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Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?

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GUEST,Bruce Michael Baillie 14 Feb 07 - 10:42 AM
Scrump 14 Feb 07 - 10:59 AM
Alec 14 Feb 07 - 12:27 PM
Bill D 14 Feb 07 - 12:58 PM
Joe Offer 14 Feb 07 - 01:53 PM
Alec 14 Feb 07 - 01:58 PM
Songster Bob 14 Feb 07 - 02:28 PM
michaelr 14 Feb 07 - 09:04 PM
Big Al Whittle 14 Feb 07 - 09:29 PM
michaelr 16 Feb 07 - 03:20 PM
Folkiedave 16 Feb 07 - 03:33 PM
Alec 16 Feb 07 - 03:45 PM
Jim Krause 16 Feb 07 - 03:48 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 17 Feb 07 - 04:42 AM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 17 Feb 07 - 11:46 AM
Tim theTwangler 17 Feb 07 - 06:51 PM
Leadfingers 17 Feb 07 - 07:31 PM
GUEST,Patrick Costello 17 Feb 07 - 09:57 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 18 Feb 07 - 05:11 AM
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Subject: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: GUEST,Bruce Michael Baillie
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 10:42 AM

How about this for the start of a stimulating piece of debate?
I was reading one of the threads on Mudcat a while ago, I can't remember precisely what it was about but someone made a comment that singer songwriters were really only POP singers and therefore shouldn't really be performing in folk clubs.
This set me thinking, when does a 'pop' song become a 'folk' song? For instance a great many songs that are considered to be 'folk' songs today are 'pop' i.e. POPULAR songs from another era. (I'm thinking of the old broadside ballads here) You can guarantee that every Christmas as you walk around any shopping centre in Britain you will hear Slades 70's hit, 'So here it is Merry Christmas', does this mean that it is becoming a 'Traditional' song as it certainly seems to be traditional to play it every Christmas?
What does anyone else think?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Scrump
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 10:59 AM

I'm afraid this will be difficult to answer, because one person's "folk" may be another person's "pop" already (it comes down to the old unanswerable question "what is folk?")

To say that singer/songwriters are pop singers is a bit sweeping. I guess you could say that Ewan MacColl was a "singer/songwriter" because he wrote and sang his own songs, but few (or nobody) would call him a pop singer.

But I guess you are thinking more of the guitar-playing singer-songwriter, that we sometimes see in folk clubs? I admit some of these I wouldn't say are folk singers because of the material they write and sing. I think the material they sing will define whether you think of them as a folk singer or not - but I'm not sure where you draw the line.

Then again, some 'respected' folk singers occasionally write/sing songs that taken in isolation would probably not be considered 'folk' songs. Again, I don't know where you would draw the line.

So, "What subject matter makes a song folk and what makes it pop?" is a question I'd like to get an answer to.

As for Slade, yes, I could imagine in 100 years that could be called a folk song, if you can imagine people singing it at a session round about Christmas time.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Alec
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 12:27 PM

The History of Music
                By Pete Seeger's dad.
"My Father explained pop music this way;he said,thousands of years ago,when our ancestors lived in tribes,there was one kind of music in the tribe.
All the men knew the same warrior songs,and the same hunting songs and all the women knew the same lullabies.

Then clever people discovered agriculture - how to herd sheep,how to grow grain- and now there were two classes of people:You had a class of people that owned land, another class of people that worked the land.
And then cities developed and you had a class of people that lived in the cities and they were a middle class ...
But the ruling class had music made for them. so expert musicians made expert music, in the castles and it led to symphony orchestras in the 18th century,...
Out in the country people played their old music like they'd always played it, just by ear,and it didn't change that much. ..
But in the cities musicians found they could pick up coins in the marketplace, and this was the first pop music. And pop music has throughout the ages changed more rapidly than either fine arts music or Folk music.
It has borrowed a melody from the castle or a melody from the countryside."

The above quote is from an interview with Pete Seeger in the current issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
Yes it generalises, yes it oversimplifies but nevertheless I think it is a fine assessment of the importance of popular music.
What do you think?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Bill D
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 12:58 PM

obviously 'some' singer-songwriter stuff comes closer to traditional styles than does others. There will always be a gray area, and we will have to live with that, but IF you make the effort to understand what made up the music that was called 'folk' or 'trad' when the terms began to be used, you will realized that simply getting 'older' or 'more famous' doesn't automatically confer status in a category.

