MT logo Enthusiasms No 23
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...

Put a Bit of Gunpowder on it, Father
More controversy ...

As if the MT reviews of the British volumes in the Alan Lomax Collection, and the subsequent flurry of letters, accusations and denials were not enough, it now appears that the booklet notes to the Walter Pardon records (both MT and Topic) are also causing problems in some circles.  Mike Yates tells me he'll be replying to the tirade below when he's had a strong brandy to calm down and a day or so to check the accuracy of the complaints.  Imagining that his may not be the only comment it engenders, I've decided to put all the correspondence together into this Enthusiasms piece, rather than as a series of Letters, where it's not always easy to find the piece that someone is referring to.  Similarly, I've included this link to the booklet notes which have upset Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie so much.

Readers will note that a considerable proportion of what follows actually refers to Jim & Pat's dealings with Topic Records or the eventual Topic CD and its notes - thus it's not entirely relevant to this discussion.  However, I'll print their letter in its entirety and include my own italicised comments in square brackets.

From Jim Carroll & Pat Mackenzie:

On reading the introduction and notes to the Walter Pardon double CD Put a Bit of Powder on it, Father, we were dumbfounded by the inaccuracies, particularly with regard to our involvement in the earlier Topic CD A World Without Horses.  Not only were we struck by the total distortion of the truth but we are at a loss to understand why such comments should have been included in the first place.

Firstly, in Mike Yates's introduction, he states that we had hoped Topic would issue a double CD using "many of our recordings" of Walter.  This is not true.  When we initiated the project, we wanted to put out as wide a selection as possible of the best recordings of Walter, including speech, so that it would really be, as "Horses" inaccurately claims in its sub-title, "A Portrait of a Traditional Singer".  We wished it to be a co-operative and inclusive project and our proposed CD comprised nineteen recordings by Mike Yates, twelve by Bill Leader / Reg Hall, ten songs from our recordings plus four pieces of speech, and one song from Sam Richards' cassette.  Hardly many of our recordings.  And we asked Mike to do the song notes (letter 22.6.97), again to draw him into the production and as we felt it was something he had done so well in the past.  Mike states that it seems (does the "seems" mean it is hearsay, and if so, why put it in ?) that Topic felt our "later" recordings did not show Walter at his best.  We would point out that, of the nine songs recorded by us that were projected but not included, five were made in 1978, the same year as most of Mike's, two in 1983, only one 44-second parody and The Steam Arm, which it appears nobody else has recorded, were made in 1988.  Later?

The fact is that we were advised by Tony Engle of Topic that he wanted to "address a different potential audience", and he wished for only traditional/folk songs and had selected nineteen of such songs for a single CD.  This is borne out by his choice of material.  At no time was the question of quality of either the singing or recording raised with us.

We were not happy about the changes as we felt that what was being proposed would be just another album similar to Walter's earlier LPs, containing much material previously issued, and would not show the real Walter Pardon.  We managed to persuade Tony to leave in one piece of speech.

We found it extremely difficult to come to terms with the CD Topic envisaged and were uneasy at the decision not to include full song notes.  However, we certainly did not leave "without notes or documentation" as Mike had already written a comprehensive essay on the songs as now printed in the Topic booklet; only notes on Walter himself were needed to complete.  We must assume Mike did not realise that we had received a copy of these notes from Topic or he might have had second thoughts about making such an inaccurate and unnecessary statement.

Incidentally, regarding the Topic CD, we note that Mike refers to us as "much valued friends", who " looked after Walter on his many trips to London", but fails to mention the many years over which we recorded him.  Mike visited and recorded Walter for two years starting in 1978.  We recorded Walter continuously and in depth from 1976 to 1993 and continued to visit him until his death in 1996.  (There is an expression used in Ireland which we had not come across before; "the begrudgers".  Now we know).

We had intended to put out a further CD of Walter through another channel.  However, far from losing motivation as Rod Stradling presumptiously assumes, we explained to him quite clearly that we disliked the intended format with a separate booklet, as with the previously issued Bob Hart CD.

