MT logo Letters: April - December 2005

Re: The Birds Upon The Tree review

Hello there Rod.

I thought Vic Gammon's review of The Birds Upon The Tree in the latest FMJ somewhat harsh and thought I'd send you what I wrote for Living Tradition some time back and which hasn't yet appeared.  I really enjoyed this CD and in fact am still playing it regularly!

If we can't take the rough with the smooth and indeed, distinguish between the two (which Vic seems to suggest we might have problems with) - assuming we have the right to be judgmental about singers sharing their abilities with us in good faith - then, erm, what have we revivalists learned?

Hearing 'variable' performances is all part and parcel, and without wanting to be too precious, the danger factor adds to the appeal of what we know as 'folksong' (those ' ' again!)

Keep on putting this material out - publish and be damned!!!!

Clive Pownceby - 21.12.05

Re: Songs from the Golden Fleece review

Chris Bartram, in his review of Songs from the Golden Fleece, speculates about the 'Newcastle BA course' (actually a BMus).  I can assure him that 59 is not too old to go to university.  I have just started the third year of the course, and I shall be 59 when it finishes.  I'm enjoying it immensely, although I am a bit awestruck at the talent of all the younger students.  Being able to write is an advantage, though I haven't encountered any hard sums, especially since I am too old for a student loan.  I am even able to get by with my poor level of musical literacy, thanks to the Sibelius programme.

Who needs a student grant when you've got a pension?

Gill Cawley - 3.10.05

Re: Stephen Baldwin CD

Rollo Woods, who contributed a lot of information to the Stephen Baldwin CD booklet, writes to thank us for his copy of the CD and to add a couple more items which could have been included:
The Varsovianas played were not his only versions.  In 1952 he played an old folk version that I had learnt in Norway years before, but which I had never heard played traditionally in England.  I asked him to play it, as you can hear on the CD, but he played a different tune!  Naturally, I didn't say "No, you stipid git, I want the one that begins .........." as that would hardly have encouraged him, so there is now no proof that he knew it (and probably lots of other tunes not listed in the booklet).
Another point is that:
Just as the Tide was Flowing was played after he had come into the playground and played for us to dance.  To my mind, the longish session playing for dancing led to a change in style which is clearly audible on the tape and CD.  I also wonder how we did a dance to a tune with 17 beats instead of 16!

Rollo Woods - 17.8.05

Re: Stephen Baldwin CD

I’ve just finished reading the online version of the notes for Philip Heath-Coleman’s Stephen Baldwin collection and have been again reminded of the astonishing - actually intimidating - high standard of so much of MT’s production.  I know of no other place, online or in-print, where material of such detail, authority, and value is published in its entirety.

Once again my congratulations to the Editors for the superlative calibre of so much of MT's output (and I’ve ordered the disc!)

All the best,

Dr Christopher Smith - 25.7.05
Music History and Literature Director, Vernacular Music Center
Texas Tech University School of Music

Roly Brown's Baring-Gould articles

I apologise for the delay in continuing my series on Baring-Gould, but a number of anomalies have arisen which necessitate a re-checking of detail.  Once this is done Part Three will appear (with other parts to follow).

Roly Brown - 9.7.05

Shepherds Arise

Dear Rod

While at Postlip I bought the Oak reissue, and look forward to hearing it shortly.  I did read the notes, however, and was surprised to find no reference under Shepherds Arise to the versions found in Dorset, one of which has been in print since 1926.

As A L Lloyd noted, it is certainly an old hymn or carol tune, of the kind Hymns A & M tried to abolish.  A version was published by W A Pickard-Cambridge in his A Collection of Dorset Carols (1926), repr. 1980 by Dorset County Museum).  Pickard-Cambridge was an Oxford Don, and admitted that he rewrote the harmonies "pretty freely".  He came from a well-known local family, and made a substantial collection of old 'West Gallery' Dorset manuscripts, almost all of which went in the blitz of 1940, when his London flat was hit.

Pickard-Cambridge's version has no chorus.  When I was checking the manuscripts in the Dorset Record Office, I found another version, with the chorus, but with different words in the verses.  I recombined the words and music, and this is the version normally sung in Dorset now.  The ms is from Puddletown, and so has strong Thomas Hardy connections, being signed in 1814 by Stephen Arnold, but then transferred to the Antell family, who were related by marriage to the Hardys - an Antell was the model for Jude the Obscure.  My version is printed in West Gallery Harmony: Carols and Celebrations, edition by Gordon and Isabella Ashman in 1998, and published by the West Gallery Music Association.  Various other printings are available, some of which ignore my prior copyright claim.

