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December 2018

A Distant Land to Roam : Anglo-American Songs and Tunes from Texas to Maine

I'm very pleased to tell you that our third 2018 CD is now available.  A Distant Land to Roam : Anglo-American Songs and Tunes from Texas to Maine, MTCD516, 25 tracks, 78 minutes.

Among these 25 songs and tunes that have gone across the seas, a distant land to roam, you will find some very recognisable versions.  Bradley Kincaid sings The Two Sisters and Fair Ellender and Lord Thomas, Bob Cranford sings Babes in the Wood, Bascom Lamar Lunsford sings The Derby Ram, and Emry Arthur sings Jack Hall.

Perhaps less easily recognisable are: The Stanley Brothers - Poison in a Glass of Wine; Frank Jenkins' Pilot Mountaineers - Go and Leave Me if You Wish It, Gid Tanner & His Skillet-Lickers - Soldier, Soldier, Will You Marry Me?; Louisiana Lou - The Oxford Girl; Hattie and Ernest Stoneman - When Shall We get Married, John?  And downright extraordinarily, you'll hear The Southern Melody Boys with their Little Ball of Yarn and Blind Boy Fuller with Our Goodman or Seven Nights Drunk.

It is now available from the MT Records' website, price £12.00.

Rod Stradling - 1.12.18

Freda Palmer: Leafield Lass

You may be interested to hear that our 2-CD Set, Freda Palmer: Leafield Lass (MTCD375-6) has been shortlisted for The Folklore Society Non-Print Media Award, the winner to be announced on the 7th November.  I can't believe this might be three in a row.

Well, I've just heard:

The Future of Optical Drives and CDs

The decision by John Lewis stores to stop stocking DVD players has prompted me to consider the future of the optical drive in modern computers.  Clearly, the removal of optical drives from most laptop computers - and the lack of them in tablets and smartphones - means that, in the very near future, downloads are going to be the only practical way to pass music from one person to another.  And that means from a producer to a purchaser, of course.

This was one of the two main reasons that I started making the contents of our CD publications available as downloads (sound files as MP3s and booklets as HTML files) back in 2015.  The most pressing reason was to try to ensure that, if I was unable to continue with Musical Traditions work, both Magazine and Records, for any reason, someone else should be able to continue to make it all available with very little input beyond keeping up the payments to our ISP and Hosting providers. The small income provided by the downloads should be able to cover these payments.

The other reason was to do with the first paragraph above - the future demise of the optical drive and thus that of the CD.  One problem raised its head as a result: what format to use for the downloads?  This problem was discussed in various Editorials in 2015.  That discussion focussed mainly on the format of the CD Booklets ... which I consider to be almost as important as the songs and tunes.  At that time it seemed that there were so many types of E-Book, and none that were then dominant, and that the necessary creation software was pretty expensive, that the humble HTML was about the only one that was universally readable.  If that situation changes, I shall have to have a re-think.

But the choice of MP3 as the sound file format was very simple ... it was universal.  But, just three and a half years later, the demise of the MP3 is being discussed by those who discuss such things.  Flac appears to be the format of the day.  FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a musical file format that offers bit-perfect copies of CDs but at half the size of the .wav files that produced them.  MP3s, on the other hand, are about one tenth the size of those .wav files.  One may feel that, in the age of Terabyte hard drives and Broadband Internet, such considerations are of no real consequence.  I'm not so sure - big is not always beautiful - and .wav files do take a long time to download, and are problematic to send as attachments.

MP3 is a lossy format, which means parts of the music are shaved off to reduce the file size to a more compact level.  It is supposed to use 'psychoacoustics' to delete overlapping sounds, but it isn't always successful. Typically, cymbals, reverb and guitars are the sounds most affected by MP3 compression and can sound really distorted when too much compression is applied.  As you may have noticed, MT CDs don't feature all that many cymbals, or reverb guitars, and so our use of MP3 does not cause these problems.  Rather more to the point, very few of them feature recordings made more recently than the 1970s, and so don't have a frequency range that would be better appreciated at higher fidelity.  Indeed, most feature only a solo voice or instrument - so I did a little experiment.  I ripped a solo voice track and a solo fiddle track from a 2018 commercial CD, as .wav, .flac and .mp3 and listened to them played quite loudly.  I could detect no difference in the sound.  I then did the same with MT CDs of quite old recordings ... with the same results.  As regards size, an example track produced a .wav file of 42,082Kb, a .flac file of 22,642Kb, and an .mp3 file of just 4,307Kb.  I did not find that big was beautiful, or beneficial.  Again, if this situation changes, I shall have to have a re-think.


New MTCD203 : Robert Leng and Jossy 'Pop' Mainprize with Jim Eldon :
Songs and Tales from Flamborough Head

I'm very pleased to announce that our second CD release of 2018 is now available from the MT Records' website.  Price £10.00.

