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Originality of song choice

27 Nov 08 - 05:58 AM (#2502733)
Subject: Originality of song choice
From: Faye Roche

Here's one that I hope will prove less contentious than my previous thread.

What do we all think on the topic of how original a performer should be in choice of songs? If you pay to see a guest in a folk club would you expect to hear a wholly original selection of songs that have been collected by that person/band? Or is it better for the artist to include some well-known material on the basis that the audience needs something familiar, as a whole night of obscure never-before-heard songs is a bit much to inflict on anyone?

I'm thinking here of new performers (yes, including myself), rather than established singers who are known for what they do.

27 Nov 08 - 06:12 AM (#2502742)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: The Borchester Echo

This would surely depend on whether the artist was, principally, a performer of traditional songs or of self-composed material. Having said that, there are those of the former category who specialise in researching little-known or very unusual versions of traditional material and applying alternative tunes and original arrangements.

I would deplore any attempt to underestimate an audience by dumbing down and performing any old hackeyed crap. That's a bit like the perceived necessity in the 60s to include a standard on a first LP (Till The Was You / When You Walk Through A Storm).

27 Nov 08 - 06:30 AM (#2502759)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Faye Roche

I was thinking of traditional singers rather than singer-songwriters who perform their own material.

27 Nov 08 - 06:42 AM (#2502771)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: The Borchester Echo

Source singers tend not to give a toss whether their songs are "authentic" or "from the tradition" but perform either what has been literally "handed down" or else what they heard on a record or on the radio last week. Not a lot of them left but touring artists such as Simon Ritchie, Bob Davenport and Jim Eldon carry it on.

As far as revival singers are concerned, I (and I'd like to think most audiences) will have greater respect for those who have clearly taken the trouble to research and arrange their material carefully.

27 Nov 08 - 06:49 AM (#2502780)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Ruth Archer

I am not a great fan of simply performing songs which are not well known in an attempt to "out-obscure" one another. A lot of the time songs have dropped into obscurity because they weren't all that good, and I'd rather hear a good song that I may have heard before than an obscure but very boring song performed by a smug person showing everyone how well they know the tradition.

On the other hand, if you've discovered an absolute cracker, bring it on! But I'll probably nick it. :)

27 Nov 08 - 06:57 AM (#2502786)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: The Borchester Echo

I was thinking rather of an artist like Andy Turner who steadfastly refused to learn The Wild Rover so that he could honestly say to anyone who requested it that he didn't know it. This lasted until he found a really beautiful, alternative version which enabled him to learn and perform it. Also in mind were Mary Humphreys & Anahata who specialise in binding together "floating verses" (and lovely, unusual takes on tunes), all of which are irresistably nickable.

27 Nov 08 - 07:13 AM (#2502789)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Big Al Whittle

you could ask the audience, and see which they would prefer? Gie them a choice.

I think it requires a lot of skill and a lot of personality to do a whole programme of stuff no ones ever heard before and make a success of it. In a small crowd - if say five people get up at once at the end of a song for a wee or to refill their glasses - maybe a slight change of tack is called for.

27 Nov 08 - 12:42 PM (#2502980)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: GUEST,Auldtimer

Sing/play your choice But best avoid the Forty-Fabulous-F@*#in'-Folk-Favourites, done to death and only worth an airing by a creative/inspired artiste. There is loads of material out there, do some work and put in a bit of effort.

27 Nov 08 - 12:53 PM (#2502989)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: GUEST,Sunday News Magazine Journalist

who cares as long as the singer looks good,
wears fashionable clothes,
and went to the same good school & university as me.

27 Nov 08 - 01:26 PM (#2503008)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Mrs Scarecrow

As a singer songwriter it's possibly not up to me to comment but I think chosing songs that mean something to you and that you feel good about singing is maore important than trying to second guess what your audience might or might not want. If the song means something to you and you like it you will sing it well and so will your audience that will apply even if the song is fairly hackney because your own emotiona will put your personal slant on it

27 Nov 08 - 02:25 PM (#2503042)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Marje

There's a lot to be said for choosing something that's a little bit different. If you don't know the club well and you do a well known song, it may be one that they hear too often already, and will sound a bit jaded no matter what you do with it. On the other hand, people do like a certain amount of familiarity.

I often enjoy hearing slightly different versions of the old standards - perhaps a different pairing of words and tune, or a fusion of two old songs to make one new one. Or just a regional variant that's less well known than other versions. There are, of course, some songs that are best left just as they are, but there are lots that will stand a bit of tampering with, and often emerge the better for it. At least it makes your audience sit up and listen if the song sounds slightly familiar and yet not quite as they're used to it.

Newly "discovered" traditional songs from old books or recordings can be a real treat, or quite the opposite - sometimes it's pretty obvious WHY a song has remained unsung for 75 years. Don't feel you have to do anything that's second-best just for the sake of novelty.


