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Big Ballads

Phil Edwards 28 Jul 16 - 06:40 PM
GUEST 28 Jul 16 - 07:00 PM
Gallus Moll 28 Jul 16 - 08:01 PM
The Sandman 28 Jul 16 - 08:06 PM
GUEST,Gerry 28 Jul 16 - 09:21 PM
Jim Carroll 29 Jul 16 - 03:16 AM
Dave Sutherland 29 Jul 16 - 03:28 AM
Jim Carroll 29 Jul 16 - 03:44 AM
GUEST,SteveT 29 Jul 16 - 04:44 AM
alex s 29 Jul 16 - 05:11 AM
Phil Edwards 29 Jul 16 - 06:50 AM
GUEST, DTM 29 Jul 16 - 06:55 AM
Jack Blandiver 29 Jul 16 - 07:00 AM
Jim Carroll 29 Jul 16 - 07:41 AM
matt milton 29 Jul 16 - 08:49 AM
matt milton 29 Jul 16 - 08:56 AM
GUEST,Wm 29 Jul 16 - 06:21 PM
GUEST,SteveT 30 Jul 16 - 05:38 AM
Phil Edwards 31 Jul 16 - 07:23 AM
Gallus Moll 31 Jul 16 - 07:47 PM
Mysha 01 Aug 16 - 10:57 AM
Richard Hardaker 01 Aug 16 - 02:50 PM
GUEST,Anne Neilson 01 Aug 16 - 03:27 PM
GUEST,JHW (regular really) 01 Aug 16 - 04:53 PM
GUEST,Wm 01 Aug 16 - 07:01 PM
GUEST 01 Aug 16 - 07:34 PM
Phil Edwards 03 Aug 16 - 09:01 AM
Richard Hardaker 03 Aug 16 - 04:31 PM
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Subject: Big Ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 28 Jul 16 - 06:40 PM

Does anyone do any of the really long, narrative traditional ballads?

I occasionally do a Little Musgrave that runs to 26 verses, a 34-verse Young Hunting/Earl Richard and a 35-verse Lord Bateman. Other than those three, the longest songs I do - Banks of Green Willow, Fair Annie, Mary Hamilton, Lord Allenwater - barely reach 20 verses.

A lot of the more popular Child ballads set up or work towards a single scene or confrontation (Sheath & Knife, Bonny Hind, Edward, Two Pretty Boys, the Cruel Mother, Young Waters...) and those ones naturally seem to come out at a sort of mid-length of 8-16 verses; the long ones have more plot to keep them going. And the really long ones have a *lot* more plot - which makes them fun to learn & sing.

Musgrave, Bateman, Young Hunting - what else do people sing in the 25-verse-plus range?


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Jul 16 - 07:00 PM

'Famous Flower of Serving Men' is 32 verses, if you count Carthy's take as being 'traditional'


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Gallus Moll
Date: 28 Jul 16 - 08:01 PM

I've never thought of a ballad in terms of how long it is.
For me the whole story is pictorial - sometimes like a slide show, sometimes like a film - whether I am the singer or the listener. I am absorbed into the events- - and it doesn't seem to matter whether I am very familiar with the song or I am hearing it for the first time. Time and reality are suspended!


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: The Sandman
Date: 28 Jul 16 - 08:06 PM

for me the length of the song is not important more the quality of words and tune.
I do a number of long songs but have never counted the verses


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 28 Jul 16 - 09:21 PM

100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall (haven't done it recently, though – last time was maybe 1963...).


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 03:16 AM

"I've never thought of a ballad in terms of how long it is. "
Couldn't agree more
A good song is as long as necessary, if it is good but sounds too long, for the singer or the listener, it's not working - nothing to do with the length, it's down to the singing.
Ballads that are "too long" have become a feature of life where our attention span has been reduced , like Dickens, and Hugo (just re-read Les Miserablés - the longest book I've ever read), they remain classics for those who take the trouble to give them the attention they need.
Traditional ballads are interesting in this respect because, unlike many of our songs, they are stripped down to the basic story, little surplus information, the minimum of scene-setting, hardly any moralising commentary - just the bare-bones of the story.
In the end, it comes down to whether the singer is involved in the ballad and whether he/she can transmit that involvement to an audience.
The longest song (not a ballad) I've heard is one we recorded from a seventy year old singer, 'The True Lover's Discussion' - fifteen minutes long.
It is also one of the most unlikely to gain my attention - a non-narrative argument between two lovers on the merits of his and her religion - still gets me every time I play it.
THe singer, Martin Reidy, sang it one afternoon in a pub session and, for some reason, decided it was too long for the listeners and decided to cut it short.
He was shouted down by the audience, who were familiar with it, who demanded he sing it in full.
Martin had several songs of a similar length in his reperoire - he once told us, "I wouldn't give you tuppence for a short song".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Dave Sutherland
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 03:28 AM

