Enthusiasms No 38|
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...
Keith Chandler's short piece on The Singing Miller and my own response2 scratched the surface of enquiry into song dissemination (there are no claims to uniqueness), and prompted the following brief note.
The testimony of a particular singer that he had learned such and such a song from another singer or from a 'ballet' or, again, that it came down through the family is of obvious value. Here is Elijah Iles, declaring that he got The Bonny Bunch of Roses from a one-eyed ballad-seller in 18323; John Woodrich singing songs got from his father and his grandmother4; Mrs Bond of Faringdon, Berkshire learning Old Adam was a gentleman from 'her master, a farmer...when she was a girl'5 - in our time, Walter Pardon's debt to Uncle Billy Gee6; and so on. We owe a great deal, needless to say, to the collectors of the so-called 'English Folk Song Revival', operating, roughly, between 1889 and the early 1920s, for their efforts in unearthing information like this, whatever subsequent criticism may have been levelled at their methods.
Within the parameters of the Revival we are familiar, too, with the process whereby collectors appealed to their friends - gentlemen of villages and many Reverends, for example - for help in collecting and in order to publicise their work. The written introductions to Cecil Sharp's and Charles Marson's Folk Songs from Somerset illustrate the point (Marson himself, let it not be forgotten, was a country parson), as here, for example:
The Editors wish to render grateful thanks both to those former helpers who have continued to give them kind assistance, and also to the Reverends G. Beilby, C. Campbell, F. Clarke, C. Heale, O. Peppin, S. Percival, A. H. Powell, L.L.D., J. Street and W. Warren and to Mr. G. D. Templeman.7
It is always fascinating, then, to come across information that illuminates the processes of dissemination, and something of an unusual case is presented below where almost a reverse procedure of what we might expect obtains.
As preliminary: Sabine Baring-Gould, the earliest of the 'modern' collectors, published the first part of his Songs and Ballads of the West in 1889 and a first edition of a total of four such parts was completed and issued by 1892; and then revised by 1895. Baring-Gould was already engaged in publishing articles on the subject of 'folk' song, based on his own experiences as collector; and there are half a dozen songs sent to Baring-Gould, seemingly as a result of this publicity, which can be found in Part One of SBW (and more, of course, in the other parts) which came not directly from 'peasant' singers but through the mediation of the 'gent' and the 'Rev'8.
To the point: as one small measure of how SBW was received, the following instance concerns the song, The Tythe Pig, which appeared in Part Two of SBW9. This was the first publication of the song under that title and seems to have remained the only such; for, as far as has been gathered, other sung versions and broadsides all use alternative titles such as The Parson and the Sucking Pig. In fact, extant versions are not wonderfully prolific - a couple of broadside texts; a text in Alfred Williams' collection and a recording10.
In the Newbury (Berkshire) area during the last decades of the nineteenth century Baring-Gould's name was certainly known. In 1897, the Newbury Weekly News recorded that at Chieveley, a few miles to the north of Newbury, 'We have heard one queer little carol, quaint and amusing enough to delight the heart of Mr. Baring-Gould'11. This report might well have come from the hand of the same correspondent who covered Winterbourne, a mile or so distant again - a common enough situation. And where Winterbourne is concerned, some time before the appearance of the report cited above, another one in the Newbury Weekly News gave the information that a Cyril Jenkyn had sung The Tythe Pig at a choir supper in Winterbourne12.
The song was described as being 'West Country'. In view of the appearance of The Tythe Pig in SBW under exactly these terms we might surmise that the song was got from SBW and the possibility is enhanced in so far as Cyril Jenkyn was the son of the vicar - a target in networking as indicated above - of East Garston, a village a few miles to the west. Alas: a more full study of the singing career of Cyril Jenkin has not revealed any other song which could either be associated with Baring-Gould's collections or which we might ourselves consider likely to have been a 'folk' song.
Nonetheless, as a cameo, this looks to be a nice example both of the characteristic networking of the time as described here and of the way in which a traditional song was discovered and taken up into a quite different milieu - actually, the kind of milieu, more or less middle-class in social make-up, that, it seems, both Sabine Baring-Gould and Cecil Sharp deliberately set out to cultivate. We may take as example of the latter Baring-Gould's comments made on matters of Bowdlerisation (quoted in my 19th Century Balad Trade series when discussing Fanny Blair) where he wrote that words must be adjusted so as to suit the drawing-room13. Maud Karpeles, in her Preface to Sharp's English Folk Song...14 deplored the fact that the 'educated classes' in England before Sharp's time knew next to nothing about 'folk'; song, but that, after Sharp, this situation 'has happily been remedied'. It was to the 'educated classes' that Sharp appears to have offered his experiences; writing enthusiastically about a new national school of music and then of the place of 'folk'; music in the 'elementary school' curriculum (see especially the final chapter of Sharp's book). He was writing of and in his time, of course, and the arguments will continue to rage; but the implications of Sharp's discussion did not seem to take account of the very people who produced 'folk' music in the first place in any new scheme of things. Turning back to Alfred Williams for a moment we can se that the publication of Folk Songs of the Upper Thames did very little, as far as can be judged, to return songs collected to the people who gave them. Even as these songs appeared in the pages of the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard it is difficult to find evidence of the newspaper being widely read for the express purposes of getting hold of the songs: the editors certainly thought that interested parties might well cut the pieces out15.
These final remarks might be viewed as selective. The retort might be that we simply do not yet know enough in detail about how dissemination occurred; and, hopefully, this one will, as they say, run and run.