A recording of this version of Shepherds Arise is available on a CD called West Gallery Favourites - which can be obtained from Mike Bailey (01962 713392).

West Gallery music, as you know, assumes the use of a band to lead the singing, and in this case the band has a couple of interludes in the chorus.  The same band that played for dancing on Saturday played in church.

Hundreds of the old church band manuscripts have been lost or destroyed over the last 150 years.  For example, there are three mss surviving from Bridport - but one of them is marked 'No 22'.  So how many other villages sang this carol, and in how many other counties, we shall never know.  The hymnbooks moved around, mostly through pedlars who also sold strings and reeds, but the bands also swapped music, copied from books, made up their own tunes, rewrote others to fit local talent.  I live in hopes of finding a printed original, but if we do, it won't invalidate any of the versions, in Dorset or Sussex.

With best wishes

Rollo Woods - 2.7.05

Incorrect Attribution

Dear Rod,

My attention has been drawn to the June Tabor 4-CD Box set Always (Topic TSCFCD4003).  Reading the CD notes on the web, I see that I am credited with collecting two of the songs: Buried in Kilkenny and What Will We Do?  This is not correct.  Both items were collected by Pat Mackenzie & Jim Carroll, and the original recordings can be heard on the CD From Puck to Appleby (Musical Traditions MTCD325-6).  I had nothing to do with the production of Always and I have no idea why my name has been given as the collector of these two songs.

Mike Yates - 22.6.05

Essex 'RP'

In his letter about the Black Crow/White Crow review Dave Bishop refers to the recordings of Mary Anne Humphreys of Ingrave, Essex, and to the fact that she sings in 'RP' rather than an Essex accent.  He wonders whether this might have been due to the influence of the collector (Vaughan Williams).

But I have noticed the same trait in other traditional singers: for the sake of a fairly local comparison see Peter Kennedy's recordings of Kitty Harvey made at Thaxted, Essex, in 1958 (Folktrax FTX 040 - she can also be heard speaking - in an Essex accent - on FTX 452).  Emily Sparkes, whom Des Herring recorded in at Rattlesden in Suffolk in 1958/59 (Veteran VTV S01/02) also seems to adopt something approaching RP when singing.  For some reason, traditional male singers seem to have lacked this flexibility!

Phil Heath-Coleman - 17.6.05

Re: Black Crow/White Crow review (3)

Dear Rod,

I'm sorry that this letter is a bit late in the day but my computer has been out of order, over the past couple of weeks, and I've only just got it fixed. As a result of these technical difficulties I've only just got round to reading Mike Yates's review of 'Black Crow, White Crow' by Dearman, Gammon and Harrison, and the subsequent correspondence.

Before I go on, I think that there are two things that I need to make clear:

  1. Dearman, Gammon and Harrison are good friends of mine and I have watched their development, as a trio, with great enthusiasm and enjoyment over the last few years.  I'm delighted that they've finally taken the plunge and made a CD.
  2. I applaud your policy of publishing hard hitting, no holds barred reviews and normally wouldn't comment.  Your reviews are a refreshing change from the anodyne 'it's really great, you should give it a spin' crap that fills most folk review columns.
Nevertheless, there's a curiously personal tone in some of Mr Yates's remarks that I found a bit unsettling.  Mr Yates accuses Annie Dearman of dropping into 'stage English' and singing in an 'amorphous 'estuary English' accent that owes more than a little to the 'Eliza Doolittle' school of linguistics'.  Well, as your other correspondents have pointed out, Annie is from Essex (close to the Thames Estuary) and I know her as an articulate and well spoken person who just happens to speak and sing in her native Essex accent.  After listening to Annie's singing, over a number of years, I've come to the conclusion that her singing tends to accentuate her native accent and I'm not convinced that this is a bad thing.  I'm also reminded that, during the post-war revival, many of the leading singers in that revival often exaggerated their own native accents or sang in downright silly and affected voices that didn't attract half as much criticism as perhaps they should have done.

