (and remember that it's only an option) is serving a different function from dance music.
Incidentally, I'm also getting somewhat disenchanted with the guitar in folk music. Nothing wrong with the instrument, but just check back through the thread. The assumption seems to be that 'accompaniment' means 'guitar'. Look through a few club websites, or folk magazines, and count the guitars. There are numerous other options, which create different moods. Some people find the guitar a bit bland. And, of course, many people in the folk world find any accompaniment a distraction. It is about the song - the story, but what people appreciate is the way a particular performer draws them into that story.

John Kelly.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 16 May 16 - 12:21 PM

In the very brief notes to my CD, I told the reader
that I am first a story-teller, second a singer, and
third an instrumentalist.

That was badly put, though. "First, a story-teller" doesn't mean
I speak and tell the story; I mean that the great majority
of my songs are story songs, and presentation of an interesting
story is the first intention of my performance, in my mind.

By "second, a singer", I mean that, while I have an adequate
and I hope pleasing singing voice, and, I think, good judgment
in the musical vocal presentation of the story's text, the
vocal music is decidedly second to the song's story-telling.
So I should have said "story-singer" or "song-teller", I guess.

And by "third, an instrumentalist" I mean that my technical
abilities on the guitar or banjo, while adequate for the way
I choose to sing/tell the song's story, the accompaniment
is dispensable. If I don't feel up to an instrumental
accompaniment that enriches the story-telling, I will sing the
song unaccompanied. If I think the song really NEEDS a
guitar or banjo accompaniment of a level I can't provide, I
just won't perform it.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST
Date: 16 May 16 - 12:35 PM

Nicely put, Dave O.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 May 16 - 12:42 PM

    Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
    From: Steve Gardham - PM
    Date: 16 May 16 - 11:41 AM

    If you think it's hard on guitar it's pretty difficult on push pull squeeze-boxes!
practise the box quietly on its own, listen to people like brian peters
its down to practice and listening to yourself, play quietly sing louder its VERY SIMPLE, JUST PRACTICE THAT AND REMemBER YOU ARE ACCOMPANYING THE VOICE, keep it simple


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 May 16 - 01:07 PM

"This reminds me of Emperor Joseph II's"
I know what he meant - I've always had problems following the words of Mozart's concertos and string quartets.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST
Date: 16 May 16 - 01:14 PM

Aw Jim,

When Mozart used words (operas), my problem is usually the language.

I like this one (from Don Giovanni). One day I'll get it right on mandolin...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDPcab-gcYs


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Vic Smith
Date: 16 May 16 - 03:04 PM

A very interesting and relevant post from Harmonium Hero - John Kelly.
My memory was really stirred by his statement:-

on reflection, there used to be a kind of 'folksinger's voice' adopted my some, which, thankfully, seems to have pretty well disappeared

...and I can remember a lot of very mannered singing from a group of leading male revivalist singers who all seemed to be influencing one another and those who would emulate them in this small pond of a folk scene. It did seem strange to me at a time when most of my listening was to the rich, varied and distinctive voices of the highly rated traditional singers of these islands, Those main revivalists moved on but we still hear echoes of these mannerisms in some of the lesser older singers.
In more recent years a very popular female singer sang in a 'little girlie' voice for a few years which was copied by many followers and made me despair of being able to concentrate on the song & story rather than the voice. Fortunately, the singer in question now sounds like the Yorkshire woman she is and the copyists seem to be following suit.
The sound bands make also makes me think that a lot of copying is going on. I suppose that with bands, they have to agree a starting point; the better ones move on quickly to produce their own distinctive sound.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 May 16 - 03:17 PM

"When Mozart used words (operas), my problem is usually the language"
But when Joe the Emp made his complaint he was moaning about the music.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Stewart
Date: 16 May 16 - 03:52 PM

the song is like a picture
the accompaniment is like the frame

which is most important,
the picture or the frame?

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Pete from seven stars link
Date: 16 May 16 - 04:06 PM

As a songwriter , I certainly hope the words are listened to, but I am always pleased if other gifted musicians accompany, and I am happy to let them do solos. That's my preference, I guess we are all different.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST
Date: 16 May 16 - 04:37 PM

Dick are you suggesting that top level guitar players like Paul Brady, Martin Simpson or Nick Jones at his best or a fiddle player of Tom Mconvilles calibre dumb down their performances so as not to embarrass us lesser mortals. The above artists are able to take a fairly ordinary song and turn it with their embellishments and instrumental interludes into a musical work of art simply because they can, you and I can only wish we could do the same. So yes the song is important. almost as important its presentation.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: JHW
Date: 16 May 16 - 05:02 PM

Just copied this from a website (mine)
'I am pedantic about emphasis and placing of words for intelligibility and nuances of meaning (as I see them intended). The timing, perhaps even the melody may give way to the story telling. Unaccompanied songs have that free flexibility but the guitar can bend too. I am a singer with a guitar, not a guitarist who sings.'


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Stewart
Date: 16 May 16 - 06:45 PM

"A good accompaniment is like a good picture frame. It should merely set the painting off in space. If it distracts from the painting and people go away saying, "Gee, isn't that a great frame?" then, no, it's not a great frame. It has failed its purpose. Same with song accompaniments." - the late Don Firth

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 17 May 16 - 03:12 AM

I thought it was he audience that were the important thing.
FloraG.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,padgett
Date: 17 May 16 - 03:18 AM

Now audiences is a different matter ~ other singers, guitarists, box players and simply interested parties and those who may or may not have paid to see and hear you

Audiences too often taken for granted

Ray


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Acorn4
Date: 17 May 16 - 11:29 AM

What I have seen on several occasions is a guitarist just strumming chords where there is a place for an instrumental break perhaps for an entire verse - pointless and guaranteed to lose any audience.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: MikeL2
Date: 17 May 16 - 11:44 AM

Hi Flora

< "I thought it was the audience that were the important thing.
FloraG." >

I completely agree with you.

