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.
Rod Stradling - 2.7.17
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.
So, along with the Labour Party, Jo Cox, Brexit, Trump, etc, etc, 2016 has been a pretty shity year. Looking forward, at least I have three new CDs already in preparation for 2017 release - which is a good deal more than is usually the case in January! Though how many copies will be bought is anybody's guess; the last two CDs we've produced have sold fewer than 30 copies each. Even sales of Downloads, which started well when they were first made available last year, have slowly diminished in number. Sales in the 9 months of 2015/16 were three times greater than in the 9 months of this present financial year.
I had hoped - foolishly - that having a Facebook page might enable me to spread the word about all the new things I've implimented on the Magazine and the Records websites. The sad reality seems to be that far more people are interested in my own boring life than in anything to do with traditional music and song!
If anyone is able to offer any suggestions for improving this situation, I'd be extremely pleased to hear from you.
It's Happy New Year time - and, as promised, the three CDs and one CD-ROM we produced in 2015 are now available as downloads - they're the last four 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 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. Alternately (if you buy more than one download) you could create a single folder called (for example) 'MT Downloads', containing both a 'sound' folder and a 'graphics' folder, and then put all the HTML files into that, all the .mp3 files into the 'sound' folder and all the .jpg/.png/.gif files into the 'graphics' folder. All files have individual names, so no problems should occur, no matter how many downloads you eventually buy. 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.
We haven't published many CDs this year (running out of sources of unpublished recordings of traditional performers?) but we have done a couple by revivalists! A little gem is Edward the Second and the Red Hot Polkas: The Early Recordings 1985-86 (MTCD405). This contains all 22 tracks from 3 cassettes we recorded back in the day when EII was still a dance band. It plays for 81 minutes, and costs just £10.00. Not bad for "the best little English dance band on the planet" as someone called it back then.
The other release was your Editor's present dance band, Phoenix, with All Fired Up (FBR 005), published on our sister label, Firebird Records. It has 15 tracks, runs for 58 minutes, and also costs just £10.00. There are 43 more less-than-well-known tunes, forged into 15 new dance sets by several years of playing for dancing at numerous clubs and festivals. So, another good dance band record.
A couple of new MT Records' CDs are currently in preparation:
In addition to simply publishing CDs, I have been at pains to try to make them accessible to a wider audience by making some modifications to the MT Records website to suit people who primarily use Smartphones. I thought it would be a fairly simple job - just re-assemble the basic parts into a narrow screen format ... but things are never simple, are they? I soon realised that, to work with Smartphones, the site needed to be 'responsive' - able to adapt automatically to the size of the particular device in use, and even to handle whether it was in portrait or landscape mode. No one I asked had any idea how to do this! Eventually research pointed me to the W3.CSS page, and after a great deal of experimenting with their examples, I seem to have cracked it.
Then a friend made the sensible suggestion that, since most Smartphone users will want a download rather than a 'real' CD, I should include a link to the Downloads page. Easier said than done, because the Downloads pages were not 'responsive'. Many more days' work ensued ... but now they are. No more sensible suggestions for at least 6 months, please! Actually, I'm pleased that I had to do all this stuff because the 'Shipping Calculator' pages I had to create for the new 'mobile-friendly' website have now been added to all the normal website entries, rather than just the most recent ones. This means that every purchase of a CD will now be charged the appropriate postage cost - which will be cheaper for UK purchasers, a little more expensive for European ones, and rather more for 'Rest of World' ones.
Sadly, the Magazine has not been doing too well either. We published our 303rd Article in October last year, but have had only 2 new ones in the 14 months ones since then. Some 23 new Reviews have been added in 2016, along with just 2 Enthusiasms, 7 News items and 11 Letters. By past standards, this is a very meagre set of additions. To put it in perspective, the first year for which I can find reliable numbers, 2004, was described in my Christmas message as: 'A fairly quiet year, all told ... there have been about 70 Reviews and 16 new Articles added to the site this year - around two thirds of the normal number'. In addition, there were also 66 News Items, 3 Enthusiasms, and 19 Letters in 2004. See what I mean?
So, 20 years since the magazine first appeared in this form, I'd like to be able to end as I usually do - but the Brexit vote has fucked continued EU membership, so a reasonably active 2017 with a real (rather than notional) financial recovery seems increasingly unlikely, and the almost unbelievable Trump victory in the USA has made the world a far more dangerous place, if that were possible. It will also have a profound impact in Europe, empowering and strengthening the far right and anti-immigrant politics both here and abroad. Marine Le Pen will feel that she could win the French Presidency next May, and recent events in Holland further illustrate the situation. Britain is experiencing a rise in racism and the far right feels confident and bullish. These are deeply troubling times; no wonder people are drawing parallels to the 1930s - is there a corelation between 'Mexicans and Muslims' and 'Gypsies and Jews'?
At least Jeremy Corbyn continues to lead the People's Party - but for how much longer? Sorry to be so gloomy but, in the face of all that lot, wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year seems childishly naïve.
