Article MT034

Topic Interview

Reg Hall and Tony Engle on the Voice of the People


Despite Topic's reluctance to talk about the Series in advance of publication, Tony Engle called me a couple of months ago and asked if we'd be interested in an interview with Reg Hall and himself to discuss some of the comments MT reviewers had made on the subject.  So it was that Reg, Tony, Fred McCormick and Danny and I met in Tony's flat on the 15th of January - Vic Smith and Keith Summers being unable to attend for employment and health reasons.

I started by saying that we all thought that what they'd produced on Voice of the People was so much better than anything we'd seen before.  It might seem churlish to complain about it at all - but on the other hand obviously they'd made a critical appraisal of what had gone before in order to produce something better.  We needed to look at what had been done in order to go even further forward.

651cov.jpg - 14.9 K TE - We certainly expected - wanted - criticism.

RS - I think the area I have any quarrel with at all is the rationale that was used to pick approximately 10% of a pool to produce what was published - I don't have a problem with what the selection rationale was, but that it wasn't specifically stated.  Because we don't have a clear rationale, you start saying "if this was included, why wasn't that - why was this excluded, when that wasn't?"  Before we start talking about any details do you want to comment about what criteria you used to decide.

RH - I think that it was stated - possibly you'd say not clearly enough - but I think I do state in my intro what my criteria are: first it's availability, there's a notion which I acknowledge that it's not representative because it can't be, and that isn't our fault, it's because stuff's not available.  I then go on to say that the judgement's got to be subjective because it can't be anything else; everybody would be subjective.  And that I was given a brief about what was acceptable and what wasn't - but it was to do with performances that had integrity and had an impact.  Again that judgement must be subjective.  They were my criteria - I was looking for good solid performances that make your hair stand on end and not fragments and not interesting songs badly sung, or a great singer who's off form or any of those things ... but someone has to make an artistic judgement.

RS - I wouldn't disagree that you didn't at various points say things like that, but my impression from reading the whole of the introductory essay was ... I think the phrase 'music of people with dirt under their fingernails' was used somewhere.  The impression that the whole thing gave me was that this was the bedrock of what you were working to and that obviously some things weren't available, or not good enough, or there would be an element preference in it, but there was this notion of a neutral overview of the music of the ordinary people of Britain which was created as the container.  Obviously there were a few things that couldn't be put in it, and a few that had to be left out for technical reasons.

TE - I can see why you come to that conclusion - there's an overlap between the publicity, in which I would include the catalogue - and the actual work itself ... and it's probably best if we go back to the fundamental point 'What is the series and what was the original concept?'  The original concept was a series for all people.  I'm not making the records specifically for MT readers, in fact I'm making them for people who don't necessarily have a great familiarity with traditional music.  It's upset me ever since I recognised that this music has been so put down by the powers that be, that the public at large are not aware of it.  What I didn't want was that people who haven't come across the music before they hear a record and think 'this is ghastly' ... and that was a very fundamental criterion - it was what determined whether they were anthologies or not.  The aim was to achieve a situation where you could enjoy the records in spite a any preconceptions. The hope was that the listener might say "I don't really want a collection, but Hey!, isn't this good, and there's this bloke, and there's that woman, and this is really great" - but the idea was to give the best shot, because I felt that the MT supporters would still get whatever they would get from it.  The people who already know about the music might get even more enjoyment than they expected from the anthology approach, in that they might have expected to have not enjoyed that approach but, on listening, found that the variety actually heightened their appreciation of the individual components.  But Joe Public doesn't have a chance.  Normally he's told to laugh at this stuff and so that gives you to a certain extent the packaging.

The images on the front of the CDs say a lot, we both feel that postcards acted as sociological snapshots, so if you can find the pictures you can give that feeling, it may not be exactly right, but I'm trying to get across to people who've got an inbuilt resistance.  We tried to choose pics which came from the time of the last photos of the ordinary people, the people who might be singing, which is why they're all from an Edwardian to '20s era.  They were meant to be images - not necessarily 100% correct, because this isn't an academic approach - it's trying to keep as true to whatever the notion of the music is, but to give it as little resistance as possible to the audience which starts from immediately outside this room and goes on to infinity.  There aren't many people who are buying the Lizzie Higgins or the Margaret Barry records really, the solo albums.

FM - The pics are hooks to grab people, really.

TE - Yeah, and then we come onto what's been written about it, and what we've written about it in our publicity and yes, we have used attractive quotes which are not necessarily specifically accurate, but if we are absolutely accurate we are going to fall at the first hurdle.  I want to draw people to it, using quotes such as 'people with dirt under their fingernails'.

RH - That's a description rather than a definition.

TE - We've used it in publicity because if you don't use those quotes, if you use something absolutely accurate ...  For instance, we originally thought of calling this 'The Traditional Music of England, Ireland ...' I'd fallen asleep by then!

Another big point, answering another of Rod's comments, is that to make this work I needed to get as much media response in as concentrated a way as I could.  If we'd released the albums one by one, as they were prepared, then a lot of reviewers in the mainstream press would have said, 'I'll wait until I've got Vol 20, and when they had Vol 20 they'd have said 'that all started years ago', so the whole theory was to have a hundredweight of CDs that lands on somebody's desk, and I hoped they would go "I have to do something about this".  That happened; virtually every major newspaper devoted sizeable space to it - whether they reported on it accurately is very much another matter.

DS - I think 'dirt under their fingernails' is responding to them in the way in which they respond, it's talking shorthand, that's mediaspeak - and it worked.

TE - And it worked, not specifically to sell records.  If anybody asks do I expect to make any money out of this I realise the answer is "I jolly well hope so" but I don't expect to.  But I would hope that every household should have these records - of course they won't!

RH - More realistically every library ought to have one, and every university English and Music department ought, but they won't.

TE - Some have, but only a few so far. Regarding the press and the response that has been achieved in the media....from the outside it might appear that articles in the major newspapers should follow, naturally, the release of such a series of records as this. In fact, one has no idea at the outset, just what may be achieved - if anything - you are venturing into a dark void and it may be that all your work will be ignored. The 'informed media journalist', on the whole, has little idea about the existence of traditional music in this country and tends to see folk (or 'folk scene' music) as the thing that matters and then it is regarded as just another arm of the entertainment business.

Partly due to the considerable energy and expertise of the Topic promotion department, headed by Harriet Simms, there was as lot of press response.

Obviously, from my point of view, the music itself is the most important aspect of the project - but, it is no use making a fantastic record if no-one knows that it is available. So - the music and the way-the-music-is-presented are two things that are wrapped around each other.