The song is important but these days in the clubs and sessions etc I have been to, the majority of instrumentalists seem as if they play in competition with the vocalists.

The good instrumentalists know how to accompany a song and make it more enjoyable.

I think electrification of instruments has been a bad thing for traditional folk music.

Cheers

Mike


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST
Date: 17 May 16 - 11:55 AM

I think electrification of instruments has been a bad thing

Oh, dear lord.... Although I suppose it's slightly apt on the 50th anniversary of the 'Judas' gig.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 May 16 - 12:30 PM

Some very cheering comments here - where were you people when you were needed at some of the clubs I have been bored out of my skull with because I couldn't follow the words?
I was privileged to attend and record a remarkable two-hour talk given by Peggy Seeger back in the late sixties, in my opinion, one of the best and most sensitive accompanists I have listened to, (not counting her present choice of keyboards (sorry Peggy) which, I'm afraid, leaves me cold and are hernia-causing heavy to help transport back to her van, as I learned nearly to my cost when she visited Clare a few years ago)
Peggy describes accompaniment as a background to sing against - you shouldn't notice it, only its absence.
She also said that the first question you should ask about accompaniment is "is it necessary" and "if you notice it, it's getting in the way".
I have nothing against using instruments in singing - half of my largish repertoire was once accompanied.
I stopped singing regularly about thirty years ago when I moved and my accompanist friend didn't (I don't play an instrument).
Recently I have become a born-again folkie and have revisited my 300+ songs, most of which I find work perfectly unaccompanied, in some cases, better than they ever did.
Happily I have befriended a kindred spirit with a Martin and sensitivity and am gradually breathing new life into all of them - like being young again - now, all I have to do is sort out the sex bit (joking of course Pat!!).
Would very much like to hear a response to my comments on ornamentation - pretty relevant here in the West of Ireland where singing is taking off again after a long hibernation (though I doubt it will ever catch up in my lifetime to the unbelievable rise in popularity being enjoyed among young instrumentalists coming to traditional music for the first time)
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 May 16 - 12:32 PM

Just an additiuonal though - "Judas" - a great title for a Bob Dylan gig - according to Pete Seeger anyway!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Joe Offer
Date: 17 May 16 - 01:56 PM

In the first post, Andy said: "What I liked," she said, "Is that the guitar was secondary to your singing, you just used it to support the song rather than letting it take over."

I didn't mention to her that the main reason for that was that I can't do anything clever on the guitar, and that I'm possibly the least accomplished player at our club!


I think that's a great point, Andy. I like singing with guitar, but I could never develop the dexterity needed to get to the point where my guitar could accompany my singing, rather than forcing me to make my singing follow a badly-played guitar. So, I don't play the guitar in public and I sing a cappella or recruit a guitarist to accompany me. That's what works for me.

Sounds like Andy isn't a stunning guitarist, but he plays well enough to give himself a subtle accompaniment. That's what works for him.

I know some extraordinary instrumentalists who aren't very good singers, and some of them subordinate their singing to their playing in some very clever ways, without making the singing inaudible. That's what works for them.

And then there are a very few people who are remarkable in both their singing and playing. I raise my glass to them.


I think that's the trick: there are no hard-and-fast rules, so you have to find out what works for you. It's a matter of finding a proper balance, and that balance is different for everyone.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Anne Neilson
Date: 17 May 16 - 03:21 PM

re. Jim Carroll's post yesterday at 7.48am about the use of over-ornamentation -- I'm with him that this more often than not will distract from my enjoyment of a song.

If the song IS the the important thing, then IMO the decoration has to support the lyric without being intrusive. But if decoration consists solely of twiddles and appears on the same melody note in every verse (regardless of what the text is saying) or -- even worse -- appears several times in each verse, then I don't want to hear it, no matter how supple the singer's voice.

I love listening to singers like Jeannie Robertson and Lizzie Higgins who had a far more instinctive understanding of what was appropriate, and whose range of possible ornaments was wide and varied : some effects were big and significant and used for dramatic effect (the leap up from a very short note to the main melody); some were so subtle as to be almost not there (the use of tiny little pauses or stoppages of the melody to point to what followed); the careful rationing of a slurred ascent or descent within the tune; the twiddles etc.
And the fact that this was instinctive was evidenced by the fact that different recordings of the same song could have different ornamentation, which I don't think happens so much with younger singers who seem to take the decoration on board as part of the song-learning process .

I'm showing my age, but I'd almost like to enforce a rule that a song should be learned in basic format until the story or message is clear to both singer and potential audience, and as it becomes familiar to the singer, tasteful ornamentation would gradually "adhere" to it.

Rant over!


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Andy7
Date: 17 May 16 - 09:11 PM

Thank you for your perceptive comments, Joe.

Yes, I can play the guitar well enough to be a subtle background for some of my songs. But I also like to sing unaccompanied, where my playing isn't good enough for that particular song, or just when I feel it sounds better that way.

And yes, some good instrumentalists who have pleasant but not brilliant voices can give great performances by getting the balance right!

It's true, there are no 'rules'. Just occasionally, a song heard at a local club can suddenly really move me ... and most often, I don't quite know why!

