Article MT134 - Introduction and Commentary

The Singing Englishman

An Introduction and Commentary by Georgina Boyes


Today, it's hard to see why The Singing Englishman was ever regarded as influential and important.  Even with generous allowance for over half a century of developing practice and research, its combination of doctrinaire political commentary and unsubstantiated historical generalisations make the book a problematic read.  We tend to prefer our politics more subtly argued and sources transparently presented now.  What's more, attitudes have also undergone widespread change since the book was published.  These days, many might bridle at its extremely dodgy references to women and the extended passage likening the medieval peasantry to a big dumb rat.  But, if we can get past the apparent fact that workers - in the field or on the barricade, as makers of cloth or of music - are inevitably 'he' and that the song repertoire of any group, in any era can be exactly characterised with total confidence and little reference to supporting evidence, what does The Singing Englishman offer contemporary readers?

A L Lloyd shaped the repertoire and theory of the English Folk Revival at a critical point in its history.  At a time when Scots, Irish and American music was in the ascendancy, Lloyd wrote about the English and aimed to develop a specific understanding of England's traditional culture.  What constituted English song and singing style was a central concern for him.  He directly influenced practice too.  From the 1950s, as Artistic Director of Topic Records, the voices that sounded the arrival of a new approach to folksong were largely selected by him.  He found and adapted their songs and his sleeve notes created the ways of seeing their relevance.  In doing so, he contributed significantly to the range of material that the ever-growing audiences of Folk Clubs could hear, learn and take into their own performance.  To a generation reared on the artifice and forced jollities of Singing Together, through this work, as a singer himself and co-editor of The Penguin Book of English Folksongs, he offered a source of English song that seemed authentically true to its time but also meaningful in the present.  Then from the late 1960s, particularly via his book, Folksong in England, he provided a comprehensive theoretical infrastructure and history for all forms of discussion of folksong and custom.  This legacy of song, singing and thought influences the Revival still.

The Singing Englishman represents Lloyd's first extended consideration of the subject that was to become his life's work.  Across its pages, he conducted an unresolved argument with himself on how folksong came about and who made it.  Were ballads the creation of individual minstrels whose songs took a downward slide as the tastes of the nobility changed?  Were they brought into being through the process of communal singing in 'a primitive society'?  Did modal folk tunes grow out of - or pre-date - the use of modes in church music?  Lloyd trails the questions, but his answer is always equivocal.  "Quite right too," the modern reader might say "folksongs and their tunes are an enormously varied and multifaceted subject - their development can't be pinned down to simple processes." Lloyd's ambivalence in these areas, however, is uncharacteristic.  Persistent determinism marks the rest of the book - and this is especially predominant in his discussions of the emergence of folksong.  He writes with absolute certainty on huge generalities like the 'plaintive' and 'melancholy' nature of English folksongs, which 'in any period' manifested 'a deep longing for a better life' - although angst free examples in their hundreds exist to give arguments to this.  And on specifics, such as the association of The Cutty Wren with the Peasants' Revolt - on no historical basis whatsoever - he's equally categorical.  But elsewhere, he implies that folksong did not exist in all periods and what's more, is unclear about whether it did at the time of the Peasants Revolt.  So although the book is subtitled An Introduction to Folksong, somehow the reader never quite achieves a meeting - and the resulting work is a kind of definitional Dance of the Seven Veils.  Every time you think he's about to provide a sight of the clinching statement that will give precision to all his teasing hints about déclassé Saxon gleemen and rising merchants, singing peasants and protesting Lollards, he suddenly wafts another layer of highly coloured historical context into the discussion to change the view.  Folksong, Lloyd proposes, came out of upheaval.  But in The Singing Englishman, the real struggle is waged amongst his own conflicting and contradictory ideas.