In 1988, Jim Eldon was gathering material for a cassette album of East Yorkshire fireside tales, and a friend took him to Flamborough and introduced him to Robert Leng and Jossy 'Pop' Mainprize.  The few snippets of ditties that had been dotted among the stream of tales grew into a whole repertoire of songs as more were remembered.  Eventually a cassette of songs and one of tales were issued on Jim's Stick Records label.

The fishermen's tales and poaching yarns speak for themselves.  There is very little editing in the stories section of this collection - one yarn would spark another and the titles and track separations are just there to help you navigate through them if you want to revisit a particular favourite.

Real traditional singing and storytelling.  A delight!

Nor, as I had feared, will it be our last publication.  Mike Yates has just come up with a new project - British songs and tunes from America, from 78rpm recordings.  More details as soon as I have them.  Not only that, but Doc Rowe has told me that he has 'No end of stuff you might find useful'.  Thank God for that ... I was getting bored here!

Rod Stradling - 25.10.18

The Murdered Sweetheart Ballad series

As mentioned below, The Murder of Maria Marten is probably one of the best-known of the 'murdered sweetheart ballads' - of which some 50 English examples are known, and since nine of them were about Maria Marten then there are still 41 left.  However, I guess that you are most interested in those that have subsequently became part of the oral tradition, which would reduce the number to about half a dozen.

If Maria Marten was Murdered Sweetheart Ballad No.1, then Tom Pettit has just produced MSB No.2 The Cruel Gamekeeper, which is now available as MT Article 317

And now comes MSB No.3 The Mary Thomson cluster, with no less than four more murdered sweethearts, one of whom was actually murdered twice, by two different seducers, which makes it five Murdered Sweetheart Ballads - except that they're all the same ballad, and anyway, none of them were murdered by anyone (it's all fake ballad news).  It is now available as MT Article 319


An experiment - 2

Re: my Experiment - see below.  Of the orders I've received subsequent to my little experiment, only 3 out of 24 have been from previously 'unknown' purchasers ... so I really don't know whether that proves anything!

Another strange thing I've noticed is that generally, most CDs are bought within the first two or three weeks of publication, and that a good review seems to have little or no effect on subsequent sales.  Any suggestions as to why this should be?

Also that well-known names sell far better than unknown ones - which seems slightly strange to me.  I would have thought that people might already have recordings of several of the songs or tunes by a well-known performer, whilst an unknown performer would be a wholly new, and therefore interesting, experience.  However, that's not been the case here - Freda Palmer was not well-known and, despite good reviews, her CDs have not sold well.  Our last release was The Two Bob's Worth - with the well-known Bob Lewis and Bob Copper - and has sold 124 to date.  Freda Palmer has sold just 24.


The Maria Marten ballad

Among the purchasers of our most recent CD release, Freda Palmer: Leafield Lass (MTCD375-6), was Tom Pettitt, Affiliate Research Professor at the Centre for Medieval Literature and Cultural Studies Institute at the University of Southern Denmark.  Tom has alerted me to something which really ought to have been commented upon in the booklet notes; that the song Maria Marten (Roud 18814) is not the one normally known by this name.  Indeed, there have been at least nine broadside ballads dealing with the murder of Maria Marten, although only two appear to have made it into the oral tradition.  The 'usual' one (Roud 215), titled The Murder of Maria Marten, which usually has the first line: "Come all you thoughtless young men", was published by many of the main broadside printers and was collected extensively from performance tradition in England in course of the 20th century.  Indeed, it was long thought that it was only this version that had passed into oral tradition.

However, another song on the same subject was collected by George Gardiner from George Digweed, of Micheldever, Hampshire, in 1906.  Subsequently it was found in the repertoire of both Sally Sloane, of Lithgow, New South Wales, and the Bobbin family, also of New South Wales.  Subsequent to that, Mike Yates recorded it from Freda Palmer in 1972.  It appears that this song was titled The Suffolk Tragedy, or the Red Barn Murder in its broadside printing, with a first line: "Young lovers all I pray draw near and listen unto me".

Tom Pettitt has very kindly created a special composite document for publication as MT Article 316, of which he writes:

I would suggest that this article, together with the links to other works found within it, should tell you pretty-much all you might ever need to know about Maria Marten and her place among the 'murdered sweetheart' ballads.  Had I read this first, I wouldn't have written notes about the wrong song in the booklet!


Important!  Website security - HTTPS

New versions of web browsers will soon start requiring HTTPS, a secure version of the commonly used HTTP protocol, for sites you visit.  You may see a notification like this (right) when you try to visit a site that doesn't use HTTPS.  Similarly, most anti-virus software will now, or soon, inform you that a website you're intending to visit is not secure.