Andy


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 18 May 16 - 03:49 AM

Thanks for that Annie.
We had an odd experiece years ago here at a singing session in Miltown Malbay.
We were sitting with an Irish Language singer (very well known and respected on the scene) and her husband and Pat, my wife, had just sung MaColl's 'The Trees They are Ivied'
John, the husband, who adored his wife's singing and went to listen to her every time she sang, turned to Pat and asked, somewhat puzzled, "what shtyle's dat?"
Pat explained about Scots ballads and, how they were 'story based' and the importance of the words - John replied, "oh, I never listen to the words".
Joe is right in the sense that there are no 'hard and fast rules" - you can perform these songs (I'm talking about traditional or traditionally based ones) in any way you choose, to the accompaniment of a string quartet or a thirty-piece orchestra, if that's what turns you on, but if you are going to follow the function of the song, you have to understand the words in a way in which they can be interpreted in order to make sense of them.
In Joe's case, America is different - his traditions took a turn in the road somewhere and many of them became instrumental based - just digitized dozens of Appalachian albums of songs and ballads from the thirties and became hooked - beautiful but different, and not something I could ever manage as a singer, or a listener for too long periods - there's not enough in them to hold my attention - but that is down to my taste.
The English, Scots and Irish song traditions are basically unaccompanied and the songs are structured around that fact
Alan Lomax's Cantrometrics team summed them up perfectly as being "wordy" and, if you don't interpret the words they become superfluous and you may as well just pay the tunes.
Of course accompaniment can be used, MacColl and Seeger claimed that, for them as professional performers, it was essential for them to present a mixture of both to hold the attention of their audiences by providing a balance to the evenings.
But they also insisted that, if you produce only a 'sound' when you're singing, which can be what happens with over-instrumented songs, the audiences stop listening; "Their ears go to sleep".
This can also happen if singers all sing in the same tone, or use only one 'effort' (dynamic) - but that's a different problem.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Will Fly
Date: 18 May 16 - 03:54 AM

Interesting that most (not all) of the comments above - and I do agree with many of them - seem to be from the viewpoint of the solo performer. It may seem a small point but the dynamics of the thing change when there are two performers, or three or more, etc.

As a singer of 1920s and 1930s trivia - not a profound thought in sight - I like to balance the words with a little bit of instrumental playing in the middle of the piece. (And I should stress that I sing the words, rubbish though they may seem to be, as clearly and with as much meaning as possible). Furthermore, when I'm playing with my old buddy Chris Wolferstan - one of Sussex's finest guitarists - we play very much with a "jazz-ish" feel. By "jazz-ish" I mean that we play, on the night, very much as we feel it, with as much improvisation as is necessary and no more. If the song is going well and we sense that the audience is in the groove with us, then we might throw in an extra instrumental or vocal chorus on the fly (pun intended).

The emphasis, therefore, is not just on the song, or on the instrumental part of the song - but on the audiences' enjoyment - making sure that the people in front of us are entertained and having a good time. We're not out there to change the world - other people can do that - we're out there (hopefully) to bring a little fun.

I should stress that this is from the perspective of someone who doesn't sing folk songs. Traditional tunes played by the dozen - yes - but not traditional songs.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 18 May 16 - 03:57 AM

Andy7 ( are there really 6 other Andyies?) I like your measured approach.
Most of us don't have voices or playing ability to rivet people to their seats for anything more than 3 minutes. I play lots of east European tunes - but they are difficult listening - so I mostly don't play them in public.
If I was writing a manual for playing in public I think my number one chapter would be ' consider the audience'. Playing in a public bar on a Friday night needs a different approach to performing for singers in a singers club. I think most of us know that - but its an easy mistake to make.
FloraG.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Will Fly
Date: 18 May 16 - 04:01 AM

Ah, FloraG - now I would really love to hear those east European tunes! Do you have them online anywhere?


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: JHW
Date: 18 May 16 - 05:42 AM

GUEST,Anne Neilson
'I'm showing my age, but I'd almost like to enforce a rule that a song should be learned in basic format until the story or message is clear to both singer and potential audience, and as it becomes familiar to the singer, tasteful ornamentation would gradually "adhere" to it.'

Would you believe there are those who sing from a sheet or electronic display and don't even learn the song?


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Vic Smith
Date: 18 May 16 - 07:08 AM

Anne Neilson -
I love listening to singers like Jeannie Robertson and Lizzie Higgins who had a far more instinctive understanding of what was appropriate, and whose range of possible ornaments was wide and varied : some effects were big and significant and used for dramatic effect (the leap up from a very short note to the main melody); some were so subtle as to be almost not there (the use of tiny little pauses or stoppages of the melody to point to what followed); the careful rationing of a slurred ascent or descent within the tune; the twiddles etc.

Yes, their singing was instinctive but that does not mean that they were not fully conscious of what they were doing. In conversations they would tell you exactly what was the best and the worst aspects of the other prominent singers in their traveller community. Their analysis was always spot on. Jeannie did have one blind spot; she thought that Belle Stewart was an awful singer (and Belle returned the compliment by telling me how terrible Jeannie was.*) The thing about the way all three of these great singers mentioned sang was that you only became aware of all the devices that Anne describes so accurately when you consciously listened out for them; most of the time you were gripped by the story.
* In writing this I am reminded of a review that I wrote back in 1999 in reviewing the album Jeannie Robertson "The Queen Among The Heather" for Rod Stradling's 'Musical Traditions' website:-


I'll finish with a little story. Earlier this year, we had Sheila Stewart staying with us. She was telling us about the album that she had just recorded for release by Topic and she showed me the order of the track listing that had been settled on. In my turn, I showed her the CD re-release of her mother, Belle's album, Queen Among the Heather on the Greentrax label. (I was surprised to hear her say that she knew nothing of the arrangement for the Topic album to be licensed and re-released). I then showed her this album, The Queen Among the Heather, released around the same time and asked her to consider what two of Scotland's great traveller singers would have said if they had been alive when these albums had come out. This greatly amused Sheila as she laughingly speculated on the comments that might have been made on both sides. I then asked her what the title of her forthcoming album was to be and she told me that this was yet to be decided. I said that it was quite common to call the album by the opening track. She looked again at the track listing and saw that the first song was called ... Queen Among the Heather. She fixed me with a stare with her penetrating black eyes and called me something that I don't care to repeat here.