As a further example of how the approach was considered, I had hoped that someone might come across one the CDs dealing with songs related to the sea and say something like..."well, this looks interesting, my father was a sailor and he kindled my interest in ships and the sea, maybe I'll give this album a listen". In fact this did actually happen. Someone told me recently that that was exactly their reaction and, having heard that album, he wanted to explore the series in greater depth.  We did think for a long time about what we were trying to do rather than just going at it.  Incidentally, the series did not come out 'about a year later', it came out bang on time.  I always said I wasn't going to commit to a release date until I knew when it was going to be.  It all had to be co-ordinated to get the promotion, to get the response.  Now, to achieve this all-important media response, we had to give some advance notice, because if you hit some of those mainstream newspaper reviewers suddenly they won't be able to write anything for three months, so we had to tweek them a bit, and that happened.  A quasi-scientific enterprise.  To a large extent that's what I was involved in.  Reg was the creative drive, compiling the records, and this has just been a framework to put it in, and some of the decisions Reg made related to that.  I might say 'I don't think that track should go on because I think it will get this reaction' and Reg recognised that as I'd commissioned the project that made sense, so that wouldn't go on.

RS - I think we are running into a problem that I could see happening, and why I was a little surprised that you asked to have this exercise anyway, in that we are not the audience to which it was addressed.  I fully understand and agree with you in your approach, and I fully agree that not only would the audience to whom it was addressed not have any of these questions to ask, and for them there aren't questions to ask - you have done what you have set out to do for that audience admirably.  Nonetheless you did ask us and our perspective is a different one, so we are asking questions about what's in the boxes, and to say "Yes, well it's like that because of this" is slightly side-stepping the question.

TE - No it is relevant, and I'm answering it is like this because ... I think you will have to get down to specifics, why is so-and-so in, and I think you will come to that, and Reg will answer that, although I can't prejudge what he's going to say, but I would like to readers to know the background. otherwise assumptions are made ...

RH - I read your reviews and there was a tiny percentage where I thought 'there's a mismatch here, there's a misunderstanding'.  I don't mind you criticising, saying you've done a good job or a bad job, or I would have done it differently, or I don't like your argument, I can accept that but it struck me that there was a mismatch of expectations, so that's what it's about for me, not about whether you publish it in your magazine.  On this what the public is, of course we publish this for MT readers, I'd hope that they'd all have access to it, obviously, but you have got to approach the trade and it's got to sell; Tony put an awful lot of money into this and therefore you need a decent product, decent publicity and trading methods to get some of it back.

TE - Most people expect to buy records in record shops.  A lot of what we had to do was to get record shops to actually stock it.  That's why we did the promo.  It's no good telling people, 'there's this great record' and assuming they'll get it.  You know you can get it from John Howson's Mail Order service or from me at Topic, most people don't.  We had to do a lot of this to get it into the record shops.  We have done that reasonably well.  It's hard enough to get any record, even a Martin Carthy, into shops.

RH - It goes back to my working with Bill Leader.  I asked him 'how do people use their records' and he said 'I don't know, nobody knows.'  I asked the same thing of Tony and we don't know.  Most people are quirky, treating their records differently.  The whole idea of anthologies is that every performance stands on its own feet.  OK, artistically you can programme an anthology so that it has a flow, but by definition an anthology is something you have by the side of the bed and open at your favourite bits, and with modern technology you can programme your CD player to play whatever you like, and it just occurred to me that to get 500 performances out, Tony saying that's fine, go ahead ... it grew, over three years it just developed and grew and grew.  At the end of it I was saying that 500 performances were going to hit the public for ever, they're going to be there for ever, and they're going to be there we hope all the time the CD is a viable medium.  Once the CD goes, perhaps another person comes along and has a look at it.  But given that none of us know why people buy records and how they use them what we end with is our compromise, our view of what we think the world's like.

What was my motivation once we got going, and I start writing bits, and testing it out with people, asking Vic Smith what he thinks of my first draft, asking Steve Rowd what he thinks of this, all the time I'm trying to get people's judgements, to help me in my decisions, but in the end I suppose an idea crystallised out that this now is history.  There was a time when you were out doing your Bob Hart and I was out doing my Walter Bulwer and playing with Scan and Michael Gorman, we all thought they were going to live for ever.  I went to Pop Maynard's 90th birthday party, I thought he was going to live 'til he was 120 and he died within the year.  But he was real, I saw him, I touched him, I bought him a pint of mild - real.  And that's 40 years ago, 1956, it's a lifetime.  And suddenly, I look at this gang of people and all this stuff and where can you go and hear this now.  Where could you go in Sussex or Suffolk or Devon and get together two old people, two singers who are doing this?  So I suppose I began to crystallise out a view that I was writing history, as opposed to writing an account of what was happening, and I think that when I did the Walter Bulwer all those years ago I was an evangelist, I was saying "this is the stuff, this is what everyone should be listening to", and when you went out and did your East Anglian album you came back and you were saying "this is real and it's alive" - but they're all dead, the Percy Browns and all these people, dead.

So Mozart's dead, and people still write about him, and they still process his music, and it just struck me that this stuff has got to be documented for all time and it's got to be written up in an articulate intelligent way that makes people think and breaks some of the stupid mythologies that are around.  So, bearing in mind that the anthology structure was imposed upon me, I wouldn't have done that - Tony felt strongly about it and I went along with him, and I found it a restraint, it had many negative things in programming.  That's why there's not much instrumental music, because I couldn't fit the titles in; you can put The Temperance Reel in a CD about drinking, and The Broken Pledge, but you can't put Sligo Maid or Heel and Toe Polka because that's nonsensical - so there was a constraint upon me.

Referring back to history, I wanted to do the classic thing which is the historian's trick of opening a debate, so that my introductory notes weren't meant to be pearls of wisdom, they were meant to spell out as I saw it, the general thinking of the body of people like us who've been looking at the music for donkeys' years, and trying to spell out the issues that were around, and even if you disagree with me perhaps you might agree that there's an issue there to come forward ... and I've tried to spell out in the historical context what the issues were, bearing in mind my notion that this was a dead culture.  I'm saying, like Mozart or Shakespeare or whatever ... looking at classic art, this vernacular art still is meaningful and still has impact and still is valid, although that context has gone and those people have gone.  So I then thought 'who do you write for?' and one of the groups I was writing for - bearing in mind that Tony said that I'd got to use every song and tune title in my write up, because that's what people require; I had to write little essays that tried to get through some messages and the people that I had in the back of my mind - were school teachers, university lecturers, and people in the media, research assistants.  So that the first one, about the sea songs, the little essay there is designed really for the bloke who's doing a TV programme on Captain Hornblower who says to his research assistant "go and find out about all those sea songs that all these jolly Jack Tars sing", and they come to that and see that it isn't like that simple.

TE - And then, for once, we have some appropriate music as the soundtrack for films or television

RH - Those little essays were designed ... if you're a research assistant - perhaps it's pie in the sky that any research assistant is ever going to be given the job - but when we brought out the Walter Bulwer record, we had soundtrack from that record on the Poldark series, they actually used Walter and me playing Helston Furry.  It got through the library.  So I'm ever hopeful that over the next 50 years people might look at this and say this sets up some questions and we've got to find the answers.  Those little essays like on the sea songs, and me saying there's no such thing as a sea song, that's meant to grab people to make them feel uncomfortable.  I'm trying to take this innocent, naive new research assistant through this material.  Give them the CD and say 'there's 70 minutes of your life wasted listening to that' ... they want to be able to understand what's the content of each song, and those essays were designed specifically for people who might lead children through it, or community groups through it, or in the media - that's what they were for.