As with most new things, getting an HTTPS certificate will have a cost - in the case of Musical Traditions Magazine and MT Records, the cost would be £160 in the first year, rising to £320 in the second and subsequent years.  Added to that, there would be many hours of re-writing our web pages, and problems for users if I didn't get it perfectly right the first time.

And what benefit would you, as an MT reader gain?  Absolutely nothing, because nothing in the magazine is interactive, requiring any of your personal details.  Purchasers of MT Records' CDs or Downloads also gain nothing because all the financial transactions are dealt with by PayPal - which is a secure HTTPS service.

So - I will not be converting either the Magazine or the Records website to HTTPS because there is nothing here which is insecure.  You can click the 'Not Secure' button if/when you see one, without any concerns.


An experiment

I mentioned in a previous Editorial that every time I publish a new CD, I send out some 1,500 email messages to everyone who's bought an MT CD or Download in the past, announcing the new publication.  The interesting result is that almost half of the resultant sales seem to come from people who've never bought one before!  One obvious assumption is that these new purchasers have seen details of the new CD in the MT Magazine.  Another possibility might be that they've been told about it by word of mouth.  A third possibility is that they might have found out about the CDs from my posts/adverts on Facebook.

So I decided on an experiment.  As you will have seen, on March 13th I announced the publication of our latest 2-CD Set - Freda Palmer: Leafield Lass (MTCD375-6) here in the magazine, and made it available on the MT Records' websites ... but did not send out the announcement email.  I did that yesterday, April 6th - the start of the new 2018-19 Financial Year, and also posted an advert on Facebook.  In the three weeks between these two dates, I received just four orders for these new CDs ... which seems to indicate that seeing details in the MT Magazine does not contribute very much to sales!  So I must assume that these 'previously unknown' purchasers have been told about it by 'word of mouth' which, these days, I presume must mean social media ... and that the information has not been thought to have been 'fake news'.


New MT 2-CD set: Freda Palmer : Leafield Lass (MTCD375-6)

I'm very pleased to tell you that our first publication in 2018 is of a traditional singer, Freda Palmer : Leafield Lass (MTCD375-6).  Yes, another 2-CD Set 'complete recorded repertoire' of this Oxfordshire singer.  It contains 56 tracks, runs for 132 minutes, and has a 48-page booklet.  Recordings from Alison McMorland, Mike Yates, Steve Roud and Gwilym Davies.

Freda Palmer was born in, and lived most of her younger life in the village of Leafield, Oxfordshire.  Later, she moved to the nearby town of Witney, where these recordings were made.  From the age of eleven, she was employed as a glover - making gloves, together with her mother at times, but mostly with her aunt Annie, and it was from her that she learnt many of her songs, as they sat across the table together, sewing their gloves.

She had a phenomenal memory ... while raising six children she probably didn't have too much spare time for singing, and it was only in her later years that she was encouraged to visit folk clubs and festivals as a performer.  But to have a repertoire of sixty or so songs, and to sing 35 of them off the cuff in one day when Alison McMorland visited her was quite an achievement - not to mention reciting the 19 eight-line verses of Murphy's Little Girl without a stumble.

Everyone who knew her commented on her delightful, friendly personality - and the account of her life found in these pages shows that she was an almost unbelievably hard-working woman.  The don't make 'em like Freda any more!

This 2-CD set is now available on the MT Records' website, price £16.00.

I'm also pleased to tell you that, despite what I feared, this may not be the last CD of traditional singers that we're able to publish - more to follow when I know some fuller details.


London Lights

Lizzie Higgins was our guest at the King's Head Folk Club, Islington, on March, 11th, 1970.  During the wonderfully engrossing evening, she sang a song which we assume she would have called London Lights (Roud 18815), and I recorded it.  The song had just three verses, and Lizzie used the first one "See how those London lights are gleaming ..." as a chorus, repeated after each verse - which is why we assume that's what she called it.  Steve Roud was hitherto unaware of this lovely little song (and so gave it a new number) and it doesn't appear anywhere in the School of Scottish Studies Archive indices, at least, not under this or similar title.  So we may assume that it was a song Lizzie knew of, but did not sing, until her visit to the club in London made it appropriate.  It appears that Steve has subsequently discovered two Canadian recordings of it, from 1952 and '64.

Fast forward to 2010, when I was preparing MT's May Bradley CD.  May sings a song which Steve Roud had said was a version of Blue Eyed Lover (Roud 16637), presumably from its first verse.  However, the tune and the three other verses are clearly from London Lights - verse 2 is almost identical to one of Lizzie's, and the other two fit perfectly into that song.  My wife, Danny, added them to Lizzie's song, and has sung it frequently in the subsequent seven years.  Many people have said what a great song it now is, but no one has ever said that they've heard it before.

Fast forward again, to this last weekend, when we were at the splendid Wexford Traditional Singers' weekend in Rosslare (where we've been many times, and where Danny has often sung London Lights).  And, suddenly, two different people told us "My Mum used to sing that".  One was a purely Irish source, and the other told us "She may have picked it up during the 30 years she lived in London".

