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Re: Oh, Listen Today : The roots of American Old-Timey fiddle music

You advertise 'American Old-Timey fiddle music'.  In fact it is Southern American Old-Timey fiddle music.  This is not an uncommon misnomer, even in the US, due to a number of forces: a) the US recording industry in the 1930s, '40s and beyond, which commercialized that musical genre, linguistic style, and pseudo-rural culture.  b) the otherwise excellent musical scholarship by Alan Jabbour and others before him, which focused on that regional style because recordings and touring 'hillbilly shows' had made it accessible.  In the US Library of Congress (where Jabbour was a senior figure) must recordings/books of 'Old Time Music' refer to Southern Old Time.

The point to make here is there are many other American Old Time Musics of the North, which differ substantially in style and historical roots. from Southern OT music and indeed from one another.  These are continuously living traditions, with tunes currently being produced (often) in the older styles.  As examples (I'm sure I've missed knowing some; and I'm sure they overlap), that I've followed to a greater or lesser degree:

Many of these are neglected outside their regions, except by connoisseurs of regional styles.  But it is possible for an interested musician to access scholarly tune anthologies and historic recordings, as well as tune books and recordings of recently (past 30-40 yr) written tunes, in the several traditional styles.  The traditions are alive and well, having been passed (sometimes skipping a generation) to musicians now as young as 16, into their 30's, and beyond.  In my own Seattle region alone, there are serious followers of all but one or two of these.

I believe, therefore, that a serious though unintentional disservice is being performed by conflating these all into a single term 'American Old-Timey fiddle music', which is then exemplified by Southern OT Music.  One cannot conflate all the English regional styles into one (cf your South-west with Geordie, Yorks or Lancs traditions for example, even as tunes are transported among regions), nor the Scots regional styles one with another.  Nor should this be done vis the U.S., by serious compilers and scholars such as yourself.

Given expression(s) of serious interest, I could access my library of books, tunebooks, and recordings, producing bibliographic/discographic lists of key references, for several on my above list of styles.  I could refer you to others who know more about other traditions.  On my cclist I refer to Vivian Williams (Over-75-class Fiddle Champion of the US and a serious working dance musician) who has spent a scholarly lifetime on the regional tradition of the Northwest as well as a substantial effort on Missouri traditions, as well as Emeline Dehn-Reynolds, a young librarian and archivist at the University of New Hampshire and an excellent fiddler in New England and Franco-American styles.  And there are others to whom you could be referred.

All best, good health and a fine Holiday Season

Phil Katz - 9.12.19

Re: Songs of the North Riding

Hello, Rod.

I'd like ten more Flamborough Head CDs please (or one or two more or less if it makes better postage sense).  Bill me as appropriate.

By the way, I'm greatly enjoying the North Yorkshire collection that Mossy Christian has been involved with.  I'm working my way through it a few tracks at time.  I knew it was a good buy when The Tailor's Britches struck me as worth the cost of the collection all on its own.

All the best,

Jim Eldon - 22.10.19

Re: Before the Broadside

Hi Rod,

As you many know (or not), for some time I have been involved in somewhat contentious arguments on just this question elsewhere and have given the matter a great deal of thought.  While I don't wish to spread the contention to this forum, I feel I would like to comment on your editorials on the matter, which I tend to agree with.

During my arguments, the claim that our traditional songs originated on the broadside presses moved from being 90% plus to 'only those collected by Sharp and his colleagues' - a screeching U-turn as the argument frst started when I quoted MacColl's moving statement about our songs being created by 'the people - from the workers at the ploughshares to the hacks' at the end of 'The Song Carriers'.  As you know, 'The Song Carriers' covered the whole range of our repertoire, from Wedderburn's Complaynt of Scotland to an anonymous WW2 lament concerning the death of an Irish worker in Birmingham, killed during a bombing raid.  I was accused of being a starry-eyed naivet for accepting such nonsense.  After a longish and somewhat acrimonious argument, the 'early 20th century' qualification appeared.