FM - Would it not have been an idea to lead them on to something more substantial?  I was reading 'Songs of Exile' and it struck me the very short piece about songs like Van Dieman's Land and several all linked into the one paragraph and then there's a paragraph on the evacuation of St Kilda.  Would it not have been an idea to point them in the direction of Tom Steele's book on St Kilda or maybe Hudson's Shepherd of the Downs?

RH - Well, perhaps I didn't know that; you mustn't assume that I know all these things.  I've missed so many references that I didn't know about

FM - One of the reasons we've run into a stumbling block with folk music in England particularly is because there's a big disjunction between us and our history, the history of ordinary people, and I think to some extent VotP ought to fill that in, or at least help people to ...

RH - Do you think it doesn't?

FM - To be quite honest, no.  It raises a lot of questions but at the end of the day if I was a buyer in Past Times ...

TE - It's not aimed at Past Times.  Past Times is a chain of retail stores with a fairly specific commercial approach - selling pre-packaged "Historic Culture" in quotes.  Although the VOP appears to fit the bill on the surface, there was never any chance of it getting into Past Times.

RH - There's another angle on the history and that is it's not the national history so much because that is documented - what I was aiming at was to say these are ordinary people, people who at one level are dismissed, they are all right to die at El Alamein, or down a coal mine, they're just ordinary people.  My notion of history is that these aren't ordinary people.  This is an actual statement that these are interesting people, very human, with all the human failings, but they are also artistic, these people have art, just like Mozart.  That's high art, this is vernacular art, but it's powerful.  So that's where I was saying this is history, I'm spelling out that these are real people in real contexts who had real art, or entertainment.  I accept your point that you've got to say something about the social structure, the history of the social structure, and I think that I went as far as I was able to, but I fully accept that you say it could have gone further.

FM - Could I go back to something you raised earlier.  You said you didn't have a representative cross-section of singers and musicians right across the British Isles.

RH - If I'd known right at the beginning that I was going to start out and do 500, on 20 CDs, I think it would have distressed me more than it actually did to recognise how limited I was in what material I could choose from.  I began to live with it and I became delighted with it by the end - the fact that there was so much stuff available to me.

FM - I was a bit surprised at the list of people who actually collaborated.  I've only seen the 5 volumes I've got, but Keith Summers is in there, Jim Carroll, Pat McKenzie ... Peter Kennedy isn't.

TE - Let's discuss the Kennedy issue.  Part of the whole thing came from Kennedy.  I had communication with him four or five years ago where I approached him to see if I could release some Harry Cox material and some Coppers material, and he very nicely sent me some DATs of some Harry Cox material and the Coppers material.  I compiled what I wanted - 3 albums.  I left out of the Harry Cox stuff that material that had strangely grown accompaniment, and sent it back to Peter and said that's what I'd like to do.  He then wrote back saying 'No, this is what you do'.  The Coppers then suddenly grew 5 or 6 tracks of Bob Copper recorded in more recent times, accompanying himself on the English concertina.  The Coxes were dubbings, the Bob Coppers were genuine.  Peter and I had a discussion and I said "Sorry, I can't release the Bob stuff, I don't think he's playing very well and I understand that Bob recognises that".  So Peter wrote back and said "So the high and mighty boss of Topic Records thinks he can tell the tradition how it should perform, does he?  Well I can't work like this ..."  We then ended communication.  I'd also tried to talk to him about the Caedmon series, and he wasn't going to work with me on that - that's fine, because it's coming out, one way or another, through Rounder.  The point is, I couldn't work with Kennedy because every way that I tried to work - as a publisher, which is what Topic is, we couldn't reach agreement ... and I have to be happy with what I'm publishing ...

RS - Incidentally Fred, you'll get an absolutely parallel story from John Howson when he's tried to work with him, and from several other people who've tried it too.

FM - Kennedy's become a bit of a whipping boy for everybody, possibly perfectly justifiably.  The point I was trying to get at is that from the list of collectors that I've seen, incomplete though it is, none of the great institutions are listed.  The people listed are enthusiasts.

RH - Shall I tell you what I did?  Tony said to me would I build up a programme from the deleted LP catalogue, that was my original brief.  I then said could we use stuff that never got into the Topic catalogue.  He said 'Of course, if we've got stuff that was never issued, of course we can use it.' Over weeks and weeks I then said can we use public domain material that I've got on 78? - 'Oh, yes'.  Then I said 'Can I use some of my own recordings?' Yes, yes.  So at this stage I thought well, OK the field is open.  So I drafted a circular letter/statement and sent it to umpteen people with a personalised letter with it.  One was a statement of intention, and asking for their co-operation and help, and then there was a personal letter depending on how well I knew them and how well I knew what they could offer.  I sent it off to loads of people, some were institutions, and some people responded immediately, and some people were extremely helpful, some people were extremely helpful within a narrow band of what they thought I was talking about, and it's only after I finished that I realised they had plenty of other stuff, one person offered me material and when I took them up on it a year later they couldn't find that material but offered me something different.  Nobody in Ireland responded at all favourably, I got no response at all ...

FM - It seems that the archives and institutions have stepped back and haven't helped or contributed in any way, and to a large extent I'm wondering how different the anthologies might have been if you'd been able to pull all that stuff in.

TE - Economics plays a very important part here.  My original thought was 'let's use what we can from the Topic catalogue, because I haven't got to pay any more money out for it, except the royalties after the event'.  In theory one could have a lot of ideas about projects which involve money which is not available.  This has cost a lot of money as it stands, it would have been impossible to do had we had to pay out lots more money.  And these kinds of financial situations have always mitigated against companies like Topic and Leader, the main ones in England, about what you can and can't do.  So you tend to use what you develop from your own skills.  If you've gone out and recorded something or if somebody's brought you something and it's in your copyright ownership then you can use it.  Every step outside that the meter is running cash-wise, and that makes one very nervous, especially on a project like this.  It's a factor to be stirred into the whole stew.  Then someone comes up and says 'how about this, I think I can get that for that' you think 'Oh hell, all right, we'll do it.' and so there aren't any hard and fast rules.

RH - Tony gave me a budget in terms of what I could spend, general expenditure on each CD, and it was to average out.  Well, he abandoned it - there was a point at which he said 'oh hell, go and do it', but it wasn't limitless money.  I remember saying 'what about those Jack Armstrong Barnstormers on Parlophone?  They're quite good, aren't they, have we got any way of using those?  They're from about 1954.  They are part of that Northumbrian scene.' And he said 'if you really really want to use that, I'll do a deal with EMI'.  Tony would've actually tried to have done it if I'd felt strongly that it was part of the thing ... in actual fact my memory had failed me and they weren't very good records.