Ewan MacColl once described the traditional ballad as having "the economy of verse" and because these noble songs tell a story I personally find them far easier to learn than say a six verse piece with no tale to tell. Since the OP asks which ones; The Outlandish Knight, Tam Lin, Minnorrie, Hughie the Graeme, Fair Flower of Northumberland, Lord Gregory, Lord Bateman and Child Owlet are among those that I do.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 03:44 AM

"Ewan MacColl"
Ewan once told us how, when he started singing ballads in the Singers Club, he used to cut his longest ballad (then), Gil Morrice into two halves, part in the first half of the evening, the rest in the second.
He did this several times until a regular asked him to desist because "it was like waiting for the other shoe to drop"
He never did it again
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 04:44 AM

I've been singing versions of some of the Child ballads for years but, despite being enough of an anorak to keep a record of what I sing and where, I've never bothered to notice how many verses – like others here it just takes as many verses as is needed to tell the story.   I used to go to the ballad sessions at Sidmouth festival (which I'd recommend to anyone interested in traditional narrative ballads), but I couldn't tell you how long each ballad was. Most of the singers were good enough that I'd lose myself in the stories after a couple of verses – no counting!

(A while ago I felt the urge to make up a few songs based on Welsh folklore (such as the birth of Pryderi; Pwyll's meeting with Arawn; the rescue of Mabon etc.) The only way to tell the story was via a fair number of verses although, again, I didn't bother about the actual number (a quick check now shows between 10 and 19 verses was the norm). Of course, there's really no-where to sing these songs "out" as most singarounds these days focus on chorus/refrain songs, "clubs" tend towards more usual singer songwriter introspection and, of course, if you go to a place where ballads are welcome it would be a crime not to try to keep some of the traditional ones alive. Still it was fun trying to create ballads in a traditional style that just gave the bare narrative of the story.)


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: alex s
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 05:11 AM

I once heard a singer get to verse 17 of a 24 verse song, forget the words and start all over again.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 06:50 AM

Yes, the ballad is as long as it needs to be, and yes, it is a bit nerdy to actually count the verses.

BUT

There's a big difference between a ballad like the Bonny Hind or Two Sisters (a couple of scenes) and one like Musgrave or Bateman (he went there, then they went there, then this happened, then that happened...). Sheath and Knife, Willie of Winsbury, Two Sisters are 'long enough' to give us two scenes; Little Musgrave is 'long enough' to tell a complex and vivid story. I'm just interested to know who else is doing the long, narrative ballads.

The other motivation for asking this Q is that I'm on the lookout for 'new' material in this area. (Brian Peters does a good job on False Foudrage and Sir Aldingar on his Songs of Trial and Triumph album - wondering about nicking those...) I suspect a lot of singaround repertoires are regional or even local - one group's taken-for-granted, obvious, familiar standard might be another's weird novelty. I haven't heard The Outlandish Knight in years - despite it being so familiar! - and I don't think I've ever heard Child Owlet.

So let's rephrase the question: which of the old ballads that tell a story - not just paint a scene or two - do you do? My list would go something like
Banks of Green Willow, Fair Annie, Little Musgrave, Lord Allenwater, Lord Bateman, Mary Hamilton, the Outlandish Knight, the Wife of Usher's Well, Young Hunting


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST, DTM
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 06:55 AM

Big ballads are torturous and folk who sing songs with any more than six verses should be sine died.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 07:00 AM

I nicked Child Owlet off Sally Crow Sister a few years back. It packs a nifty wallop in around three minutes:

