Article MT153

Revisiting Baring-Gould

Second part of a six part series

Part 2: Collecting

Baring-Gould described his introduction to song-collecting in the second of his autobiographical volumes, Further Reminiscences - be it noted, at a distance in time of some forty years.1  He had been dining with a friend, Daniel Radford, at Radford's house, Mount Tavy, on the outskirts of Tavistock, and when the conversation turned to Devonshire songs and he recalled hearing snatches when out riding as a boy, Radford proposed that he should be the man to collect 'these songs and airs'.
I shall not forget my walk back next day from Mount Tavy to Lew.  My mind was in a ferment.  I considered that I was on the outstart of a great and important work; and to this day I consider that the recovery of our West Country melodies has been the principal achievement of my life.2
With this comment, he gave the date of commencement of his collecting as 1888; but the complicated publishing history of SBW (as indicated in the previous piece in this survey) involves us in at least three sets of material which offer some slightly different versions of Baring-Gould's initial impulse towards collecting.  In the preface to the first part of the earliest, dating from 1889, Baring-Gould wrote that 'Recently, it occurred to me that it would be well to make a collection …'  This was repeated in the fourth part, which appeared in 1892, in notes supplied, apparently, as a somewhat hasty afterthought for the whole set of four SBW parts then appearing.  In the 1895 version, the observation had been simplified again to 'In 1888 it occurred to me that it would be well to make a collection …3  One notes how Radford had slipped out of the equation.

It was left until the introduction to A Garland … (1895) before the date of 1888 was publicly contradicted and Baring-Gould wrote that he, together with Frederick Bussell and Harold Fleetwood-Sheppard, began their collecting in Devon in 1887.4  This date does not refer to songs apparently noted down in 1887 whilst Baring-Gould was living and working in Yorkshire but it was given again in the Introductory Essay to English Folk-Music in the seventh volume of English Minstrelsie.5  We have here, then, one of the many apparent anomalies in Baring-Gould's commentaries and it is again noticeable that Daniel Radford's part in the project was left out.

Certainly, according to the manuscripts, songs were got during 1887, but all the following references come from either Fair or Personal Copy manuscripts and set a problem of corroboration which Rough Copy manuscripts rarely ameliorate.  Attempts to solve this problem lead to questions about the chronology of Baring-Gould's collecting and we have to admit a certain bafflement over dates given by Baring-Gould in his various writings, the extent to which becoming evident below and some needing to be addressed later in this survey.

We should be most particularly aware of the collaborative circumstances as they appear to apply to the tunes especially - with Baring-Gould, we can perhaps assume, an ever-present one although, as collecting progressed, this does not always appear to have been the case.  We find what seems to have been a joint notation for Come My Lads with the tune from Bussell and got first in 1887 from Edmund Fry at Lydford with a second notation in 1888 from James Olver; the song The Siege of St Malo given as having been noted from James Peake in May 1887 and Harold Fleetwood-Sheppard's name attached; James Parsons apparently giving Baring-Gould himself A Maiden Sweet in May in July 1887 and Nobleman and Thresherman in November 1887; Frederick Bussell again cited in connection with the song, Mother and Daughter, as got from John Woodrich in the same year; and Bussell yet again to whom John Helmore gave The Shepherd Boy in 1887 …6

The songs mentioned here would appear amongst to be the first to have been collected though, as it happens, not one of them appeared in the first editions of SBW, nor in the 1905 revised edition.  The most obvious reason would be that Baring-Gould was not satisfied in some way with the songs as he got them, a subject illustrated in part by the description of the progress of songs through manuscript versions to publication as will be seen later.

The names of the singers given above appear in both the manuscripts and in notes to songs in the first part of SBW.  It would seem that James Parsons was the first singer to be encountered directly and that the names of Robert Hard and John Helmore at South Brent were offered to Baring-Gould by Spence Bate, resident in South Brent but 'quite a stranger'7, and that Baring-Gould and Bussell visited and met the two singers.  Once the fourth part of SBW appeared, a whole list had been assembled of singers from whom Baring-Gould had got songs.  It is a matter of speculation - but reasonable speculation - that, as he found the same song in a different version at different locations it had become necessary to identify each version and each singer and this may have prompted the apparently hasty introduction to the fourth part of the published volumes.

It has to be said, too, that in the notes to songs in the first part of SBW, Robert Hard was consistently referred to as either 'J Hard' or 'John Hard' … another reason for revision and not something to be easily dismissed as printer's error (in Old Country Life, 1890, the singer was named as Richard Hard).