TE - That's assuming that such people will do deals, they have no obligation to.  And indeed, we are a commercial company too, otherwise we don't exist.  We don't just say 'Hey, have it all'.  EMI doesn't do it, Decca doesn't do it, BBC doesn't do it, for very understandable reasons.

RH - There were collectors who were most co-operative, but offered me stuff that was so low fidelity that you couldn't put it on a commercial record; there were people who offered me recordings that burst top notes, that were over-recorded, which we couldn't use; some people said 'yes, of course I'll co-operate, anything you like' and never came up with anything, actively didn't contribute anything; and there were institutions like Sam Richards at the archive in Exmouth College, and I spent the day there and they were most co-operative, except that they didn't have the means to copy anything.  I didn't know how to find out what they'd really got - an archive that size, you could spend weeks and weeks before you come up with one performance that's usable.

Carolyne Hughes.  We didn't have access to anything.  We've since learned that perhaps we could have approached Peggy Seeger and got some stuff there, but I didn't know that.

RS - I don't think it's fair to complain to Reg or Tony for what they didn't have access to.  We have to assume that they tried hard enough.

RH - But if people recognise that there's some integrity about it and that there's some effort and thought gone into it perhaps the BBC and other institutions might come along and say 'we wouldn't mind some records on your label.'  It doesn't have to be Reg Hall doing it but you've actually got a house style or house reputation now, and that there's room for other people to do something along those lines - it doesn't have to be another series.

FM - I do think that as a series or as an anthology it knocks spots off anything that's gone before, not just Folk Songs of Britain with all the fragments, or the Columbia series which was even more fragmented.

RS - Or what Rounder's putting out now, as we speak

DS - And yet that Margaret Barry record is a fabulous record, wonderful, and yet the packaging is so awful in every single respect.

RH - The manipulation of the anecdotes ... is outrageous.  That is the antithesis of what I've tried to do, I've tried to make these real human beings and you can criticise me for not writing adequately enough but that's what I've tried to do to say these are proper people, and what they've done is to say she's a cardboard cut-out.

TE - This brings up an important issue.  What is a record?  Instinctively you think it is a pop record, a 'popular music' record ... but the VotP records aren't those things.  They look like records but they're not 'discs', not 'platters'.  With all the records that we normally get, the artist is expressing their art the way that they want, using a producer but they know what they're doing.  With these records, and the Lomax records and the Kennedy, they're mediated in some way and although we may be critical of Lomax and Kennedy, they are personalities in their own right - in a sense they are artefacts in themselves.  This is traditional music but then you've got a Kennedy, and that is the package, and in some ways it's difficult to criticise.  Why would you expect Kennedy to be other than Kennedy, why would you expect Lomax to be other than Lomax, why would you expect Hall to be other than Hall.  None of these records are setting out to be the ultimate and indeed the tradition of these records is not to be ultimate, it can't be.  That is a fundamental fact.

RH - My understanding of the Rounder records is that they're a celebration of Lomax and wasn't Lomax clever going out and finding the Sacred Harp singers, wasn't he clever going out and finding that blues singer ... all the way through, wasn't he clever, didn't he have great technique in doing it.

DS - Unfortunately Reg, it does mean it's the only way you get hold of the material ...  On the Margaret Barry there's a track of Jean Ritchie, apparently from a session that Jeannie Robertson was at - so why isn't Jeannie Robertson on it?  Actually - because she's not American, and I think it gives the Americans a nice feeling of 'this is ours as well'.

FM - I'm extremely glad that there's nothing like that on the anthology.  The way the Folksongs of Britain had fragments put together: Charlie Wills and Phil Tanner singing 'Barbary Allen' ...

RH - It was done in the flesh!  When we were on the Festival Hall in 1958, Pop Maynard came on and sang 2 verses of Rolling in the Dew in front of 2,500 people - a man of 89 who'd been kept up in London overnight - and Douglas Kennedy comes over and stops him and says 'Thank you very much Pop' and brings on Jeannie Robertson to sing the rest of the song - you can publish that.


TE - So the tradition is dead, right?  I know that there are people who are saying this is not true - there is an example of this, and there is an example of that, and in terms of the singing traditions in England what few examples there are the exceptions that prove the rule, although I'd be happily proved wrong, but I don't think that's the case.  There is another ulterior motive in this series, not to revive those traditions, that's not possible in my view.  What I would like to see, and it may not happen, is we may produce art musics, including what we used to call rock 'n' roll or pop music, which may derive some of their inspiration from some of these musics, so that our popular commercial music isn't purely based upon America as its source of inspiration - American trad musics or art school dreams.

FM - That's fine, but wouldn't it be better if you inspired people to say '200 years ago people were making their own culture, can we do something similar?'

TE - That too, I just don't think it's very likely.  What I'd like it to be is an inspiration for absolutely anybody to do what ever they like with it, and I don't care what they do with it.  I may not like what they do with it, but I don't care.  It's there, it's been put out to, I hope, have that inspirational feel.  It's not unique in that.  Every piece of art, every release should have that effect.

RS - There's a big problem there.  In Ireland, to some extent Scotland, to some extent America, Australia - places like England - in reality the tradition has moved through into the modern age.  A traditional music has continued through into today when the societies that supported it don't exist anymore, but it's adapted and the societies that exist today have adapted to find a place for it and it carries on and has a reality and an importance to people, you only have to go to Ireland to see that today.  It's not the same role as it played in traditional societies, but it has a role, people have found a space for it in their lives.  On top of that, tens of thousands of people every day of the week sing these songs, play these tunes, dance these dances, and enjoy them and give enjoyment to others by being involved in it.  It's important.  We may consider it a different sort of importance to what happened 50 or 100 years ago, but it still has a validity.

What's happened in England, partly because our culture started breaking down earlier, partly for other reasons about our perception of other people's culture, its importance, and so on - there was a sort of stop.  And I think we ... all of us, our magazine, people like Topic Records, artefacts like Voice of the People, people like you, Reg ... have been guilty of saying 'up to this point there was traditional music, after it there wasn't.  It's something else.  And if you do all the work, and the reading, and the looking, and you're sensitive and so forth you can look through this plate glass window at it and you can begin to understand it, you can appreciate it - but you can't ever make it yours again.  It's always back there and you can't have it ... all you can have is a second rate copy of it, and if it's a very good copy we'll call it a pastiche and that'll make you feel even worse about it.

I'm more and more worried that we've all been guilty of disenfranchising those very few - and their never were as many in England, and they never had the political back-up that the music had in Ireland, nor the social backup that it had in Scotland as being an oppressed minority etc - but there were people who wanted to make that music theirs and we stopped them and said no, what you're doing is always going to be second rate; always going to be not real.