I have jusr re-read the whole of that review and these sections - very relevant to this thread - jumped out at me:-

These are amongst the earliest recordings of Jeannie's and she is in great form throughout. The power and purity of her singing here is unmatched in her later recordings. The pace? Well, that has been a problem with Jeannie's singing for some people. It is the only criticism of Jeannie's singing that I am prepared to allow. Sometimes she is simply demonstrating the sheer beauty of that wonderful instrument that is her voice and the story of the song gets neglected.

.....and later....

Just why did she slow down her singing, the more she sang in public? That is the interesting question. I was taken to task earlier this year in the letter pages of fRoots magazine for suggesting that "There is no doubt that in later years, Jeannie's head was turned by the vast number of compliments that came her way from the academic community." In many ways, Jeannie was "the modest lady living a modest life" that my critic suggested, but I stand by my comments and would go further to suggest that the mountains of praise were the direct reasons for her changing and slowing her singing style. I find much to dislike in Matthew Barton's booklet notes, but I must concur when he states that "... her singing in later years became more dramatic, even operatic in scale and pathos, as she sang for a more urban, non-traveler [sic] audience. The early recordings ... heard here preserve a less assimilated but more precise and powerful style."


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 18 May 16 - 07:29 AM

Accompaniment, should be accompaniment, as I said in an earlier post, learning to play the accompaniment on its own ,learning to play it quietly so that the voice is heard, having control over the two instuments the voice and the accompanying instrument.
the singer also needs to choose different keys, different subject matters, different tempos.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 18 May 16 - 07:30 AM

"Just why did she slow down her singing, the more she sang in public"
This has been confirmed over and over again Vic; Alan Lomax appears to have been one of the main culprits with his overemphasis of Jeannie's speed of singing; "magnificently dignified pace at which she takes her songs" (sorry; can't remember for the life of me where that came from).
He and others did the same with Maggie Barry, whose style of singing developed in the streets and had little to do with the "fireside singing" (so described by Kerry Traveller singer, Mikeen McCarthy) that took place among small groups of family members and friends.
Mikeen was a ballad seller who also sang in streets and around pubs and took great pains to point out the difference in his own styles of singing.
Its why we always made a point of getting our singers to talk as well as sing.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Anne Neilson
Date: 18 May 16 - 06:46 PM

Vic, I would always acknowledge that both Jeannie and Lizzie made conscious choices about decoration, but it remains my conviction that those choices could be made on a particular day and could vary according to life circumstances. IMO they had worked their way to control of the whole range of effects, so that THE choice on THE day would be entirely down to their instinctive response to what was happening.

And JHW, I do believe that this happens (reading from words), though I'm thankful to have little experience of it! But I'd like 'latecomers' to have the opportunities that we had in the 50s/60s to gain the confidence to join in -- though I would be irritated if reliance on crib sheets removed any responsibility for getting to grips with the songs…
(I've just been re-watching TMSA's video of songs from Norman Buchan's '101 Scottish Songs' which was re-launched in January this year at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, and all the artistes on stage as well as the audience are joining in choruses without prompting -- as well as some of the verses too!). To me, this proves that familiarity creates a new, shared experience.

Finally, to return to Vic's comment about Jeannie slowing her singing -- I have a paper from Ailie Munro ( School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh University) which addresses the problems of Jeannie's pacing. She compares early with later recordings and notes a significant slowing of pace, but it's not entirely clear that academic praise is the root cause, because there were also health concerns, which were outwith Ailie's remit.

(But, faster or slower, I'm delighted to have had the experience of hearing Jeannie Robertson live!)


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: theleveller
Date: 19 May 16 - 03:55 AM

I heartily endorse Will Fly's comment about audience enjoyment. What makes folk music interesting for me is the way that the same song can be taken and almost endlessly reinterpreted by different performers with innovative accompaniment on different instruments. Of course, we need to hear the words, but how they are put across is what adds interest. Let's face it, most of us know many of the traditional songs word for word, so to hear an endless stream of 'groaning old folkies' singing the same songs in the same way is mind-numbingly boring. I would cite artists like Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy and Lucy Ward as good examples of how traditional songs can be reinterpreted to make them new, but there are plenty of others who are doing this.

Clever variations on a theme is what keeps the songs current and interesting. After all, Vaughn Williams' Variations on Dives and Lazarus would be pretty boring if it was just the basic tune repeated over and over.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 May 16 - 04:53 AM

"After all, Vaughn Williams' Variations on Dives and Lazarus would be pretty boring if it was just the basic tune repeated over and over."
Vaughan Williams composed classical music
To suggest a tune repeated over and over and over again is boring wipes out our entire archive of field recordings as "boring" -it's what our older singers did - seldom using ornamentation, never using accompaniment (except for a few rarities) - Walter Pardon, Harry Cox, Sam Larner, Phil Tanner... all dedicated repeaters of tunes - hardly boring.
They made the words work, for themselves, and so, for the listeners
The times that accompaniment has been imposed on the older singers have, in my opinion, proved utter disasters - Kennedy's doctored BBC tapes being one of the most extreme examples.
We still have the rather sad example of Jeannie Robertson with guitar accompaniment.... I'm sure Robin Hall meant well, but oh dear...!!!!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: matt milton
Date: 19 May 16 - 05:03 AM

Best exemplar of (self-) accompaniment on an instrument that springs to mind is Martin Carthy. Listening to his albums over the years, you can hear him refining the "less is more" approach.

I think he also nails the "instrumental break" very well. With Carthy's playing, the instrumental break is exactly that - a break, a respite, a much-needed pause for breath or reflection, with similar effect to the space on a page between the end of a chapter and the heading 'Chapter 2' in a novel.
I wouldn't say Martin Carthy plays "solos" exactly, he plays instrumental breaks, in the truest and most appropriate sense.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Vic Smith
Date: 19 May 16 - 06:10 AM

Jim -
We still have the rather sad example of Jeannie Robertson with guitar accompaniment.... I'm sure Robin Hall meant well, but oh dear...!!!!

