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Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)

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McGrath of Harlow 01 Oct 02 - 10:11 PM
Art Thieme 01 Oct 02 - 11:24 PM
Bob Bolton 01 Oct 02 - 11:26 PM
Bob Bolton 01 Oct 02 - 11:35 PM
GUEST,Mary Humphreys 02 Oct 02 - 05:28 AM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Oct 02 - 05:50 AM
MikeofNorthumbria 02 Oct 02 - 07:32 AM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Oct 02 - 07:43 AM
Wolfgang 02 Oct 02 - 09:25 AM
GUEST,folkiedave 02 Oct 02 - 10:16 AM
Ron Olesko 02 Oct 02 - 10:18 AM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Oct 02 - 10:56 AM
RoyH (Burl) 02 Oct 02 - 11:48 AM
Art Thieme 02 Oct 02 - 01:07 PM
Dave Bryant 03 Oct 02 - 12:09 PM
Joe Offer 03 Oct 02 - 11:57 PM
Ron Olesko 04 Oct 02 - 09:28 AM
Wolfgang 20 Jun 08 - 01:56 PM
Def Shepard 20 Jun 08 - 01:59 PM
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Subject: Radio Ballads
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Oct 02 - 10:11 PM

I was thinking about the MacColl/Parker Radio Ballads - and it occurred to me to wonder whether anything like that has ever been done since, anywhere. Or was it just a one off phenomenon, which happened in one place for a short time, got admired, but was never emulated.
Click for related thread: Ballad of John Axon

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Subject: RE: BS: Radio Ballads
From: Art Thieme
Date: 01 Oct 02 - 11:24 PM

There have been programs like that here in the U.S. but not a long series of documentary and music combined in quite the same way as in the Radio Ballads. CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) had a couple of shows "The Legend Of Annie Christmas" and "Robin Hood". There was one show called "Back Where I Come From" done by Clifton Fadiman, John Henry Faulk and others on CBS.----Along the way there were many individual folk radio shows over the many years of the revival that would have, in themselves, individually, come up to the standards of what was done in the U.K.   In Chicago some of the things Syuds Terkel did on WFMT-FM radio were absolutely brilliant. The same goes for my great friend George Armstrong's long-running radio shows series called The Wandering Folksong --- also on WFMT. Paul Stamler's shows in St. Louis-----Judy Rose's series for Wisconsin Public Radio called "Wisconsin Patchwork" was a many weeks long series of programs taken from Helene Stratman Thomas' and Peter Draves' folksong collecting work in that unique and quite wonderful Northern state back in the 1940s. In the U.K. many of Roy Harris's shows from Nottingham (I think) were definitely of this caliber. Bruce U. Utah Phillips series out of California called "Loafer's Glory" (recently put on hold---a travesty---for lack of funds) on occasion rose to the standard. Granted, even Rick Fielding and Ron Olesko and Mike Regenstreif, and Rich Warren, Kathy Kelly and Sue Kessel in Chi. and --- other modern folk D.J.s have, every so often, quit being just record spinners snd created something that, when heard, hit you with an impact rivalling an M1 slug in Viet Nam rice paddy. Instantly, you knew you were lucky to be there when true ART was created and sent through the ether. Those Radio Ballads of Ewan's were classics----but I've been hearing stuff that came close or exceeded those for the last 450 years or so. And what a privilege it has truly been.

I made a typo in the above sentence. It should read "50 years" and not "450". So please, don't anybody tell me it means I'm antisemantic. ;-)
(That's a reference to the Bennet Zukofsky thread.)

Art Thieme

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 01 Oct 02 - 11:26 PM

G'day McGrath,

There was some discussion - in recent weeks - of a couple of Radio Ballads done on the the cheap by Charles Parker and Ian Campbell. The problem was that all that field recording, filtering, scripting, recording and splicing together was pretty expensive.

I don't seem to have the thread 'Traced" ... but I'll keep an eye out for it.