We were listening to a tape of Kevin Mitchell in the car and I thought that nobody like Kevin Mitchell could possibly exist in England.  They could've done, but we stopped them ever being able to be as unselfconscious about their music as Kevin is.  Kevin is as much a revivalist as I am or Norma Waterson is, but I would contend if you spoke to a hundred people in Ireland, whether their view was ignorant or not is unimportant, 99 people would say Kevin Mitchell is a traditional singer and they would be right.

FM - They don't make the distinction between traditional and revival that we do.

DS - There isn't the distinction is there?  Because all that political weight has insisted that it is an ongoing thing.

RS - No, there is a difference, we can see the difference, but is it as important enough a difference to have said what we've said to the people of our generation and younger?

RH - I don't recognise the disenfranchising process.  I don't think we've done it, in the sense that we are the media, that we have written mags and produced records.

FM - I don't see why you don't believe Kevin could exist in England.  Are you saying because he's neither tradition nor revival?

RS - I'm saying he's traditional because I'm going along with the majority of the Irish people.  He's a different sort of traditional to Joe Heaney because he lives in a different sort of world.  I'm saying that in England we've said 'No, Joe Heaney is traditional and Kevin isn't because he lives in a difference sort of world'.

FM - Well, he's from Derry City, he had no immediate tradition within his own family ...

RS - You're rehearsing the reasons that we have said are important to draw this line - but are they that important?

FM - But he went out and found a tradition, long before Jimmy McBride got going, as soon as he realised that over the hill in Inishowen there were dozens and dozens of singers.  He went out there and started spending weekends gathering songs and singing with them.  I've considered this before, it doesn't just apply to Kevin, it applies to everyone who sings trad songs, including me.  If you absorb these songs like that do you stop being a revivalist?

DS - No.

TE - Yes.

RS - In England you don't and in other parts of the world you do!

RH - I think what's happened is that historically and intellectually some boxes have been drawn and the two boxes stand side by side and there's a barrier between the trad box and the revival box, and therefore every performance has to be put into that box or that box.  It's an artificial construct.

DS - You can say that, but it's definitely an agreed perception.

RS - People like us have made that division.

RH - In the series I've attacked the notion of folksong, and I've got no response from that.  I thought people would be at my throat.  That was provocative, but it's my stance.  I actually say it's a pretty spurious concept, and folk dances even more.

RS - I think that everyone who knows what you're talking about agrees with you.

RH - I realise that, but the other one that we have is traditional music.  I went to the Crossroads Conference in Dublin two or three years ago where it was supposed to be traditional versus modern and every Irish person who spoke, whether they were playing in a rock band or with a Brazilian rhythm section, or writing their own songs or playing hornpipes in 13 different keys, whatever they were doing they were all saying 'we're part of the tradition'.  Well, in Irish terms they are because they see Irish music, their tradition is Irish music.  Going back to the Gaelic League of the 1890s, any performance by an Irish person playing an Irish tune in Ireland is Irish music.  There's another part of the revival which says let's categorise everything as folk - the Irish didn't use the word folk until the 30s, such as O'Neill's title 'Folk Music - an interesting hobby'.  It's interesting that the Irish dancers who came out of the Gaelic League, in 1933/4 were brought over, the Comerford Dancers in Dublin doing their Gaelic League stepdancing, to a folk dance festival in Hyde Park and that was the first time they knew they were doing folk dances.

FM - I think the reason we erect these two boxes is largely because the tradition was more dead in England than it was in Ireland.  The great bone of contention that I have with people who go to folk clubs is that they will not listen to traditional singers.

TE - Why should they?

FM - Because they're the fountainhead.

TE - No they're not - not for a folk club.  People go to folk clubs because they want to get what they get out of folk clubs, which frequently hasn't got much to do with traditional music, it's got to do with the folk club tradition and that's what they're going for ...

RS - I think you've actually said, in passing, exactly what the problem is - that's it's folk club music.  It's nothing to do with traditional music ... and I think that precise attitude is what may have meant that in England traditional music is dead and in other parts of the world it isn't.

DS - What that means is that when we used to go out and play with tradition players - they were the people playing the music we were interested in, that's where you learn your craft, that's where you pay your dues - but you come out of it and you are not a traditional performer, but in Ireland you would be?

TE - There's a difference.  The tradition by definition has to exist and continue, there has to be more than one person in it, there has to be a bunch of people in it, and then, if that's there, younger people can get absorbed into it if it's there, but tradition demands time.  Kevin Mitchell or me even ... if there was a tradition there to be absorbed into, you could then come out traditional, simply because you've been absorbed into it.  You can't do that in England, you couldn't in our younger days even, because there wasn't the critical mass to be absorbed into.  When we could, on occasion, sit next to Scan tester and play alongside him - in reality it just proved the point - we were not, and could not be, absorbed into a tradition - just by doing that.

DS - Yes, but if you played in Suffolk where there were plenty of people, it still didn't work.  I think it is a political thing.  I know this Irish thing, it's almost like a second Gaelic League - we are going to make Ireland positive, rich, powerful, and everything about our Irishness is bloody important, and it gets hammered at us from every quarter, which means in the hairdressers I hear tradition music, in the bank I hear tradition music, I hear it all the time, it's part of my Irishness.  Part of my Englishness?  Not a chance!


TE - Back to where we were.  I would like musicians in any field to be able to take some aspect, in the way that Percy Grainger used some tradition melodies for his compositions.  I'm not saying he's a charlatan, I'm not saying he's a genius, I'm saying the world's a richer place because he used them, and the same thing could apply here.  If we could perhaps have commercial pop groups who could find aspects of this to stick in their music, great - contemporary composers - great.  John Harle, a contemporary saxophone player, on hearing a track of Harry Cox said 'Bloody Hell!  This is so marvellous'  He's putting together a millennium programme for TV and he says he going to play out with a Harry Cox track.  In a way we shouldn't be so pleased, because this is what should have been happening all along ideally - but better now than not at all.  Really it would be great if instead of this being the be-all-and-end-all it just started a ball rolling, and not a ball of whacking out loads more records - though I hope that will happen too - but it might engender debate and dialogue.  It probably won't, people before us have said all this sort of thing in the past, but all you can do is do what you do and hope for the best.

RH - Related to that, I've done work looking at the BBC stuff in their written archive and it's very clear that when the library project started in the early 50s it was meant as reference, and what really happened was that all the interesting tracks got played on As I Roved Out - once - a quarter of the record was played once, many of the records weren't played at all and then they were put on the shelf, but the original intention was that they would be models for composers, models for incidental music for programmes, and that they would be used for that.  They weren't put together as folk music for folk music programmes.  It was meant for actors to get the records out and listen to the country accents, they were for composers, that's why they only go for 1.5 minutes, because the tune is complete, and the idea was that a composer writing incidental music about rural England would go and get all these little gems and embrace them into their melting pot - never happened.  There's a huge mythology about that BBC library, total waste.