Whatever the truth of this, it is worth remembering that any knowledge we have of the our oral traditions dates back no further than the end of the nineteenth century, so it is virtually impossible to say which came first, oral or print versions, and we are left with only common sense to decide the matter.

There is far more to this discussion, of course, including the fact that Irish rural workers and traveller were making local songs by their thousands to record their experiences and opinions, right into the middle of the 20th century - beyond, in the case of the Travellers.  It seems to me that once you accept that; if working people were capable of making songs, then they have to be serious contenders for having made our folk songs.

As I say, I have no wish to introduce any of the unpleasantness I have encountered to your magazine so it is entirely up to you to decide what to do with this message.

Best wishes

Jim Carroll - 16.6.19

Re: Editorial 11.4.19

Can we ever say how old a folksong is?  One school of thought used to say that a folksong was only as old as the last time that it was sung.  But, of course, this does not help us in knowing just when a folksong first appeared.  Today there is certainly a trend to say that a folksong is only as old as its first-known printed date, even when it seems obvious that the song's content almost certainly dates from an earlier period.  I suppose that the problem here is that unless we can trace such content to a specific date, then modern scholars will not accept such ideas.

When I first became interested in folksongs - over sixty years ago - it was fascinating to be told that a song such as The Bold Fisherman was based on medieval allegorical origins, and it came as something of a shock to later be told that it was simply yet another of the 'returned lover in disguise' songs.  According to Steve Roud and Julia Bishop, the 'slightly mysterious words' led early folksong collectors on 'flights of fancy' about the songs origin. Again, according to Steve, the 'earliest extant (broadsides) date from about the 1820s (The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (2012) pages 392 - 93).  This may well be true, but it does not necessarily prove that the song is no older than this date.  As we all know, it is very hard to prove a negative and I feel sure that many folksongs predate their first known appearance on broadsides.

Although I have specifically mentioned The Bold Fisherman here, I am not trying to say that this is a song which predates the 1820s.  I simply wish to point out that our perceptions have changed over the years.  Sixty years ago, there were very few academics studying folksongs.  Today this has changed, and standards have become far more rigorous.  And so, we should not be surprised to find folksong studies going off in new and different directions.  Sadly, though, this often means that when today's scholars write about the songs, we often only find lists of dated broadside versions, and little else.  Perhaps what we need is a little more in the way of humanity when we consider the old songs.

Mike Yates - 12.4.19

Re: Old Song - 3

Dear Mike, and readers - thanks for all these replies.  I think that, with Reinhard's Marrow Bones citation, we can now call this thread closed.  Ed.

Dear Rod,

This is from Frank Purslow's book Marrow Bones, as Three Jolly Huntsmen [Gardiner H1130. William Taylor, Peterfield Workhouse, Hampshire, August 1908]

Danny Spooner and Duncan Brown sang this version on their 2011 CD The Fox, The Hare and the Poacher's Fate.

Best wishes,

Reinhard Zierke (of Mainly Norfolk) - 19.3.18

Re: Old Song - 2

The first time that I heard this song was sometime in the early 1970s.  I can't be certain who sang it but I think that it was Bob Lewis; I will ask him.  I used to borrow folk song LPs from the East Sussex County Library in those days, and I was pleased to hear it on an album of field recordings from - I seemed to remember - Wisconsin, but to a different melody.  I was amazed to find that this came up straight away, via:

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS Music Division - Recording Laboratory.  FOLK MUSIC OF THE UNITED STATES Issued from the Collections of the Archive of Folk Song Long-Playing Record L55.  FOLK MUSIC FROM WISCONSIN Edited by Helene Stratman-Thomas.  The notes on that song were as follows:

How Happy is the Sportsman
[Sung by J, L, Peters at Beloit, 1946. Recorded by Aubrey Snyder and Phyllis Pinkerton]