On the wider front. I think some of the Radio Ballad ideas flowed into other productions ... when they could be afforded.


Bob Bolton

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 01 Oct 02 - 11:35 PM

G'day ... I'm back again,

(Special G'day to Art: I would have thought that the US was the only place that could stump up the budgets for such a high level of production ... the legacy of such a vast population ... even a minority interest has better funding than a mainstream cultural event in thuis country!)

Anyway, here is the Ian Campbell material - Nerd posted it in a recent thread on Radio Ballads, which is why I couldn't put my finger on it. Very interesting sidelight to the whole Radio Ballad saga.


Bob Bolton

Also, a letter from Ian Campbell appeared on the Musical Traditions web site, which I'll paste in below. Here goes:

As an old friend of, and sometime collaborator with, Charles Parker of Radio Ballad fame, I find it disturbing that in none of the relevant press articles I have read over the years, nor even in the Charles Parker Archive in Birmingham Central Library, have I ever encountered reference to the two Radio Ballads he produced without the involvement of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. That these programmes evoked no enthusiasm in MacColl and Seeger is perhaps not surprising, but that they should be excluded from the Parker canon seems odd, as they were Charles' only attempt to utilise the Radio Ballad format in programmes with local theme treated by local follk revivalists.

As a prominent Midlands figure in the folksong revival I was enthralled by the Radio Ballad format, having been booked as a singer on 'Singing the Fishing' and 'The Big Hewer', but it was in the interval between these programmes that Charles approached me with a plea for help. He explained that he was in trouble at the BBC because the revolutionary R.B. techniques were so time-consuming that they required budgets more apropriate for a TV spectacular than a radio feature; getting these budgets accepted was a constanat struggle, but even so they were always inadequate. He implied that to balance the books and safeguard his job and future Radio Ballads he must produce an extra programme in the R.B. format as quickly and cheaply as possible. To this end, he had already surreptitiously recorded the documentary 'actuality' for a programme about the craftsmen of the traditional Birmingham jewellery trade. He had thus forgone the ten months of research, recording, and analysis that MacColl would have been paid for.

As a craftsman engraver as well as a recognised singer/songwriter, I was doubly qualified to work on this programme, and what Charles now required was that I should gather a team of creative amateurs - singers, musicians - who might convert his documentary material into a Radio Ballad, with songs written by me and another local folky, John Chapman. Charles apologised for the fact that he could not afford the 10-15 days of studio time that MacColl would have required; instead, he could let us have one day to rehearse and record, which he had already booked for a Saturday which was a mere three weeks away!

So it was for the next three weeks John Chapman and I spent every spare moment with Charles' tape, groping for the themes and the vocabulary from which to weave the lyrics to fit the traditional tunes, and on the appointed day we joined our little group of musical friends in the studio for a gruelling 12 hours session under Parker's direction during which we cobbled together our very own Radio Ballad, 'The Jewellery'.

Remarkably, the programme was broadcast shortly afterward to positive critical acclaim even though, inevitably, it was compared unfavourably with the MacColl/Seeger award-winning creations. The accepted critical view seemed to be that, having collaborated with Charles in the creation of a new art form, Ewan and Peggy could not expect to exercise a total monopoly on its furture development and expression.

Consequently in the following year Charles approached me again with the actuality for a programme about the Midland canal communities, to be called 'A Cry from the Cut'. This time I alone was to substitute for MacColl and Seeger as writer, composer, and arranger of the music, and in the recorded performance, I would be joined only by my own group - Lorna Campbell, Dave Swarbrick, John Dunkerley and Brian Clarke. This time I was given 15 days notice of our one day in the studio and, to put things into further perspective, my total BBC fee as I recall was £17. 'A Cry from the Cut' received even warmer critical acclaim than 'The Jewellery'.

