Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A.L.Lloyd the Second revival

A.L.Lloyd – Second Folk Song revival – From Folksong in England pp. 395-397.

What we are experiencing is the second folk song revival in England. The first one occurred some time at the beginning of the present century and inspired, and was inspired by, the great collectors such as Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams, Percy Grainger. It came about when educated people, mostly of liberal outlook, stumbled on the riches of poetry and music preserved by working people in the countryside, and began to make some of those treasures more widely available. The consequent revival had its greatest effect among middle-class people, musicians in search of a national idiom, educators, and others less serious with a fancy for quaintness. That first revival produced work of immense value, but despite the fact that it introduced folk song into schools it had no broad popular effect. In urban England, authentic folk song remained 'queer music' to most people.

The present revival appears under no such polite auspices. It followed the American folk song revival that began in the I 930s when many workers, notably miners in the folk singing districts of the upland South, began to accept enthusiastically the political ideas of the newly-formed and energetic Congress of Industrial Organisations. Distressed workers in backward areas took to trade unionism with a fervour similar to that of religion. For them it was a powerful deliverance, to be celebrated and fathered with song. The singing organizer and the militants folk song–foreshadowed some years previously by syndicalist popular minstrels such as Joe Hill–became important to American labour during the tense times of the Depression.

At the same time, in an attempt to bolster national morale, the U.S. government was sponsoring made-work schemes that involved an exploration of the roots of the American folk tradition, and repositories such as the Folk Music Archive of the Library of Congress were enriched by thousands of field-recordings garnered by searchers subsidized from the national treasury. Much of this was made available to the public and thousands of city-dwellers became acquainted with the authentic folk music of their country for the first time. Singers were brought from remote country districts to perform the ballads of hard times in union balls and concert arenas, and enthusiastic students were neglecting their academic studies in favour of perfecting their five-string banjo technique.

The two factors of revival, the spontaneous and the state-inspired, combined to form a new consciousness of folk song in America. In this atmosphere and mainly through Radical encouragement, performers such as Josh White, Huddie Ledbetter, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, came into prominence, and groups of urban singers emerged, such as the Almanacs and their successors, the Weavers, whose repertory was a mixture of traditional folk stuff and folk-style polemical song presented with absolute informality.

This kind of folk-song-with-teeth seemed to be what many British youngsters were waiting for. For some years, a handful of devoted persons such as Ewan MacColl in England, Hamish Henderson in Scotland, had been proselytizing on behalf of traditional song, but their efforts became properly fruitful only as the American example became clear. The BBC had helped to pave the way, first of all with programmes by Alastair Cooke, later with productions by D. G. Bridson presenting the leading figures of the U.S. revival. When, after World War II, American recordings became more readily available in Britain, the influence of the transatlantic folk singers spread widely. Some of the American material had an engaging impetuousness and a handy simplicity of harmonic structure, and youngsters found that with even the most rudimentary skill they could provide a passable performance.

Chain-gang songs were every-where, their Mississippi mumble further blurred by the inflections of Wigan and Walthamstow. The exploited peach-pickers of Bethnal Green and Batley consoled themselves with the "Worried man blues". The skiffle movement ran through the country like wildfire. From this exotic beginning, the British folk song revival grew.

The revival was strengthened by the enquiring minds of many young people who, searching for the roots of jazz found themselves led to American folk song and thence back to their own shores, to an interest in their native stuff and a desire to perform it. True, they incline to treat their traditional music in a variety of non-traditional ways, with voice-production, instrumentation, rhythmical treatment, etc., borrowed from the world of commercial light music. Whether the material is thereby enriched or impoverished is arguable; it is less arguable that, through new treatments, many fine folk tunes and texts are made valid for thousands of performers and listeners whose musical interests would otherwise be limited to the banalities of Denmark Street.

The folk song revival had its deep effect on ballad-makers in our industrial areas where, as we have seen, the creation of workers' song had sharply diminished in the years between the Wars. With the revival workers' home-made song once again acquired prestige. For instance, the appearance of a collection of the folk songs and ballads of miners in at a time when the songs had almost disappeared even from the miners memory of ageing coal-fields to try to emulate fired some youngsters in the ate the creations of their fathers and grand fathers, particularly as, with the emergence of folk song clubs particularly in the mining all areas, traditional-style song was becoming the rage.

Characteristic of this new wave of creators of workers' song is John Pandrich of Newcastle, formerly a coalface worker in the Dudley and North Walbottle pits, later engaged in the survey department in a pit running some miles out under the sea. A favourite song of his making is "Farewell to the Monty", written in 1959 when the Montague Colliery at West Denton was closed by the National Coal Board, and the colliers transferred to new pits further east. The Montague was an out-of-date pit and conditions in her were bad, but she had produced a lot of coal in her time, and the colliers had affection for their old workplace on that account; moreover they were reluctant to leave her for a colliery fax from their present homes. The ambivalence of sentiment gives the song unusual tension.

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