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The Curse of Digitrad

27 Oct 09 - 08:40 AM (#2753556)
Subject: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Young Buchan

'Everybody knows' that Davey's safety lamp saved thousands of miners' lives. Well, except that I believe that in many pits the death rate went up after the introduction of the safety lamp; partly because people had too much confidence in it and stopped taking sensible precautions, but mainly because mine owners started to open dangerous areas of the pits which previously they had stayed out of since to work them with the old lamps would have inevitably led to an explosion.

'Everybody knows' that the Digitrad is a mega-wonderful invention which can answer innumerable questions on folk song in the blinking of an eye. And, like the Davey lamp, it probably is – provided you use it properly. Yet time and again recently I have seen people using it as a club with which to batter unsuspecting mudcats.

Someone writes in for the words of song X. Immediately there is a reply. If they are lucky the reply informs them politely that the song is in Digitrad under the title of Y. If they are unlucky they get half a page of abuse for being a lazt bastard, wasting everyone's time, and destroying another electronic tree, by writing in without first consulting Digitrad under the titles of Z,Q and æ. Then other people see this and think, "Oh well, if it's all there in Digitrad there's not much point in my sticking in the version I know, is there? And I'm certainly not going to check all the DT versions out to see if they've got the one I know."

Surely as a FOLK medium we should be interested in as many variants as possible. If a person writes in for words they may just want a single copy of the standard words; but equally they may be really keen to see several close but different versions. I have a nightmare vision of a collector going round to Harry Cox's woodshed and asking if he knew a song about Geordie Lukely only to be told, "Don't come round here asking me to waste time giving you my version when you haven't tried looking it up in the Bodleian Library's broadside collection yet."

By all means refer people to Digitrad. But giving a full version, even if it turns out in some cases to be a duplicate, is much more helpful.

27 Oct 09 - 08:58 AM (#2753573)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Susan of DT

We certainly do have variations of songs in the Digital Tradition.    Variants can be very interesting. I get the fun of "is that version sufficiently different to be worth adding?"

Some people need help to use the search engine here - it is not ideal and we are working on that. We need to be patient with less experienced search users.

27 Oct 09 - 09:08 AM (#2753578)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Tug the Cox

Perhaps give a blue clicky...or just wait till a helpful soul answers the question.

27 Oct 09 - 11:12 AM (#2753639)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Dan Schatz

I think some of this is Mudcat culture instead of just the Digitrad. I love Mudcat, but sometimes we can get awfully fussy about people starting a new thread on any issue that has ever been dealt with before. (Myself, I'd rather see five short readable threads than one 400 message one, but that's a personal preference and very much a minority position.)

The polite response, "The lyrics are in the Digital Tradition under such and such a title" is helpful, especially if it comes with a "blue clicky." Berating folks for wasting bandwidth is not. Looking for other variants is helpful, too.

For that matter, as one who entered at least 100 of the songs that were in early versions of the Digital Tradition, I can tell you that the Digitrad is full of human error and idiosyncrasies. There's always more to learn.

If folk music is to thrive, we need to be welcoming to newbies, and that means having a very high tolerance level for those who ask questions out of ignorance. After all, if folks didn't want to know more, they wouldn't ask - right?


27 Oct 09 - 11:19 AM (#2753645)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: EBarnacle

I agree that there are errors, as well as Folk Process variations. I also know that on the occasions I have contributed to the collection, Joe has worked with me to make sure that recently written songs were accurate.

27 Oct 09 - 11:25 AM (#2753648)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Ferrara

What about Young Buchan's suggestion that including the full Digitrad version in the thread is more useful than including a link to it? I know it "wastes bandwidth," but IMHO if the version is posted in the thread, it's more likely to stimulate some discussion of the song as well as posting of more versions and variations.

27 Oct 09 - 11:32 AM (#2753656)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Maryrrf

I agree with Dan. There have been several interesting threads nipped in the bud with "It's in the digitrad" or "That's been discussed before". In part, I think that's why Mudcat isn't as interesting and informative as it used to be.