I have no way of knowing what tension these two programmes may have engendered among the creative triumvirate of the Radio Ballads, and I think I can understand why they were not included among the recordings for commercial release, but I think it regrettable that an apparent conspiracy of silence at some level in the BBC has consigned them to permanent oblivion. Surely to students of the arts and the media they should be of at least historical interest, if only for purposes of comparison.

Yours sincerely

Ian Campbell

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: GUEST,Mary Humphreys
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 05:28 AM

In the 1980s Harry Boardman in collaboration with Baz Barker and BBC Radio North did a series of programmes based on the Radio Ballad model called Ballads of Britain. Many of Harry's resident singers from the Unicorn Folk club in Manchester ( including myself ) were brought in to perform the songs. Harry and Lesley Boardman wrote the scripts and Baz did the voice-overs.
I don't know whether there are any recordings in the BBC archives - I managed to record most of them from the radio on tape, though the reception left a bit to be desired.

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 05:50 AM

That's fascinating stuff. I hope someone somewhere is bringing that kind of material together and preserving it, and passing on the songs produced.
But I don't think it should be seen just as a historical thing. The special thing about the Radio Ballads form was the way that the field recordings of ordinary people talking about their lives were combined with songs built out of what they said, using their own words. It's a combination that would still work, and there are all kinds of stories that could best be told through it - including the stories of immigrant communities, for example.
What's missing is maybe the real possibility of using broadcast radio as the medium for this kind of thing - but in some ways internet radio and CDs etc could be an even better way of doing it.

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: MikeofNorthumbria
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 07:32 AM

Hi folks!

I remember seeing a TV version of "Singing the fishing" many years ago - somebody took the radio version and married it to a montage of film clips and still pictures (very much in the style later used by Ken Burns in his American Civil War history series).

Is there a tape of this broadcast lurking somewhere in the basement of Broadcasting House? If so, would somebody please find and re-issue it?

Failing that,why doesn't the BBC do the decent thing, and put together a new picture package for every one of the Radio Ballads? I'm certain that, if properly done, they would attract viable audiences.


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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 07:43 AM

It wouldn't even cost much to do that, and there'd be the possibility of getting revenue through putting it out as a CD-Rom.

Maybe its the kind of thing the digital TV chanel BBCFour could be doing.

I suspect what would get in the way is that the people who run the BBC these days are embarassed by the Ballads, because it shows up so much of what they do these days as pretty second-rate.

Mind, as the saying goes, the good thing about good radio is that the pictures are so much better.

It occurs to me that one thing that has in a way grown out from the Radio Ballads has been the various folk plays and so forth we've had over the years since then, though there are other sources for that as well.

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Wolfgang
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 09:25 AM

That's fascinating stuff. I hope someone somewhere is bringing that kind of material together and preserving it, and passing on the songs produced.

I wholeheartedly agree. About two third of the ballads are preserved in the new MacColl songbook, but the rest of the ballads and especially the texts in between are not preserved yet. I'd be one to buy a libretto, though I guess it would have to be awfully expensive due to the amount of work involved.

The radio ballads were compiled with such a tremendous skill that even when the theme is out of date I still sit spellbound when listening.


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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: GUEST,folkiedave
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 10:16 AM

About ten years ago on a History Workshop weekend in Sheffield a gentleman from the open university did a piece on the 1930's BBC. Included in this was an early "version" of the Radio Ballads.

The difference was really that this was real "worker as hero" stuff - but with actuality of steelworks for instance but not too much of people, who were represented by actors.

Sadsly I have forgotten his name but he was reasonably well-known in this early broadcasting history area of academic research.


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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Ron Olesko
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 10:18 AM

First of all, thank you Art for your kind words and mention of the work that many of us are attempting on radio.   I've never liked the term "Disc Jockey" and always felt that radio should offer more than just spinning recorts.

The Radio Ballads have been an insipiration to me. I have worked on several "documentaries" such as one on Joe Heaney, another with my co-host Bill Hahn on Marais and Miranda, and I am currently working on one about Bob Gibson. These documentaries use music from the subject and actualities from a number of guests with knowledge of the subject. They are a bit different than what MacColl/Seeger/Parker created. Their work on the radio ballads set standards that the rest of us try to honor.