[This is completely untrue.  We discussed the possibilities of the A5 booklet and the 'normal' type, and I pointed out the cost implications of both.  No decision was ever taken about the format - it was far too early in the procedure to make any such choice ... I had no idea what the eventual content of the booklet might be.

When I next called I was told that their move to Ireland was proving very problematic and that they were too busy and depressed to think about the CD at that point.  After the move I called again, but was told they were far too busy putting up shelves, etc, to be bothered with thinking about it at that time.  My third call produced a very lukewarm response - it was clear that they were no longer enthusiastic about the project.  A subsequent letter was not replied to.  My comment in the booklet that 'it seemed clear that they had lost motivation for the project' is fully justified - in fact, it seems quite restrained in the circumstances!]

We know nothing about Topic re-instating the second CD.  If it was to be the one we had planned, Rod's comment that it consisted "mainly of Mike Yates's recordings!", is correct; that is exactly what we had intended.  However, that statement, of course, is at odds with Mike's assertion that it comprised our "later recordings".  We would have thought that Topic would have advised us if they intended to issue the further album.  Maybe it was to be a completely different production, if so, why the exclamation mark?

[The exclamation mark indicated my surprise that the CD which Mike and I had been discussing as a possible MT production should suddenly turn up as a reinstated Topic volume 2.  Read the booklet, Jim!]

Reading the notes to "Powder", it is difficult to know at times who wrote what [Mike clearly states which sections were his on page 1, and the 'Credits' on page 27 list exactly who wrote what] but, on the subject of Walter's song tunes, it is stated that "no-one seems to have plucked up enough courage to ask him".  A bold assumption considering the people who might have done so were not approached.  We certainly did ask him.  Walter maintained he had learned them correctly, as he had heard them sung.  You could not find a more honest man than Walter, so the conclusion must be that, far from the "deliberate subtle variations" that Mike writes of, they were quite unconscious.  We would certainly agree that playing the tunes over on his melodeon may well have influenced the tune variations.  However, we note that you give the reader a choice in quoting Mike's notes to "A World Without Horses" where he feels the variations are deliberate and further down stating that "I'm pretty sure that Walter, possibly quite unconsciously, forged his variations on the old tunes in the process of two decades of melodeon playing ..."!  [Is it mandatory that I should agree with everything Mike Yates says?]

It does seem a pity that more research was not done elsewhere in the notes, for example about Walter's request to be buried at Swafield.  Whoever these "friends" of Walter might have been (and not many people know the story; it was, after all, a private matter ) they had the story incorrectly but the romance of unrequited love and "roses and briars" must have been too tempting to resist.

We are happy that you used Pat's photograph of Walter's grave but why credit it to Doc Rowe and who supplied it ?

[Because Doc supplied it to me, as one of his photos, back in September 1997 - and it immediately appeared in a News No 2 item in these pages]

With Mike's anecdote about Bert Lloyd's comment that "singers like Walter love to sing such appalling songs", and his reference to the "likes and dislikes" of collectors versus "those of singers from a different background and upbringing", we are once more presented with the spectre of the undiscriminating traditional singer.  Of all the singers we have met, Walter was the most precise when it came to defining his songs.  He was certainly not afraid to use the "F" word.  All those we would call traditional, he would refer to as "folk songs".  On several occasions we recorded him going through his repertoire list, categorising in terms of folk song, music hall, Victorian tear-jerker, etc., and on each occasion he was spot-on.  Walter's own manuscript books (one dated as early as 1948), and the repertoire lists that he compiled when performing, show that he not only discriminated between folk songs and others but that he preferred the traditional songs.  We have several recordings of him clearly stating this preference.  Of course, there was no reason why he should not be able to discriminate; we can tell the difference between a parlour ballad and a genuine folk song, so why shouldn't he?