So, 47 years after we first heard it, we now know that it seems to have been known in Canada, Ireland, England, and from a Scottish Traveller and a Welsh/English Gypsy.  This really does prove, if proof were needed, that culture has no respect for social or political borders!


2016 CDs now available as downloads

It's almost Twelfth Night - so, as promised, the two CDs we produced in 2016 are now available as downloads; they're the last two items on the page.  For those of you who may be new to this service, each Download comprises an HTML file of the complete booklet, within which are clickable links to all the songs or tunes as MP3 files.

Each Download comprises a ZIP file containing one or more HTML files, a 'sound' folder and a 'graphics' folder.  They can be un-ZIP-ed into a single destination (folder) on your device, and run from there.  Needless to say, all the MP3 sound files could also be copied to any other device you might wish to use.

Since downloads require no booklet production, case covers, CDs, DVD cases or postage, they sell for a far lower price.  Compared to £10, £12, £16 and £20 for the 'normal' publications, the downloads of single CDs are £1.00 or £2.00, double CDs are £4.00, and 3-CD Sets are £6.00.  The facility exists to pay more than these low prices, if you'd like to!

They can be found, along with ALL the previous MT Records' CD publications, on the MT Records' Download page.


Season's Greetings and Review of 2017

Happy Christmas! The Magazine has had a faily average year, by current standards.  We've published 8 new Articles and some 35 new Reviews in 2017, along with 3 Enthusiasms, 12 News items and 9 Letters.  By past standards, this is pretty quiet.  On the other hand, I appear to have written some 15 Editorials before this one ... don't quite know why I've been so prolific.

On yet another hand, we have published rather more CDs this year than I was expecting: Boshamengro - Gypsy musicians (MTCD373), and When Cecil Left the Mountains (MTCD5145).  Then, The Two Bobs' Worth (MTCD374) appeared out of the blue, and we've just had the CD-ROM Vaughan Williams in Norfolk, Volume 2 (MTCD255).  All of these have sold fairly well ... and then we had the extraordinary rush of orders in November - 176 sales!  And December has been fairly busy, too - over 50 sales - all fingers and toes crossed for it to continue!

One new MT Records' CD is currently in preparation ... actually, it's a 2-CD Set: Freda Palmer - 56 tracks, 132 minutes - the complete recorded repertoire.  Tapes from Alison McMorland, Mike Yates, Steve Roud and others.

I'd like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to the most recent of the MT Articles (just published).  It's on Portuguese Fado, the wonderful song tradition of Lisbon.  Written by Tony Klein, it is not only wide-ranging and fascinating, but also includes 14 sound clips of historic performances, probably never before heard by any but the most avid enthusiasts.  This is a perfect example of what Musical Traditions should be about, at its very best.

With this my 21st Review of the Year, I'd like to be able to end as I usually do - but these are deeply troubling times.  At least Jeremy Corbyn continues to lead the People's Party, and there's the vague possibility of a reversal of Brexit and even a Labour government.  In hopes of that, may I wish you all a traditional toast for this time of the year.  Joy, Health, Love and Peace!

Rod Stradling - 24.12.17

Another MT CD-ROM : Vaughan Williams in Norfolk, Volume 2 (MTCD255)

In my End of Year Editorial last December, I announced: A couple of new MT Records' CDs are currently in preparation: The latter was When Cecil Left the Mountains (MTCD5145) released a few months ago.  Then, The Two Bobs' Worth (MTCD374) appeared out of the blue.  Sadly, the Freda Palmer CD is ulikely to materialise until 2018 but, rather unexpectedly, a new CD-ROM has just turned up.

This is Volume 2 of the Vaughan Williams in Norfolk CD-ROM (MTCD253), we published in 2014.  It covers the three Norfolk collecting trips Ralph Vaughan Williams made in April 1908, October 1910 and December 1911.  He met some 22 singers and collected 93 songs from them.  As before, they are presented in staff notation, with full texts, and with link to MIDI sound files of the tunes, and there's a very substantial page of information on the singers.

Just what you were looking for as a quick Christmas present?  I hope it sells as well as Volume 1 has!  Available on the MT Records website, priced £12.00.


Extraordinary November!

In the first seven months of this Financial Year, MT Records sold an average of 34 CDs per month.  Not a lot, but it's about what I've been having to get used to!  (See my previous piece).

Then suddenly, this month, we've sold 139!  And these have not all been the new Two Bobs CD.  There were 63 of them, but the other 76 were all assorted orders.  Admittedly, many of these came as additional items along with the Two Bobs CD ... but by no means all.  Can it all be to do with Christmas?  Looking back over my previous accounts, I don't see any particular 'Christmas rush' at this time of the year, but all fingers and toes crossed for it to continue!


