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Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)

04 Aug 07 - 01:01 PM (#2119060)
Subject: Review: Marrowbones
From: the button

OK, so declaring an interest, Steve Gardham was my English teacher at school (hi, Steve, Nigel here). Also, the original Marrowbones was one of the first songbooks I bought (over 20 years ago... gulp).

Not so much a review, more of a "well done," really. It works as a work of reference as well as a songbook -- which is more than the original did. Although that clearly wasn't the editor's fault.

My one gripe is the price of the thing -- again, something completely out of the editors' control. I know the EFDSS are skint, and that there isn't much of a market for such publications (sadly). But surely it could have been made a bit cheaper -- for instance, by using non-shiny (but still good-quality) paper. I also worry about how long the spine's going to last if I actually use it as a songbook. Especially given the stately pace that I work out musical accompaniments with. (I know, Steve. Finishing a sentence with a preposition. Sorry. [Is it even a preposition? Eep.])

Anyway, looking forward to the next installment.

04 Aug 07 - 01:59 PM (#2119087)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: The Sandman

Perfect Binding strikes again.Next instalment might be better with ring binding.

04 Aug 07 - 02:29 PM (#2119096)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: the button

It'd certainly make it easier to use as a songbook to play from. Although, this said, the ringbound EFDSS publications appear to be pricier still.

Just to re-iterate, I'm not having a go at the EFDSS (well, not completely). I'm kind of involved with a small publishing house which specialises in anarchist literature -- we published a lovely little book last year, that would be a great introduction to anarchism, but it was 7 quid. I argued at the time that it would be better to lose the fancy paper, and put it out as a cheap pamphlet, but to no avail. It's a fine balance -- get your stuff out there, or have money to repair the roof.

04 Aug 07 - 06:24 PM (#2119278)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: Malcolm Douglas

Exactly so.

The economics of specialist, small-scale publishing are such that you either sell a book at a realistic price and make a modest profit, or you sell it cheap, make a loss, and can't afford to produce more. The price in this case is normal for books of this kind from a small publisher.

There's always going to be a trade-off between price and quality. A professionally produced book aims to be attractive and (at any rate in the case of reference books) durable; in this case the quality of the paper used, which I think is acid-free (I'll have to check to be sure of that) is quite important. A cheaper grade wouldn't have made a great deal of difference to the cover price, and would certainly have attracted criticism. 'Good enough for folk' isn't a notion I subscribe to: I want the best for it.

As to the physical construction, today's 'perfect binding' —or at least the kind used here— is a very different animal from the sort that produced so many auto-destructing books in (particularly) the 1970s and '80s. The glue won't become brittle and crumbly, for one thing, so it should be perfectly safe to open the book fully. Additionally, the pages are bound in traditional signatures rather than glued together as separate sheets; this probably adds to the initial cost a bit, but it also adds considerably to the life expectancy of the book. Generally speaking, ring-bound volumes are less robust and shelve awkwardly, tending to damage adjacent books. Personally I don't like them; the revised Wanton Seed, when it appears, will be uniform with Marrow Bones.

The original series (1965-1974) was specifically budget-price and pocket-sized, being aimed at the large number of young, aspiring folk-singers attracted to the then rather fashionable 'folksong movement'. Durability wasn't seen as important. This time around, though the demographic is wider, the potential readership is a lot smaller; and good quality, presentation and legibility are expected these days.

In fact, of course, as editors/authors, Steve and I didn't have any say in pricing or physical format. Design, setting and so on was handled by professionals; Nigel Lynn and Julian Elloway. I've worked with them before (on Classic English Folk Songs, the revised reissue of The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs), and they generally adopted any recommendations I made, though as a designer myself I had to resist the temptation to interfere overmuch. I did insist, though, on preparing the digital images of the photographs myself this time. Nobody had a problem with that, or with my recommendation for the cover image.

That's quite enough, I think, on technical issues. Having neglected to announce the book formally here (it was published in June) I'll return to this thread with more information on the actual content. Meanwhile, I have work to do on the sequel.

