Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Singing Englishman Foreword – 1944


There is much talk about English folksong and much misunderstanding of what it is all about. I think the best way to understand these songs is to relate them, to the times and circumstances they were made up in. These are songs of the common people. How those common people lived and thought, how they it went about their work and what return they got for it, and what happened to them in history, is all reflected in the folksongs. I have tried to show that here. I know there are people better qualified than I am, to write a book of this kind. But they do not do so. I know this is a sketchy book. But I believe it will help to fill a gap until the real thing comes along. 

A word of warning. The tunes given in this book reduced their simplest form and clearest form. They were never sung exactly as written here. It should be understood that what you have are the basic tunes on which the folksingers would improvise, sometimes modestly, sometimes extravagantly, but always with freedom. 


Lloyd begins his booklet with reference to a Bertolt Brecht poem:

THE GERMAN POET BRECHT asks one of the great questions of history: Wer baute das siebentorige Theben? Who built Thebes with its seven gates? In books you will read the names of a lot of kings. Was it the kings who hauled the great stones there? Where did the plasterers go in the evening when work was over on the Chinese Wall? Had Byzantium only palaces to live in? Philip of Spain wept when the Armada was destroyed : did no one except him weep? Frederick the Great won the Seven Years War : he and who else?

For those who would like to read this influential book you can now find it online at:

Lloyd concludes his book with suggestions of what might be included in a subsequent publication:

There is a great deal I have not touched in this book, for instance, soldiers' and sailors' songs; there is something so special about these and the reason for their fluctuation from heroism to disaffection, that they really need dealing with in a separate work.  The same with the cries of hawkers, too, which once filled the city streets with music and which were finally killed by the department stores, by Woolworths, and most of all, perhaps, by the noise of traffic which was too heavy in competition.  Their study is a special thing and they have to be left out of this book, and so do all the beggars' songs and the prison songs and the mad songs about Bedlam, and many of these are very beautiful indeed, and the peculiar Irish-character songs of the Navigation, of the building of the canals in the late 18th century, and the deserters' songs and, alas, the nursery rhymes which are something particularly interesting to look into and full of surprises.

And what else should this book contain?  Some say things are changed and we will not have folksongs any more.  They are the pessimists.  And some try to revive traditional music that has nothing to do with social life any longer; and all that happens is they give you a recital of the popular songs of the past; and they try to make a living thing of it.  They are the optimists.  But that is not the whole story.  Things do change, and they change again; and just because at this moment we have no great body of fine folksong that is bound close to our social life and the times we live in and the way we go about our work, that is not to say there never will be any more.  It may be we shall have to wait till society is so altered that there is no longer any special distinction or variance between the composer and the rest of his fellowmen, till cultured music and popular music have become one and the same.  And that is just the sort of thing we can confidently look forward to, if ever we have a society all of a piece, one where men can be what they are, and think and feel and sing as they do, without reference to class or colour or creed or any of the other things which mean that one man's culture is another man's caviare or dope or downright poison.

The Singing Englishman on sale – Canberra Bookshop 1946.

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