Child Owlet (Child #291) : Sedayne - Wednesday 19th Jan 2011


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 07:41 AM

"The other motivation for asking this Q is that I'm on the lookout for 'new' material in this area"
Plenty os singable ballads to be had if you look around and if you aer prepared to adapt them (not comfortable with singing in a strange accent)
Ireland was thought to be fairly thin on the ground regarding ballads, but collector, the late Tom Munnelly, listed fifty of them still to be found sung by elderly singers here right up to the end of the 90s, many of them having disappeared completely from elsewhere
Albums like the recently re-released 'Early Ballads in Ireland' include some gems; Johnny Scott, Dewy Dens of Yarrow, Lord Levett, Demon Lover, Lord O'Bore )Prince Robert), The Suffolk Miracle....
Up to twenty years ago you couldn't throw a stone without hitting a singer who sand Katherine Jaffrey, Lord Bateman or The Keach in the Creel.
One of the most exquisite examples of ballad singing I've ever heard 0can be heard on the album, 'Songs of the Irish Travellers; Lady Margaret, (Young Hunting), sung by Rosommon traveller, Martin McDonagh - the album also includes a very full version of Lamkin.
Last year we recorded a local man aged 94 who gave us 6 full Child Ballads, including Lord Bateman and Katherine Jaffray.
The Musical Traditions from of Ewan and Peggy's field recordings, 'Songs of the English and Scottish Travellers are well worth the asking price.      
I'm always happy to pass on anything we have here`if anybody is looking for new old material.
A couple of years ago, County Wexford couple Aileen Lambert and Michael Fortune embarked on a project in conjunction with Tha National Library of Ireland, Man, 'Woman and Child'0, where they assembled a number of singers, mostly totally unused to singing ballads and staged lunchtime concerts of ballad singing in various venues in Ireland
The project was a great success and it has had a considerable effect on ballad singing here.
It was very gratifying to hear good Irish singers tackling a new genre of song (Irish song nowadays tends to be lyrical rather than narrative, though it certainly wasn't always like that)
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: matt milton
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 08:49 AM

Phil - do you have the Bronson Child Ballads book(s)?
Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads

In reply to your question about stories and narratives, I think i'd struggle to find a long ballad that didn't tell a story! I'd have to flick back through the Bronson to check but most of them do...

(Incidentally, out of your list, Phil, I'd never really thought of Lord Allenwater or the Wife of Usher's Well as being long ballads. Aren't they around the 10-15 verse mark, rather than 20+ monsters?)


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: matt milton
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 08:56 AM

Currently the only long(ish) ballad I do is 'Clerk Colven', which is a parent of George Collins. It's long but I think only a 15 verser, not a 25+ beast.

Off the top of my head, these are the long ballads that I've earmarked as songs I'd like to get around to learning & performing one day:

Young Allan
Willie's Lady
Thomas the Rhymer
The White Fisher
Fire of Frendracht

I love The Wife of Usher's Well too, but it's been done so often...


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST,Wm
Date: 29 Jul 16 - 06:21 PM

I keep my ballad texts in a constant state of flux, as I constantly add/subtract details and flourishes, but according to the manuscript copies I occasionally make for my notes, the biggest offenders in my repertoire are Lang Johnnie More (approx. 44 verses), Lambkin (~37), Matthie Groves (~29), Young Andrew (~26), Jock o the Brinesyland (~24), Edom o Gordon (~20), and Jock the Leg and the Merry Merchant (~20). Many more in the 15–20 verse category.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 30 Jul 16 - 05:38 AM

Over the last few years, as well as "short" ballads with truncated stories (such as Bonny George Campbell, Twa Corbies, Border Widow's Lament etc and a much-shortened version of Sir Patrick Spens), I've sung these which tell a full story.   Outlandish Knight, Lord Allenwater, Sheath & Knife, Silkie of Sule Skerrie, Lord Bateman, Banks of Fordie, Captain Carr, Rosie Anderson, King Orfeo, Dowie Dens of Yarrow, Long Lankin, Flower of Northumberland, Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham and Willie of Winsbury. As noted above, I don't know how many verses I sing in each – I'd have to sing one and count at the same time to find that out!

(I think there are some other festivals that, like Sidmouth, may have ballad sessions. If you're looking for a singable repertoire then such sessions are great because, each day, you get to actually hear how up to a dozen ballads actually work in practice rather than just seeing them written on paper.)