Austerity bites - but is that all?

There can be very few of us in the UK who are not feeling the combined effects of the Tory Government's austerity programme and the fall in the Pound's value engendered by their disastrous Brexit Referendum ... very few people that I know, anyway.  Sales of unimportant things like CDs of traditional music and song are, of course, being seriously effected.  But I have been surprised by the extent to which they have fallen.  None of the CDs I've published in the last two years have sold more than 50 copies!  To put that in perspective, sales from 1998 to 2015 (before austerity really kicked in) averaged about 145 sales per CD released.  Sales of CDs released since 2015 have averaged about 40 sales per CD.

The one piece of data that really surprised me relates to our 2-CD set of Sam Larner, published just before Christmas, 2014.  In November 2016 I got the very welcome news that it had won The Folklore Society's Non-Print Media Award 2014 - 2016.  But upon checking, earlier today, I discovered that this superb set of CDs, containing 67 songs from one of England's finest singers, many of which have never been available before, has sold just three copies since gaining that prestigious award.  I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering "Is it really worth all the effort?"

I've had one single CD of Bob Lewis and Bob Copper, one double CD of early American music and song and, in a couple of weeks, another CD-ROM of Vaughan Williams' collecting work in Norfolk, released this year.  And I hope, a double CD of Freda Palmer for release in 2018.  Once that little lot is published, I suspect I'll need to do some hard thinking about the future.  Because I'm not at all sure that it's Austerity that's entirely to blame.

Every time I publish a new CD, I send out some 1,500 email messages to everyone who's bought an MT CD or Download in the past, announcing the new publication.  The interesting result is that almost half of the resultant sales seem to come from people who've never bought one before!  (Or, to be realistic, people who have changed their email addresses, or whose names I don't recognise).  So, maybe not half, but a significant number of new purchasers.  What does this imply?  From reviews, and from comments in various emails I've received over the years, I do know that people think that our CDs are pretty damn good.  So why aren't many former purchasers buying the new ones?  Have they all died?

It seems that we are in a new, and very different 'folk scene':

Someone I know recently wrote a complaint to the BBC about the lack of coverage of English Traditional Music (as opposed to Irish, Scots or American folk music) and questioning whether the BBC should give reasonable coverage to our national music.  The response was either hilarious or appalling, depending on your frame of mind.  "There have been numerous programmes on the BBC relating to folk music, most recently on BBC Four in the programme 'Folk Britannia'.  There is also a number of radio programmes that play folk music including 'Radio 2's Bob Harris Country'."

Folk Britannia you may recall, was aired in 2006 - 11 years ago! - and Radio 2's Bob Harris's Country covers American music.  Checking the track listing of the 2 DVDs of the three hour Folk Britannia programmes, I find just Harry Cox and John & Jill Copper among those who might be described as English traditional, plus Ewan MacColl, Bob Davenport, and Martin Carthy who might be described as English traditional style.  All the rest are 'Irish, Scots or American folk music' - the genres specifically excluded by the questioner!

This is a very strange world we now live in - and not just politically!


New MTCD374 The Two Bobs' Worth - Bob Lewis and Bob Copper

I'm very pleased to tell you that our third 2017 CD of traditional singers is now available.  The two Bobs were recorded at Nellie's folk club in Tonbridge, back in 1999, where they were performing together as The Two Bobs' Worth - an almost unique event.

They were recorded by Andrew King, who's said "If you think the recordings of good enough quality I would be delighted and honoured if you wanted to issue them."  Well, given that they were recorded on a mini-disc machine, the recordings are excellent, and the singing is just glorious!

The track list is as follows:

These were sung by Bob Lewis first, alternating with Bob Copper, and are presented in the order they occurred in performance, with no songs missed out.  I have edited the inter-song comments so that we end up with a duration of 79 minutes and 46 seconds - only 14 seconds short of a completely full CD!  This is an absolutely splendid record; Bob Copper accompanies himself on concertina for most of his songs, and I have never heard Bob Lewis in better voice.  MT Records' 10% Sales Royalties will go to support the Sussex Traditions organisation.


The Famous Flower of Old Ireland Free

A few months ago, MT Records published Boshamengro, a CD of English Gypsy musicians.  The main purpose of which was to present the complete recorded repertoire of fiddler Harry Lee.  Amongst the tunes was: You'll Have No Mother To Guide You.  This was the name - possibly provided by Harry Lee - which Ken Stubbs used for this singular piece: it would seem to have been a line from a song.  Indeed, Paul Roberts has now identified 'There'll come a time you'll have no mother to guide you', as a song called There'll Come a Time, which was recorded by Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers for Columbia in the 1920s.