Despite its slabs of politics and absence of documentation, however, many elements of The Singing Englishman provide a captivating read.  The plain man, conversational writing style that was such a beguiling feature of Folksong in England is already emerging in the earlier work.  With winning audacity, this serving soldier opens his wartime book with a quote from a German - and proceeds to expand on its virtues.  His paragraphs lean across to engage you.  Telling you - just you - a lost adventure that no one else has bothered to set out before.  The full sweep of the English story is caught in a tiny space - but with an alternative focus.  Long after The Singing Englishman was written, bored schoolsful of children were presented with a past that had nothing to say about their own forebears - still less suggest they had a culture worth writing about.  Generals and Kings, Prime Ministers and Lords (though rarely Ladies), Battles and Treaties and all their relevant dates were what History was about.  And if you didn't happen to be a Prince of Wales or the Duke of Wellington, then you didn't have an acknowledged place in time.  Lloyd's take on history had little interest in individuals, but at least it aimed to account for 'the life and works of the ordinary and obscure labouring men' and the development of their musical culture.  And in its time, that made it innovative and exciting.

Other aspects of Lloyd's content were daringly attractive too.  In a context where the Lord Chamberlain still had wide powers of censorship on all forms of performance, and novels like Lady Chatterley's Lover couldn't be published, The Singing Englishman made unprecedented reference to erotic songs and songs that dealt with sexual issues.  Until this point, creating a repertoire that was suitable for school, home or community singing had meant that some traditional material was only printed in bowdlerised form.  More seriously, self-censorship ensured that even field texts were not available.  Collectors like Sabine Baring Gould, Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth frequently did not include verses with sexual content at the notation stage - asking the friends who wrote the text as they took down the music to omit anything that could not be published.  As late as 1958, The English Folk Dance and Song Society's Jubilee Book of English Folk-Songs,1. A Jubilee Book of English Folk-Songs: Selected by Kenneth Loveless and Arranged for Unison Voices and Piano by Imogen Holst (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), p19.1 produced to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Folk-Song Society, included only the four stanzas of Blow Ye Winds in the Morning that dealt with the girl and the knight's meeting.  For the remainder of the story, a version of The Baffled Knight (Child 112), potential singers - less deservedly frustrated than the rapacious knight himself - were referred to Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, first published in 1765, 'where the rest of the verses may be found.' In total contrast to this impregnable respectability, Lloyd's much earlier book gets explicitly 'Between her kirtle and her smock' by page six and interspersed through subsequent chapters are songs about miller's lasses grinding and ploughboys hugging straight furrows, as well as darker material on incest, seduction and night visits by dead lovers.  Lloyd's frank acknowledgement and appreciation of erotic material meant that a fuller range of folksong genres could at last begin to achieve limited currency - though it was another fourteen years before The English Folk Dance and Song Society was persuaded to publish Harry Cox's version of The Maid of Australia, and works like The Idiom of the People and The Common Muse 2. James Reeves, The Idiom of the People: English Traditional Verse from the MSS of Cecil Sharp (London: Heinemann, 1958); V de Sola Pinto and A E Rodway, ed., The Common Muse: Popular British Ballad Poetry from the 15th to the 20th Century (London: Chatto & Windus, 1957).2 brought large numbers of unbowdlerised sung and printed texts to a wider public.