Unfortunately in the year 2002 the issue becomes financial. Radio has become so corporate that only a few non-commercial radio stations can offer something different. Even Pacifica and public radio stations are forced to look at budgets and the creativity has diminished. Those of us who are attempting to create these types of programs often do it out of our own pocket or waste tremendous time attempting to find funding.   The result is these programs become few and far between.

I would welcome an opportunity to work with musicians to create programs along the lines of the radio ballads.   MacColl's genius at creating music and gathering musicians was truly amazing. The time they spent gathering the material was staggering. I once discussed this with Peggy Seeger as she was marveling at my tiny MiniDisc recorder. My recorder and microphone weighs about 1 pound, can record a minimum of 70 minutes at a clip, and can fit in a small zipper case that I can fit in a belt pack.   Peggy told me about their "portable" recording equipment that weighed over 100 pounds and was cumbersome and intrusive.   Here we are in 2002 with the technology to replicate the art, but we fall vicitims to corporations and lack of funds.

If anyone has ideas, I'm open to suggestion! I even have free studio time!

Thanks again.


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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 10:56 AM

As Ron indicates, with modern technology, it'd be a whole lot easier, in all kinds of ways.

I don't think we should get hung up on the term "Radio Ballad" - broadcast radio is just one way of circulating a "programme". Even for the historic Radio Ballads, the actual broadcasts were just the first opportunity people had to hear them. They still exist on CD, and whoever wants can get hold of them.

It'd be interesting to hear people's ideas for "Radio Ballads" that could be made today, where there are people with stories they could tell, and ways of telling those stories in songs alongside. One might be the story of the West Indian immigration to Britain. The situation of people with disabilities might be another. Issues round the countryside and bloodsports...that could be a hairy one.

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: RoyH (Burl)
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 11:48 AM

Great to read of so much interest in the Radio Ballads. They are well remembered by people who heard them first time around, and on subsequent repeats, and now a new generation may hear them via the CD series. The Radio Ballad style, with it's montage of actuality and music has spread widely. Echoes of it may be heard in radio and TV drama, in stage productions (such as the excellent ones done some years ago at Stoke on Trent) even in TV advertising. Several folk clubs have mounted shows of their own on local topics, done in a manner suggesting the influence of the radio ballads. Fylde Festival presents something like this regularly. All of this is proof of the mark made by the original programmes and their makers, MacColl, Seeger, and Parker. Ian Campbell's account of the 'missing' programmes interested me. They do not deserve "permanent oblivion". They should be heard, or at least stored where we may search for them.

In the early sixties, 64 or 65 as I remember, I took part in a series called 'Landmarks', produced by Charles Parker, music by Peggy Seeger, compiled and songs written by Alasdair Clayre. The opening theme was Ewan MacColl's 'Ballad of Accounting, sung by him. The series followed 'landmarks' in a man's life, Birth, school, work, etc, with actuality and appropriate songs. The series went to air in Jan 65, on the Midlands Home Service of the BBC. It was not networked nationally. They were damn good shows but so far as I know they were never repeated. I had no tape recorder at that time so am without a souvenir of my first ever broadcast. I can't tell you how proud I was as a novice singer, being asked to work with Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker. I learned a great deal about standards and professionalism as a consequence. There may be copies in the Parker archives, I don't know, perhaps they are available in that way. But why did the BBC bury them?
One more story on the Radio ballads theme.........during the 1970's I had been singing in the South East of England and was hitch-hiking my way to a couple of gigs in Suffolk. A driver picked me up, we started talking, and he told me of his interest in the fishing industry and the steam drifters. He said that he had once heard a radio show about it, "It was the best thing I've ever heard" he said, "They had songs in was terrific". I sang him a verse or two of 'Shoals of Herring' and told him I knew the people who made the programme. He was so excited when I told him it had been recorded on Argo records that he went twenty miles out of his way to drop me where I was going. Yes Sir, those Radio ballads really had impact.

