Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland

CD-ROM of the Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger book
with 155 MP3 sound recordings

Musical Traditions Records MTCD254

155 recordings from: Emily Baker; Willie Cameron; Charlotte Higgins; Jock Higgins; Caroline Hughes; Henry Hughes; Sheila Hughes; William Hughes; Ruby Kelby; Christina MacAllister; Wilhelmina MacAllister; John MacDonald; Maggie McPhee; Big Willie McPhee; Nelson Ridley; Maria Robertson; Levi Smith; Jeannie Thompson.
The idea was a brilliant one.  The concept was fairly straightforward.  The outcome is a great success.  With support and encouragement from Peggy Seeger, Rod Stradling has produced a text scanned digital version of this very important 1977 book in its entirety.  In the detailed and fascinating introduction, some problems that the song collector has to face are noted, for example: “Many of the singers would get into a tune gradually, arriving at a definitive melody by perhaps a second or third stanza.”  How to deal with problems of this nature?  Here the CD-ROM comes into its own.  The musical stave and the first verse of each of around 150 songs is presented in a clickable window; click on it and the sound clip of that recording opens up.

A lot can be learned from the book; a different insight into the songs can be gained by listening to the recordings.  Having them accessible in this easily interactive manner is really rewarding with all the benefits of reading and listening easily combined.  The seams of song collecting that MacColl and Seeger were mining were narrow, but very rich, and there are some major singers amongst them.  Nearly a third of the songs come from the great West Country singer Carolyne Hughes.  There are also sizeable contributions from Nelson Ridley and in Scotland from Maggie MacPhee and Charlotte Higgins.

Clearly these recordings are of major importance and one would have thought that they would be properly archived, so it was worrying to read in Rod Stradling’s introduction to this digital version that “a good number of the recordings have not been traceable in their principal archives”.  Rod turned to the private collection of Jim Carroll and Pat MacKenzie for “many of the missing recordings” so clearly enormous thanks are due to them.

This approach to making these songs available to the serious enthusiast would seem to have a multiplicity of benefits.  How many other published collections would benefit from this approach?

Vic Smith - 8.12.15
writing in

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