RS - And eventually, at some point, some accountant will decide that it's not worth keeping.

RH - They've already broken lots of records.  My understanding is that they employed a sound engineer - job creation person - to come in and copy all the discs onto tape and then they got rid of the discs, and found that they were all recorded at low gain.  I heard that 5 years ago.

Back to what is the tradition.  I picked up that you were critical of what is my definition of what's acceptable.  You talk of my rejection of Bob Copper and yet my acceptance of Will Kemp.  I made two statements: one is that traditional music very generally belongs to a rural population, though I'm not saying it doesn't to a town one, it very generally belongs to a rural one; and I'm also making an implied comment that it belongs generally to working people, but what I don't say is that it doesn't belong to other people.  So I didn't leave Bob Copper off because he'd been a policeman and never worked on the land, and he'd been a barber and a journalist, because I actually put Bob Roberts in, who's a journalist, and Will Kemp you rightly say was a manager of a cardboard box factory.  So I'm not saying that.  I left the Bob Copper off because I thought that only stuff that we had available of him was substandard by his standards.

RS - You said to me on one occasion - we were talking very generally about the project - and you actually said to me that Bob Copper was not being included and, I paraphrase, but something like he'd been a publican, a policeman, a collector, he wasn't really one of the people ...

RH - I don't have a recollection of a conversation quite like that and I would want to withdraw that now.  I don't believe that, that's not the way I've ever thought about it.  I did consider the Bob Copper LP where he was singing the songs that he collected in Hampshire and I didn't feel that, by comparison with everything else, it had any sort of impact or any great quality of singing.  When he sings his dad's stuff with Ron and father and uncle, brilliant, I would have jumped at that, but he would still have been the same policeman and the same barber and the same journalist - that's not the issue.  If Prince Charles could do it I'd have him on.  In general terms my description of this music is that it's all of a oneness and that these people range from one end of society to the other, but there's all cloudy areas.

RS - If that is the case, was there any attempt to get any Copper material that you would have wanted to be included?

TE - In my mind the Kennedy situation counted that out.

RS - The Leader stuff?

TE - Leader/Trailer is owned by Dave Bulmer!

RS - I said that I thought Reg dealt sensibly, where for example in East Suffolk you've got a group of 4 or 5 villages relatively close to each other, a group of 18 or 20 singers who have a more or less common repertoire, and rather than taking the best singer and using 16 tracks of say Cyril Poacher, he took 5 or 6, 4 or 5 Jumbo Brightwell, 4 or 5 Bob Hart, some Bob Scarce, some Lists ... covered the whole repertoire with perhaps 7 or 8 singers, which seemed to me the right thing to do.  And then one turns to Paddy Tunney and there are 17 tracks, and I ask, why one approach in East Suffolk, and a very different approach in a part of Ireland.

RH - I accept that as a criticism.  It goes back to representation.  We have women under-represented, we have children totally unrepresented, we have areas of England ... there's nothing very much from Hereford, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, very little from the north of England except instrumental music ... I would guess there are areas of Scotland we haven't touched at all.  You could legitimately say that the Gaelic and the Welsh traditions aren't represented at all, but we do come back to what was available to us and definitions of tradition  All the hunting songs from Yorkshire and the Sheffield carols and the Padstow carols - I pencilled them in and eventually we wrote them out.  Tony said they are a tradition but they aren't this tradition.  The carols have now come to a position where it's four square, so metric.  I took along some of this material to a session and we realised that it didn't fit with this piece of work.  We're into this whole realm of 'are we representative or are we comprehensive?', or is there a distortion.  Yes there is, I think East Anglia is over-represented, gypsies are over-represented, Scottish travellers are over-represented, where are the non-traveller Scottish singers?  Irish fiddle music is grossly under-represented; I'll accept that, I think I wrote into the notes that there were reasons for that.

We then come back to Paddy Tunney.  The reason we have a whole CD of Gypsies is because we've got so much of it, we've got 5 LPs to select from, plus all the other bits, and it just seemed to fall into a category.  We've got 5 LPs of Paddy Tunney, he's a Topic artist, and I suspect he's over-represented for that very crude reason.  I'll accept that criticism, I think it's totally valid.

TE - He also is pretty damned good.

DS - Then where's Bridget Tunney?

RH - We had no access to her, they're BBC recordings.  If I'd had my way I'd have had John Strachan, the old fashioned Coppers, Bridget Tunney, Elizabeth Cronin.  You can challenge me on Seamus Ennis.

RS - There were some I was surprised that you didn't have one track of - Percy Webb, though there's not a lot to choose from, Johnny Doherty?

RH - That's my personal prejudice.

RS - Johnny O'Leary?

RH - He probably didn't have any tunes that were called after the anthology.  The Troubles they are Few and Now I'll Sing you a Ditty was really me pushing Tony as a catch-all, and they developed characters of their own.  I disagree with you - I think they hang together and they do have a lot of variety, but that's my own judgement.  You can have a different one.

RS - No, given that I wasn't very keen on an anthology anyway, having seen the validity of the idea, I just don't think they worked as well as the more pure anthology ones did.

RH - I suppose there was another thing in my head.  There are other records projected in the Topic catalogue, that there's a wealth of Irish material out in Ireland ... that doesn't say that we shouldn't have had a Johnny O'Leary track, but we've got Julia Clifford and there's only one track of that.  If you really want to know how I did it, I listened to every Topic LP and I wrote down all the titles, with a rating and a description 'sings out of tune', 'breaks down', 'dull recording', 'this makes your hair stand out on end', 5 star, 4 star, and in the end I went through the sheets of paper and picked out all the 5 stars, and the 4 stars and we dropped out stuff, we took stuff to the studio that I thought was great and when we got there I realised it wasn't any good at all.  A year later, trying to hold all this stuff in the air, you're actually dealing with a judgement that you made a year ago ...

RS - My observation has only been that since there was a whole album of 'X', it's surprising that there isn't one track.

RH - There's no good Shetland fiddling on Topic, there are 2 tracks of piping, partly because we've got a CD of uilleann pipes coming out.

TE - And no McPeakes you said.

RS - From my point of view, I'm happy about their being no McPeakes or Seamus Ennis, but from your point of view, addressing the sort of audience that you were talking about back at the beginning of this interview, I'm surprised that there's no McPeakes or Seamus Ennis.

TE - Although we wanted to address that audience we didn't want to compromise our own personal choice in this - it's a ballancing act.  So we said - this is the truth, it really is the truth, so how can we present it without adding one iota of a lie.  That's an analogy - I'm not saying the McPeakes are a lie.  But we didn't try to lard it up, we just said this is the bald stuff, now let's use its intrinsic values to the best, as opposed to gilding them, and in that sense including an Ennis would have been a gilding because, even though he's a name, the recordings we had access to weren't particularly good.

