MT logo Letters: Oct - Nov 2003


I'm a student on the B.Mus (Folk and Traditional) degree in Newcastle.  I'm doing a research project on Birtley Folk Club, within a social and historical context. I have a particular interest in repertoire, and how this might have changed over the 40+ years since the club started.  I'm also very interested in the topic of women in relation to clubmembership, as singers, and as represented in the songs.

May I ask your site visitors for help with this project, please?

I would prefer any replies to come to my university e-mail address, which is:


Glynis Manning - 27.11.03

Re: Folk Music Collection in New Zealand - 5

With regard to the recent letters regarding New Zealand folk music, I would like to throw my sixpence in.

Puhoi is a small settlement 40 minutes drive north of Auckland and is home to the Puhoi Bohemian band.  This band has been playing in the village in one form or another for over 100 years and the local museum has a wonderful collection of memorabilia related to the band including a couple of doodlesacs (Czech pipes).  The band now consists of less than six musicians still playing traditional music and singing songs of early settlement in New Zealand.

The South Island boasts the Kokatahi Band, which formed in 1910, playing mostly light entertainment music, but distinctly New Zealand in character, on a variety of instruments including a number of Stroh violins and musical saws.  Again, they would have had a good repertoire of early settlement songs.

Unfortunately the Bush Band phenomena of the seventies and eighties pretty much redefined what it was to be 'Kiwi' music, with a completely new repertoire of Irish and Scottish tunes and songs replacing what would have actually been played and sung on the goldfields and in the whaling ships.  Revisionism isn't confined to the political arena it seems.  Having said that, the Arrowtown museum in the deep south has a set of uilleann pipes that were played by an Irish piper busking on the fields and taverns during the goldrush of the mid 1800s.  Given the extent of that gold strike, one must assume that there were many, many more musicians and singers around at the time.  I'd be very interested to find out if any Gaelic songs survived the exodus from Cape Breton to Waipu when the Reverend Norm MacLeod took out several hundreds of his flock in 1859.  Their descendants now constitute a large percentage of the population of the South Island.

Pat Simmonds - 17.11.03

Re: Appalachian article:

I've just read the short history of Appalachian traditional music article.  Very interesting and soundly researched.  I have two comments, offered in good spirit.

1) Debbie emphasises the centrality of the personal female narrative to the UK folk song and suggests that this was developed by the Appalachian communities to include songs from the male perspective.  Is this well put?  The UK folk tradition has had 'male' subjects at its heart to as far back as can be studied.  Songs about harvesting, going to war, fishing etc are our version of the cowboy, lumberjack and railroad songs and there is more continuity between the two traditions than seems to be suggested.

2) I'm not an expert on early folk hymns of the British Isles, but I believe that something close to the call and response was a common element of song structure long before UK settlers encountered African-Americans.  The poor and largely illiterate rural communities of the UK would have been unable to read hymn lyrics and this made necessary a structure that contained a great deal of repetition.  The leader would sing the first line and the congregation would then follow.  This practice must have been taken into worship by the settlers and blended with the singing of the poor black communities.  Also, the most robust singing was delivered by precisely those non-conformist religious communities who left this country to find a better life away from the established church and a society that was generally intolerant of their beliefs.  There's no doubt that African-American gospel influenced the vocal style of the white hymn-singers, but it's a mistake to assume that those devout, god-fearing people whispered their faith - they shouted it to the hills.  It's also worth pointing out that many secular folk songs of the British Isles employ this technique.

Possibly the best recorded source for these early hymns is the Waterson's Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy.

Thanks for the site - excellent work.

Best wishes

Steve Mazillius - 16.11.03


Quick correction to Keith Chandler's letter of 9.11.03 - see below.

'J W Day' was the fiddler's real name.  'Jilson Setters' was the name of the persona created by Jean Thomas (The Traipsin' Woman).  If I remember correctly, Jean first tried to recruit Ed Haley for the role.

Keep up the good work.

Russ Hatton - 13.11.03

Blaxhall Ship stays afloat!