The Singing Englishman also put forward a number of other distinctive approaches to tradition.  As might be expected of a performer of Lloyd's ability, his brief commentary on unaccompanied singing is insightful.3. Percy Grainger's article, 'Collecting with the Phonograph,' Journal of the Folk-Song Society, III:3; No 12 (May 1908), 147-242 offers a far more extensive and detailed discussion of English singers and their music. But, although he discussed the content in Folksong in England (p68) it seems likely Lloyd either discounted or was not aware of Grainger's comments in 1944. 3  More important for the time, however, was his stance on the value of traditional singing styles.  Lloyd didn't just offer positive support for unaccompanied singing, he challenged the contemporary Revival's comfortable acceptance of accompaniment as a necessity, and rejected the unquestioned superiority of folksongs delivered by trained voices.  Maud Karpeles, who made the first recordings of Phil Tanner in 1937, referred to him 'as one of the best singers I have ever heard' and this is the only record that Lloyd recommends in The Singing Englishman's 'Short Bibliography'.  More typical of establishment attitudes to traditional singing were comments made by some adjudicators at the 1957 'Festival of Folk Music' organised by The English Folk Dance and Song Society at Cecil Sharp House.  Witheringly unsympathetic to traditional styles, they criticised the diction, voice production and absence of eye contact by elderly singers who had been invited to take part in this competitive event.  Observers - Lloyd among them - were disturbed by 'the various rude things said by Dr Sydney Northcote to some of Britain's finest traditional singers, venerable old gentlemen who should have been treated with more respect'.  'It looked at one time,' wrote Eric Winter who was also present, 'as if Dr Northcote was going to rap on his glass as if to say he would take the other five or so verses as read'.  Summing up this unpleasantly instructive experience, Lloyd concluded 'when listening to folk song performers, genuine or revival, adjudicators have to be looking for a different set of artistic virtues from those immediately recognised by the singing teacher'4. See Georgina Boyes, The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), pp219-220 for further discussion of this event based on A L Lloyd, Eric Winter and Fred Dallas, 'Made in Britain,' Sing IV:4-5 (Dec 1957), 52;57 and Norma Waterson, personal communication. (More in Note below)4  Although as recently as the early 1990s, I heard complaints from some English Folk Dance and Song Society members that 'untrained singers' were performing at Sidmouth International Festival, subsequently, general appreciation did begin to change.  Through The Singing Englishman, Lloyd makes a much needed contribution to the development of awareness of the qualities of traditional singing styles.

In other areas, The Singing Englishman adds new elements to established concepts.  Anthropologists and some folklorists had long regarded the idea that traditions were 'survivals' of prehistoric rituals and beliefs as unsound.  But like most contemporary writers on folksong and dance, Lloyd employed it uncritically in The Singing Englishman and all his later writings.  The particular form of survivals theory that he adopted, however, was markedly different to that found in publications by The English Folk Dance and Song Society and The Morris Ring.  In a rarely noted departure from the Revival's standard explanations, Lloyd proposed that some traditional songs and customs had their origins in the rituals of witchcults.  Jolly Old Hawk, John Barleycorn, The Derby Ram and - since 'the witch songs and the rebel songs were often much the same' - The Cutty Wren were among those he cited as once having 'deep magical meaning'.  There is no historical evidence to support any of these contentions - though with more extended discussion, he again proposed that The Derby Ram, Herring's Head, Cutty Wren and the rest, reflected the feudal peasantry's increased use of 'pagan customs' and their associated songs as a source of opposition to the church in Folksong in England5. See for example, A L Lloyd, Folk Song in England (London: Panther Books, 1969), pp96-114. passim.5  In this later book, Lloyd cited the French historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874) as the source of his commentary.6. The particular work is not cited, but probably it was Jules Michelet, La Sorcière (1862), first published in English in 1863 as The Sorceress and under various other titles including Satanism and Witchcraft and Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Superstition in regular new editions thereafter, e.g. The Sorceress : A Study in Middle Age Superstition. A complete translation from the French of Jules Michelet by A R Allinson. (Paris : Charles Carrington, 1904.)6  But, given the period during which he was writing, it would be interesting to know whether The Singing Englishman also drew on Margaret Murray's more recent works, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches.7. Margaret Alice Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921) and The God of the Witches (London: Sampson Low, Martston & Co Ltd, 1933).7   According to its author, The God of the Witches had been "a flop" when it was first published in 1933, but with The Witch-Cult, it became popular during World War II when people were interested in escapist topics - particularly at a reduced price.8. Margaret Alice Murray, My First Hundred Years (London: William Kimber, 1963), p104 quoted in Caroline Oates and Juliette Wood, A Coven of Scholars: Margaret Murray and her Working Methods (London: FLS Books; Archive Series 1, 1998), p15. See also Jacqueline Simpson, 'Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her and Why?,' Folklore 105 (1994), pp89-96 for an overview of Murray and her influence. Murray's work on witchcults, with its selectivity of evidence is now generally discredited - though the Encyclopaedia Britannica continued to re-print her 1929 entry on witchcraft in unaltered form through to its 1969 edition.8  In the light of current interest in all things pagan, this aspect of The Singing Englishman can be seen as remarkably prescient or a further example of the romantic strand in Lloyd's personality.