RH - The McPeakes.  I pencilled in the Jug of Punch.  I thought that's got to go in, that's a real tour de force, and I hadn't heard it for 25 years, and it was pencilled for a year on the Drink CD, then I got it off the shelf and played it and I couldn't believe it!

Johnny Doherty - if you said to me 'we'll pay you so many hundred pounds and we'd like you to do CD of Johnny Doherty' I'd probably say 'no thank you'.  I don't reckon Johnny Doherty - I think he's bland and boring and I know lots of people would think I was mad, lots of Irish people worship him.  He's got no pulse, no rhythm, and he plays so totally unemotionally ... and yet his brother Mickey is a different kettle of fish - he's got a pulse, lift, he's got humanity, the other man is just doing single bowing all the time.  That's an overstatement, but I am just not enamoured of his music, and therefore I used artistic licence in saying 'he's not going on my record'.

TE - And I'm happy with that.  I'm not objectively happy with the fact that Johnny Doherty's not on the series, but I'm happy having Reg, a person with heart and spirit and idiosyncratic views and choices, making in the end something that I think is great.  There are warts but 'it's better for the warts' is my feeling.  That is my option as a publisher and I said right from the start this isn't meant to be exhaustive.

RH There is a Donegal revival, lots of people playing Donegal music and seeing it as their roots in Ireland, and Iíve got some of the modern Donegal CDs and I doubt very much if Iíll ever play them again.  Thereís no lift, no lilt to it, thereís not that secondary beat, the slight inflection on the off-beat ... the old shoulderís got to come up, and it doesnít happen.

RS - I'm really sorry Johnny O'Leary didn't have any good titles, though.  There's somebody who makes your shoulder go.

TE - That's an odd thing, the idea of including instrumentals we discussed, and I said I would like some in - purely from an entertainment point of view, because they're more fun to listen to, a very important point that I wanted for the record.  It did mean that you had to make totally arbitrary decisions about what could go in, if it was an instrumental, on the daftest of grounds - the title, though it does make sense - the tune is on the record because of the title!

RH - It's an embarrassment to me.  It was very very difficult and I felt 'how silly' all the time ... 'Pulling on the Rope can go on a nautical one, Bonaparte's Retreat can go on a history one - but in the end it worked, really.

TE - If we'd put some of those tunes on with the wrong title, just to fit them into a specific album, there'd have been a criticism of why is it on there, and the reason it's on there is because it's all bloody music, the whole thing's arbitrary anyway, but we're trying to do it so that some people will think 'ballads - I know about ballads, so I'll get this record', and those are the reasons that led to all these other conclusions.

RH - Where else was I going to put Bampton playing Maid of the Mill except on a CD about working people in the country, because we all know that Maid of the Mill is the title of a 17th century play.

RS - On the business of the titles and the themes, I said earlier I didn't think some worked as well as others.  It's far too late to say it now, but I wonder whether if you'd got the 14 or 15 that work well in themes - and then you have another 5 LPs of mixed stuff, and you think what are we going to do with these, and you have to start making silly judgements and trying to fit them in places - whether you couldn't have just had some records that were like a really good evening in a pub where there were a lot of good people there, so that you had the sort of natural programming.

RH - Which is much more the way I would do things.

RS - So somebody doesn't sing a ballad after someone else has sung one, and after a couple of serious songs, somebody will strike up a lively dance tune, whatever, and just have a selection that meant nothing more than a good enjoyable listen.

RH - Which is what you might have expected, you knowing me.

TE - I don't believe that such records would be so well received by the media.  What we tried to do was say - this is serious, this is important.  We tried to give a lot of catch-phrases - ballads, working people's music, etc - all these things are true - and we tried to put the balance so that the press gives it some respect.  Usually they don't know what the hell they're writing about, in most of their reviews, but they've all said it's bloody good and bloody important.  That's what I was after.  To go that other route I think we might have made better records - perhaps - although one man's meat's another man's poison, but I don't know whether we would have received the same media response, and we were doing a series so every one of the series had to have that kind of format.  We could do that now, but I'm not sure I would feel enthusiastic about it for the same reason.  What underlies my thinking is not simply making a record because I think it's purely good - then what happens?  What's the machinery to get it to people's awareness and onto their record players?  It's been very important in this approach - let's hope it's more right than wrong.

RH - The record that for me is the least successful as a record is the second Ballads one, but it contains magic performances and I arrived at that particular record with an awful lot of pain, it was very difficult for me to structure, partly because the material was getting less and less, in fact I had to pad it to make it more than half length.  And it's partly for the reason 'who wants to listen to 65 minutes of ballads?'  One off, and you're exhausted.  I love every performance on there but I want to hear them one at a time and go away and have Knees up Mother Brown afterwards.  But one of the reviewers says 'This is the greatest one!'  So we're dealing with those two elements of taste.  'If you really want to know what this is all about, start with the ballads one.'

TE - That was Charlotte Greig, I think, and she really does respond to those songs, and there are a lot of people who do, but more I think there are a lot of people who respond to the concept of ballads, and that was another thing that I was banking on.

RS - What about transcription?

RH - In doing the editing and the selection to listened to every track four times to get the words down.  We then went to the studio, and I had the words in front of me and through the studio speakers I could hear all sorts of different things, and Tony would hear different things, and we altered it ... that's five listenings.  In the case of the Scots ones, we sent them off to Sheila Douglas for her view, so we got a written script back.  I then got the CDR back from the factory and played it again and did the corrections.  I then played it to Steve Rowd who has a great knowledge of written texts and we played them all through again, and we worried and worried and worried at lines, and he'd often go away and look it up in a written texts and he'd come back with 'That's what he's saying, this is what somebody else is saying ...' and we then decided what we thought it was.  But then sometimes, I heard it again ... so all I can say is I put the hours in and we did the best.  Yes, I could have sent them off to the people who recorded them, but...

TE - The assumption was that there'd been a lot of sensible, scientific effort put into this, so if we couldn't figure it out from there, we didn't think anybody else could, and sending it off has a potential for delay so we thought we'd covered that.  Obviously not, we absolutely can't contest what you're saying, and it's a shame I agree, it's a shame that everything isn't perfect about it, but we proof-read that until our eyes fell out ...

RS - The Percy Ling photo?

TE - We were aware of these possible problems and we addressed them with more concern than has ever been addressed on any other Topic record by a multiplying factor, and even with that ...

In relationship to Peter Kennedy, although a lot of what I've said may appear to be critical I have to show gratitude to him; on Ranting and Reeling we put in about a dozen tracks which he recorded, which came from an existing Topic licence with the BBC, and also one of his photographs.  Peter got in touch and said he really owned those tracks and we'd used them without his permission but he was prepared to allow their use if we paid him a royalty.  If we'd known that we were breaching his copyright we certainly wouldn't have done so, and I appreciate his magnanimous posture on this.

RS - How's it selling?  Given the very short time it's been out do you think you will be pleased or disappointed by its performance?