Re: Keith Summers' letter below:  Well, after the applicant withdrawing many of the planning application items, today we were left with only one, and that was to change the bar area and to have the disabled toilet located in a very strange place that would have opened straight in to the dinning/residence lounge.

I can however report that the Council listened to our local councillor and took note of all the letters, etc, even the e-mails that came via your web site, and I am pleased to tell you that the application was rejected.

So The Ship fights on for another day.

Many thanks for you help.

Maggie Grenham - 12.11.03

Re: Reviews, Letters, etc.

I always try to ensure I have at least an hour to spare before entering the site, which this morning afforded the usual plethora of delights.  If I may, I'd like to offer a few comments on a couple of matters.

In his review of Kentucky Mountain Music - Classic Recordings of the 1920s and 1930s (Yazoo 2200), the always entertaining and erudite Fred McCormick comments on the attribution in the sleevenotes of Carson Robison as the guitarist accompanying 'J W Day' (real name Jilson Setters).  He is making a point, of course, but the final arbiter of all matters Victor is the work of the unimpeachable Brian Rust, who does not enter into speculation where discographical data are concerned.  His groundbreaking volume The Victor Master Book Volume 2 (alas, there never was a volume 1) confirms Robison's involvement with Setters' New York session on 27 February 1928.  Within two weeks he was back in the same studio performing a similar function with Vernon Dalhart.  The commercial recording companies during that period exhibited a distinct aversion to solo melody instruments, often foisting the most inappropriate of accompanists on performers (just listen to some of the contemporaneous New York Irish items and try not to wince).  Robison, at least, does a quite respectable job backing Setters.

On to the letters, and I will refrain from entering the Chris Bearman lists, having long ago requested him not to contact me with his paranoid, egotistical and invective-filled ramblings again.  That said, I would like to register my vote of eternal gratitude to EFDSS Librarian Malcolm Taylor, 'without whom ...'

On the question of New Zealand recordings, my first port of call for details on field recordings worldwide is always Ethnomusicology - Historical and Regional Studies, edited by Helen Myers (London & Basingstoke Macmillan, 1993), in the The New Grove Handbooks in Music series.  Mervyn McLean, himself a field worker among the Maori population of the twin islands from the 1970s on, supplies the section on Oceania on pages 392-400, the last three of which feature an extensive bibliography.

Finally, my thanks to Ray Templeton for a positive review of Echoes of Africa, a CD I co-produced for Wergo with Christoph Wagner.  Thanks too for his acknowledgement of my efforts towards bringing the knotty problem of African discography into some semblance of order, but I must modestly defer (alphabetically) to Rob Allingham, John Cowley, Richard Noblett and Paul Vernon as more important movers and shakers in this particular regional sphere.

Thanks, too, Rod for your continuing Herculean efforts in maintaining such a hugely important resource.

Keith Chandler - 9.11.03

Re: Folk Music Collection in New Zealand - 4

Following the thread of recent letters on New Zealand folk collecting, I can volunteer some information about Maori field recordings and where they are stored.  Compared to British/European folk music there's been a lot of Maori music collected in New Zealand.

The first ethnographic field-recordings of Maori music were probably made by Alfred Knocks, partially in collaboration with Percy Grainger.  I haven't been able to find much out about their collecting, but it seems to have been substantial.  Further field recording was conducted between 1919 and 1923 by the Dominion Museum, four expeditions being made into relatively remote areas of Gisborne, Rotorua, the Whanganui River and to the East Cape.  The three people involved were Elsdon Best, James McDonald and Johannes Andersen (all ethnographers).  On some later trips they were joined by Peter Buck (a Maori MP) who helped negotiate with the local tribes.  Recordings of a variety of traditional waiata (song) were made onto some 200 wax cylinders.