Since then, Phil Heath-Coleman has acquired recordings of another fiddler, Frank Smith, who was Harry Lee's cousin by marriage.  Exasperated that he didn't have these recordings available at the time, he's now written an Enthusiasms piece, Enth81, which serves as a postscript to the Boshamengro booklet.  Frank Smith also played You'll Have No Mother To Guide You - but that's not the point of this short piece.


A brief example of exactly how complicated a study of English Gypsy songs can be.

Marjorie Mack, in her book Hannaboys Farm (1942), described several encounters with Frank Smith, who played her a tune that he called The Song that was Sung ... expanding the title to The Song that was Sung was Old Ireland Free.  That phrase and the tune (which Charlie Scamp used for the song Sweet William ['Twas early, early all in the spring] when he sang it for Peter Kennedy) are commonly associated with the song The Croppy Boy.  When pressed for the words, Frank had said they were in Romany, but provided four lines, which Marjorie Mack took down as follows:

When he played it for Ken Stubbs many years later, he again referred to it as "An old Romany song".

Mike Yates heard a similar verse, or at least the first two lines, from a Kentish traveller, Jasper Smith, ending with the line 'The song that they sang was Old Ireland free':

The lines in question are found in most versions of The Famous Flower of Serving Men, while 'Now my tender old mammy she ain't seen no more' is very like 'My tender old mother I shall see no more' - a line from The Croppy Boy.

So, returning to Boshamengro for a moment, the booklet included a graphic from Marjorie Mack's book of a tune that Harry Lee played, which was described as The Croppy Boy.

It isn't - it's very similar to the tune Caroline Hughes uses for The Famous Flower of Serving Men, and so is the tune that Frank Smith called "An old Romany song" The Song that was Sung.  And, while I've never heard The Croppy Boy sung to this tune, the text would fit it perfectly.  (It's also very similar to the tune used for Free and Easy for to Jog Along.)

And to finish, MacColl and Seeger, in Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland, point out that Caroline Hughes' The Famous Flower of Serving Men is an excellent example of how a ballad-story can attract motifs, lines and complete stanzas from other ballads and songs without losing its continuity.  They calculate that her ballad is actually comprised of pieces of some twelve other, different songs - one of which is The Croppy Boy!


Are Humanities Journals in Jeopardy?

With the increasing emphasis on so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in higher education, university support for and investment in humanities subjects has steadily declined in recent decades.  Humanities, of course, includes pretty well everything to do with the oral culture of traditional song, music, dance, drama, etc.  Funds to replace departing staff (not to mention adding new ones) are too often denied; whole subject-areas are rationalised out of existence; and activities associated with such subject-areas are curtailed.

One of these activities is the publishing of academic journals, including many longstanding and prestigious titles.  Because publication is - as one editor of a prominent title put it - 'currency of the realm' for scholars, the threat to the continued existence of such journals poses a steep hurdle for young academics, especially in the humanities, who must show a record of substantial publication if they are to have any hope of building a career in their chosen field.

Many journals have seen the wisdom of putting their publications out in digital format, and it is probably safe to say that most have considered doing so.  Although some academics worry about the issue of permanence when a work is made available only in digital form, the case for digital dissemination is hard to refute: scholars are able to see their work in print relatively quickly, and publishers can largely avoid the cost of typesetting, printing and distribution.

Unfortunately, even journals that have moved entirely to an online format can find themselves under financial pressure.  Even the limited cost-centres associated with an online publication can tempt administrators tasked with cost-cutting, with the result that a journal - even a digital one - may be forced to reduce the frequency of publication, or even cease publishing altogether.

We invite readers familiar with the current state of academic publishing to comment on this situation, and to consider the possibility that a consortium might be formed to support the functioning of established academic journals, and encourage the development of new ones, by providing an independent resource for the timely production and dissemination of scholarly work, and by doing so in a manner that allows journals to benefit from economies of scale.

If you would like to contribute to this discussion, please contact Rod Stradling (rod@mustrad.org.uk) or Virginia Blankenhorn (virginia.blankenhorn@ed.ac.uk).


New MTCD514-5 When Cecil left the Mountains

Mike Yates' 5-CD Set, Far in the Mountains, first published in 2002 (Vols.1-4) and 2013 (Vol.5) have sold in gratifyingly large numbers (for us!)   So we're hoping that our second 2017 CD publication of traditional singers and musicians, When Cecil left the Mountains, a 2-CD set comprising 83 historic recordings of Appalachian singers and musicians from 1927 - 1955, will prove equally popular.  It runs for 149 mins, and features Horton Barker, Emmett Lundy, Luther Strong, Emma Shelton, Ella Shelton, Bill Stepp, Emory Stoop, Eliza Pace, Dad Blackard's Moonshiners, and 20 others.

When Cecil Sharp left the montains for the last time, he complained about '... the sound of Victrolas and the strumming of rag-time and the singing of sentimental songs - all of which we have suffered from incessantly during the last 12 weeks.  I am sorry to have said goodbye to the mountain people but I suspect that I might have seen the last of them.'  What he didn't realise was that within just a few years, American record companies would be sending scouts into the Appalachian Mountains looking for singers and musicians who could be recorded commercially.