TE - I thought I'd be asked that question.  I'm pleased if we sell some records.  My concern was to do it.  I made a big point that I wanted it disseminated, or there's no point in doing it at all, so in a sense sales figures are relevant.  If I gave you a figure it wouldn't mean anything to most people, since they have nothing to compare it to.  It is only a short time since release, and there are all kinds of trade aspects to this.  We have succeeded in getting it into most of the HMVs and Virgin Megastores around the country, but the way it's done, with this kind on music, effectively it's consignment, so although we've sold them we don't know how many will be coming back.  That's really what every sale is like.  We've only just put the first ones into America, so it's only just got going there in February.  We've sold some 100s, not anywhere near a 1000, but what does that mean?  What will it mean in two or three years' time.  Our whole philosophy is that we make records to last forever.  All of this is trying to avoid answering the question - I don't have an answer.  It's good to see them out, it's good to see the sales are increasing, but of course they would.  Because they're not like a Martin Carthy or a June Tabor record, where you have at least one leg if not both in the same kind of market as the Spice Girls, the machinery is the same, you're dealing with people's personality, whether you like it or not, with fashion products.

RS - On that level, is it possible yet to have any idea of whether you have got through at all to the new audience that Reg spoke about in the introduction.  'A new approach for a new audience'.

TE - I've got no idea.  It's very early, but also it's so small.  I'll only know when people come back to me.  You can't say Waterson:Carthy taking songs and putting them in their repertoire is a new audience, because they were going to hear the records anyway.  Does a new audience include young folk scene singers?  I suppose it does, and partly one of the aims is at the folk scene.  No-one's phoned up and said 'I'm now singing that song' but they wouldn't anyway.  I expect it will happen.

DS - And it will be a fabulous source for people who are too used to learning things from books, or Martin Carthy?

RH - It's interesting that my notion of writing the words out was so that people could understand them, not so that they could sing them, and then I get knocked for doing inaccurate transcriptions!  I just felt that there's a whole generation of people not yet born who don't understand these words.  And when I listen to particularly southern English singers and I hear inflections that even to my ear are old-fashioned I think 'My daughter won't understand them' - and the amazing thing is, talking to my daughter who's 33, who doesn't understand lots of standard English words that have gone.  Why should she know them, because they have gone.  And certainly grammatical constructions that are in those songs - people doing ballad studies or English studies, they'll never get what's there.

TE - Going back to sales; the real answer will be some time in the future - we were always going to sell some 100s and, because we've developed the business in a way to do that, we're perhaps selling those 100s faster than we might have done years ago, but I'll only know when and if we've sold some 1000s.  If we've sold some 1000s then I'll be happy, not happy from a financial point of view, though that will obviously help, but 3 or 4000, which is peanuts in any field, would be of some significance in this field, and I don't know whether we'll get there - could be - could be not.

DS - It's quite interesting that those Harry Smith records, which are very expensive here and nothing like so expensive in America, sold thousands and thousands ...

TE - Yes but that's world-wide, the majority in America.  I don't think it's so surprising when you think that these records have been promoted ever since they came out on LP ... in an underground way by the likes of Jerry Garcia and Co.  Many American rock musicians, who have enormous followings, have consciously and unconsciously promoted those records - by mentioning them at concerts and in interviews for decades - and the ripples from this exposure have continued.  Many, many people are aware of these 'roots of American (in some cases British) rock' ... I don't think we can say that Harry Cox or Oscar Woods or Sarah Makem are the roots of rock.  Rock has had an enormous audience for a long time - you would, therefore, expect some percentage (small or otherwise) to be interested in its roots...and, perhaps, buy those records.

RH - Dylan saying that Dock Boggs had inspired him, so Dock Boggs is now big in America.

DS - It is a hell of a lot of records - 40,000

TE - Yes, but you're way outside the folk ghetto.

DS - So if you get what you were talking about popular singers getting something from the records and then implying that their music actually stems from this music ...

TE - Yes, and over the next 20 years all that would build up and that would be great.  The big difference there is that most American traditional music had a rhythm section.

DS - And almost all that Harry Smith stuff is accompanied.


RS - Back to the future.  You've mentioned that the Caedmon stuff is going to be coming out on Rounder.  Are there projects that Topic have in hand that are firm enough for you to tell our readers about.

TE - Projects that I would like to see released this year and, from my point of view can be, and are only dependent on the pressures of time on the collaborators, are a double Harry Cox, a single Walter Pardon, and a single Sam Larner CD.  Reg and I are talking about projects, but Reg needs a bit of a rest and an opportunity to get on with the rest of his life, but we are talking about, at this stage, an expansion of the English Country Band, that seminal black and white album, and some 78 reissue anthologies of instrumental music - fiddle, pipes and a Scottish one.

RH - We're slightly upstaged on the uilleann pipes one because Rounder are doing an uilleann pipes record, which is a different market, but they're actually using some of the tracks that I would have used.

TE - It's not really a different market because the accessibility to the UK market is exactly the same because they're distributed by the same people - namely Topic's distribution arm, Direct Distribution.  Those are the projects that we're talking about right now.  Slightly peripherally I hope in April, maybe a little later, depending on how fast my collaborator on that project can deliver, we will be releasing the 8 Radio Ballads; I know that's slightly different, but they do include some traditional performers and I would have hoped would be of interest to every sentient being on this planet!

That's it for now.  I only like to set so many projects, ones that I think will actually happen in a foreseeable time.  I'd like to see some kind of development of this series occur, but I don't know what yet.  One of the great things about the series was that working on it for 3 years we did dream about it and come up with ideas, and it did change a bit and it really benefited from some of those changes, not least of which was the title.

RH - You try getting an academic book published by the OUP or CUP - its' no good having a title like tradition Music of ... , they want Come on You Lazy Load of Bone Shakers, for an academic book.  They want a pop title, and all the chapters have got to have pop titles, though with subtitles.

TE - I can take this opportunity to encourage your readers.  If people who feel they can work in a collaborative way on a project, or series of projects, to do with traditional music want to contact me to see whether we could have a meaningful discussion about possible releases.  I'd be very interested, but it should be understood I'm not giving carte blanche to release anything.  You can see the kind of sensibilities that went into the making of VotP.  The reasoning behind it would still have to apply, in different ways perhaps, but I'm not interested in putting out the kind of records that MT itself is putting out.  It knows why; they are different things.  But probably compilations, because I am trying to get to not a wider market, but a wider audience.

I'm very thrilled about a project that I am working on with Doc Rowe to issue a Sheila Stewart CD.  I can't get started on that as quickly as I'd like, but I have got 35 albums to release this year, including that one.  It's thrilling from my point of view - here we have a living tradition singer at the height of her powers, and it's not very often you can say that.


Our thanks to Tony Engle for his hospitality and, most particularly, to Danny Stradling for transcribing the verbatim interview - 20 A4 pages of typing in the first draft.

Article MT034

Rod Stradling - 25.3.99

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