It would appear that, in order to reinforce the image of the non-discriminating singer, it is stated under "Walter's Recorded Legacy", that, for his second album, "Our Side of the Baulk", Bill Leader let Walter choose the songs he wanted to record and the result was, "seven or eight folk songs , as well as three Victorian tear jerkers, Balaclava, Grace Darling and I'll Hang My Harp On A Willow Tree, all of which Walter liked to sing in public".  However, according to Bill Leader's own notes to that album, he asked Walter to choose the songs for the first album, "A Proper Sort", and of those eleven songs only one would not be considered a folk song.  This ties up with Walter's stated preferences.  Walter was not asked to choose the songs for "Our Side of the Baulk", but, according to the notes, "on the day he welcomed suggestions from Peter Bellamy".  This was the LP which included the three tear-jerkers!  In other words, exactly the opposite occurred to that stated in the CD notes!!!  In the twelve years during which we took Walter to many different clubs and heard him at festivals and concerts etc, probably some twenty performances, we cannot recall his singing I'll Hang My Harp in public and he sang Grace Darling, only when requested; it was his mother's song.  He often commented that he could not understand why people should want to listen to "them old tearjerkers".

We do wish there could be a little more co-operation between people working in the same field.  [So do I ... although ignoring a letter and three phone calls isn't exactly what I call co-operation!].  What started out after Walter Pardon's death as a commemoration of his life involving the main recordists of his repertoire, has apparently turned into a nasty illustration of assumed one-upmanship.

We look forward to your publishing this letter and correcting the CD notes.  [As always, any needed corrections or amendments are made in subsequent printings of the booklets.  Not something which would be possible with a commercial print run of your preferred format, the 'normal' booklet!]

From Mike Yates:

I am, to say the least, saddened to see that Jim Carroll and Pat MacKenzie are now feeling so bitter about the recent Topic and Musical Traditions CDs of Walter Pardon.

Jim and Pat clearly had a vision of how things should have been when they first approached Topic Records with the concept of a Walter Pardon 'Commemoration' album, or albums, and their subsequent experience seems to have left them extremely angry and in need of a scapegoat which they can abuse.  In this case, it seems to be me.  As I have known Jim and Pat for many years - over 30 years in the case of Jim - I am indeed sorry that they should be feeling this way.

I am especially upset to see that they believe that my involvement in the CDs has been motivated by 'nasty ... assumed one-upmanship', when this was just not the case.

Firstly though, let me say that if they are right about the choice of material on the two Leader albums - and I must assume that they are - then my assumptions, based on an initial error, are incorrect.  I had relied on my memory when writing about this, not having copses of the two reader albums to hand, and I can only apologise to them and to readers of the Musical Traditions booklet for my mistake.

As regards the rest of their letter, I believe that much of what they say is, partly, a result of their own making.  Jim and Pat ask that there should be a little more 'co-operation between people working in the same field' - and I totally agree.  The point is that once Jim and Pat left the Topic project behind they did not seem able to co-operate with anyone.

To start with, some years ago Jim and Pat asked if they could use some of my recordings of Walter Pardon for a double CD to be issued on Topic.  I agreed and, as I said in the MT booklet, left them to choose whatever songs they wished to use.  When they wrote to me in June 1997 inviting me to write the song notes for the double CD, I agreed, but was unable to start because they were unable to tell me exactly which songs had been chosen.  They did send me a list of possible titles, and I sketched some notes down, but I did not feel able to really start work until I had a definite listing.  I do not recall at this stage being told which of the songs had been recorded by myself and I assumed that the majority of the recordings had been made by Jim and Pat.  It was, after all, their project.  Eventually, I was told that Topic would only be issuing one CD and when a cassette of these recordings arrived for me to hear I became aware for the first time that Jim and Pat were also using recordings made by Bill Leader.  There was only one song on the cassette that had been recorded by Jim and Pat.  Having sent me the cassette, Tony Engle of Topic Records then asked me to write song notes for the single CD.  This I did and I submitted these to Tony.  It now seems, judging by Jim and Pat's letter, that they were not happy with my notes, a copy of which I knew had been sent to them - 'we were uneasy at the decision not to include full song notes' - and they cite this as being one of the factors which made them pull out of the project.  If this is so, then why have they only now mentioned this?  Why, for example, did they not let me know of their unease at the time, so that (i) I could have rewritten the notes to their satisfaction, or (ii) they could have found somebody else to write the notes.  Either way, I would not have been upset with their response; but I am upset that they have let this matter fester in their minds for so long without telling me.