Spence Bate must have responded to Baring-Gould's newspaper appeals as had a W E Crossing, also living in South Brent, although there does not seem to have been any connections or meetings amongst the various residents at South Brent including the schoolmaster, a Mr C Harris, who was of particular help in noting airs.8  In 1889, after 'looking over my collection' Baring-Gould made a further visit to South Brent, by early train - a fact not to be lost when considering the journeys made as described below - since he felt that Robert Hard 'had not been squeezed dry' (we might object to such terms now).  This time it was the vicar at South Brent who gave up a room in which Baring-Gould and Robert Hard, hobbling on two sticks, engaged between the hours of '9.30 A.  M.  and 6.30 P.  M.'  Two months later 'the poor old man was found dead in the road'.9  Harold Fleetwood-Sheppard is cited as being present during this visit to South Brent so where Harris came into the picture is difficult to see.  We do meet the name of 'J Hoskin' (later, 'John') at South Brent and there may have been other singers in addition, unrecorded, so it is possible that Harris was involved in any encounter.

The list of singers (it should be re-emphasised that no such list appeared in the preface to the first part) is as follows:

… a singing blacksmith, John Woodrich, at Wollacott Moor, in, the parish of Thrushelton; … Roger Luxton, of Halwell, North Devon, aged 76; James Olver, tanner, Launceston, aged 71, a native of St Ives, Cornwall; William Rice, labourer, Lamerton, aged 75; John Rickards, of Lamerton; John Masters, of Bradstone, aged 83; William Friend, labourer, Lydford, aged 62; Edmund Fry; thatcher, a native of Lezant, Cornwall, Will and Roger Huggins, Lydford; John Woolrich, labourer, Broadwoodwidger; Matthew Baker, a poor cripple, aged 72, Lew Down … 10
We can see how, quite quickly, the 'original' half-dozen had been augmented.

In all this, Baring-Gould did not in any way try to conceal collaboration with Bussell and Fleetwood-Sheppard and always gave credit to his two colleagues.  Indeed, the first editions of SBW have his own and Fleetwood-Sheppard's names on the title page.  And in the 1928 edition of SBW Baring-Gould wrote that 'I had enlisted the services of such excellent musicians as the late Rev H Fleetwood-Sheppard … and Mr, now the Rev Dr Bussell … '; and there is a substantial portrait in words of Sheppard at the end of the introductory remarks to that volume.  Similarly, in the introductory essay to A Garland … he wrote that 'If it had not been for the ready and cheerful assistance of Mr Bussell, Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford … , I could have effected little...' 11

The actual circumstances of what one might term the inspiration for Baring-Gould's collecting as it appeared in Further Reminiscences (the Radford story) was the one, subsequently, adopted by both of his known biographers12 and there seems to be no reason to dispute its outline and drift - but the small difference in detail, especially where a starting-point was declared, and those (apparently) slightly disingenuous versions in editions of SBW should warn us that all is not always as it seems with Baring-Gould and it can be shown that he sometimes changed or embroidered his remembrance of events.

At any rate, there are several anecdotes in Baring-Gould's writings recalling how Baring-Gould, Bussell and Fleetwood-Sheppard travelled the countryside through mire and mud, spent uncomfortable hours in inclement weather and fetched up at various inns.  We cannot doubt that Devon roads at the time of collecting were difficult to negotiate on foot or in pony and trap and that the miles covered in any one given day were often extensive - as Baring-Gould's walk of between eight and nine miles from Mount Tavy to Lew Trenchard illustrates - but, in the main, we do have to rely on remembered and reconstructed accounts.13  Here and there, but rarely, it is possible to adduce and to deduce.  For instance, when visiting Jonas Coaker at his cottage, Ring Hill, in the heart of Dartmoor, near to present-day Postbridge and some fifteen miles in a direct line from Lew Trenchard, Baring-Gould's home, Baring-Gould, in an article entitled Among the Western Song-Men, wrote that the distance from a serviceable road to the house was half a mile though, at the same time, there was 'not even a pathway to it'.14  However, in another article he wrote that the cottage was 'About a mile from the road, across bogs without road, not even a track' (my italics).15  The slight exaggeration might be thought forbidding to Baring-Gould's comfortable lady and gentlemen readers.  Yet, in a portrait of Jonas Coaker in Dartmoor Idylls (1896), there is a reversion and the position of the cottage is described thus:

There is no road to this little farm, hardly a path.  To reach it one must wade through water, and skip from tuft of rush to hummock of grass in the watery morass that intervenes between the road and the farm, a distance of half-a-mile.16
It is clear here that Baring-Gould was quite happy to emphasise the difficult nature of collecting so that, at this distance, we may suspect a degree of self-aggrandisement.  Yet there can be no doubt, at the same time, that journeys were, truly, not always easy ones.  There was, for instance, the time when Baring-Gould made a visit in company with Fleetwood-Sheppard Sheppard 'to see two old labourers at a place called Culley Hole, in a coomb under the moors.'
From Culley Hole we made an attempt to get across the moor into the high road from Moreton to Tavistock, and lost our way, got into bogs, and were overtaken by a furious hail storm.  We did not reach our inn in the middle of the moor till night, and wet and chilled to the marrow.
Not content, according to Baring-Gould's account, off they started for Widecombe in the Moor … presumably the next day.17