Those accompaniments were dubbed in afterwards without Jeannie's consent or knowledge or so I was told my Isabel Sutherland. No wonder the guitar playing sounds so stiff and awkward. Years afterwards I was able to ask Robin about the Jeannie accompaniments. The normally affable face went stony and expressionless. "I'm not talking about those to you or anyone!" he said. Try and find a copy of the Jeannie/Robin EP and look at the credits under the song titles. They say (Trad. arr. Kennedy) What a surprise!

Another story that Isabel told me was of the day that Peter Kennedy arranged to record her for a proposed LP. She arrived at the studio and there was Steve Benbow sitting holding his guitar.
"Hello, Steve. What are you doing here?"
"Hasn't Peter told you? I'm to accompany you on your songs."
"No, you're bloody not!" says Isabel as she stomped out of the studio.
The album was never recorded.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: BobKnight
Date: 19 May 16 - 07:08 AM

I belive Josh McRae also accompanied her on a few tracks on one album, a re-issued CD of which, I have.

As regards my statement that I regard my own guitar playing as "barely adequate" and being advised to sing unaccompanied, I do sing unaccompanied when I'm singing traditional songs. When singing my own songs, the ones I've written, I accompany myself on guitar. My guitar playing is fine for accompanying the song, and that's all it is, no virtuoso stuff, but to get back to the main thrust of this thread - the song is the most important thing. Judge for yourself on youtube.

www.youtube.com/bobknightfolk


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 May 16 - 08:21 AM

"Those accompaniments were dubbed in afterwards without Jeannie's consent"
I never heard that Vic and I'm not sure it's true.
I think I have a letter from Robin Hall in one of the old Folk magazines explaining and attempting to justify it in response to the flak he had evoked.
Nice Isabel story.
The Kennedy recordings I'm referring to, as I'm sure you know, are the FSB cassette series, where he dubbed accompaniments and choruses, speeded -up, slowed down, put in re-verb.... on the field recordings he had done for the Beeb - Johnny Dohery singing 'Rocking the Cradle' to a bad fiddle accompaniment, for crying out loud!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: theleveller
Date: 19 May 16 - 09:36 AM

"To suggest a tune repeated over and over and over again is boring wipes out our entire archive of field recordings as "boring" -it's what our older singers did - seldom using ornamentation, never using accompaniment (except for a few rarities) - Walter Pardon, Harry Cox, Sam Larner, Phil Tanner... all dedicated repeaters of tunes - hardly boring."

Well, not something I'd sit down to listen to for an evening's entertainment.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 May 16 - 09:42 AM

"Well, not something I'd sit down to listen to for an evening's entertainment."
Takes all sorts, I suppose - some of us thrive on it.
Somebody muttering inaudibly into a guitar, or drowning out the words of songs with inept and intrusive accompaniment isn't my bag - and don't get me started about dunking our folksongs in electric soup!!
Chacun à son goût as they say.   
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 19 May 16 - 09:57 AM

.. just you wait Jim.. I just might one day sort my life out so I can get on with recording my 'interpretation' of trad songs...

..not been collecting all these synths and fuzz boxes for nothin'.... 😎 😜


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 May 16 - 10:19 AM

Shudder at the thought, but I doubt if you will ever come with anything that has been done before.
There is a mile of difference between interpreting a trad song an using it produce something else.
I have been smitten all my life by George Butterworth's exquisite 'Banks of Green Willow' and Vaughan Williams' transformation of the extremely violent 'Captain's Apprentice' into an equally exquisite Norfolk Rhapsody - but not even their best friends would describe them as "interpretations" (or even songs)
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: theleveller
Date: 19 May 16 - 10:30 AM

"Chacun à son goût as they say."

Mmmmm - absolutely. I must say that I'm rather partial to a serving of electric soup as a change from meat and two veg. And maybe something with a bit of spice in it as well. Just listening to Traffic's excellent version of John Barleycorn at the mo and wondering how many versions of that song I have in my music collection. Enough for a massive feast I'm sure, without my palate ever getting jaded.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 19 May 16 - 10:31 AM

Interestingly, some recordings have the guitar as an integral part of the song.i.e. take the guitar part away and the song is diminished!

For example, Joan Baez did a cover version ( as they like to say, these days) of Mark Knopfler's " Brothers in Arms".

Now most Youtube comments on Joan's version are very complimentary BUT most commentators add that the song just isn't the same without Mark's guitar parts.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 19 May 16 - 10:56 AM

take the guitar part away and the song is diminished

Totally agree. What, for example, is left if you remove the stunning guitar part from Nic Jones' 'Canadee-I-O'?


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Snuffy
Date: 19 May 16 - 11:07 AM

I still recall with horror a singaround at Cheltenham FF some years ago when a couple "did" Barbara Alan: the female sang a verse with the male accompanying her on the guitar, after which he played a verse of the melody as a guitar solo. They then repeated this for verse 2, and every subsequent verse. By the end I'd just about lost the will to live.

But it certainly added something to the song - about 5 minutes, I reckon.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 May 16 - 11:52 AM

Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Ed - PM
Date: 19 May 16 - 10:56 AM

take the guitar part away and the song is diminished

Totally agree. What, for example, is left if you remove the stunning guitar part from Nic Jones' 'Canadee-I-O'? "
Interesting comment because in my opinion, he was a fabulous accompnist, who had a commanding stage presence,but in my opinion was rather a crooner as a singer.
but all these things are a matter of taste, in my opinion Dave Swarbrick was a fantastic accompanist whose equal as violin accompanist has not been equalled, and certainly in my opinion is in a different league to any other violin accompanist in the uk revival, in the last 30 years, but that is not fact it is personal taste.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 May 16 - 12:01 PM

