Rod Stradling - 27.9.18
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
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.
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:
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.
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'.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
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':
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!
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:
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:
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':
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!
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 (email@example.com) or Virginia Blankenhorn (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
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.
Also, I flagged up three new CDs for possible release this year:
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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