Sometime at this point Jim and Pat parted company with Topic.  I had assumed that they had already written the background notes about Walter - two years must have elapsed since they first contacted me - and that they had provided Topic with documentation regarding the recordings.  In fact, they had not done so.  It had been agreed that I would write about the songs and they would write about Walter.  When I said that when Jim and Pat left there were no notes and documentation, I was referring to their notes and I think that they know this themselves.  It was only at this point that Topic asked me to write some notes about Walter himself.

Now, onto the laboured point about their 'many' recordings.  To repeat, at no time did they tell me whose recordings they were intending to use.  I assumed, incorrectly it seems, that most of the recordings would have been made by Jim and Pat.  When I later queried why Topic were only going to issue a single CD, I was told by Tony Engle that many of the songs chosen by Jim and Pat 'failed to show Walter at his best', some of the songs were relatively well-known and Tony, I think, felt that he could only justify issuing a single CD, which would possibly just about recoup its production costs.  By 'failed to show Walter at his best' I believed that Tony meant that Walter was not singing very well and that these recordings were made by Jim and Pat towards the end of Walter's life.  In their letter Jim and Pat say that this is not the case.  They do, however, say that they had planned to use ten of their own recordings, but that only one of these recordings was chosen to be included on the single CD.  Perhaps the question that Jim and Pat should now be asking themselves is why Topic rejected 90% of their own recordings for the single CD, preferring instead to use recordings made by Bill Leader or myself.

As regards Walter's use of ornamentation.  I can only say that Jim and Pat's conclusions are different from my own.  We could, perhaps, discuss this at length (in the pages of Musical Traditions?) but I suspect that, in the end, we will continue to disagree.  Maybe we are using different definitions of the word 'deliberate'.  (By the way; the phrase 'I'm pretty sure that Walter, possibly quite unconsciously, forged his variations on the old tunes in the process of two decades of melodeon playing' was written by Rod Stradling and not by myself).

Jim and Pat's statement that they had intended to put out a further CD 'through another channel' may go some way in explaining why they now feel as they do towards the Musical Traditions' CDs.  It seems that we may unintentionally - and I repeat unintentionally - have scuppered their plans.  If this is the case, then I am sorry.  But, if this is the case, then why did they not mention their plans to Rod or myself?  Perhaps, after all, 'co-operation' is only a one-way process so far as Jim and Pat are concerned.

One final point.  I was extremely sorry that Jim and Pat left the Topic project when they did.  In spite of their letter, I still have a lot of admiration for them as collectors and scholars.  When I wrote of their friendship with Walter, I did so because I thought that it was important to pay tribute to all that they had done for Walter over the years.  It is, I think, disingenuous of them to try to see anything else in what I said, or failed to say.  (As a matter of fact, if they look on page 5 of the MT booklet they will see that I did say that they continued to visit and record Walter after I was unable to do so.)

The facts are that Jim and Pat did approach Topic in the first place, only to pull out of the project before it was completed, and they then did the same with Musical Traditions.  In both cases I was asked to help out after these events.  I did not do so in order to score points over Jim and Pat, but rather to help friends who felt let down by them.  If Jim and Pat cannot come to terms with their own inability to see something through, then I am sorry to say that this is their problem and not mine.

From Vic Smith:


Today I was unfortunate enough to visit, accidentally, your website and, again by accident, I ended up on a page entitled http//

So far, so good.  But then I read the title of the page and it said "MUSICAL TRADITONS RECORDS".  Yes, I insist that the spelling on the website was TRADITONS!!!  As you can imagine, I rushed to my shelf of dictionaries to consult six of them.  They were unanimous that the spelling of the word was "TRADITIONS".  Did you bother to check the spelling of this word with Mike Yates, with Tony Engle, with Pat Mackenzie, with Jim Carroll or indeed myself, before going ahead with this rash publication?  I think not.  Now you may try to argue that this was the sort of spelling slip that anyone could have made, but surely this is missing the point.  The fact is that on this webpage there were a number of projects that I have been personally associated with, including both the George Townshend and Daisy Chapman CDs.  I have no wish to be associated with mistakes.  I should not have to remind you that I am a very important person and that in all matters to do with traditional song in Britain, I should be consulted and my feelings taken into account.