One, admittedly rather pedantic, point that your previous correspondents didn't pick up on is that the speech of Eliza Doolittle and 'Estuary English' are not synonymous.  Miss Doolittle, a character in Bernard Shaw's play 'Pygmalion', was a flower seller from Edwardian London persuaded to exchange her native Cockney speech for Received Pronunciation (RP).  On the other hand, 'Estuary English' is a relatively modern phenomenon, identified by the linguist David Rosewarne in 1984.  It is a mixture of contemporary London speech and RP often spoken (mainly in the South East) by politicians, businessmen, professionals and media types - and rarely by street vendors (?).

Given a choice I think I'd rather listen to the good, honest Cockney of the 'uneducated' Eliza Doolittle than to RP or 'Estuary English'.

Before I finish, perhaps I should remind Mr Yates that Ralph Vaughan Williams collected his first folk songs in Essex - at Ingrave, and other villages near Brentwood.  There is no doubt that Charles Potiphar, who sang Bushes and Briars to RVW, spoke and sang with an Essex accent, as several other inhabitants of Ingrave and environs must have done.  Unfortunately and ironically, RVW seems only to have made one recording in the Ingrave area and that is of a singer called Mary Anne Humphreys (see A Century of Song, EFDSS CD02).  Although I love this recording, and think that Mrs Humphreys was fine singer, she does not appear to be singing in an Essex accent but possibly in something close to RP.  I wonder, did some 'Professor Higgins' (or even a certain Dr Vaughan Williams) subject her to the 'Eliza Doolittle' process at some point?

Best Regards,

Dave Bishop - 20.5.05

Re: Black Crow/White Crow review (2)

Dear Editor,

I have just read Mike Yates' review of Dearman Gammon & Harrison's recently released CD.  I would have thought that Mike Yates was at least required to do some basic research into the performers' backgrounds before writing such twaddle as appeared in your magazine.

Annie has stayed true to her Essex roots through thick and thin - even though she has lived in Yorkshire for a good many years.  Her speaking voice is no different from her singing voice (the salient feature of a folk performer, I would have thought) so Mike's accusations of Stage English are well wide of the mark.

I trust Vic's sleeve notes are accurate and well-researched - as one would expect from the head of a prestigious University department teaching traditional folk music.  Why does Mike feel that we need to have amplification of the notes of the songs' provenance?  Can he not find enough constructive things to say about this CD?

It is a shame that the review is more likely to deter people from listening to it and to discourage them from buying it.  Is this what the reviewer really intended?  If so, it would be a disservice to both the singers and to those interested in the less popular variants of songs which are so rarely recorded and performed.

Mary Humphreys - 11.5.05


Since the complaint about Mike Yates including additional information in a review has been raised in both letters about the Black Crow/White Crow CD, it is worth my pointing out that this is actually one of the jobs of an MT reviewer.  To quote our Policy page (reviews section): An MT review has two purposes; it should alert the potential purchaser to both positive and negative aspects of the publication which might not be immediately apparent upon cursory inspection, and it should also raise related issues which are likely to be of interest to readers.  It is my firm belief that most MT readers will welcome further information on a subject in which they are interested - why would they read this magazine rather than the countless others available, if this were not the case?

Further, Mike almost always includes such additional information in his reviews - this is just one of the many reasons I keep asking him to write for MT!  Why this practice should suddenly be seen as a criticism of the CD in question completely eludes me.

We have an educative role - like it or not.  Although we receive no public funding, it will be found that no project of any kind will get any sort of public funding without some sort of educational element in its provisions.  Personally, I think this is a fully justified requirement, and I am both glad and proud that a substantial proportion of the writing in this magazine does have more information in it than you usually find elsewhere.  To complain about being given extra information on a subject we are all supposed to be interested in seems, to me, an utterly negative attitude.

Ed. - 11.5.05

Collection for Fair Havens Hospice

During the Keith Summers Memorial Festival of 20th to 22nd May, at the Musical Traditions Club , we will be holding a collection for the Fair Havens Hospice in Southend; this being where Keith ended his days.  Fair Havens exists on a charitable basis to improve the quality of life for people who are terminally ill.  The story behind the collection goes like this.

A while ago I reported in MT that a sizeable portion of Keith Summers' LP collection had been lost whilst in transit to me.  At the time, I believed the records must have been stolen and I have been trying to recover their monetary value through legal action and/or an insurance claim.

As previously reported, Keith left his collection to Peta Webb, and she passed it on to me for safe keeping.  As I am merely the custodian of the records, it would not have been right for me to profit from any payout.  Therefore, we decided that whatever money could be recovered would be donated to Fair Havens.

