MT logo Letters: Jan to May 2003

Re: Jumping to Conclusions - 3

Dear Sir,

Michael Yates is no doubt able to defend himself, but I have to point out that Georgina Boyes has misunderstood his comments with regard to The Imagined Village.  Yates said that Harker's work was the starting-point for her attack on Cecil Sharp.  Boyes has taken that to mean that Harker was the starting-point for her book.

But since she has provided such a specific rebuttal of Harker's influence over her work, perhaps she will answer a point which has troubled me ever since I read her book.  On p.15 of The Imagined Village readers will find the following attack on Cecil Sharp:

Experience in the field was, however, no guarantee against misrepresentation - what we know of Cecil Sharp's collecting in rural Somerset hardly supports his published contentions. The information available on the life histories of the residents of market towns who sang to the Revival's leading theoretician bears no relation to the unlettered and secluded archetype of his definition .......
It is unfortunate that the footnotes to this page have been misplaced, and the notes go straight from No.32 to No.34, which is clearly not the appropriate reference.  The missing No.33, however, does appear among the footnotes, and (apart from a vague reference to A L Lloyd) it attributes the above passage to Harker's 1972 essay Cecil Sharp in Somerset, pp.225-36, and to Fakesong, pp.187-194.

Georgina Boyes needs to make this point absolutely clear.  If No.33 is the intended footnote, her attack on Sharp was based on Harker and what Michael Yates says is true.  If it was not based on Harker, she needs to tell her readers precisely how she arrived at her conclusions.  This is not 'nit-picking' or a minor point.  To allege that another scholar has deliberately misrepresented research findings is the very gravest charge that can be made in academic life, and, if proven, is wholly destructive to careers and reputations.  Any writer making such a charge needs to stand on the firmest ground and to be able to present the fullest and most unimpeachable research findings to back them up.

So on what evidence did Georgina Boyes make such a sweeping attack on Cecil Sharp's integrity?  If it was Harker's work, she needs to address my published criticism.  If not, she needs to present the detailed research findings which might back up her charge.  Until then, it is not Cecil Sharp's reputation and integrity which are at stake but her own.

Yours faithfully,

C J Bearman - 10.5.03

Re: Jumping to Conclusions - 2

Dear Rod

Mike Yates' in his article 'Jumping to Conclusions', does quite a bit of leaping himself.  He concludes, for example, that I 'attacked Sharp, taking Dave Harker as [my] starting point.'  The only problem with this bit of literary trolling is that it's not true.

In fact there were several 'starting points' for The Imagined Village.  One was visiting a Folk Club and finding they invited an elderly local resident to come once a year to sing the same song.  He enjoyed singing and knew lots of songs - mainly music hall pieces - but the organisers only ever let him sing the one they said was 'traditional'.  Another was a conversation with Heather Brady [Bradley] of Swan Arcade - as I made clear in the Acknowledgements.  But the main theoretical 'starting point' is Joseph Jacob's 1893 paper, The Folk which was given to a Folk-Lore Society meeting in which he describes the Folk as 'a fraud, a delusion, a myth' and 'simply a name for our ignorance' (published in Folk-Lore, V (1893), 233-8.)  In fact, Jacob's insight was so fundamental that I used the quote as the title for the first chapter of The Imagined Village.

Then there's Mike Heaney (what is it with Mikes this year?), quoted as saying that my paper on Maud Karpeles in Step Change abounds with 'factual errors'.  Would he like to indicate precisely what these are?


Georgina Boyes - 28.4.03

Re: Jumping to Conclusions - 1

I read Mike Yates' recent Jumping to Conclusions with much interest, as there seems to be a parallel vogue for debunking folklorists-of-the-past here in the US (a comparable, albeit more accurate, American product is David Whisnant's All Things Native and Fine).  No doubt all of these authors trust that they are striking some significant blow against societal oppression by diagnosing the upper-class foibles of folks like Sharp.  I believe the hard facts are quite otherwise.  As Mike notes, 'Sharp was lax in asking singers where they learnt their songs.'  This was generally true of the collectors of that era, for reasons that are perfectly understandable in the context of the time, but wants remedy insofar as it is still possible (this is particularly true of the instrumental music in which I largely deal).  But, insofar as I can see, direct folk music scholarship of the sort required has fallen to negligible levels here, at the same time as the literature of righteous critique has abundantly flourished.  Plainly, the latter exerts a profoundly chilling effect upon the former.  In future years, when interested parties look back on our era, they will no doubt ask, "How is it, at a time when important tradition bearers were still active, that academic folklorists wasted their time in such relatively insignificant veins of criticism?"