The expedition wanted to record the traditional music before it vanished.  To quote Graham Parsons from the following web page

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Maori music performed on the concert stages of the world or provided as a welcome for tourists was, in essence, music in a European style.  Within fifty years of colonial rule, waiata with its melodic line characterised by a freely pulsed, unisoned monotone punctuated by occasional inflections, had been replaced by the lilting melodies, rich harmonies and the strong regular pulse of European song.  By the turn of the century the traditional waiata ceased to be central to their day to day activities for many Maori.  They had largely been replaced by popular songs translated into Maori in the first decade of this century, and the Maori Action Songs developed by Sir Apirana Ngata.  Though these songs kept the Maori in touch with their own language, they provided no experience of the Maori traditional music.
Later, a large number of field recordings were made onto acetate discs and magnetic tape by others, most significantly Mervyn McLean, who is one of the living authorities on Maori traditional music.  McLean has written several definitive books on the topic which are still in print Traditional Songs of the Maori and Weavers of Song. Also see

Virtually all the recordings I've mentioned are held at the Archive of Maori and Pacific Music, Anthropology Department, University of Auckland.  Apparently the archive holds 9000!!! recordings for which, sadly, there is no online electronic catalogue available yet.  Some of the material has been catalogued in 4 printed volumes by McLean, which they tell me are available in university libraries throughout the world.

Many of the original wax recordings are stored at Te Papa - Museum of New Zealand, of which the Archive has tape copies.  The Archive has told me there are no CDs of material available for sale - it's listening copies only, either onsite (or it sounds like they can be ordered into an institution to listen to.)

However, various CDs that may be of interest can be ordered through the National Library of NZ  I have two of these CDs, which I can recommend.  These are not the 'pure traditional' music of the wax recordings, but European-influenced songs with Maori lyrics and harmonies.  On both the singing is technically very accurate as to sound trained, though I don't think they were trained singers:

I'm no expert, but it's probably easier for me to find out about these matters here in New Zealand, so if anyone wants more info please ask and I'll try to do my best (see email below).  The Anthropology Department website can be found at

Mike Brown - 31.10.03
Wellington, New Zealand

Blaxhall Ship in Danger

Protesters outside The Ship at a recent meeting.I am writing to inform MT readers that there are moves afoot for the owner of Blaxhall Ship in Suffolk, probably the most famous pub in the history of English traditional music, to convert the public bar into holiday chalets, leaving only the smaller bar open, primarily as a restaurant.  Whilst the owner is of course perfectly entitled to do with the pub as he sees fit, I believe that he, quite understandably, has no appreciation of the pub's musical significance.

This has naturally produced much consternation among the villagers and various protest meetings have taken place.  I should point out that the community spirit among the 250-odd Blaxhall residents has always been something quite unique, and continues even today at a level far in excess of any other comparable village in the area.

If the planning permission is not granted for the owner to convert the public bar he will almost certainly close the pub down for good, as is his right as owner.  It does seem to me to be a great tragedy that this should occur in the fiftieth anniversary of those exceptional Kennedy/Lomax recordings and would suggest that any of our readers who feel the same should pass on their comments to Maggie Grenham who is co-ordinating the protest groups.  We really should not let the situation go by without a murmer.

Maggie Grenham, Flint Cottage, Stone Common, Blaxhall, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 2DP.

Keith Summers - 30.10.03

Re: Folk Music Collection in New Zealand - 3

I read Keith Summers request for information on song collecting in New Zealand when it first appeared.  I was going to respond at the time, but by the time that I got around to it, Fred McCormick had written and given the information that I was going to; namely the Neil Colquhoun book, Folk Songs of New Zealand, which has sat unregarded on my bookshelves for many years.  Overall, I would have little to add to what Fred said and would agree with him that that most likely source for help in this matter would have been the New Zealand Folklore Society which, as Fred says, 'came into existence sometime between 1965 and 1972.  I can find no trace of it on the Internet, but it would be reassuring to know if this organisation still survives.'