Several weeks ago, the insurance company offered to settle for the sum of £2,342.  Peta and I agreed to accept this, and we announced the good news to the hospice.  Just before the cheque was processed however, the removal company announced that they had found the records.  The claim was voided as a result.

I am extremely suspicious about the manner in which they turned up, just as the company in question were about to be presented with a premium excess charge; and I hope to tell the whole sorry story in a future letter to MT.  In the meantime however, whilst we are extremely glad to get the records back, we will not now have an insurance payout to give to Fair Havens.

This news will doubtless come as a disappointment to a foundation which relies entirely on external funding to do its good work.  Therefore, in order not to let them down entirely, we will be asking people who come to the festival to contribute to the collection.  Whatever we can come up with between us will help to ease the suffering of the people in Fair Havens' care.

Anyone who can't be at the festival, but would like to make a donation, can do so by sending it direct to me or to Peta at:

Fred McCormick
2 Orchard Grange
CH46 6DZ
          Peta Webb
52 Cecile Park
London N8 9AS

Please make any cheques or POs payable to 'Fair Havens'.

Many anticipatory and heartfelt thanks,

Fred McCormick - 10.5.05

Re: Black Crow/White Crow review (1)

Whilst being huge fans of Mike Yates' work, enthusiastic consumers and users of his recordings, and happy to hear his opinions, we were nevertheless puzzled by his review of Black Crow/White Crow by Dearman, Gammon and Harrison.  While not really wanting to review a review, we feel that this particular critique merits a reaction.

Mike has made quite a few perhaps rather brutal comments and then covered himself by being 'sure that others will take umbrage'.  Sorry Mike, it's not umbrage that we take because opinion is opinion, but we do at least question a couple of assumptions.

  • Assumption No 1. Annie sings in 'Stage English'

    We are not sure what stage English actually is.  We do understand 'stage northern' and 'stage south-west' etc, (as broad-brush dialects) because we both work with actors dealing with characterisation.  Ironically Mike, you hit the nail on the head with your geographical placing.  Although you dismiss it as being merely a 'folk voice' in fact Annie was born and bred in Great Wakering, the last habitation before Foulness Island, and you don't GET more (Thames) Estuary than that.  Like it or not, Annie has grown up with her own regional accent and whether natural or adopted she should be at liberty to exploit it at will.

  • Assumption No 2. Vic is singing in his interpretation of a traditional style

    Having listened to Vic for years at our Ryburn 3 Step Folk Club where he was resident until his recent move to Newcastle, we know full well that his first loyalty is to the song and not somebody's perceived notion of what is 'traditional'.  The 'traditional' singers that we all love and respect use whatever voice they have to tell the story.  Vic does just the same.

    Additionally, on the subject of sleeve notes, while we're always happy to gain added insight into the material, it is unusual for a reviewer to so pointedly extend said sleeve notes?  Vic Gammon is a well-respected academic in this specific area, and with input from all three of the group, the notes are informative without being an essay.  Mike - why do you feel that you need to add more into what is, after all, only a CD review?  Just asking!

    Chris Coe - Singer (sometime duo with Annie) - 9.5.05
    John Adams - Producer Black Crow/White Crow
    Both fellow members of Ryburn 3 Step

    Re: Around the Hills of Clare correspondence

    As with previous sets of associated letters, I have now put all the correspondence relating to the Around the Hills of Clare review into one Enthusiasms piece (No 46).

    Ed. - 9.5.05

    Small world

    Dear Rod,

    I just had to tell you that you have managed to add to my family genealogy quest through your interesting website!

    As no doubt you know, putting a few words into a search on Google can bring a multitude of possible sources to peruse.  Tonight, while trying to find more information about some distant relative, name of Batt, from Smarden, or Hawkhurst, Kent, up came your article on the Millens.  In reading through the article - interesting in itself - I found one of 'my' Batt family, Grace, had married Victor Hugo Millen!!  Her brother, Stanley, married my great-grandmother's niece, Mary Bullen.

    I have only recently looked into the Batts after learning, to my amazement, that Stanley and Mary emigrated to the very city I now live in (Winnipeg, Canada) and that Stanley's brothers, Charles, Wallace, Ashley and Raymond also came here between 1906 and 1910.  Since I was born in Wales and am an immigrant myself, it was a great surprise to learn that there may well be some of the Batts descendants very nearby!

    So "Thank you", music-lovers - your Website has helped a lot in an unexpected way!

    Janice Jones


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

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