Rather than Marxist ideology, an idiosyncratic romanticism also seems to shape his approach to the contemporary state of folksong - lost as the fortunes of agricultural work and agricultural workers declined:

Agriculture had become the poor relative of industry and the farm workers who had been the heroes of many of England's political struggles, from the 14th century, through the Elizabethan age and past the time of Cromwell, lost their initiative and their character and sank into torpor.  They still sang the old folksongs, they still do in remote parts of the country, but less and less.  They had not the heart to make up new ones because somehow the old idiom no longer suited their outlook and the sad change that had come over their way of life.  And so the wave of folksong retired and the tide went away out and has not come back again, not even in sight yet, unless some have keener eyes than mine.' (p51)
'As a fine, sincere and proud thing the folksongs were marked for death now', Lloyd concluded, 'After the 1820s they slid more and more into burlesque'.  Even in its time, this was a problematic statement.  Although much of his awareness of folksong and history came from reading secondary sources, when he came to write The Singing Englishman, Lloyd had some personal experience of living song tradition in his own family and from his work as a sailor and stockman.  The historian A L Morton had also taken him to a singing pub at Eastbridge in Suffolk in 1939 and Lloyd had been involved in a live recording of singers such as Jumbo Brightwell, broadcast as Saturday Night at the Eel's Foot by the BBC in July of that year.  It can only be presumed that he was drawing on these events when he wrote about contemporary performance - and that perhaps influenced by the singing of less serious pieces like Little Pigs and Poor Man's Heaven - he decided The Foggy Dew, The Blackbird, The Indian Lass and Pleasant and Delightful, were examples of a genre already sliding into burlesque.  Commentators of the day, such as George Orwell and FR Leavis were among many - on the Left and Right - who shared Lloyd's jaundiced view of popular culture, but his derisive conclusions on the state of contemporary rural tradition are his own - and raise many questions.

Why did Lloyd write so paradoxically about folksong and its performers past and present?  In a thoughtful reassessment of Folksong in England, Vic Gammon dealt with the contradictions of Lloyd's views of history and its effects on his work:

His unashamed love of the material made him a reassembler and a tinkerer with items he came across.  There is nothing, in my view wrong with this, but when it is combined with relatively poor documentation, Lloyd lays himself open to the barbs of his critics.  Similarly … I would argue that his value judgements about the material he dealt with seriously impinged on his work as a social and cultural historian.9. Vic Gammon, 'A L Lloyd and History: A Reconsideration of Aspects of 'Folk Song in England' and some of his other Writings,' in Ian Russell, ed, Singer, Song and Scholar (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1986), p148. 9
Lloyd did indeed love folksong - and wanted others to appreciate it too.  As a consequence, folksong for him had to manifest aesthetic qualities that merited general approval - to be 'good'.  A text (tunes are only rarely mentioned) manifests 'pride or passion or technique or beauty', it is 'fine, sincere and proud' - or it is not folksong.  So for all his single-handed creation of a socio-cultural history of the genre and excursions into the sources of modes and the ballad process, in The Singing Englishman Lloyd based his acceptance of material as folksong on aesthetic criteria.  In his most quoted phrase, Lloyd wrote that folksongs represented 'the highest points reached by the imagination of the ordinary Englishman'.  He then went on to make sure that folksongs' creative credentials were unimpeachable by discounting from the genre anything that didn't meet his - and Literature's - artistic standard.  His own value judgements are at the heart of Lloyd's view of what was and was not folksong.  And who could - or could not - make them.

These approaches to folksong and history had crucial implications.  In a key passage in The Singing Englishman, Lloyd set out the ideas that were to outline - and comprehensively flaw - his work in this and later writings.  Imaginatively reconstructing the scenes in 1822 at the funeral of Viscount Castlereagh, the deeply unpopular proponent of laws restricting free speech, he proposed:

… ragged men trudged along the gutters and sang to the holidaymaking crowds, who gathered to cheer and catcall the dead statesman, and the kind of song they sang was precisely the same miserable and undistinguished sort of thing the unemployed hawked in the gutters and at the bus stops during the depression time of the early 1930s.  We will let one specimen suffice as an example, which is no better and no worse than hundreds of its fellows, but there is no point in quoting more than one of this kind of thing because they are so poor and so lacking in pride or passion or technique or beauty or even surprise that they do not qualify as folksong at all but as something else, though I am not sure what: (p48)
Like most of the songs in the book, the verse which follows as illustration of the point - The Mechanic's Appeal to the Public - has no source cited,10. It is not from the broadside of the same name in John Ashton's Modern Street Ballads - though Ashton's accompanying comments 'We are all familiar with the carefully got up mendicants who infest the streets of London, with their mournful howls - how that they are 'Frozen-out gardeners', or 'Have got no work to do'' and note that 'One sample of this style of ballad must suffice' are strikingly similar to Lloyd's prefacing of his version. See John Ashton, Modern Street Ballads (New York /London: Benjamin Blom, 1968), pp21-23. Originally published 1888. 10 but it manages to combine an outstandingly clumping rhythm with glaringly obvious rhymes and has no apparent artistic merit.  Lloyd couldn't have chosen better - the cultural fit between aesthetically destitute song and its broken-spirited singers is exact.

Then and now, this seems a strange position for a radical work on the traditions of 'ordinary and obscure labouring men' to take.  But, for Lloyd the decisive concept here, I think, is the one underlying Bertolt Brecht's great, historiography-reversing question 'Who built Thebes with its seven gates?' quoted as The Singing Englishman's theme-setting headnote.  The significant word is 'labouring'; the nature of the work is skilled and of consequence.  Activity, attitude and art are all of a piece in a formulation which proposes that folksongs could only be created by the steady and respectable among the rural working class.  For much of the eighteenth century, Lloyd asserted, the farm labourer who 'was commonly an independent and intelligent man', produced songs with 'dignity and idyllic charm'.  By the end of that sunny era, however, 'farmhands found it was no use waiting for an improvement in their fortune, their old thrifty idea of saving up, buying a farm and marrying late went by the board.  Now they married early and recklessly… and the skilful and respectable agricultural labourer was becoming shiftless.' And 'As the rustic communities became demoralised and broken up,' he concluded, 'the old folksongs became decadent and almost depraved in style and full of new modern tricks that were no good for anything'.  Respectability, application and continence are evoked as the only true source of Folk Art.  Only if the gutter-shuffling unemployed would grow some pride, he implied, if they'd demonstrate the grit to get on their bikes, they'd make or find songs with poetry and fire.  Complete with an example of the financial advantages accruing to unmarried mothers under the contemporary Social Security system, Lloyd offers a combination of opinions that would fit snugly into the columns of The Sunday Telegraph or Daily Mail. It doesn't sit well with his reputation as the Revival's first Left Wing theoristThe self-fulfilling concept that runs through The Singing Englishman and on into Folksong in England is that folksongs are those songs that manifest pride and beauty, 'wholeness and radiance' - and only those people who demonstrate pride can create folksongs of any quality.

And The Singing Englishman is very sure of the nature of the qualities required - Lloyd's aesthetic overruled all theoretical considerations.  He consistently proposed that the production of 'good' folksongs is time limited - they could not be extensively made after England ceased to be a predominantly rural society after the 1820s.  But even this is tied to criteria based on judgements of the artistic use of language.  Joseph Mather, (1737-1804) the Sheffield broadside seller and file hewer, wrote songs about the work and conditions in the cutlery industry and held strongly Anti-Establishment views that were expressed in songs that landed him terms in goal.11. Mather wrote coruscating songs about named local people and contemporary events - a brew of beer so strong it induced early labour, troilism (apparently one subject for bawdy song that didn't find favour with Lloyd), unscrupulous bosses - and passionate political anthems like God Save Great Thomas Paine (set to the tune of 'God Save the King'). More in Note below. 11  At his funeral, 'his remains were followed to the grave by many of the working classes of the town, who ever regarded him as their champion.' and at least one of his songs was still known and sung in Sheffield in the early 1970s.  But despite his being a craft worker, born at the 'right' date, holding to proud oppositional politics and the incorporation of his songs into oral tradition, Lloyd did not afford Mather any place as a contributor to folksong or even see him as a source of 'Industrial Song'.  Instead, he suggested that Mather was merely 'a dialect poet' and a precursor of those 'worker-writers [who] set their sights on the big London publishers'12. Lloyd, Folksong in England, p39412   There's nothing in what we know of Mather or his work to suggest he made conscious use of regional speech or sought a national audience.  Lloyd's problem with Mather's songs really seems to stem from his direct style of writing, an individual voice and a form of content that owed little to rural themed broadsides.  Context counted for nothing if it wasn't associated with the right kind of text.