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Art Thieme
Date: 02 Oct 02 - 01:07 PM

Yes, in the U.S. the real work of putting these shows together was also done by INDIVIDUALS mostly------folks with no budget whatsoever. It was done for and with love---and that's probably why the shows turned out to be so "good" so often. In the real sense of the word ama-teur --- with the root AMA =ing LOVE. It's a really false conception that because we are in the USA we have big funding for everything. Folk folks here have no funding in spite of the Folk Alliance trying to look corporate holding their yearly get-togethers in huge and gold-plated hotels in major far-flung cities. Except in the North-East, folk programming has been curtailed by NPR no matter how Mudcatters might protest that statement. The truth is that those looking at the scene NOW would never ever believe the sheer number of good folk shows that USED TO BE all around this nation. I do know there are axceptions, but people here and now think Garrison Keillor is a folk-DJ. I was given a nationally broadcast radio show in the mid-1980s by NPR precisely because they thought G.K. was a folk show and we might "kick his butt" since he dared to switch to A.P.R. Garrison never was a folk show. He uses folkie acts to give himself a chance to catch his breath. Give Garrison a good case of laryngitis and just watch how long that program would hold it's own !??! It'd last just about as long as mine did as a 2-hour, live, every week concern---about 2 years was as far as I went--although it took Jimmy David Post to run it into the ground. ;-)

Again, being a folksinger, a folk-DJ, a community broadcasting effort---even an NPR outlet in a less than "major league" urban area, has been pulled off only by the people who did it in spite OF the fact that there was never going to be big bucks there except for a few stars. I knew what I was doing wasn't leading to a big re-TIRE-ment even though I was able to buy a new set of those rubber items when my ever so necessary used automobile needed them.

As my buddy Jerry Rasmussen was the first to say to me many years ago, "Art, in folk music there is no such thing as a career move."
Luckily, "hand to mouth" still got us fed. My present circumference is proof of that fact.

With love and appreciation for you all,

Art Thieme

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 03 Oct 02 - 12:09 PM

When MacColl/Parker first started to produce "The Ballad of John Axon" the idea was that they would use only actors, but when they got working on it, they were surprised at just how more convincing real peoples voices were.

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 03 Oct 02 - 11:57 PM

Didn't Alan Lomax produce something similar?
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Ron Olesko
Date: 04 Oct 02 - 09:28 AM

Yes, Lomax produced something similar. From the examples I heard they weren't exactly radio ballads, more of a documentary approach. Lomax would gather musicians and create a narrative that wrapped around the music.    One example that stands out was the Christmas program that he produced in 1957. It is remarkable for the coordination and timing. There were a number of studios across Great Britian and Ireland that were linked together as remotes. Listening to the recording of the broadcast, one would think that it was done from the same studio. Technically the remotes matched perfectly and there were no flubs that one would expect from such a ambitious and live broadcast. Even with all the technological advances, I doubt that a similar "event" could be produced as well today.

Another radio project that I remember hearing (on tape of course!) was a "play" of the Hatfields and the McCoys that featured a cast including Woody Guthrie.   

Alan Lomax's father also had a radio series in the 1940's that examined folk music and culture.

There have been re-issues of some of Alan Lomax's work on Rounder Records, and I think John Lomax's programs may also be available through collectors. Topic also has re-issued the MacColl/Seeger/Parker Radio Ballads.   I belive Camsco carries all of them.


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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Wolfgang
Date: 20 Jun 08 - 01:56 PM

The Radio Ballads transcripted (what a find!)


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Subject: RE: Radio Ballads (MacColl/Parker)
From: Def Shepard
Date: 20 Jun 08 - 01:59 PM

There has been noth like, nor has anything exceeded the original Radio Ballad, except, maybe, the new Radio Ballads, produced by John Tams

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