27 Oct 09 - 11:45 AM (#2753663)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: DFP

I post regularly on another, completely unrelated board with high traffic. There, what they call "zombie threads" -- old ones that have lain dormant for a couple of months or more, then brought back to life by someone with a new contribution -- are not allowed. The accepted etiquette there is to start a new thread with a link to the old one in the first posting, and to title the new thread specifically enough that the new contribution or question is clear.

Could that work here? Not the forbidding zombie threads part, but the encouraging new threads for new contributions on old topics part.

27 Oct 09 - 12:17 PM (#2753689)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Leadfingers

Politeness costs nothing , and being rude to someone asking a reasonable question does No One any good !
And The Its in DT tends to preclude any NEW information that may be known to someone who neversaw any of the Original discussion .

27 Oct 09 - 12:42 PM (#2753701)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Joe Offer

When you see what goes on in other parts of Mudcat, complaining about a song thread wasting bandwidth, is just plain ridiculous. There are people here who seem to be annoyed by lyrics requests - and yet lyrics requests and submissions are the original purpose of this forum. Some of our best threads are deep explorations of songs and the stories behind them.

I certainly will agree that there are many times when it's helpful to post lyrics in a thread as an aid to discussion, even when the lyrics can be found elsewhere at Mudcat. The main time when posting duplicate lyrics is a problem, is when the duplicate is not clearly identified as such. Then somebody (oftentimes me) has to compare it with other posts to see if it's something new or if it's something we already have.'s very important to document the source of your lyrics. And if you know that particular version has already been posted here, be sure to make note of that.

I gotta say, I get a kick out of people saying, "I don't know why this one isn't in the DT," and then posting lyrics they found at or Most of the lyrics at those two sites come from the DT, but they can be very helpful because they do have notation for our tunes in many different formats.


...oh, and Dan, I dare you to find five 400-message song threads at Mudcat. They rarely go past fifty messages.

27 Oct 09 - 01:16 PM (#2753719)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Dan Schatz

You're right about the length of song request threads, Joe. I was just going slightly off topic in reference to other kinds of threads (ie, Little known 60s folksingers and the like). I never have time to read through all of that, so I don't generally participate in those long threads - for fear of duplicating what's been said before.

On the other hand, you have dared me.... BUAHAHA!

Dan (a little punchy, apparently)

27 Oct 09 - 01:36 PM (#2753738)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Joe Offer

Hmmmm. Now I'm starting to look. Some of our longer song threads are real gems - but rarely go over 100 messages. This Byker Hill thread has 102 messages; and Origins: Fields of Athenry. Origins: Senor Don Gato has 284 messages and has been going since 1996. Origins: the Snows they Melt the Soonest is a fine thread, but it has only 79 messages. For the life of me, I can't understand why our "Chinaman" threads have such popularity (mostly with Guests) - Once in China There Lived a Great man has 190. Oh, and then the Barney Song has 68, and I can't figure why.

I have to confess that some of these thread are so long because I've combined them - sometimes I'll move a request to an existing thread right at the beginning, so that the existing discussion will continue. Other times, I combine threads long after they've ceased to be active. I try to be sensitive about the danger of killing discussion by combining. Sometimes my hunches are good, and sometimes I goof.


27 Oct 09 - 02:20 PM (#2753764)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Stringsinger

The DT serves an important function. It can be used as a starting point for exploration of the variants and backgrounds of songs. It was never its intent to be a final authority because frankly folklore and folk music is not rocket science. Facts and fakelore go hand in hand.

I see the DT as the folk process in action. The songs change, and new variants are printed.
It's a great starting point and many fine verses can be found here. The threads are useful because they shed light on differing views about folk music. This is a natural debate forum worth having because it brings up questions that reveal more information.

The idea of "the Curse of Digitrad" is a Z movie. It doesn't exist in real time.