27 Nov 08 - 02:30 PM (#2503044)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh

A really good question, one which I've considered for many years. In addition to the options provided by Faye, I'd think it also depends on how long a "slot" is, or how many songs are to be performed, or even if it's a festival lasting a number of days (during which numerous performers would be called upon to sing just one song on each occasion). In that case, with which I'm most familiar, what I would do/what I've done during the several days would be to include a couple of known, but not overly familiar (I'll not state "hackneyed") ones, and at least one unfamiliar one which I've discovered in old books or even recordings and which I think a good piece of work. If requested, I'd do material which is known to be my own, too. To some extent, it would depend on the style of the festival; if there's a Fear a Tigh or Ban a Tigh calling the singers, he or she might request a particular piece. If there be no such request, then I'd try to choose a piece that made a good follow-on to those most immediately sung. Thus, for example, if the last four or five songs were "local" songs (whether very familiar, or less so), then I'd follow with a similar song; if the last few songs were humorous, then I'd try a funny one; if patriotic, then patriotic, and so on. Of course, when you don't know when your turn is to be, that's when the fun begins; you might be prepared to sing a particular piece only for it to be sung by someone else, in which case you decide on an alternative, or someone might change the mood by singing a song of a quite different type, and then if you're called you can either follow that new tack or return to the type of song established before the most recent change. In other words, go with the flow.

27 Nov 08 - 05:10 PM (#2503136)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Joybell

I've performed in a lot of different venues. It really depends on the situation. Performers find their own way as time goes on. My way is --
I carefully consider all options before coming up with a list of possible songs. Then I might well wing it depending on the audience and the situation. I avoid songs I dislike. Funny thing -- but in non-folky situations where I'm working close to the audience I've had terrible trouble with people insisting that I MUST know a popular /favourite song.
"Everyone knows it", they'll say. "It would suit your voice so well."
It's a compliment usually and I've mostly talked my way out in a friendly way. Requests can lead you into strange territory -- funny sometimes.
Cheers, Joy

27 Nov 08 - 05:24 PM (#2503146)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Tangledwood

"Requests can lead you into strange territory -- funny sometimes."

Martin Pearson (vocal/guitar & comedian) claims that he's received a request for Tubular Bells.

From an audience members point of view I'd prefer a varied program - mix of traditional and original, serious and humourous. Hearing a familiar song, trad or original, is like visiting an old friend but meeting a new one is just as important.

Do you want to encourage an audience to join in or discourage them? That would affect your choice as would the venue and style of event.

27 Nov 08 - 05:36 PM (#2503152)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: greg stephens

Well, it depends on the context. At a folk club booking(which happens to me rarely, but a few times a year) I do try to perform some "interesting material" that may intrigue a knowing audience.
But if I'm in a small town on Saturday singing in the bar, and someone wants the Wild Rover or Whisky in the Jar: well, why not oblige, I say.

27 Nov 08 - 05:53 PM (#2503160)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Steve Gardham

All of the above advice is good, but put into very simple terms, variety is necessary, using all criteria, length of songs, humour content, choruses, ballads, familiar/fresh etc. Primarily try to choose material you like. Regarding old favourites, by all means avoid the hackneyed stuff, but most audiences like something they can join in with.Try to develop your own style that is different in some way if you want to make a big splash.

27 Nov 08 - 06:12 PM (#2503171)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Phil Edwards

I remember a singaround in Chorlton (some time before the Beech sing got going) where somebody came over and asked if we knew the "ah-de-doo-wah" song (that'll be the Whistling Gypsy, and yes, we did). We had one other request: earlier on Les of Chorlton (for it was he) had done his parody of the Wild Rover, and at the end of the night the landlady came over to us and asked if we could do that one again, as it was her favourite. She meant the Wild Rover. We did it.

27 Nov 08 - 08:01 PM (#2503211)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Big Al Whittle

The most original approach to a singaround I ever saw was at Paul Burke's singaround at Bonsall.

It came this blokes turn and he got a carrier bag from under his seat and extracted a cd/radio job and pressed play. From out of the cd player came the disembodied voice of Jack Hudson.

We all sat there somewhat bemused.

Then Paul said, I don't believe you should do that....

This guy could not be actually be made to see that he was doing anything different from everybody else. Eventually there was an altercation between him and Paul. The rest of us took a break and left Paul to sort it out. The guy wasn't there when we reconvened.

27 Nov 08 - 08:24 PM (#2503220)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: McGrath of Harlow

I can imagine a variation on that last from weelittledrummer as being quite acceptable, if unusual. For example, if someone had recorded something from an unknown source singer, and chose to give us that directly instead of singing it themselves. Or even using a pre-existing recording of that kind, maybe as a way of reminding people how traditional songs can be sung
As for the question Ruth asked, I don't think there can be any rules about this.   One point that hasn't been made is that sometimes you can hear a new rendering of a song you've known for years, and it's like you were hearing it for the first time, and you have your eyes opened to a new way of understanding what it is about.

28 Nov 08 - 04:01 AM (#2503343)
Subject: RE: Originality of song choice
From: Phil Edwards

Yes - I'll never forget my first hearing of the 'other' Wild Rover ("And it's roving I'll give it over"), courtesy of Sue van Galen. See also John Kelly's Valiant Sailor (formerly known as Polly on the Shore).

You can do a lot without straying too far from stuff people know - do Jenny's Complaint instead of the Recruited Collier, or Out of the Window instead of She Moved..., or just do Pleasant and Delightful with all five verses (verse 3 seems to have got lost quite early on, but you can find it on the Yorkshire Garland site).