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 31 Jul 16 - 07:23 AM

Matt - I know there are tons of narrative ballads, I was just interested to know which ones people are currently singing. There's a wider range than I'd expected!

Interesting to see Long Lankin coming up a few times - I've got to admit Steeleye Span ruined it for me.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Gallus Moll
Date: 31 Jul 16 - 07:47 PM

Not sure if you can look at The Glasgow Ballads Workshop facebook page if you are not a member (closed group but think if you check the website you can contact Anne for invitation!)
- Anyway, Ronnie has been posting lyrics/music and background notes on all the ballads we have covered over the (6?) years of our existence.
Also a few recordings of some of our guests.

'Guest DTM' best not bother as the whole point of our group is to look at a wide cross section of ballads, and encourage people to sing them!
We LOVE listening to ballads, singing ballads, everything to do with ballads --


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Mysha
Date: 01 Aug 16 - 10:57 AM

Well,

There's a version of The Grey Silkie shortened to 18? verses, but though it's well done, it does leave out some details that I feel are important. Thus, it would seem I'll have to include the ninety-something verse version in my repertoire for next year.

Then again, I don't know the melody of that full version. Do these longer ballads come with a set melody, or are they done so rarely that they are passed on as lyrics on paper with each singer setting them to music again.


Of course, there's one advantage to having a ballad with plenty of verses in your repertoire: If someone ever limits you to a single song for no good reason, you know what to do about it.

Bye,
                                                                Mysha


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Richard Hardaker
Date: 01 Aug 16 - 02:50 PM

I have just been at Durham folk party which has a dedicated ballad session in the Dun Cow on Saturday afternoon; I sang "Jock o' the Side", probably the longest ballad performed on that occasion. I explained that this was about the only event, apart from the Border Ballad competition at Newcastleton festival when I did not feel obliged to apologise to the audience for taking up so much of their valuable time.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST,Anne Neilson
Date: 01 Aug 16 - 03:27 PM

Whitby Folk Festival has had a daily ballad singing concert for many years -- a great opportunity to hear versions from other parts of the UK of songs that you might already know from your own area.

Like many here, I sing a lot of ballads and each of them is as long as (I think) it needs to be; some are twenty+ verses, like Musgrave or The Battle of Harlaw, while others like Lamkin, The Great Silkie, Lizzie Wan etc, are in the mid-teens, and the first ballad I ever learned has only 5 verses - The Twa Corbies. Even if someone miraculously found a long-lost manuscript that produced verses for the betrayed husband being urged to go hunting by his treacherous wife, the confab. between the adulteress and her lover with her encouragements and enticements, the lover's ambush and taunting of the husband before slaying him, the widow's welcome for the lover etc. -- I wouldn't want to know, because the 5 verses give me enough to go on and I can fill in the back story as best suits me.

If Phil is still looking for suggestions, what about Chevy Chase/Otterburn? (Though sometimes having to provide a bit of historical background can suck the drama out of such songs….)


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST,JHW (regular really)
Date: 01 Aug 16 - 04:53 PM

I reckon my Lord Bateman is pretty long. Longest I do is Tam Lin/Lane though of course only at about Halloween.
Both these songs though have an easy to keep up with narrative and possibly a happy ending.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST,Wm
Date: 01 Aug 16 - 07:01 PM

Richard, I'm glad you're singing Jock o the Side! I always get blank looks when I mention it at ballad sessions. It's just about my favorite thing in the Child "canon," which has scared me off learning it for years.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Aug 16 - 07:34 PM

I regularly sing the news headlines of Chevy Chase as a 7 verse ballad.
I can just about get away with Lord Lovel,May Colvin,Mill o'Tiffty, Sheath and Kinfe , Fair Flower of Northumberland and Leazie Lindsay in a pub session but am trying to work out a way to sing my favoutite Willy o'Winsbury in that setting.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 03 Aug 16 - 09:01 AM

Willie o' Winsbury's not that long, is it? I did two variants in one singaround once (John from the Isle of Man and Tom the Barber). I don't much like the canonical tune, I have to say, although I have made it work for Mary Hamilton.


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Subject: RE: Big Ballads
From: Richard Hardaker
Date: 03 Aug 16 - 04:31 PM

If you do make the effort to learn Jock o' the Side, you should also do its darker sequel, Hobbie Noble.


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