Similar difficulties attended the occasion when Baring-Gould and Sheppard drove in a dog-cart across Dartmoor to Huccaby Bridge when storms overtook them.18  And, when visiting 'an old man', 'who was reputed to be a singer' at Halwell 'in north Devon', 'It was for me' a journey 'of nearly seventeen miles' and involved 'driving over a moor strewn with tumuli'.19  The singer in question was 'old Luxton' - Roger Luxton, five songs from whom Baring-Gould published.  There is, though, a difficulty attached to identification of place here.  Baring-Gould consistently spelled the name of Roger Luxton's domicile as 'Halwell' but the place is actually Halwill, situated to the north of Lew Trenchard, and just off the Okehampton-Holsworthy road.  At least the seventeen miles that Baring-Gould drove would fit the known geography.  Halwell lies to the south of Totnes and considerably more than seventeen miles away from Lew Trenchard.

The collectors, incidentally, were not always on their own.  On a journey to Huccaby Bridge, made by Baring-Gould in company with Fleetwood-Sheppard, 'we had a driver' who, as it happens, sang them a song.20

And there is, in some contrast to the occasions noted above, Baring-Gould's second visit to South Brent, when he took the train.21  A visit to Fowey involved bus and train.22

We should also note that the hospitality of certain gentlemen of Baring-Gould's acquaintance such as Spence Bate, a retired Plymouth dentist, together with the vicar at South Brent, offers us a glimpse here both of practicality and - to use a modern term - a mind-set: the idea that these often venerable gentlemen were best able to direct collectors to sources.23  It was but a step from this idea to that of the networking that operated during the early years of the Revival - and which is reflected in the lists of supporters of the fledgling Folk Song Society and, again (as example), in the various Prefaces to Sharp's Folk Songs of Somerset … as issued in part-form.24  And we can certainly trace the manifestations of mind-set in references to certain gentlemen in notes in SBW; those usually designated 'Esq', some of whom were referred to in the first piece in this short series.24

The earliest direct encounters amongst singers have been indicated but other names should be added - that of a J Potter at Post Bridge, whose version of The Seasons was preferred by Baring-Gould, as opposed to others got from South Brent and Belstone; that of Jonas Coaker; and that of John Hoskin (The Squire and the Fair Maid).  Seventeen songs out of the total of twenty-five in the first part of SBW are credited to these earliest singers.25

Further, though, the reference to Belstone raises the matter of an intriguing little complex, because there is one other singer invoked in ways which illustrate how Baring-Gould accumulated some of his material and how the substance of his experiences became changed in recollection at times.  In notes to the first part of SBW he wrote that:

At Belstone, as I learned from J D Prickman, Esq, of Okehampton, lived an old yeoman, with stalwart sons, all notable singers.  Mr Sheppard and I met this old man.  Belstone is a small village under the rocks of Belstone Tor, on the edge of Dartmoor, a wild and lonesome spot.  From this yeoman we acquired more songs; but his sons sang none of their father's: they knew and appreciated only Christy Minstrel and Music Hall pieces, void of merit or interest to us.  They despised, and did not care to learn, the old ballads and songs that had come down as an heirloom from their tuneful ancestors.26
By the time that Baring-Gould had decided to revise his prefatory material in the fourth part of the first edition, this piece had been cut somewhat ending simply with 'From this yeoman we acquired more songs.'27

There are several points to make.  First, Baring-Gould's dismissal of the sons and their songs, particularly as it judges Music Hall not to be worthy of consideration, can be found as well in various other guises; in effect, as a constant factor which in the progress of his thinking is traced.  Second, there is no mention of the Belstone singer's name; but it seems that it was Harry Westaway since, in the 1928 revised edition of SBW, Baring-Gould repeated the reference to Mr Prickman and Belstone and added that the name of 'one moorland singing farmer' was, indeed, Harry Westaway - who 'knew many old songs'.28  Third, as a result of contact with Harry Westaway, there are, in fact, three songs contained in the earliest edition of SBW.  The first, Cold Blows the Wind, had already been got from a correspondent and also from 'John Woodrich, blacksmith, Wollacott Moor, Thrushelton' but 'We obtained the same melody from Mr H Westaway, a yeoman at Belstone'.29  Notes on the second song, The Seasons, though the ascription is not exact, indicate that a version had been obtained 'at Belstone' and, since Baring-Gould mentioned no other singer at Belstone encountered at the time, we might assume the name of Mr Westaway.30  The melody of the third, The Jolly Goss-Hawk, was 'taken down by Mr Sheppard from H Westaway, yeoman, of Belstone.'31

The 1891 census reveals that 'Henry Westaway', described as a 'Farmer' and living with his family of wife and four sons, a daughter, a daughter-in-law and her daughter, at Higher Prestacott, Belstone, was aged 67.32  This does not, as Baring-Gould would seem to have us believe, make him out to be particularly old nor yet, bearing in mind the many gradations in status that occupation gave - carter, under-carter, carter's boy and so on - of the peasant class favoured by Baring-Gould and other collectors as bearers of tradition.