04 Aug 07 - 07:25 PM (#2119322)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: RTim

I for one congratulate The EFDSS and Malcolm & Steve for the new publication of Marrowbones.
Not only was it one of the most important song books from the 1960's (when few were available) it is also a tribute to the late Frank Purslow and all his hard work on the original manuscripts.
I look forward to the re-issue of Wanton Seed and the other trwo books - and if mine again fall apart through use - then I don't mind that one bit!

Tim Radford

04 Aug 07 - 10:02 PM (#2119382)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: Joe Offer

I'm very proud of my copy of the original Marrow Bones. I sure wish I had the other books in the series.
What's different about the Marrow Bones reissue? If I have the original, do I need the reissue?

04 Aug 07 - 10:54 PM (#2119396)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: RTim

The book size is bigger and the music clearer, although there are no guitar chords. Also the notes are as they should have been, ie. more information as Frank had intended.
Overall it is a more complete book.
There is the intention of adding more singer bios in future re-issues, ie. of Wanton Seed etc. - but these do not exist in the new Marrowbones, but because many of the singers are represented also in Wanton Seed, etc. they will be covered there.
It is late at night, I hope I am still coherent?
Tim Radford

04 Aug 07 - 11:02 PM (#2119403)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: the button

I'd say you need the new one, too. A lot of work has gone in to going back to the songs as collected. Plus the notes section in the back, giving background on each song, is completely new.

05 Aug 07 - 12:06 AM (#2119437)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: Malcolm Douglas

You definitely need the new edition, Joe. I suppose I had better do the advert now. Let's start with the first paragraph of the publisher's blurb from the back cover.

'First published in 1965, Marrow Bones drew on the extensive and largely unpublished folk song collections made by Henry and Robert Hammond and Dr George Gardiner between 1904 and 1909, chiefly in Dorset and Hampshire, and which are held in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House in London. It was an enormous influence on the burgeoning folk song revival and was followed by three more volumes of selections from the MSS. Long out of print, it is much sought after. This revised and corrected edition includes extensive new background notes and commentary.'

The new edition isn't a reprint but a corrected and extensively augmented revision, including biographical essays on the collectors and on Frank Purslow, the original editor. The original notes on the songs were actually roughs not intended for publication; Frank never quite forgave Peter Kennedy for putting them in without his knowledge, and was very clear that they shouldn't be re-published. Steve Gardham and I have prepared entirely fresh commentaries —64 large pages as opposed to the original 10 small ones— containing a lot of background information that you won't find elsewhere, plus details of the sources of collated texts and some additional material from the MSS.

The layout is larger, clearer and far more legible than the original, and the music notation is expertly re-set by Julian Elloway, incorporating corrections and —in some cases— additional variations from the MSS. Steve and I spent a couple of weeks each at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library checking the source material; and, of course, a lot more time subsequently analysing it.

Apart from the songs and information relating to them, the first (revised) book concentrates on background: introductory matter and bibliographies, largely. The second will concentrate instead on the singers. We have omitted the original illustrations and the suggested guitar chords; both, whatever their merits, were very much 'period pieces' and the songs are best presented now unadorned so that singers can interpret them for themselves according to their own aesthetic.

These changes, incidentally, were made with Frank's agreement. I've said more about that, and my consultations with him, in the 'obit' thread (see above).

Finally, there will be a set of webpages devoted to cumulative additions and corrections, and to supplementary material (chiefly hard-to-find early texts) for which there wasn't room in the book: including, for example, two late 18th century broadside texts of Polly Vaughan, one of which is (so far) the earliest known print example of that song, and which had escaped the attention of scholars until now. The initial pages are already made, and will be available at the EFDSS website as soon as the appropriate technical arrangements have been finalised. Similar pages for Classic English Folk Songs can be seen at; these too will be transferred to EFDSS once I've had time to recast them.