27 Oct 09 - 03:06 PM (#2753798)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Joe Offer

I look on the DT as a good starting point, but you'll find the best information on a song in the threads. In the QuickLinks dropdown menu on most Mudcat pages, you'll find a link to Song Origins & Info, which will lead you to an index of our traditional song threads.
Songs with a known songwriter are indexed differently. Use the Filter to search for the song or the songwriter name, and follow the crosslinks at the top of the page of any thread. Here's an example of what we have on Malvina Reynolds.

27 Oct 09 - 03:14 PM (#2753804)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: McGrath of Harlow

Anyone who thinks in terms of "the right version" might be better to transfer their interest to some kind of music where there are "right versions", because they'll never really be happy with folk music, thinking that way.

27 Oct 09 - 03:39 PM (#2753823)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Jim Dixon

Databases don't curse people. People curse people.

(That's based on a slogan I heard somewhere before.)

Here are my thoughts on the DT.

The DT has been a great boon to the development of Mudcat. Dick and Susan had been collecting song lyrics for several years before Mudcat even existed (1988 vs. 1996), and they have collected from many sources besides Mudcat.

I figure that in the beginning, Mudcat got a great jumpstart by having the DT. It must have been the main thing that attracted people to Mudcat. Maybe it still is.

It is possible to search the entire Internet for lyrics using Google, and land directly on a page in the DT. A person who does this might or might not discover that other discussion pages exist.

It is also possible to search for lyrics with Google and land on a different "lyrics" web site that has no discussion threads at all—because many of those lyrics web sites have incorporated their own copy of the DT.

And for some reason that I haven't figured out, the DT (the copy that is accessed through Mudcat, I mean) is often the LAST page that is listed by Google. See these search results, for example. In order to make Mudcat appear at all, I had to click the link at the bottom of the Google results page that said "repeat the search with the omitted results included."

Even now there are lots of songs in the DT that have never been posted or discussed in Mudcat threads. And there are lots of songs in threads that have never made it into the DT.

That used to bother me; I used to think it was important to get as many songs as possible into the DT. Now I don't care. As long as a song can be found with a search engine, how is it better to find it in the DT than in a discussion forum? Actually, if I have a choice, I'd rather find it in the forum, because there I'm likely to find the song in a context of discussion, where people are talking about the history of a song, or the people who sang it, comparing different versions, explaining terminology, and so on. In short, I learn a lot more if there is a lot of discussion.

This thread is inspiring a lot of thoughts that I don't have time to write down right now. I'll be back.

28 Oct 09 - 11:39 AM (#2754144)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Young Buchan

Oh, Lor!
Yesterday I encouraged everyone to send in as many versions as they like, and sod the memory/bandwidth. Then last night the Mudcat server went down.
Sorry, everyone. I didn't know I was so influential! :-S

28 Oct 09 - 12:31 PM (#2754187)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Dan Schatz

See what you've started, Young Buchan? There is only one way to assuage your conscience, and that's to send a donation to Max. Maybe we can raise enough to buy him solar panels, so his house won't keep losing power?


28 Oct 09 - 12:55 PM (#2754205)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Young Buchan

But I have no money! :-(
I'll send him 3 ballads and a shanty!:-)

28 Oct 09 - 07:15 PM (#2754420)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Jim Dixon

It's not so much a problem of bandwidth as brainwidth, if you can catch my meaning.

It takes only a second to unthinkingly copy and paste lyrics from some other web site onto this one, but please think about the inconvenience you are causing someone else if the lyrics you post are EXACTLY THE SAME as another copy of lyrics that has already been posted.

Please try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who WANTS lyrics for any reason—whether it's to "harvest" them for the DigiTrad; or because you want to learn the song and sing it in your own gigs; or because you're just curious about the origin of a song and want to trace it back to its roots, or as far as you can; or because you just want to understand what somebody's singing in a recording you have.

What will that person likely do if he finds, say, ten copies of a song at Mudcat?

He/she will have to compare all ten copies, that's what.

If you want to learn the song, you'll want to select the best version, right? (However you define "best.")

If you want to understand the history of a song, you'll have to understand how the different versions differ, and why, right?