This ballad was brought to Wisconsin from England by the Cornish who settled in the lead-mining area of southwestern Wisconsin in the early decades of the nineteenth century.  Mr. Peters learned the song, when a small boy in Mineral Point, from hearing his father and grandfather sing it.  Baring-Gould, who collected the song in England, refers to it as a very old ballad which dates back at least to the early seventeenth century.  Around 1888 he obtained the song from an old quarryman at Merrivale Bridge in Devon, near the border of Cornwall.  The Baring-Gould version begins "There were three jovial Welshmen" and refers to the fox as Reynard.  In Mr. Peters' song the fox is called Bovena.  The verses of the two versions are similar, but the melodies have little in common.

Baring-Gould, p. VI I, pp.154-155, Notes, pp.21-22; Cox, pp.476-477; Eddy, pp.202-204; Flanders, Ballard, Brown and Barry, pp.196-197;
Linscott, pp.290-292 Opie, p.423; Randolph, 1 , pp.326-327.

Vic Smith - 18.3.18

Re: Old Song - 1

Hello Rod.

Referring to the song fragment below, there is a variant of it, and much more complete, being sung in the Devon/Cornwall region.

I first came across it some 50 years ago being sung by Ken Penney of Exeter, and I'm pretty sure it was in the repertoire of Tony Rose and Cyril Tawney.  My gut feeling is that it's source is probably Exmoor.

Here's the chorus, as I know it:


Vic Legg - 16.3.18

Old Song

Recently, while browsing though some back issues of The Radio Times I came across this letter, written by one C J Watkinson of Leeds.  It appears in issue 560 of the magazine which is dated 24th June, 1934 - 30th June, 1934 and is on page 898.

Old Song

Mike Yates - 15.3.18

Book help, please

Well, my local library has finally done it.  They had three excellent and now rare books on Canadian folksongs on the shelves. All were very rare ... now gone!  Likely thrown in the skip.  What can I expect from an institution that changed its name to 'The Idea Exchange'?  Yuck-o.

If anyone knows where I can find copies of these books, please let me know.

Thanks to various friends, Brad now has access to these three books - Ed.

Brad McEwen - 16.2.18

Re: 'Austerity Bites' editorial

I've just had the following from someone who's just bought a copy of Just Another Saturday Night, Sussex 1960 (MTCD309-0) - Ed.

Dear Rod,

I had a quick look through your recent Musical Traditions editorials, and wanted to briefly respond to your 'Austerity Bites' piece published last November.

I very much sympathise with your evaluation of the younger end of current folk scene, but wanted to offer myself as an example of how all is perhaps not too glum?  I am 'only' (ha!) 35, but am very much committed to real traditional singing.  I came to it from a background of studying traditional singers in Bulgaria when I was at university, and a desire to find out whether we had anything similar closer to home.  I found out that we most certainly did when I came across the recordings Percy Grainger made of Joseph Taylor.

Since then its been a slow process of following leads into what has felt like a lost world.  I have very little interest in (though nothing against) the contemporary folk scene, though to be honest, I've never really felt inspired to investigate it too much.  Instead, I've taken most of my inspiration from the sort of field recordings you have devoted yourself to making publically available, various printed and online resources, and amazing friends from Ireland (and further afield) where, as you say in your article, there is so much more value attached to traditional singing.

I don't sing in public very often.  When I do, it is within events that are more part of the art/performance scene than any branch of the music world (where funnily enough, I think people are much more open minded about listening to someone sing a long song with no accompaniment), or those rare occasions when you're at someone's house for dinner, they ask you to sing, and it somehow feels like the right moment.  Predominantly though, I just sing at home, in the kitchen!

Please don't lose heart.  Your efforts to make rare and indescribably precious singing available to a wider audience really are filtering down through the generations, even if it might not seem like it sometimes.


Phil Owen - 14.2.18


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

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