However, I seem to have been a bit more lucky with Fred in my internet search.  I put in a search for Neil and his book and was referred to which gave me the following list of books:
1997Gordon SpittleCounting the Beat
1996Phil GarlandThe Singing Kiwi
1993Hirini MelbourneToiapiapi (Bird Sounds)
1992Mike HardingWhen The Pakeha Sings of Home
1991Les ClevelandThe Great New Zealand Songbook
1991Paul MetzersThe Metzers Songbook
1987Kare Leathem35 Maori Songs
1987?Kiwi PacificA Homestead in New Zealand
1985Ngawai TuiniTuini; Her Life and Songs
1981NZ Folk FoundationScrub and Blackberry
1981Joe Charles Black Billy Tea
1972Neil ColquhounSong of a Young Country
1967Rona BaileyShanties By The Way

Now as can be seen from the inclusion of the Paul Metzers book, this site is happy to include recent NZ songwriters in with books of traditional song collections, which won't please many of the users of this site, but from the titles there should be a lot worth following up.  If you go to the home page of the website, you are given this email address:  and this should be a useful contact.

In his book Colquhoun lists the (folk revival) singers who have recorded each song below the title and I was surprised to see the name of my friend and near-neighbour, Marilyn Bennett, amongst them.  I had forgotten that she grew up in NZ and was involved in the early development of the folk scene there.  At the same time as sending this I will be e-mailing to see if she can be of any help on folk-song collecting in NZ.

In his Introduction, Colquhoun is thanking people including 'Phil Garland, the first New Zealander to be involved in full-time collecting.'  A search for his name reveals his website at  where the opening comments are:

Phil Garland is one of New Zealand's true musical treasures, a respected folklorist and a musical balladeer who has recorded 17 albums. His mission for over 30 years has been to gather and preserve for posterity, the songs and stories of New Zealand.  He can be contacted at:
Phil Garland, 10b St Leonard's Street, Culverden, Nth Canterbury, New Zealand
Phone/Fax +64 3 315 8324.   Mob 025 271-8724   E-mail:
One more thing - I have just returned from the USA where I bought a book, not published here yet, called Songcatchers - In Search of the World's Music by Mickey Hart (drummer with The Greatful Dead!).  It has lots of information and many fine photos around the subject of song collecting - mainly in the USA - but Hart is clearly very impressed by Percy Grainger.  There is a splendid photo of Grainger, looking as dapper as ever, with someone who looks like he is dressed in Oxfam shop rejects.  The caption is 'In New Zealand, Grainger was delighted to discover recordings of Rarotongan and Maori musics by A J Knocks'.  Hart has nothing more to say about this, but again the Internet can help us.  He is Alfred John Knocks (1880-1925).  The website at  gives us 'While on tour in Australia and New Zealand in 1909, Grainger met a dedicated folksong collector in Otaki, A J Knocks.  The folk material that they collected together was among the most interesting music that he was to preserve.  The South Sea Island's polyphonic music with its 'rhythmic delights' influenced many of his later compositions.'  Now all that needs to be done is to find out where these collections are stored.

Vic Smith - 23.10.03

White Music from South Africa?

I was very impressed with the response from our readers resulting from my letter regarding traditional music in New Zealand.  In addition to those letters MT published, I also received extremely informative communications from Martyn Wyndham Read and Malcolm Taylor (now there's a good man if I ever met one) both confirming what the others had said - that no significant collecting had been done and no recordings were available.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank both Martyn and Malcolm and the others, but must still express my astonishment.

Continuing the theme of music from the former British Empire, I have been listening to a lot of South African music of late and again it occurs to me that there are no recordings of which I know of songs of British origin from this region.  Now this I find far less suprising, as British involvement in South Africa occurred much later than in Australasia and that the primary European influences were Dutch and to a lesser extent German.  But they undoubtedly had their own musical traditions and the one I am really interested in is 'Boermusiek'.

Although occassionally mentioned, in particular with regard to concertina playing, the only recording I have heard is a commercial record dating to the mid - '50s by a group known as The Tip Top Rhythm Boys who were sax lead and consisted of bass, guitars, banjo, piano and maraccas.  Their rendition of Sparkling Se Dinge can be found on an obscure cassette Flying Rock - South African Rock 'n Roll 1950-62 (Global Village C2001), a release devoted largely to Zulu Rockabilly (I am not making this up !)  It is breakneck music sounding, if anything, like The Benny Hill Theme Tune at double speed, and it is desperately exciting.

I know it might appear that of late I seem to be dealing with some of the most obscure music known to man, but the same thing was said when the old MT was the first UK magazine to write anything on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ladysmith Black Mambazo!