Lloyd's application of a personal literary test for folksongs presents enormous difficulties for any attempt to reach a wider understanding of song and performance.  Under his rubric, folksong effectively consists of 'mainly rural songs that I like - which have poetic words.' This has left us with some beautiful songs to sing and enjoy, but it closes the door on any form of discussion about traditions of singing and how they develop and change.  It also leaves what Lloyd saw as his major contribution to ideas about English vernacular culture - his introduction of the concept of 'Industrial Songs' - in an anomalous fog.  Having established a view of agricultural labourers as the main processors of folksongs and the early nineteenth century as the last point of their creation in The Singing Englishman, Lloyd never reconsidered how this might accommodate his innovation.  As Dave Harker's detailed analysis of Lloyd's theories on Industrial Song concludes, 'instead of trying to make his definition fit the historical evidence, Lloyd adopts the reverse policy.  What doesn't fit is left out or down-graded.'13. Dave Harker, Fakesong: The manufacture of British 'folksong' 1700 to the present day (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985), p253.13  The consequence of his procrustean approach is that the songs of pit, factory and protest that Lloyd termed Industrial Song remains an unaccountable assemblage.  He created, researched and championed Industrial Songs - and through recordings for Topic Records spread awareness and made an audience for them.  But, bound fast by ideas of time and beauty that he set out for the first time in The Singing Englishman even pride in his newly created genre did not supervene.  'Folksong-like' was the best he could say of some of the 'Industrial Songs' he produced - overall, they remained 'something else'.

The anomalies Lloyd's selectivity creates are marked enough in the forms of tradition that he did allow some kind of place within 'Industrial' or 'Folksong'.  But when the songs outside these constructions are considered, the gaps and paradoxes become ever more questionable.  What are we to make of all the rest of the mass of songs performed informally - then and now - by the singing English?  The strike songs that parody or take their tunes from popular songs?  Or the songs that are favourites in rural pubs that were obviously written by and for city dwellers?  Or the songs by 'regional' writers?  Or known writers?  Or the graphically obscene element of bawdy songs?  Or the whole conglomeration of unbeautiful lyrics that just don't pass his test?  Lacking artistic merit, Lloyd sees them as unworthy of categorisation or discussion in The Singing Englishman or Folksong In England.  But they are and have been sung in all the ways that more poetic pieces are performed.  And we shouldn't duck the question of why this might be.  On grounds of taste, for example, many people might feel that the sexual violence of The Bloody Great Wheel or O'Reilly's Daughter, have nothing to recommend them to Revival performance - though I have heard the latter sung at Festivals occasionally.  But in the context of a harsh working environment, which medieval song would have been more likely to get a job done with speed as a storm threatened ?  The beautifully onomatopoeic reapers' lyric, 'Whis a raw a rue a raw', Lloyd quotes in The Singing Englishman (p68) or the early sea shanty evoking a blond pin-up with 'yellow hair, hips bare' who found no place in his commentary?  The Miners' Support Groups who taunted a pompous local Police Chief with a song detailing how he'd wrecked his Range Rover in a mean-minded attempt to knock-over a snowman built by striking miners in 1984 hadn't created an artistic gem.  But roaring a greeting of "Silly Bugger Mr Nesbitt" to the tune of John Brown's Body every time he showed his face near the picket line provided them with a small, recurring triumph to balance a bitter, unequal struggle.  And, according to one elderly resident of Flanders, the song the Tommies sang as they marched to the Front Line at Passchendaele in 1917 wasn't Tipperary or Pack Up Your Troubles as beloved of film makers, but an insistently repeated 'Fuck the Germans, Fuck the Germans' to the tune of Cock of the North.  Faced with the overwhelming obscenity of trench warfare, what should they have sung?  Are the only worthwhile songs the ones with poetic words?