Marrow Bones can be bought directly from EFDSS via their online shop at Carriage charges quoted apply to the UK only; for delivery to the rest of the world, contact details can be found via the 'How to shop' link.

05 Aug 07 - 11:27 AM (#2119674)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: Fidjit

Joe, I think "Folkiedave" has some of the others I got Wanton seed for him a while ago. Just need Foggy Dew to make up my lot.


05 Aug 07 - 04:00 PM (#2119876)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: GUEST,Steve Gardham

Okay, Button,
Great to hear from you. Hope you're still squeezing that box. How're your mum and dad? Now I'm retired I can finish my sentences with as many prepositions as I like to with for and upto.

I enjoyed working on Marrow Bones with Malcolm who is a brilliant researcher. I rarely manage to come up with pieces of info he isn't already aware of. (There it is, another preposition!) The perks were good too, trawling through the Hammond ms and coming across juicy pieces of rare songs. Frank's 4 books only scraped the surface.

However I have to state I won't be officially working on The Wanton Seed for several reasons, primarily because I am heavily involved in getting Yorkshire collections onto the internet in the Yorkshire Garland Project and I don't have time.

Secondly I'd rather work to get unpublished material out in the open than songs that have already been published.

Thirdly songs collected down south dominate the market both recordings and books and it's about time we did something to redress this imbalance.

Fourthly I am much more interested in making available the songs as they were sung by the source singers, not the concoctions of scholars, and Frank, bless his soul, on a few occasios has put together bits of what are different songs. This doesn't matter to most people. I've been singing some of them for forty years myself, but technically speaking these are new songs composed by Frank, and not really representative of the tradition. I must add though this is only 2 or 3 songs out of nearly a 100.

05 Aug 07 - 05:01 PM (#2119923)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: Folkiedave

First of all I have no books of the series and I wished I had for they are ready sellers!!

What I think is really important about this thread is some of the stuff that both Steve and Malcolm have said about producing this the first of a series of books.

I do meet people who (rightly) ask why second-hand folk books are expensive and why those in popular and huge demand (Bronson being the obvious example) are not simply republished.

Well here you have it from the re-publishers mouth and a few clues to the thought and research that goes into the republishing of a book.

You might also care to note that for all this - and there is a lot more they haven't mentioned - Malcolm and Steve have no reward - except that of folk music lovers who purchase their work and say thank you.

So say "thank you".

05 Aug 07 - 05:27 PM (#2119943)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: The Sandman

Thankyou,well done Steve and Malcolm.

06 Aug 07 - 09:01 AM (#2120243)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: Saro

Well, here's a big thank you from me for all that brilliant work, The new book looks great, and I'm also the proud owner of a full set of the earlier works, plus a spare copy of Marrowbones! Old or new, they are treasures.
Best wishes

06 Aug 07 - 11:49 AM (#2120298)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: BB

I would also like to add my thanks to the likes of Malcolm and Steve. They always seems to come up with the goods.


06 Aug 07 - 12:02 PM (#2120299)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: nutty

IF ANYONE IS INTERESTED - there is a copy of the original Marrowbones for sale on ebay at present.

06 Aug 07 - 02:17 PM (#2120317)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: Fidjit

Thank you. And thank you, Dave.


07 Aug 07 - 02:47 PM (#2120975)
Subject: RE: Review: Marrowbones (EFDSS Songbook reissue)
From: the button

Great to hear from you, too, Steve. Yes I am indeed still squeezing the box (and the anglo, nowadays). After only 25 years, I can almost get a tune out of it as well.

Parents both retired now -- my dad ended up having to take ill health retirement (b******s at well-known shipping containers company), but is probably now in better shape than he has been for a long time.

Anyway, I notice you're a guest on these boards, so if you want to drop me an e-mail, I'm on thebutton1936[at] Any spammers to be hunted down like dogs. Ho ho.

I'm currently living in London's picturesque Lewisham district, which appears to be a bit of a traditional music desert -- unless other forum users want to tell me otherwise.