"John Barleycorn"
If you think that all oyour song tradition has to offer is a ritualistic song like John Barleycorn, with all it's limitations.
Try opening your ears and mind to Tifties Annie or Clyde's Water, or Jock of the Side, or Martin McDonagh's mind-blowing Lady Margaret (Young Hunting).
Maybe not to everybody's taste but hardly boring
"Traffic"
I thought they died in the 70s and were stuffed and mounted a couple of times since - for short-lived Madame Tussaud-like displays to show what use you can make of corpses (sort of like 101 Uses For a Dead Cat).
The output of these groups have no more shelf-life than a fart in a thunderstorm - here today - by midnight.
Even modern-day pop music enthusiasts would look blank at some of the names trawled up in these arguments to prove that folk is boring.
Even the Beatles had to be given m-to-m resuscitation when the pop industry ran out of ideas - nowadays, you seldom here stuff that hasn't been regurgitated half a dozen times - sort of like Thames tap-water.
If you are unsure of "Chacun à son goût" - happy to help, but I'm sure you can look it up.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 19 May 16 - 12:28 PM

Caveat: I'm no singer!

I think that a really good song sung well, which contains really good, tasteful instrumental work played well, is a single entity, not words with bolted-on accompaniment. The instrumental work doesn't have to be simple either. Have a listen to Sixteen Come Next Sunday by the Bothy Band on YouTube. The instrumental work is fantastic, ever-building to that wonderful unresolved finish, yet nothing takes away from the story. Good taste, a lack of ego, no sign of strain, and consummate team spirit. My favourite singer-guitarist is Nic Jones. To me, his voice and guitar on Noah's Ark Trap and Penguin Eggs are of a piece, utterly inseparable. Another great guy is Andy Irvine. I could go on, but I am but a small voice in this thread replete with experts!


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 May 16 - 12:37 PM

My point, in reply to anyone who puts up comments, saying they think so so and so is better than x performer[and that includes my own comments]is that is not fact but opinion.
When i give my opinion that nic jones was a fantastic accompanist and had great stage presnce but was not an outstanding singer[ even though he had a pleasant voice], that is not fact but opinion.
likewise when i remark about Dave Swarbrick as a fiddle accompanist being outstanding that is my opinion not fact., and that goes for all other comments made on this forum about different performers.
"The output of these groups have no more shelf-life than a fart in a thunderstorm - here today - by midnight."
Jim, your opinion, one that in my opinion is too kind.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 19 May 16 - 02:38 PM

Ahem.

My very favourite folk singer is (was?) Woody Guthrie. I read someone once (who thought Woody was great) who said that Woody was a mediocre singer, a mediocre guitar player and a mediocre harmonica player. Somehow, to say the least, it worked.

My opinion of Nic is that his earliest recordings showed something of a derivative vocal quality (not a criticism), but he later found his own voice par excellence, certainly by the time he made Noah's Ark Trap. I think that when I'm contemplating great artists such as Woody and Nic that I'm not going to be analysing and dissecting over-much. Their best work is, as I said, of a piece. When I think of Nic singing Clyde Water I don't think of his guitar work and his voice (I might do if I were a guitar player trying to emulate his playing, or a singer trying to emulate his singing, but I'm neither). I think of him doing that song in his inimitable, wonderful way.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 19 May 16 - 03:15 PM

Come on Jim,

it's not 'your' music. From the little that I know of your work, you seem to have done a fantastic job in recording and preserving huge amounts of important things.

Hats off and huge kudos for that.

But whatever your personal tastes dismissing Traffic, Electric folk etc. out of hand is a fairly piss poor arguement

They also have there place, and have done for the last 40 years. And they'll continue long after you....

All the best,

Ed


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 May 16 - 04:26 PM

Steve i enjoy listening to nic jones, my opinion[ and it is only opinion] is that he was better at singing contemporary material, for exmple, farewell to the gold, icarus, etc.
he made a remark in an interview questioning why he was singing tradtional songs and saying that he did not think someone from the home counties like himself could sing convincingly about napoleon, my opinion is that particular factor is reflected in his singing, i find his interpretation of contemporary songs more convincing, that is just my opinion [everyone has different taste]. i think he was a great accompanist and when performing live had great charisma and stage presence.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 May 16 - 04:48 PM

here is a remark that Nic made about singing songs about napoleon
"What's the point of singing songs about Napoleon Bonaparte?' I never knew him, I didn't know what he was like. I'm from Essex!' So I tried to sing more normally and moved from being a fake traditional singer to a fake rock guitarist."
it is from an article written by colin irwin in the guardian.
my only comment on that is that if you feel like that you should not be singing traditional material.
it is my opinion that he was at his best singing " the juke box as she turned a contemporary song by jeff deichmann" which illustrates to me that the song has to be important to the singer, to be sung well.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: punkfolkrocker
Date: 19 May 16 - 05:25 PM

Having established that in many circumstances the unadorned voice is preferable..
just how distracting is it if the singer is naked..... 😕


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 May 16 - 05:41 PM

"Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: punkfolkrocker - PM
Date: 19 May 16 - 05:25 PM

Having established that in many circumstances the unadorned voice is preferable..
just how distracting is it if the singer is naked..... 😕" it depends on the length of their pieice, as the actress said to the chorister


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 19 May 16 - 05:55 PM

Bloody Nora, I thought that this pleasant thread would provide me with much-needed refuge from the bobad/Keith axis. So I'm just going to chip in, ducking and looking around fearfully, and say that I absolutely love the singing of Luke Kelly and Sandy Denny. Unfocused post, but godammit...

Anyway, how do you spell unfocused fer chrissake...


