Friday, 4 August 2017

Lloyd – Song and Singing

(1) Albert Lloyd, The Singing Englishman (1967)

What are now the stock figures of comic pantomime, the villainous baron, the lecherous monk, the miserly miller, were at this time the symbols of a bitter and threefold class oppression, and songs running these down were sure of a good hearing in the kitchens and in the barns and round the campfires as well if they were not sung too loud. It was in the civil struggles of the barons' wars and in the years following that the songs of the people really rose to the surface and crystallised into a style. Then you got ballads like the Robin Hood cycle which was about not only the adventurous life of the outlaw who was almost a guerilla, but also the anger of the downtrodden at the callous luxury of the rich. What strikes most people about English folksongs, once they get to know them, is their deep melancholy. Their style of tune comes from the Church modes of the Middle Ages and it often seems to have stamped them unmistakably with the bitter sadness of the time of the Black Death and the baronial oppression of the 14th century.

(2) A. L. Morton, A. L. Lloyd: A Personal Memoir (1984)

From time to time he (Lloyd) would drop into our house for a meal, bringing odd records he had discovered or some new-old song that he had picked up and would sing. He was developing his own distinctive singing style in these years, taut and unfussy. On the whole he preferred the traditional English style of unaccompanied song, but he was never pedantic about that or anything else and was prepared to accept an instrumental accompaniment if it seemed to add anything of value. Shortly before the war I took him to the Eel's Foot at Eastbridge in Suffolk, a pub whose regulars had long maintained an excellent song school. Out of this visit came a historic broadcast - historic because it was, I think, the very first in which authentic traditional singers, as distinct from collectors and arrangers, were heard on the air. Leslie Morton was a founding member of the Communist Party Historians Group. His major work was "A Peoples History of England" published in 1938'   described his book as 'In spite of its title, this book is not so much a History of England as an essay in historical interpretation'

(3) E. David Gregory, A. L. Lloyd and the English Folk Song Revival, 1934-44, The Canadian Journal for Traditional Music (1967)

It is now 30 years since the publication of A. L. Lloyd's magnum opus, Folk Song in England (1967). Although currently out of print, the book remains the most systematic survey of English traditional song, and the most detailed account of its evolution from the 14th century to the 20th. Essentially, Lloyd broadened, in a legitimate and necessary way, Cecil Sharp's conception of folk music as a product of oral tradition. Lloyd recognized urban and rural song traditions, and explicitly extended the study of traditional music to include ritual songs, carols, sea songs, industrial songs and political songs.

Placing these disparate genres in their social and economic contexts, Lloyd provided the first comprehensive analysis of how they had emerged and developed historically. Although he presumed an interpretation of English social history derived, in the main, from Leslie Morton's. People's History of England (1938), he relied on Morton more for his conceptual framework than for specific historical details.

(4) Albert Lloyd, Folk Song in England (1967)

In America, late in the Depression and early in the War years, traditional song and its topical imitations were coming into vogue, particularly among young radicals, as a consequence of the stresses of the time, and the rumble of newly-found or newly-made 'people's songs' was rolling towards us across the Atlantic. The Workers' Music Association, that admirable but over-modest organization, sensed that similar enthusiasm might spread in England, and they were eager to help in the rediscovery of our own lower-class traditions.

(5) Just before his death Albert Lloyd wrote about his approach to singing.

I very much doubt if I sing any of the songs exactly as I originally learnt them. Some I've altered deliberately because I felt some phrases of the tune, some passages of the text, to be not entirely adequate. Others - and this has happened far more often - have become altered involuntarily, sometimes almost out of recognition, in the course of buzzing round in my head for thirty years or so and being sung whenever the buzzing became too insistent. Some people believe it a blasphemy to alter a traditional song, and think one should sing it just as it was sung by the singer from whom it was learnt. Not being an impersonator, I do not feel that. One day a traditional performer sings a song, and the next week he may sing it differently. What you hear is the performance of the moment, merely. So with me: I don't always sing the songs the same. I like to improvise a bit. Of course, in making your changes, voluntarily or involuntarily, you need a proper sense of tradition and a just respect for it, or the song is violated; we hear such violations day by day.

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