Having spent some time today browsing the Society's website I failed to find much (anything!) about traditional music or song. Indeed, the only welcome news was that another new edition of Frank Purslow's fine books has been published ... this was news to me, since neither had been sent to MT for review. I'm not sure if that was disappointing or to be expected! Almost all the upcoming events at C# House appear to be by performers who compose some or all of their own songs and, since I don't read music, their much vaunted The Full English project isn't of a great deal of use to me. Of the very few books and CDs they now offer, I already have all those dealing with traditional music or song. And lastly, the VWML website links to the Folk Music Journal produce a '404 Page not found' response. So it does look as if it's time to go ... I've now cancelled my membership of the EFDSS.
For the purposes of the award, 'folklore studies' are interpreted broadly, to include all aspects of traditional and popular culture, narrative, beliefs, customs and folk arts, including studies with a literary, anthropological, linguistic, sociological or geographical bias.
The award is open to all non-print media English-language publications on folklore in a permanent and durable form (CD, DVD etc), having their first, original and initial publication in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland in the two-year period from 1 June 2014 to 31 May 2016, for award in November 2014, and for subsequent two-year periods, beginning 1 June 2016.
For each award there are three judges appointed by the Society's Committee. The winning publication will be that which, in the opinion of the judges, has made the most distinguished contribution to folklore studies in the years in question.
I would like to publicly thank, first and foremost, Peggy Seeger for making available the recordings she and Ewan MacColl made of Sam Larner in the 1958 to 1960 period. Without Peggy's willing assistance, these CDs would never have been published. This is not the first time Peggy has been of enormous assistance to MT Records - all the recordings on the CD-ROM Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland, and all those on the CDs Caroline Hughes: Sheep-Crook and Black Dog (MTCD365-6), several of the recordings on George Dunn: Chainmaker (MTCD317-8) and all those on Joe Heaney: the road from Connemara (TSCD518D), and the whole Joe Heaney interview which made up much of the MT057 article, were also kindly made available by her.
Secondly, Chris Holderness has my heartfelt thanks for his superb account of Sam Larner's life and times, for detailed assistance with song transcriptions, for most of the photos, and lots of help and advice. I must also thank Janet Topp Fargion and Andrea Zarza at the National Sound Archive at the British Library, who have been extremely helpful with this project. The recordings we used were mastered from digital copies made at the British Library where the archival recordings are housed as part of the Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger Collection.
Thanks also to: Jackie Page, of the present generation of the Larner family, John Halliday - for more of the photos, Martin Carthy - for his account of his encounter with Sam Larner. Danny Stradling and Steve Roud - for proof reading, assistance and information. Without all of them, these CDs would never have existed ... and it goes without saying that without the assistance of countless other collaborators over the years, none of our 111 CD and CD-ROM publications would have ever been possible.
You may remember that MT's 2-CD Set, Cecilia Costello : "Old Fashioned Songs" (MTCD363-4) also won the 2012 - 2014 Folklore Society Non-Print Media Award. I was very pleased about that, but I must admit that I'm finding it rather difficult to comprehend that we've actually done it again!
I can only suppose that the months of hectic work involved in getting The Hardy Sons of Dan (MTCD329-0) ready for publication before Keith died caused this article to slip through the cracks, and never to appear in the MT magazine's Articles page. A great shame, as it's an excellent piece, showing once again Keith's incisive brain-power and breadth of knowledge.
So, better late than never, it is now published as our Article MT306.
Latest: A letter from Matt Milton (see Recent Letters) has now convinced me that Keith clearly wrote this piece much earlier; probably in the late-Seventies or early-Eighties ... but I still have no idea why it was never published in MT. - Ed.
Please email me to say how clever I've been - as someone who's never even used Style Sheets before!
The new slimmed-down 'mobile-friendly' Records website (below) is now finished, and connected to the magazine and the MT Records website Home Page. It has been designed for a small screen, and its Home Page is 'responsive', though the rest of the site isn't as it seems to display satisfactorily as it is. If you'd like to try it out you can do so here, but drag your browser's window narrow to pretend it's a Smartphone.
And - if all this modernisation were not enough - Musical Traditions Records now has a Facebook presence!
Now, before you mention it, I have realised that very little of the MT Magazine would be suitable for use on a Smartphone - imagine trying to read one of our 10-page reviews or articles on a 5" screen! However, I think it's possible to make a pared-down mobile friendly version of the MT Records website suitable for use on a phone ... and I've started working on it.
Above are a some representative screen-shots - the Home page on the left, the start of the 'Recent Releases' page in the middle, and the Shipping Calculator page on the right. I've been using these latter pages for all the newer CD releases, but will be doing them now for everything ... it makes postage costs fair to all purchasers, wherever they live.
And I do realise that, if you're reading this, you're probably doing it on a PC/MAC or a Tablet, not a Smartphone - but I do like to keep you up to date with what's developing in MT Land. You could even pass the info on to any interested friends who use mobiles more or less exclusively - I don't know how to contact them otherwise.
I should point out that this new mobile-friendly website is not operational yet; I'll let you know, here, when it is. As usual, any comments - positive or negative - will be gratefully received.
You can find last year's Editorials, in reverse order, at the end of 'The more-or-less complete compilation of past Editorial pieces' next to this one the Home Page.
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