I claim that "Sha-Boom" or "Blue Suede Shoes" should NEVER be considered 'folk/trad', though they 'may' someday be learned thru oral transmission. Do I have confidence that I will prevail in my narrow view....*grin*....I ain't that foolish!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 01:53 PM

I suppose this could be viewed as part of the eternal "what is folk?" question, and I've grouped this thread with others related to that topic. Still, there is a distinctive quality about the "singer-songwriter" work that is hated but those of us who call ourselves traditional folkies (although we also sing a lot of songs from singers who write songs).
The hated "singer-songwriter" genre is personal to the author, and such songs are not easily sung by other musicians and certainly not sung by groups. I think there's also often a particlarly whiny quality to such songs.
I can see trad folkies singing "Shh-Boom" or "Blue Suede Shoes" and having a wonderful time, but I can't see them singing many songs by Chuck Brodsky or Loudon Wainright III or Lui Collins or Ani DiFranco - and these four are arguably pretty good songwriters at times.
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Alec
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 01:58 PM

You could be right Bill. It will be some years before the Folk process gets a start on those songs.A lot of modern compositions are unlikely to survive being subjected to Folk process so it is possible these songs may "go to the wall"
However I think back to Geordie Ridley a 19th Century entertainer whose compositions were very much taken to the heart of people locally to the point where they are perceived as being true Folk songs. (Indeed more than one of them can be found in the DT)
Perhaps some of the songs of (for example) Mr Lennon & Mr McCartney may go the same way, perhaps they won't.
Time WILL tell, but not for a long time yet.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Songster Bob
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 02:28 PM

It really matters or it doesn't. That is, a pop song may or may not ever become a folk song. To become a folk song, people have to sing it OUTSIDE its origins. When a pop song gets "covered" by another performer (or 101 Strings), it's still a pop song. When that same song gets sung around a campfire (not being led by the Scout Leader, but just sung because it's enjoyable to sing it), it's on its way to becoming a folk song.

When it gets mis-remembered, parodied, or even deliberately rewritten, it may be getting closer to folkish.

When one of those mis-remembered, parodied, or rewritten versions gets sung by someone not connected to the one(s) who changed it, it's pretty damned close to folk.

When their grandkids learn it, it's a folk song.

Let's consider Stephen Foster songs, for some well-known examples.

Most Foster songs are not folk songs. They're found in books (so the original version can be re-imprinted on the singer's mind -- no "folk process" is involved) and may be sung in parlors just as in his day.

That said, there are a few of his which have escaped. Fiddlers and banjo players play "Angeline the Baker" without knowing anything of the original, nor that it had words, nor that the words went to a tune which was separated from the chorus, which is half of the fiddle tune. The other half of that fiddle tune is totally un-Foster in origin.

There are a few others which are still sung or played without recourse to the original sheet music or a recording relying on that sheet music, but most of the rest of his works are non-folk songs.

So a singer-songwriter of today may write "in the tradition" (take folksong forms and formats as his/her pattern) but their songs won't become folksongs till sufficient time has passed and the aural/oral tradition has a chance. Sometimes that happens quickly, particularly with songs that get parodied. The parodies get passed around by ear, and sometimes get separated from the original.

Example: Chuck Perdue, one of the founders of FSGW, made a parody of "Don't Think Twice," and sang it around, for fun. Several months or years later, someone at a singaround sang the parody back to him, and said it had been written "by someone at Purdue" (University). So Chuck's parody became a folk song, and his name remained attached to it, sort of.

Anyway, that's how I see it. I write songs, and hope they sound "folky" enough to be considered as such -- "folky", not "folk." In other words, I want my songs to sound like they could have been folksongs, but I'm not out to "write a new old folksong." I just write "in the tradition," and, since that tradition includes Woody Guthrie and Tom Paxton and Rick von Schmidt and Paul James McNeeley, I'm happy to be in that company.


Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: michaelr
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 09:04 PM

If we take "pop" to mean the popular music of a given time and place, we can certainly say that many folk songs, particularly ones that were printed and distributed as broadsides, were the pop music of their time. Under this definition, composers as diverse as, say, Stephen Foster and Vaughn Williams could be considered pop.

What makes them sound "folk" may be that they drew on traditional themes and melodies.

What I hear of today's popular music (e.g. Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Coldplay etc.) doesn't have much of a chance at longevity. Much of it is written by committee, adhering to established schemes that have been proven to sell. The reason so many of those songs are written and recorded is that they're instantly forgettable, thus requiring constant re-supply. ;-)

I don't think it's useful to consider Christmas-themed songs in this context. (Joni Mitchell's "River" keeps popping up on established artisits' Christmas records, most recently by Sarah McLachlan and James Taylor.) This does not constitute "tradition" in the sense we mean it in the folk world, IMO.