Roly Brown - 28.5.03
2. See MT Enthusiasms Nos. 34 and 35.
3. See Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard, 27th February 1915.
4. See, for instance, Baring-Gould's notes to the song, Green Broom in SBW where he wrote that both words and melody had been got from John Woodrich who 'learned both from his grandmother when he was a child' (p.xvi). See also Baring-Gould's Old Country Life (London, Methuen, 1895), p.277 where he wrote of John Woodrich: 'From his grandmother he acquired a considerable number of old dames' songs and ballads. His father was a singer; he had inherited both the hereditary faculty and the stock-in-trade. Thus my little blacksmith learned a whole series which were different from those acquired from the grandmother.' As usual with Baring-Gould there is a need to take care. He also wrote that John Woodrich ran away from home when he was fourteen and never went back during his parents' lifetime. The essence of this story was offered as part of the anecdote already cited from Old Country Life (1890), where Baring-Gould gave the age as sixteen and the reason for absconding as John Woodrich's feeling that he was a burden to the family; but again in an article entitled Among the Western Song-Men in English Illustrated Magazine (1892) - and where the age was given as fourteen - and then, at a distance, in Further Reminiscences (1924)...p.199. Ultimately we have to surmise that these songs must all have been absorbed before John Woodrich was fourteen (or sixteen): not, of course, impossible... there is also evidence amongst Alfred Williams' singers that they learned many songs during their youth.
5. The processes of dissemination, even apart from once-removed, are complex and dispel the Revival emphasis on straightforward oral communication amongst generations. In this complexity, Mrs Bond's acquisition, for instance, could be construed as an example of cross-over between social classes. As it happens, another of Alfred Williams' singers (probably Mrs Brunsdon at Clanfield, near to Faringdon... the attribution is not clear) learned a song in the same manner as Mrs Bond. I am grateful to Andrew Bathe (Cirencester) for a continuous dialogue on the subject, as here, of Alfred Williams and his collecting.
6. See the notes to Walter Pardon's CD, Put A Bit of Powder On It, Father (MTCD305-6, p.2).
7. This extract is from the Preface to the second volume of Folk Songs from Somerset issued as a series of five volumes between 1905-1919.
8. 'The words' of Song 6, Cold Blows the Wind, for instance, 'originally reached us as taken down by Mrs. Gibbons, daughter of the late Sir W. L. Trelawney, Bart., from an old woman, Elizabeth Doidge, who was, sixty years ago, in the service of her father...' (SBW, p. xv). Songs 65-67, as another example, came in a similar manner. The words and melody of The Bold Dragoon were 'taken down by W. Crossing, Esq., of South Brent, many years ago, from a labouring man on Dartmoor.' The melody of Trinity Sunday was noted down by T S Cayzer, Esq, in 1849, at Post Bridge, 'from a moor man'. It was Mr W Crossing again who took down the melody of The Blue Flame 'from an old moor man' (p.xxxii). At the end of the 1905 notes on the songs, Baring-Gould listed twenty-two songs which had appeared in the first editions (roughly between 1889 and 1895...the publishing history is complicated: two editions overlapped) but which had now been left out. He also wrote (p. 33) that 'The first edition is still kept in stock, so that such persons as desire these ballads, and such others as are retained in this, but treated differently, as duets and quartettes, can obtain them from the publishers.'
9. SBW, Song XXIX, pp.8-9; notes, p.xxii). The song appeared first to have come from Robert Hard at South Brent (see Baring-Gould microfiche Rough Copy 7/7/24); but only a few lines were collected and Baring-Gould then used a fuller version from John Helmore, a miller, also of South Brent (first appearing in Fair Copy 3/78; then, again, in Personal Copy 1/4/77 in full; and, finally, in SBW manuscript 1/3/2/9), and it was this version that was published in successive editions of the volume which included musical revisions by Cecil Sharp (1905, pp. 58-59) and the last, 1928, edition (pp. 58-59). I would like to thank Peta Webb at VWML for her special efforts in gathering this material for me.
10. For broadsides see Madden Reel 85 No. 628 (Harkness, Preston) and 81/473 (Watts, London); for the Williams text see the manuscripts as Wt325 - from Daniel Morgan (Bradon Wood) - and Folk Songs of the Upper Thames (Wakefield, S R Publishers - a reprint - n.d.), pp.197-198. Bob Copper sang a version of the song as The Parson and the Sucking Pig on his Topic album of 1977, Sweet Rose in June, and the song may also be found in his 1976 book of memoirs, Early To Rise: A Sussex Boyhood (London, Heinemann), pp.220-221. Roy Palmer printed the song in Everyman's Book of Country Songs (London, J M Dent, 1979, pp.59-61 with notes on p.243). Clearly, there may well be other examples of the song extant.
11. NWN 23rd December, 1897, p.2. The term is 'correspondent' rather than reporter...there is a similar instance where the Hermitage Mummers (near to Newbury) of, roughly, the same period were concerned when 'a correspondent' sent in information to the Newbury Weekly News.
12. NWN 7th January 1897, p.2. The date of the supper was actually Monday 28th December. The phrase, 'West Country', is an immediate sign of a certain mythological character in the minds of beholders which can now be dispelled by a surface level glance at various geographical sources from which sung versions emerged and, in any case, by the very nature of traditional song transmission which suggests that, frequently, it is not beholden to or circumscribed by locality.
13. See SBW, notes to songs, p.xxxiii.
14. See the fourth, revised paperback edition, published by Mercury Books in 1965, p.xv.
15. Andrew Bathe reminded me that the late Bob Arnold possessed a set of the WGS pieces and had used them in his singing career in a concert party.
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