If you want to understand the recording you have, you'll have to figure out which version (if any) corresponds to your version.

To do this, you have to read all the versions.

Doing this uses up—to use the word I just coined—brainwidth.

(OK, maybe someone else coined it before I did. But I coined it independently.)

And what do you get when you get when you compare ten different copies of a song at Mudcat? Do you think you would find ten different versions?

Probably not. You'd be lucky to find two or three distinctly different versions. Mostly you'd find that the same version has been repeated several times.

In other words, you'd find that comparing them has been a waste of your time.

That sometimes pisses a person off.

28 Oct 09 - 08:24 PM (#2754487)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: GUEST,.gargoyle

Multiple copies are GOOD

In a computerized world it is EASY to lay down multiple "windows" side-by-side and compare.

The morning that the request for "East Of Woodstock...etc" came transcription was the first on the net (from an Entertainment Weekly copy) - OF COURSE there were errors (that is one way sites can locate material that was stolen from them)....I clearly heard "coke fires" (which makes sense) and the "artist" writes "cook fires" (which makes sense)....Oral Tradition.

You might say that the fall all began with Guttenburg....but .... I will need to check my college lecture-notes .....Demosthenes??? criticised the advent of writing because people would become "lazy with their minds - when they no longer had to remember."

Thanks to references from the Mudcat authorities - several "primary sources" (actually secondary) have fallen into my hands....I am hard pressed where to start additions....but "if you have to swallow a not look at it too long...if you have to swallow more than one frog ...start with the biggest first.)

Einie Meanie
Butter Chants
Skiing Songs


The advice that a "midi" included has been one of the hall-marks of the DT included....lyerics alone are a dime a damsel.

28 Oct 09 - 08:50 PM (#2754510)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Young Buchan

I entirely sympathise with Jim Dixon when he says "It takes only a second to unthinkingly copy and paste lyrics from some other web site onto this one, but please think about the inconvenience you are causing someone else if the lyrics you post are EXACTLY THE SAME as another copy of lyrics that has already been posted." The truth is it never occurred to me for an instant that anyone would do that. But I'm sure he is right. I am very old and of the pre-computer generation; but I dare say that those of the Cut and Paste generation might well do that, because it is what passes in some places today as research. I always had in mind what I always do on Mudcat - laboriously typing out the full version I sing, or the relevant sections from someone else's performance that I am familiar with.

That said, I am less happy about his comment "And what do you get when you get when you compare ten different copies of a song at Mudcat? Do you think you would find ten different versions? Probably not. You'd be lucky to find two or three distinctly different versions... In other words, you'd find that comparing them has been a waste of your time." I accept his description, but not the conclusion he comes to. I don't believe that it is necessary for a version to be 'distinctly different' in order for it to be useful/important. I believe that quite small differences can be important, not just from the point of view of analysing a song or tracing roots, but also simply to the enjoyment and appreciation of a song.

Two anecdotes to illustrate what I mean. I'm afraid that since they both involve me they come from the extreme end of the spectrum, but I think the point remains good and many others would identify similar feelings.

a) In spite of having heard versions by many great singers from Belle Stewart downwards I never really 'got into' Lakes of Killin/Coolfinn. Then one day I heard the old gypsy singer Geoff Ling sing it. Instead of Willie or William Leonard he sang Bill Leonard. I realised from that one word that to him this was not some remote courtly event, but something very real that could have, and perhaps did, happen in the local duckpond. I came to love that song, and though I don't sing his version in other respects, I always sing Bill.

b) As I think I once admitted in another thread, I once spent much of a day's holiday doing nothing but singing Robin-a-thrush over and over again, certainly in excess of 50 times, for no reason other than to decide whether Jiggedy Jaggedy or Hippety Hoppety worked better as the first two words of the chorus. It may seem extraordinarily sad, but to me as a singer it was important, and I was glad that collectors had given me the opportunity by recording both.

[The answer, by the way, is Jiggedy Jaggedy. But don't take my word. Try it yourself.]