Where singer-songwriters are concerned, many are labeled "folk" by those who don't really have a concept of what folk music is, just because they play acoustic guitars ("He's not playing electric guitar, so it ain't rock, and if it's not blues either, it must be folk"). It's just a misnomer, really.

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 14 Feb 07 - 09:29 PM

The point about Slades song is that its s a good song.

Look at the lyrics, it's someone describing a modern household celebrating Christmas. it has a catchy chorus and loads of people can relate to the lyrics.

I'm no fan of Slade, but I can see why its more valued by more people than stuff about wassailing.

wass'at? any way. If I caught anybody wassailing in our house, I'd give em a clip round the ear.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: michaelr
Date: 16 Feb 07 - 03:20 PM

refresh


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Folkiedave
Date: 16 Feb 07 - 03:33 PM

Let's try another way.

Define pop music. Then define classical music - then let us know when you have finished doing those.

Then we'll have a go at defining folk.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Alec
Date: 16 Feb 07 - 03:45 PM

I offer this as an experiment to see if anybody can replicate my findings.
I was listening to some music this Afternoon and chose to listen to some specific tracks consecutively.
First (Through the generous courtesy of Fat B****rd) I listened to "Matchbox Blues" by Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Then I listened to "Matchbox" by Carl Perkins.
Then I listened to The Beatles cover of the Perkins song.
Then I listened to "Goin' up the Country " by Canned Heat.
I am convinced that what I was listening to was an audio record of the Folk process in action.
As I say don't take my word for this try it yourself.
The question that arises is: IF the Folk process is alive in situations like this,can we assume that we are listening to the Folk music of tomorrow evolving before our ears?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Jim Krause
Date: 16 Feb 07 - 03:48 PM

...someone made a comment that singer songwriters were really only POP singers and therefore shouldn't really be performing in folk clubs.


So Woody Guthrie would be considered a pop singer by this definition, right?

I think it was Garrison Keillor who once said "Folk music is any music that people play by themselves for their own, and each other's entertainment." The implication was that as soon as money exchanges hads, it isn't folk music anymore; it's business.

Jim


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 17 Feb 07 - 04:42 AM

"I'm afraid this will be difficult to answer, because one person's "folk" may be another person's "pop" already (it comes down to the old unanswerable question "what is folk?")"

It's NOT an "unanswerable question" - it is a question that has been answered over and over and over again in numerous threads. Unfortunately some people don't like those answers and seem determined to ask the question over and over and over again until, presumably, they get an answer they like.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 17 Feb 07 - 11:46 AM

Thanks, Alec, for that Seeger passage.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Tim theTwangler
Date: 17 Feb 07 - 06:51 PM

ooppss I hear the voice of the self elected protectors of all things fogie starting to wail in the distance.
Did you not ask pernission of the folk plice before you started this thread?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 17 Feb 07 - 07:31 PM

Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry never for one minute thought they might be writing anything but Rock'nRoll . This hasn't had any effect on people with guitars all over the world sing their songs , any more than it has stopped those same people with guitars (AND without instruments) singing Victorian parlour ballads (The POP Music of THEIR Day ) . And is Shane McGowans Christmas in New York Folk or Pop ? The availability of recorded music via radio , CD , I Pod et al
means that the Oral tradition is now a very small part of the circuit for Song Transmission .


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: GUEST,Patrick Costello
Date: 17 Feb 07 - 09:57 PM

As soon as you put it on stage and charge admission it stops being folk and turns into something else. That isn't to say that the something else in question is good or bad, it's just different.

To me that bad aspect of things is that when I was a kid "folk music" was generally thought of as music made by everyday people just for the hell of it. I learned to play frailing banjo and acoustic guitar from people who were willing to teach just for the love of the music.

Now we have professionals on stage, teachers who charge by the hour and the overall message running throughout every genre and subculture that falls under the general heading of folk music is that we, the common folk, are not good enough to take part in the music as anything but paying spectators.

Today folk is just a word.

-Patrick


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 18 Feb 07 - 05:11 AM

Hi 'Tim the T',

Pleased to see that you've managed to raise the level of the debate to its usual high standard. It strikes me that it is people like you who resort to mockery and sarcasm everytime they encounter an argument they don't agree with who are the true 'folk policemen'.


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