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 May 16 - 06:04 PM

luke kelly sandy denny, very enjoyable


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 May 16 - 08:11 PM

"it's not 'your' music. "
No it is/t 'mine' Ed, if we are talking about the spicific type of music I think we are, it's 'our' music - if not I have nothing to say on the subject, I apologise, withdraw and leave you to it.
I didn't insult anybody's music, I didn't start of by describing anybody's music as "boring" - I offered my opinion on other people's music when somebody chose to sweep mine aside.
I don't know how all types of singing "have a place here" - all styles of singing have their own disciplines which seldom have anything to do with other types - I wouldn't deem to tell an opera singer how to go about their art, or a pop singers or a jazz singer.
The OP addressed the question to what went on in folk clubs, so I assumed that we were talking about folk song, which is something I know a little about, from personal experience and from forty years of interviewing people I regard as the source of our material and of the knowledge of our folk-songs.
I'm not sure I should apologise at reacting when somebody describes the singers I named - Walter Pardon, Harry cox.... "boring" - if people feel I need to apologise, the I do, and will leave you to it - can't see the point of talking to people who appear not to speak the same language.
I am absolutely appalled that some unidentified Guest should tell anybody here to "fuck off" and am equally appalled that somebody should drag in another argument from another thread - it seems to be Mudcat at its very worst.
I take my music seriously, as, obviously do others - Vic and Annie spring to mind immediately, but there are others who appeared to be prepared to share my impressions on the type of songs I thought we were discussing and are prepared to swap ideas and experiences about them - if they are happy to go on, then so am I, if not, I'll sadly leave you to it.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Andy7
Date: 19 May 16 - 10:05 PM

"I am absolutely appalled ..."

As the OP, I agree with you 100%, Jim.

We've had some very interesting discussions on this thread, I've really enjoyed reading them.

But a blatantly offensive post does not belong here, nor anywhere else.

Andy

P.S. Yes, as you say, in my original post I was talking about folk song, not other musical styles.


    I try to refrain from deletions in music threads, but there was just too much gratuitous nastiness here. I deleted several messages, mostly from unnamed guests. Please stick to the subject of the discussion.
    -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Anne Neilson
Date: 20 May 16 - 03:39 AM

I was lucky enough to be part of a grand concert at this year's Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow -- "The Wee Red Book" event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland (TMSA) and the reprint of Norman Buchan's "101 Scottish Songs", first published in 1962.

The book contained dozens and dozens of the songs that we had hoovered up during our time in Norman's Ballads Club at Rutherglen Academy and the concert consisted of unaccompanied singing from twenty two singers ranging in age from 7 to 70+. There were ballads, music hall songs, bothy ballads, some Burns' songs and parlour songs and -- of course, love songs. And, very fittingly, Alison McMorland sang 'Skippin Barfit Thro' the Heather' which Norman had first heard at the People's Festival Ceilidh in 1951, sung by Jessie Murray, a Buckie fishwife : he would later always describe this as his "road to Damascus" moment.

The whole cast was onstage throughout and the venue was packed with an audience who knew the book and cherished the songs -- so the chorus singing was immense and always appropriate (a wee whisper for the Bressay Lullaby, sturdy for The Wark o the Weavers, melodic for Will Ye Gang, Love? and beyond stirring for the encore The Freedom Come-All-Ye which was the only song not from the book).

The cast were very aware from the faces of the audience that this really was a shared experience (and the video which was made of the concert shows the delight of sharing from both sides).

I've seldom if ever found better evidence that -- to quote the original poster -- "The Song is the Important Thing"!

(And the video is available to buy from TMSA, should anyone want to share a lovely event.)


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 May 16 - 04:32 AM

If people don'e mind, I'll put up some of the interviews we've done with singers - we've used most of them in talks we did.
This is Walter Pardon talking abou t how he diffenetiates between the different types of songs he sang
Jim Carroll

J C         All right; take another song; take something like 'Marble Arch' and 'Maid of Australia,' both of which are fairly amusing, anyway, would you see any difference in them?

W. P.         Well yes, because there's a difference in the types of the music, that's another point. You can tell 'Van Dieman's Land' is fairly old by the sound, the music, and 'Irish Molly' and 'Marble Arch' is shortened up; they shortened them in the Victorian times. And so they did more so in the Edwardian times. Some songs then, you'd hardly start before you'd finish, you see; you'd only a four line verse, two verses and a four line chorus and that'd finish. You'd get that done in half a minute; and the music wasn't as good. Yeah, the style has altered. You can nearly tell by the old 'Broomfield Hill', that's an old tune; 'The Trees They Do Grow High', you can tell, and 'Generals All'.
Nine times out often I can get an old fashioned ten keyed accordion, German tuned, you can nearly tell what is an old song. Of course that doesn't matter what modern songs there is, the bellows always close when that finish, like that. And you go right back to the beginning of the nineteenth and eighteenth (century), they finish this way, pulled out, look. You take notice how 'Generals All' finish; that got an old style of finishing, so have 'The Trees They Do Grow High', so have 'The Gallant Sea Fight', in other words, 'A Ship To Old England Came', that is the title, 'The Gallant Sea Fight'. You can tell they're old, the way they how they... that drawn out note at finish. You just study and see what they are, how they work, you'll find that's where the difference is. And as that got further along; that's where I slipped up with 'Black Eyed Susan' I thought that was probably William the Fourth by the music, but that go back about to 1730, that one do. Well, a lot of them you'll find, what date back years and years, there's a difference in the style of writing the music, as that progressed along that kept altering a lot. Like up into Victorian times, you've got 'Old Brown's Daughter', you see, that come into Victorian times; well that style started altering, they started shortening the songs up, everything shortened up, faster and quicker, and the more new they get, the more faster they get, the styles alter, 1 think you'll find if you check on that, that's right.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 20 May 16 - 05:46 AM