But the difficulty of the approach to song set out in The Singing Englishman goes far beyond the writer's idiosyncratic application of the aesthetic.  The central questions to ask about the view of song that Lloyd put forward in The Singing Englishman concern its externality and supreme preoccupation with the surface of text and tune.  All the texts in the book are seen and discussed from the outside.  What any of the songs Lloyd cites or quotes in full meant to their singers - how they might be seen and felt from the inside is never raised or investigated.  Yet meaning is at the core of performance.  And what a song means to its singer doesn't necessarily or only reside in its words.  Through a song an individual can express something they feel is most significant about themselves or evoke a specific person or event.  This can be a complex process, as the Suffolk singer, Stanley Day, summarised:

When I go down there [the Ship] sometimes I hear the old songs, you know, you sort of sit there and you're miles away, and somebody'll sort of say, "Hey up, you", like that.  Well, you're in a daze to them, but you're not in a daze to yourself 'cos your memory is going back to the relations and the things where you were and what you were doing when that song's being sung, many many years ago, you see, and that all comes back into your mind and then you're concentrating on that in thoughts and that because that song has brought them to you, brought your thoughts back, but nowadays, you know, you can sing a song what you like.  I don't think that's got no feelings or no memories to that song like the good old songs used to have years ago.14. Stanley Day quoted in Ginette Dunn, The Fellowship of Song: Popular Singing Traditions in East Suffolk (London: Croom Helm Ltd, 1980), p221.14
That there's something about a particular cadence or fragment of words (it needn't be the whole piece and most likely isn't in informal performance) that cheers you up, or strikes you as particularly beautiful or simply fills the time, doesn't exist for The Singing Englishman.  Yet this is the reason why much informal singing exists.  Songs are learned and performed by singers for a whole range of reasons that are important to them.  But here and later, there is little place in Lloyd's discussion for what a song might mean to the individual people that sang it.

So do we still need A L Lloyd's Introduction to Folksong today? We're far less hidebound in our approach to repertoire and definition than we were even twenty years ago.  The iron curtain between 'traditional' and 'contemporary' songs has rusted away, the 'Policy Clubs' and arguments about authenticity of instruments and accompaniment only rarely emerge to generate a day or two of controversy on a website or in a magazine Letters' Column.  Known authorship and oral transmission, have gone the way of modal tunes and rural location as defining features - and even folksong itself has ceased to be regarded as a useful term for the kinds of informal performance that we continue to study and enjoy.  Lloyd's grasp of Social History was rocky and we've now got access to massive amounts of field recordings as well as performances that have since grown out of them to hear and learn songs from.  We have better context and content that is offered in The Singing Englishman to inform us about our musical culture.  So perhaps it's The Singing Englishman's final paragraph that will provide the biggest shock to a new readership.  Bert Lloyd, the godfather of the English Revival, who made all those records and wrote all those sleeve notes, who encouraged so many singers and provided so many classic collections of songs and theory concludes his first book with a definite view that folksong is dead, and can't be revived.  Like all the rest of us, Lloyd didn't always get it right.  Perhaps for that discussion alone, The Singing Englishman is truly worth re-publishing - and re-reading.  Looking afresh at Lloyd's version of history most surely will make us all think again about what he, and we, feel is important for songs and their singers.

Georgina Boyes - 2.1.04

Article MT134

Notes:

1.  A Jubilee Book of English Folk-Songs: Selected by Kenneth Loveless and Arranged for Unison Voices and Piano by Imogen Holst (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), p19.

2.  James Reeves, The Idiom of the People: English Traditional Verse from the MSS of Cecil Sharp (London: Heinemann, 1958); V de Sola Pinto and A E Rodway, ed., The Common Muse: Popular British Ballad Poetry from the 15th to the 20th Century (London: Chatto & Windus, 1957).