This is a double CD set of performers having some sort of familial or geographical connection with the people Sharp collected in the nineteen-tens - as, indeed, was the Far in the Mountains 5-CD set.  The important difference is that those recordings were from Mike Yates' 1979-83 trips ... these are from the late-nineteen-twenties to the mid-nineteen-fifties, and are of people who were alive when Sharp visited the mountains - and a few who actually performed for him a decade or two earlier!  Lots of very interesting stuff from both commercial and private recordings.  As with Far in the Mountains, this has been compiled, and the booklet written, by Mike Yates.

It is now available from the MT Records' website, price £16.00.


New MTCD373 Boshamengro - English Gypsy Musicians

I'm very pleased to tell you that our first 2017 CD of traditional musicians is now available.  Boshamengro is Anglo-Romani for fiddle player and thus, by extension, musician.  As far as I'm aware, this is the only full-length CD of English Gypsy music ever to have been published.

It features a fiddler - Harry Lee - from whom only two tunes will have ever been heard by about 99.9% of our readers!  But I'm guessing that almost all will have heard those two tunes, which appeared on the LP Boscastle Breakdown.  It's a long story, which involves the original tape, recorded in 1962 for Topic by Paul Carter, having gone missing for some 50 years ... and Phil Heath-Coleman's and my 18 month search for it.  Eventually we succeeded in finding at least a copy of it, and are very pleased to be able to present Harry's complete recorded repertoire of 18 tunes, here for the first time.  And that's a photo of Harry and his family on the front cover.

Another musician who you are unlikely to have heard is Vanslow Smith (fiddle, melodeon), who Gwilym Davies happened to video at a small Sussex event back in 2006.  Vanslow was an amazing musician, who used ALL the available accidentals on his pokerwork melodeon, and played some very jazzy skeleton fiddle through an amplifier ... at the age of 82!  There are 10 tracks of his playing here.

We also have 9 tracks from Lemmy Brazil (melodeon), many of which did not appear on our Brazil Family 3-CD set back in 2007.  Plus one track each from: Jasper and Levi Smith (mouthorgan & tambourine); Jasper and Derby Smith (mouthorgan & guitar); Joe Dozer Smith (diddling); Mary Biddle (diddling); Walter Aldridge (mouthorgan); and John Locke (fiddle) playing his Hornpipe, from the cylinder recording!  As a bonus, we've also included Stephen Baldwin with Tite Smith's Hornpipe and Pip Whiting with Billy Harris's Hornpipe and Will the Waggoner; tunes they learnt from Gypsy musicians.  As with our Stephen Baldwin and Pip Whiting CDs, this has been compiled, and the booklet written, by Phil Heath-Coleman.

Since there's so much here that you'll never have heard before, I've decided to put two tracks - one from Harry Lee and one from Vanslow Smith - onto the MT Sampler page for this CD.


New MT activity

You may remember that, in my Christmas Editorial, I was lamenting how quiet things had been on the Magazine and Records front in 2016; only two new Articles and two revivalist CDs.  So it's with some relief that I can mention a second new Article to be published very shortly, and the fact that some people are now sending me reviews of CDs that I haven't first sent to them!

Also, I flagged up three new CDs for possible release this year:

The second of these, Boshamengro, is very close to release and, rather surprisingly, the third is getting quite close, too.  It will be (I think) our 13th collaboration with Mike Yates, titled When Cecil Left the Mountains.  It will be a double CD set of performers having some sort of familial or geographical connection with the people Sharp collected in the nineteen-tens - as, indeed, was Mike's splendid Far in the Mountains 5-CD set of some years ago.  The difference is that those recordings were from Mike's 1979-83 trips ... these are from the nineteen-twenties and 'thirties.  Lots of very interesting stuff!

But the real reason for this Editorial is that another one has just popped up, entirely unexpectedly.  Last week I had a phone call from Bob Lewis (the Sussex traditional singer).  He had found a couple of CDRs in the back of a cupboard that he had completely forgotten about.  They were recorded at the Tonbridge folk club where he and Bob Copper were performing together as The Two Bobs Worth.  Would we be interested in them for a possible MT Records release?  You may imagine my reply.

It turns out that they were recorded by Andrew King, who's said "If you think the recordings of good enough quality I would be delighted and honoured if you wanted to issue them."  Well, given that they were recorded on a mini-disc machine, the recordings are excellent, and the singing is just glorious!  Bob Copper accompanies himself on concertina for most of his songs, and I have never heard Bob Lewis in better voice.  This is going to be an absolutely splendid CD.  MT Records' 10% royalties will go to support the Sussex Traditions database.