Be that as it may, if anyone can point me in the direction of information or recordings of this music, I would be extrememly grateful.  I mean, if you know of a collection of Child Ballads from Cape Colony or any other British derived music from South Africa, that would be interesting too!

Keith Summers - 21.10.03

Ownership in folk music

A couple of years ago I wrote a short polemic on the subject of ownership in folkmusic.  This was published in MT as Enthusiasms No 22.  Anyone who has read the piece, and wishes to keep up to date with current thinking, may like to have a look at Michael F Brown's new book Who Owns Native Culture? (Harvard University Press, 2003.  ISBN 0-674-01171-6).  Although much of Professor Brown's book is devoted to native cultures in America and Australia, there is much that is relevant to us here in the UK.

Brown's book seems to have sparked off quite a debate in the States and there are a number of web-sites now on-line that are attracting lively comment and discussion.  Readers may also like to know that a piece in The Living Tradition (number 52, pp.20 - 21), concerning the School of Scottish Studies, shows that some people here, in this case Scottish Travellers, are beginning to wonder whether or not they own their own cultural heritage.

Mike Yates - 20.10.03

Re: Skip James and the 2004 Blues Calendar:

Dear Rod,

It was interesting as always to read a Fred McCormick review, and in the recent one of the Blues Calendar 2004 produced by Blues Images Fred notes some confusion over Skip James' song 22-20 Blues.  Like Fred I can detect only one definite buttwo probable occasions where he sings 22-20 and consequently two or maybe three where he sings 32-20, and I might be able to add a little meat to the bones here.  Country blues singers when recorded prior to 1930, by Paramount or other companies, seldom performed more than four songs at any one session - often fewer.  The market would then be tested and if their first records sold well enough they would be invited back for another short session.  Even with recognised good sellers such as Blind Lemon and Barbecue Bob the record companies seldom broke with this policy.  However by 1931, when Skip James made his only pre war session, the Depression was having disastrous effects on record companies (as elsewhere of course) - nothing was selling and initial pressing runs would be in the low hundreds - actual sales probably only a fraction of that.  So the emphasis was on low cost artists (hence Skip and Son House and a whole host of unknown nonentities being given their big chance) and maximised output in the hope that this cheap product would allow them to ride things out until business picked up while always desperately hoping to uncover a 'hit' record from such unlikely sources.

Consequently Skip James later commented on his suprise when handed the opportunity to record 26 songs over a 3 day period as he had only come prepared for a much smaller exercise.

I did have a little collection of songs mapped out ... before I left to record.  I figured I could afford satisfaction to a few records, but I didn't have no idea of making that many ...  There were certain songs that I composed there and didn't have but three minutes to make that song up and put the music to it.

Mr Laibly, the manager of that recordin' ask me "Skip, the 44 Blues is out having a fast sale.  Do you think you could compose us a blues about a gun that would come up to that requirement?  Make a pretty fast sale?"

I said "I don't know - how about 38 Special?"

"No, I got that"

I say "Well how 'bout 44-40?"

"I got that already"

He say "How about 22-20"

(I printed out this interview some years ago from a website, but unfortunately cannot find the original source.)

So clearly James is singing a song he has just made up based upon a different, better known song, and occassionally forgetting to change the words.  I think this clearly shows the gullibilty of Paramount for not realising this but far more importantly underlines the pure genius of Skip James, if indeed that needed restating.

Interestingly though, shortly after Skip's rediscovery in 1963 he recorded a session concentrating on his piano playing (he was of course known primarily as a guitarist) in October 1964 in Cambridge Massachusetts, and issued on a much ignored but hugely enjoyable CD Skip's Piano Blues (Edsel 491).  Here he introduces the song, little changed since 1931, as 22-20 Blues and sticks to this term throughout, so clearly this made up, off-the-cuff song had entered his repertore where it remained for over thirty years.

Incidentally, I am reliably informed that no firearm with a 22-20 calibre has ever been manufactured!

Keith 'Son of a Gun' Summers - 17.10.03


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

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