3.  Percy Grainger's article, 'Collecting with the Phonograph,' Journal of the Folk-Song Society, III:3; No 12 (May 1908), 147-242 offers a far more extensive and detailed discussion of English singers and their music.  But, although he discussed the content in Folksong in England (p68) it seems likely Lloyd either discounted or was not aware of Grainger's comments in 1944.

4.  See Georgina Boyes, The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), pp219-220 for further discussion of this event based on A L Lloyd, Eric Winter and Fred Dallas, 'Made in Britain,' Sing IV:4-5 (Dec 1957), 52;57 and Norma Waterson, personal communication.  Sydney Northcote (1897- 1968) was a well known adjudicator, editor and arranger of classical and folksongs, who had served on the staff of the Guildhall School of Music and at the time of the Festival was National Music Advisor for the Carnegie UK Trust.  An outline of the generally good intentions of a Festival which aimed 'to attract different types of performer, from the country musicians who has his music by oral tradition, to the trained performer who reads music and likes it best in some harmonized form' and details of the 'Classes for 'competitors,' if I can use that term, in unaccompanied folk song, in unison singing, in songs for solo voice and chorus, as well as for songs arranged for piano, and self-accompanied song for any traditional instrument (not piano)' is provided by Douglas Kennedy in 'The Director Writes - A New Festival,' English Dance & Song XXI:3 (Jan/Feb 1957), pp79-80.

5.  See for example, A L Lloyd, Folk Song in England (London: Panther Books, 1969), pp96-114.  passim.

6.  The particular work is not cited, but probably it was Jules Michelet, La Sorcière (1862), first published in English in 1863 as The Sorceress and under various other titles including Satanism and Witchcraft and Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Superstition in regular new editions thereafter, e.g. The Sorceress : A Study in Middle Age Superstition.  A complete translation from the French of Jules Michelet by A R Allinson. (Paris : Charles Carrington, 1904.)

7.  Margaret Alice Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921) and The God of the Witches (London: Sampson Low, Martston & Co Ltd, 1933).

8.  Margaret Alice Murray, My First Hundred Years (London: William Kimber, 1963), p104 quoted in Caroline Oates and Juliette Wood, A Coven of Scholars: Margaret Murray and her Working Methods (London: FLS Books; Archive Series 1, 1998), p15.  See also Jacqueline Simpson, 'Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her and Why?,' Folklore 105 (1994), pp89-96 for an overview of Murray and her influence.  Murray's work on witchcults, with its selectivity of evidence is now generally discredited - though the Encyclopaedia Britannica continued to re-print her 1929 entry on witchcraft in unaltered form through to its 1969 edition.

9.  Vic Gammon, 'A L Lloyd and History: A Reconsideration of Aspects of 'Folk Song in England' and some of his other Writings,' in Ian Russell, ed, Singer, Song and Scholar (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1986), p148.

10.  It is not from the broadside of the same name in John Ashton's Modern Street Ballads - though Ashton's accompanying comments 'We are all familiar with the carefully got up mendicants who infest the streets of London, with their mournful howls - how that they are "Frozen-out gardeners," or "Have got no work to do"' and note that 'One sample of this style of ballad must suffice' are strikingly similar to Lloyd's prefacing of his version.  See John Ashton, Modern Street Ballads (New York /London: Benjamin Blom, 1968), pp21-23.  Originally published 1888.

11.  Mather wrote coruscating songs about named local people and contemporary events - a brew of beer so strong it induced early labour, troilism (apparently one subject for bawdy song that didn't find favour with Lloyd), unscrupulous bosses - and passionate political anthems like God Save Great Thomas Paine (set to the tune of 'God Save the King'):

Pull proud oppressors down
Knock off each tyrant's crown
And break his sword
Down with aristocracy
Set up democracy
And from hypocrisy
Save us good Lord
See The Songs of Joseph Mather… Ed. John Wilson (Sheffield: Pawson and Brailsford, 1862).

12.  Lloyd, Folksong in England, p394

13.  Dave Harker, Fakesong: The manufacture of British 'folksong' 1700 to the present day (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985), p253.

14.  Stanley Day quoted in Ginette Dunn, The Fellowship of Song: Popular Singing Traditions in East Suffolk (London: Croom Helm Ltd, 1980), p221.

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