The lack of basic human sympathy and understanding is quite palpable throughout this moralizing literature.  Dealing with true folk music in any era is awkward finding the time and money to accomplish the task is usually difficult and one is forever pressed to supply some silly rationale for why such work is important.  Is it any wonder, in the face of such pressures, that we all come to entertain opinions that, in hindsight's eye, look less than attractive?  Old John Lomax was prone to racist fulmination, but consider the society in which he pursued his work some better angel that he did not himself understand somehow drove him, against tremendous obstacles, to capture magnificent material that now allows us to appreciate the cultural heritage of American black musicians in his time (Porterfield's biography is refreshingly generous on this score).  I found his son Alan quite off-putting and self-aggrandizing when I once met him and many of his informants didn't like him much either, but the nattering criticisms to which his work has been lately subject seem both unfair and preposterously priggish, given the impediments against which he contended.

One of the sorry oddities of the earlier forms of folk music revival is the degree to which it drifted along with virtually no contact with genuine traditional musicians, save across the narrow isthmus provided by the collectors.  Harker and crew plainly intend to complain of this class-based detachment, but their own efforts, it seems to me, have unwittingly contributed to an oppressive present day climate likewise disgraced by non-engagement with the very people to whom we should be paying the most attention.

Mark Wilson - 26.3.03
Pittsburgh, USA

A cherished memory

Greetings!  Having made one of my too-infrequent visits to your excellent web-site, I just felt compelled to write once again and say what a splendid site it is.  Thank you.

Secondly; reading the review of the CD of Johnny Doran's piping, I noticed the credit given to John Kelly for his efforts in ensuring that John Doran was recorded in time.

This prompted me to reflect on a trip I made to Ireland in 1977.  having becoming a fan of British and Irish traditional music beginning in earnest some five years earlier, I had determined that I would visit the source of this music.  I had lots of relatives in the north of England, but none in Ireland but I chose to begin my journey there.

One of the stops I had determined to make was at John Kelly's shop on Capel street in Dublin.  This was due largely to the fact that I had a copy of Kelly's Topic LP John Kelly: Fiddle and Concertina Player.  I had also decided that I was going to become a fiddle player and thought that the best place to purchase one would be while I was in Ireland, and the best place there would surely be John Kelly's shop.

To make a long story short, John Kelly treated me, a young, enthusiastic but ignorant Canadian, with what I now realise to be extraordinary kindness and patience.  Over the course of two or three days, he showed me several fiddles that he thought might suit me.  I seem to recall that he showed me one to begin with and, hearing my ineptness, suddenly told me it was his dinner time and to come back the next day.  The next day, we went down to the Four Seasons pub and had a couple of bottled Guinness, which he seemed to prefer to draught.  Finally, he found me a fiddle which suited my beginner status.

I still have that fiddle - and the beginner status.  I remember the day I took my leave John Kelly had found me a case for the fiddle.  Another Clare fiddler - Bobby Gardiner?- who was there also, offered me some rosin.  I told him I already had some rosin.  He looked at me and said "That's like taking some buttons to a tailor and asking him to sew a coat onto it!"

Anyway, my main point in writing is to finally acknowledge, in some sort of public way, that I now fully realise what an honour I received all those years ago.  That a man of the stature of John Kelly should take so much time with a person who really had no particular talent for or facility with Irish music was, and is,a great gift.  I still struggle with the fiddle but that cherished memory still resounds with me.  Thanks for the opportunity to share it with you.  And thanks again for Musical Traditions.

Stephen Harvey - 9.3.03

Help on Alice E Gillington?

As part of the forthcoming MT English gypsy CD notes, I am trying to find out something about Alice E Gillington, the poet who printed Songs of the Open Road in 1911.  Steve Roud is already helping, but we really know next to nothing about her.  I have written to the '1890's Society' seeking help, but now wonder if you could try MT readers on my behalf.  Help will, of course, be credited.

Mike Yates - 16.2.03

Roy's 70th Year Plan

On June 15th 2003 I will be 70 years old.  Naturally there will be a family party, but I intend to further mark this milestone in my life by having a celebratory year.  From then to June 15, 2004, my aim is to fill the year with as many happy times as possible.  I have some non-musical things planned, including the honeymoon that Elaine and I didn't have 45 years ago, but I would like to include some singing too.

A few years ago I retired from full-time singing and that still holds; I'm not making a comeback, but in this special year I would like to have one more go-around the clubs and festivals.  There are many old pals and friendly places that I've been missing since retirement.  This would be a fine way to see them again, and maybe to see some new ones.

So, club and festival organisers, if I've ever played at your place, or even if I haven't, I'd love to come around again.  I can still put a song across, and tell a tall tale or two.  If you're interested please contact me at:

31 Carling Court, Haig Place, Cardiff, CF5 4PH.  Phone 02920 657311, or e-mail
Remember the time-span, June 15th 2003 - June 15th 2004.

This may well be my last go-around, so I hope to hear from lots of you.  Thanks in advance.

Roy Harris - 6.1.03


Rod Stradling - e-mail:  Tel: 01453 759475
snail-mail: 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Glos  GL5 2HP, UK

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