You have already been taken to task by correspondents over the matter of photographs.  I am sad to say that I must add further fuel to these criticisms.  I contributed photographs to the booklets of both the CDs mentioned in the previous paragraph and yet nowhere on the front cover of either album is this fact mentioned.  Surely a person with any marketing skill would have realised the selling potential of having my name on the cover of the booklet and CD?

People like myself beaver away for years at this music, always keeping an egoless, low profile.  All we ask for is prominent recognition for everything we are even vaguely associated with.

Yours, more in sorrow than anger ............

(Generally, I don't go for conducting rows in public.  I regard things like Musical Traditions, fRoots, Living Tradition etc as a public front for the music I love and want the things that I write to reflect my enthusiasm for it.  I only want to have a pop when people are making a bad cock-up of things, eg. the Kennedy reworking of the Topic/Caedmon.

I would hate MT to become an internecine in-fighting forum with the fish in this very small pond trying to eat one another.  The Carroll/MacKenzie letter is the worst example of this that has appeared so far because, as far as I can see, it's picking a row to very little purpose - Vic Smith).

And from Pat Mackenzie and Jim Carroll again:

To Musical Traditions

We didn't stand a chance really, did we?  We had quite overlooked the likelihood that the editor, before publishing our letter, might pepper it with his own comments and describe it as a 'tirade'!  Perhaps if there is any further correspondence on this matter, we might be sent copies in advance so that we may add our own observations.

Maybe Vic Smith is right to say that the errors about us in the album notes were not important enough to bother with.  We can only say that if he were misrepresented in the way we have been, we feel sure that he would be the first person to want to set the record straight and we would be among the first to support his right to do so.

However, it is important that information given about Walter Pardon should be factual.  It must not be forgotten that Walter had a phenomenal memory and remembered - and wrote down - practically all the songs he had heard in his youth; from family, friends and records.  But that does not mean that he liked all the songs or could not differentiate between the often very different types.  Whatever Bert Lloyd or anybody else assumed, the proven facts are that Walter preferred traditional songs and was well aware which they were.  Of the later songs, he was even very sure which were Victorian and which Edwardian.

Now, anyone not interested in our personal response to the CD notes and subsequent comments, can switch off....

We wrote in the first place to point out the inaccuracies in the notes to the Musical Traditions CD with reference to our involvement with the earlier Topic CD.  Of course Rod Stradling is correct that much of what we said was not relevant to the MT CD; that was exactly the point WE made.  If Rod chose to publish Mike's totally irrelevant accusations in those notes, it seemed quite reasonable for us to take up the matter.  We are still trying to fathom out why they were included in the first place.  Having only recently connected to the Internet, we were most surprised to come across the notes in question and, of course, upset by what we read.  But "bitter", extremely angry"?  Good grief!  We have re-read our previous letter very carefully and nowhere do we find these emotions "festering" nor any "abuse".  Throughout Mike's reply, we find comments about us stated as facts which they certainly are not; what we initially wrote has been ignored, misconstrued or twisted

For instance, Mike thinks we should ask ourseves why Topic rejected 90% of our recordings.  We know why and this was very clearly stated in our first communication.  We can only repeat that Tony Engle told us that he wanted only traditional/folk songs as he was aiming at a 'different potential audience' and we have this in writing - twice in fact.  The songs rejected were THE STEAM ARM, three BRITISH ARMY SONGS, WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCHED, COCK A DOODLE DOO, I'LL HAVE NO UNION, 7 out of 9, plus speech.  Six of Mike's non-traditional song recordings were also rejected OLD MAN'S ADVICE, IF I EVER GET DRUNK AGAIN, I'M YORKSHIRE THOUGH IN LONDON, THE PARSON AND THE CLERK, THE DANDYMAN, TWO LOVELY BLACK EYES.  If Tony Engle did, indeed, tell Mike he turned these down as "not showing Walter at his best", (apparently Musical Traditions thought they were good enough), we are at a loss to understand why he should have given us and confirmed to us an entirely different reason.  There were plenty more recordings that could have been used from the three sources; at least we could have discussed alternatives.  Even if it had been the case that Topic gave the reason Mike states for the choice of material, we feel strongly that this had no place in the notes of a totally separate CD.