I dont mind Jim,lets take a quote from WP
"Well yes, because there's a difference in the types of the music, that's another point. You can tell 'Van Dieman's Land' is fairly old by the sound, the music, and 'Irish Molly' and 'Marble Arch' is shortened up; they shortened them in the Victorian times. And so they did more so in the Edwardian times. Some songs then, you'd hardly start before you'd finish, you see; you'd only a four line verse, two verses and a four line chorus and that'd finish. You'd get that done in half a minute; and the music wasn't as good. Yeah, the style has altered. You can nearly tell by the old 'Broomfield Hill', that's an old tune; 'The Trees They Do Grow High', you can tell, and 'Generals All'"
He is only partly correct his"OLD" examples broomfield hill etc, IS INCORRECT, they have a certain sound because of their musical modes it is perfectly possible to write songs that sound musically "old" in fact many recent songwriters have done so,
when walter talks about defining by using a one row melodeon what he in musical terms means is that the songs are restricted to the major the mixolydian and the dorian[ which includes most trad songs from the geographical british isles and appalachia]on a g one row melodeon you can play in g major. a dorian[abcdef#g] and d mixolydian[def#gabc nat d] that does not necessarily mean the songs are old. modern songwriters who want to write in the musical tradioinal style/ sound use these keys too, but their songs are not old.
The other thing that many traditional songs have in common with each other is a style or styles of prose.
Walter was only half way right, because for a tradtion to be vibrant and alive it has to have new repertoire, otherwise it is dead just a museum piece, the tradtion is alive because new songs are being written using the ancient modes and using convincing prose style. Walter was wrong, you cannot call a song old because it uses certain modes or certain prose style, what you can say is that it is written in a tradtional style and sounds old.
the style has not altered walter had clearly not hears johnny handles farewell to the monty. Walter was a little out of his depth


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 May 16 - 06:21 AM

"He is only partly correct his"
Doesn't matter how correct you believe he is Dick
I put it up as an example of a singer who is conscious of his art and is prepared to articulate that consciousness.
Walter was a singer who played an instrument who grew up in the dying embers of a folk song tradition and apprenticed himself to his family's songs in order to keep them alive and pass them on because he believed they were important - worth a little more than being written off as being "out of his depth" I would have thought, but that's me.
It's not directly relevant to this subject (I grabbed it in a hurry), but I thought it a fair model for someone who applied himself to his songs enough to make them work.
You go and argue with Walter, I'll pass on what he had to say about the singing of his songs, if you don't mind.
Jim Carroll

Walter of "expression" is singing
J.C.         Do you think that when you started singing in the clubs and festivals, do you think you are singing any different than you were singing when you were younger?

W.P            Dash, yes, I think so.

J C         Do you know in what way?

W.P.         Oh, I don't know, put more expression in probably; I think so. Well, but you see, you take these, what we call the old type... the old folk song, they're not like the music hall song, are they, or a stage song, there's a lot of difference in them, I mean a lot of these... some ... it all depend what and how you're singing. Some of them go to nice lively, quick tunes, and others are... you don't do 'Van Dieman's Land'... If there's a sad old song you don't go through that very quick. Like 'Up to the Rigs' is the opposite way about.
I mean, we must put expression in, you can't sing them all alike. Well most of the stage songs you could, if you understand what I mean. According to what the song is you put the expression in or that's not worth hearing; well that's what I think anyhow. And as I never did sing them, you see, there was no expression I could put in.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 20 May 16 - 08:02 AM

jim, walter was good singer, but he was talking poppycock,what defined the songs he was calling old were the modes they were written in, and the style of prose.
modern songwriters like macColl and Tawney wrote songs USING THOSE MODES AND THEIR SONGS HAVE BEEN MISTAKEN FOR TRADTIONAL.
Walter was unable to define what he meant in musical terminology so he defined the songs as best he could but inaccurately, by ending on the draw on the melodeon.. that means he either ended on the dorian mode or mixolydian or possibly dominant chord in major key.
I understand if this is also beyond you musical comprehension ,Jim, but there is time for you to learn, it is not necessarily to do with age, but musical style


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: The Sandman
Date: 20 May 16 - 08:12 AM

So jim, modern songs are being written that sound like old songs ,walter would have mistaken them for old songs, that shows the tradition is alive and well,but only up to a point,because if one limts modern songs to certain modes, so they in Wlters words sound "old" mathematically the writers will run out of tunes eventually
.Jim look at the amount of modern songs in ireland that keep using the tramps and hawkers tune.


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Subject: RE: The Song is the Important Thing!
From: GUEST,Anne Neilson
Date: 20 May 16 - 03:25 PM

GSS -- would you accept that, although Jim's quote from Walter Pardon focuses on his recognition of tune modes, it is also possible that any singer with a considerable repertoire would also have a fair instinct for what we might call 'traditional' texts?

I know a fair number of current Scottish singers, steeped in traditional song for decades, who would approach a song from the point of view of communication with an audience: this would mean that they might adjust word order and adapt the tune so that key words would sit more comfortably on significant melody notes etc. The expectation was that the end result would fit seamlessly with the main body of the original text. I can't believe that this is any different from the great singers of the past (Walter Pardon, Jeannie Robertson, Corny McDaid et al) who would all have had opinions and preferences on the "right way" to lead out a song.

As to the notion that traditional singers would confuse written songs with traditional repertoire (thinking of material like 'Shoals of Herring', 'Yellow on the Broom' etc.), surely that's more a matter for congratulation than concern?

And finally, I myself have 'constructed' a tune -- entirely on the white notes of the piano (whatever mode that might be) -- for the ballad Lady Diamond when I wanted to use it for a workshop situation, where participants would have no prior awareness of the text and would therefore be approaching it from the point of view of communicating the story (rather than imitating a previously known performance). In that particular instance, it seemed appropriate that the melody should attempt to sound as old as the text.

So, IMO, the most important thing is that the songs -- especially the old songs -- are sung, and sung in a way that links to an audience.
I'd have to say that my own personal preference is for unaccompanied song because, when well done, it communicates to me on a visceral level that accompanied song seldom matches. (But I do make an exception for certain instrumental music that reaches parts of me that song doesn't -- and I'm talking about my feet!)


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