28 Oct 09 - 11:51 PM (#2754594)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: GUEST,.gargoyle


It would be helpful - if the New Lyr and the Lyr Rqst included at simple templet..

For example: Then one day I heard the old gypsy singer old gypsy singer sing

It took me several years to recognize that the MudCat had become a UK property...

It took me several more to recognize that the UK property was divided into separate identities

It took me several more (about seven years) to recognize that the these identities had separate clans...

AND THEY ALL purported to know the TRUTH .... regarding folk songs (all I knew was ... I like them /// I am a simpleton !)

SO...FOR...simple minds...

one day = WHEN? Approxiamte Date?

old gypsy singer WHERE? Approxiamate Location? COUNTRY/COUNTY/CITY

Thank you for a name - "Geoff Ling" - and a personal connection to why "BILL" made this song connect for you...

Your thread has been worth 1,543 other last 24 hours.

Thank You,

29 Oct 09 - 07:28 AM (#2754715)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Mo the caller

"Then one day I heard the old gypsy singer old gypsy singer sing"

But when we are chatting about songs we don't always remember exactly where, when and who. And it might interupt the flow of the discussion to say "I was just married so it must have been about..."
I agree with the point that in a scholarly discussion about different versions of a song or piece of child-lore that kind of information is helpful.

Memory can be faulty though. I was in the car with Jim discussing a dance we had been to years ago (probably about 20) in the Guildhall Chester. He reminisced about a caller in a cowboy hat using the term "sausages" instead of a prompt in usual dance terms. I also remembered a caller saying in his walk-through (i.e. practise without the music) "when I say 'sausages' you do ..." whatever it was. But I linked it to a completely different caller in a different place, and we couldn't agree.

29 Oct 09 - 03:20 PM (#2755063)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: sciencegeek

just two cents worth from a techno-klutz....

I personally love to find variants of songs or learn that a song has gone by more than one title over the years. It took three years to get most of the lyrics, but I was thrilled to learn so much about a song that I had made a lyric request for.

But I not enjoy being "vented upon" by a total stranger who may or may not have even paid attention to my actual request and is instead railing about what they assume I said. ... Kind of like the old joke about someone who goes to return a borrowed axe and then gets so worked up about what they imagine will occur when they return the darn thing that when they finally get to the guys door, they throw the thing down at his feet, hollar "and you can keep you d@@mn axe" before stomping off in a huff.

I don't envy anyone trying to maintain order here and strongly agree that a moment of reflection and common curtesy is not too much to ask for.

09 Nov 09 - 12:34 PM (#2762851)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: Jim Dixon

I want to reiterate—I do not object to variant versions of a song being posted on Mudcat. I do object when people post multiple identical copies of the same version.

There is at least one guest that does this frequently.

For example: GUEST,999 posted a copy of SONG FOR PEACE by Allister MacGillivray (although he misspelled it "MacGillivary") here. His copy is word-for-word the same as what George Seto posted earlier in the same thread. Only the punctuation and formatting are slightly different.

This is not a case of accidental cross-posting. George Seto posted his copy 9 years ago. GUEST,999 posted his copy 2 days ago.

I have occasionally criticized this type of posting (and other people have, too) but the poster never replies to our complaints.

The guest makes no attempt to identify himself or use a consistent name. (I suspect he is really trying to disguise his identity.) He usually doesn't identify his sources. (Although I see that in this case he did, in a separate message.) He offers no explanation for his posting, or any other kind of comment on the lyrics.

I don't have a clue what his motivation is.

09 Nov 09 - 12:54 PM (#2762862)
Subject: RE: The Curse of Digitrad
From: McGrath of Harlow

Joe Offer mentioned a couiple of the classic long song threads, but the one I think is best of them all he didn't mention -- Where is Spancil Hill

There's always good discussion to be had around any good song, and I can't understand it when any genuine request gets a snappy and unpleasant response. As for anyone who deals with newcomers that way, we would be better off without them.

What with Google and the rest it's easy enough to get some kind of answer to any query about anything - but what you can get in a good thread is far more than that.