Re: MT reviews policy

I am wondering whether the modern trend towards Fake News and Alternative Facts is responsible for the string of CDs which have ended up in my bin recently.  The word 'Traditions' in the name of this magazine is one, I would have thought, that was fairly well-known in the Anglophone world.  Admittedly, there are those who will argue - endlessly - as to its exact meaning, but songs and tunes composed by the performers would, I imagine, be ruled out as traditional by most reasonably intelligent and educated persons.

It seems not; perhaps the senders of these CDs believe that their products being reviewed in Musical Traditions magazine will magically transform them into traditional pieces, learned orally from previous generations.  I'm sorry to have to inform them that such Alternative Facts find no home amongst these pages.  I truly lament the quantity of plastic, card and paper that end up in the bin ... to pass into the Stroud charity shops' black hole.  I know only too well how minutely small is the market for CDs these days, and I hate to think of the waste of money and scarce resources involved.

And I do try to warn record producers of the magazine's attitude to such things; the MT policy is explained quite specifically in the - you guessed it - Policy page.  And if that were not enough, a brief glance through the CDs that do get reviewed here ought to make it clear what sort of CDs we actually deal with.  Why on earth do record producers keep sending me stuff that they really ought to know will never be reviewed here?

And I am talking about 'record producers' here, not record companies.  I once had a long and complicated explanation as to how it was cheaper for record companies to send out review copies to everyone on their list of possible reviewers, than to take the trouble to select the ones that were actually likely to review the CD concerned.  But I would have thought that individual performers or groups publishing their own product would have found it worthwhile to do a little bit of sorting.  It seems not; on checking, I find that the last seven 'inappropriate for MT' CDs I've received have all been from individual performers or groups.

The last of these, which has prompted this little rant, was from an English 'celidh band' - so no excuse for not knowing what MT is about.  Now, I know what a 'celidh band' is - as opposed to a simple 'dance band', because I had a discussion about it with the Sidmouth Festival organisers a while ago, when I was trying to get a 'dance' gig for my band Phoenix which, it appears, is a 'celidh band' despite having no drum'n'bass.  But that's rather beside the point.  The 'celidh band' in discussion sent me a CD for review - I assume it was for review, although the package contained only the CD and a press release - containing 10 tracks, every one of which was self-composed by members of the band.  Not only that, but the music is not played in anything remotely like a style I can recognise as being traditional.  Indeed, there are no tunes at all - just a series of rifs based on a very simple chord sequence, which is then repeated with slight variations and underlying digital sequencing.  Personally, I found nothing to like about it at all ... but that's not the point.  The point is that it has absolutely nothing to do with traditional music - or with Musical Traditions!



I am aware that some people (particularly Katy Spicer, the Society's Chief Executive) feel that I have been a little harsh in my criticisms of the EFDSS (see below).  To them I would simply say "compare and contrast!"  The Irish Traditional Music Archive's monthly update tells me that, since 2008 when it started uploading resources, ITMA has made 1,222 books; 1,928 images; 2,687 sound recordings; 384 videos: 6,155 interactive musical scores; 5 micro-sites and 7 'Discover' exhibitions freely available online.

If the EFDSS had done one tenth of this work, or even shown one hundredth of this interest in traditional music and song, I would still be a member.


MT's two Catalogue Samplers

Those of you whose memories extend that far back may recall that MT Records published two Sampler CDs - the first in 2002, updated in 2005, and the second in 2012, priced at £10 each.  The intention was that these full and inexpensive CDs might find a wider audience than any of the individual publications had, and might open a few eyes to the riches to be found within MT's catalogue.

The selections were nothing more than my then current favourite tracks, or things that readers might never have heard before; one from each CD - and I made no attempt to be representative of any particular singer's repertoire or style.  All of the texts were drawn from the booklets accompanying the CDs, including song/tune notes suitably edited for these publications.

They both had very good reviews - Shirley Collins wrote, of the first one:

... while Ian Anderson went even further about the second: And many of the purchasers were equally enthusiastic.  Sadly though, they never sold in any great numbers, and I eventually decided stop making them, and to put the tracks from both CDs - and all the others, too - online in the MT Sampler page, and forego all the work involved in producing a third one later this year.

However, since they were no longer available, they didn't appear on the MT Downloads page, which meant that those who want downloads of them would have the unenviable task of playing, and simultaneously recording them from the Sampler page - in real time!  Not a job I would like, nor the couple of hours it would take to do it.  So I've just made Downloads of them, and expanded their content to include all the tracks that could have gone on them were it not for the 80 minute limit of a single CD.

They look like this, and can now be found as the last two items at the bottom of the Downloads page.



Rod Stradling, 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Glos GL5 2HP, UK
E-mail: rod@mustrad.org.uk
- or, if you don't mind the fact that he's getting a bit deaf ...
Phone: 01453 758519 or Mobile: 0793 099 1641

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