Incidentally, the earliest recordings are the ones where Walter is not found at his best.  He had not sung to anybody for years and it was as he performed more and more in public and really got under the skin of the songs and singing, that he got so good.

As far as the notes to the Topic album were concerned, as Mike must know, Topic did not want the conventional song notes (again quoting the different potential audience).  There was no point in raising our reservations with Mike; as far as we were concerned, he had done what Topic wanted; end of story.  We were not happy with the idea but it was not a major factor, as we have already stated, just another dissatisfaction.  (why are we having to repeat what we have already said?)  Mike is wrong too about documentation; we had given Topic all documention required song texts, recordists, dates, timings, etc.  and these are printed in the booklet.

Mike's accusation that we pulled out of the Topic project before it was completed is totally misleading.  We had planned a double CD with a wide range of material which Topic rejected in favour of a single CD of traditional songs only.  After much consideration and finding it difficult to come to terms with the new format, we withdrew.

We find ourselves quite bewildered over Mike s intrepretation of our putting out a CD through "another channel".  That channel was, of course, Musical Traditions; surely that was clear enough?  We had originally contacted Veteran Tapes but John Howson was unable to commit himself to a CD of Walter at that time.  Rod Stradling expressed interest but we were at variance over the accompanying booklet.  WE wrote to him (21.7.98) asking for an idea of the cost for a smaller booklet to be inserted in the CD box and offered TO RAISE THE MONEY FOR THIS OURSELVES.  We had no reply to this though it was obviously received because the letter contained an order for the Bob Hart CD (with separate booklet!) which duly arrived.  FACT: We have never received any letter at any time from Rod Stradling.  Our final telephone conversation maintained our objections to the large booklet.  There seemed to be no point in pressing the matter further; we were obviously at a dead end so we just got on with our remarkably trouble free move to Ireland where, far from being depressed, we were and still are, over the moon about living here.  Putting up shelves may well have been mentioned in passing but not as an excuse; we could have thought of something a little less feeble if we were looking for a way out.  The matter was never mentioned again, not even when we met Rod in Co Clare (Feakle Festival) in May 1999.  We certainly did not "pull out " of the MT project; it never got that far; merely an enquiry if MT would be interested in doing what we wanted.  We had no specific plans for anybody to "scupper".  The suggestion that we have adverse feeling towards the MT CD is a nonsense; our argument is with the factual inaccuracies regarding ourselves and those regarding Walter as a singer.

Throughout the last 27 years of recording singers, our aim has not been to make records, rather we have sought to gain information on the tradition from the few singers left in these islands.  We embarked on the Walter Pardon idea because we considered it would be a fitting epitaph to him to produce an album presenting, not just a collection of songs, but Walter as a carpenter, a trade unionist, a soldier but, most of all, as the fine artist he was, using his own words in order to do so.  We have always considered that probably the finest record of a traditional singer was Sam Lamer' s NOW IS THE TIME FOR FISHING where we were given a three dimensional figure of a singer, his life, his work.  We wanted to present a wider view of Walter Pardon and were naturally disappointed when we failed to achieve this with Topic Reords, but certainly not bitter.  Life is too short and we enjoy it too much for such feelings.

We confess to feeling at a loss as to how to respond to many of the accusations made about us.  We asked for co-operation and somehow this has been turned against us!  We would have been more than happy to make a contribution to the MT CD should anybody have approached us.  If they had, a number of mistaken assumptions and inaccuracies might have been avoided.  As for Mike saying that, after leaving the Topic project, we "did not seem able to co-operate with anyone", how could he possibly know what we are doing or with whom.  Another unnecessary, untrue and nasty comment.

As we said at the start, we don't stand a chance; this is not the sort of game we are used to.  We must be dreadfully old-fashioned to think that honest straightforward facts are so important but we did spend a lot of time with a very honest and straightforward man.  Here's looking at you, Walter!

Over and out

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