Lastly, in respect of collecting compass, Belstone does seem to have been one of the places farthest to the north-east that Baring-Gould travelled, an indication of physical limits to collecting which, together with that element of self-aggrandisement and what might seem to be a false impression of the age of the singer so as to fit a pre-determined idea, gives us an inkling of Baring-Gould's self-perception which sometimes obtrudes on actuality.

It appears that Baring-Gould would sometimes arrange to meet his singers at a particular venue - perhaps an inn such as The Saracen's Head at Two Bridges, on Dartmoor, which Baring-Gould mentioned in his various notes and articles,33  and he recounts how he and Bussell 'put up' at the Oxenham Arms at South Zeal for another bout of song-collecting when the miners collected for their pay-day.  One of the company drew especial attention, a man with a high forehead and partly bald, who sang ballads with 'upturned eyes'.  Baring-Gould wrote: 'I learned that he was given free entertainment at the inn, on condition that he sang as long as the tavern was open, for the amusements of the guests.  He seemed to be inexhaustible in his store of songs and ballads; with the utmost readiness, whenever called on, he sang, and skilfully varied the character of his pieces - to grave succeeded gay, to a ballad a lyric.'  The occasion made a distinct impression on Baring-Gould and from it he seems to have extrapolated a life-style for some singers, suggesting that every ale-house had its resident singer.34

Further, as was indicated above, he and Bussell 'drove across Dartmoor in winter in a furious gale of rain and wind, to Huccaby Bridge, in quest of an old man we had heard of there as a singer.  We found the fellow but he yielded nothing, and our long journey would have been fruitless had we not caught Richard Cleave and obtained from him … ' an air to I'll Build Myself A Gallant Ship35  Similarly, at Holne with Fleetwood-Sheppard, 'several notable song-men supped with us' until 'as the time for closing arrived' the village policeman arrived and dispersed the company.  There was also a visit to Fowey, in Cornwall, to The Lugger inn where it proved difficult to get the old men to sing until the station-master persuaded the singers to do their best on account of a favour that Baring-Gould had once done for the station-master's brother-in-law.36

There are a number of such references to inns as habitual venues for singing.  Baring-Gould wrote, for example, of James Parsons, that he was well-known as 'a song-man' in public house.  He also noted that James Parsons' father was known to have sung at least one song at a tavern in Plymouth and was implored by the landlady to sing the particular song ('thicky song') every time that he went to the same tavern and 'you shall pay naught for your bed and board'.  There is a favourite anecdote relating to James Parsons and involving a singing match which, at this point, it is worth referring to briefly since it describes the setting as a 'moorland tavern' to which James Parsons went 'every pay-day' .  Again, Mr Parsons is described as singing 'in the taverns' in Among the Western Song-Men.  James Parsons was a hedger and thatcher and it is a matter of intrigue as to just how far he might have travelled for work - or, indeed, pleasure.  37.

Another of Baring-Gould's singers, James Olver, when he was young, used to slip out of a disapproving house, apparently, in order to 'start away to the tavern where the miners congregated and listen to and heap up in his memory the songs he there heard'.38  Certainly, songs were got from Mr Gilbert, the landlord of the Falcon Inn at Mawgan in Pyder, Cornwall:

I was met by Miss Gilbert, the landlord's daughter, with a flash of delight in her kind face when I gave my name.  “Oh!” she exclaimed, “ we have been so longing for you to come.  Dear old father, now nearly ninety, used to be such a singer, and my sister and I, when we heard you were collecting the old songs, have over and over again wished you would come here and take down father's sweet old ditties before they were lost.”
'Accordingly,' wrote Baring-Gould, 'we collected these'.  He went on to relate that Mr Gilbert was very feeble and could only give a short time during a day but that he got Lemonday and Flowers of the Valley, 'the latter a song that had been sung by the inn fire by an old fellow then dead.'39  As for more references to inns - in Further Reminiscences, Baring-Gould wrote that John Woodrich got songs from a public-house in north Devon among them Go from my Window.  At a tangent, when it was discovered that Jonas Coaker had little or no voice, it was John Webb, 'the landlord of the little inn' at Post Bridge, who provided the tunes.40

In the notes to the song, Trinity Sunday, sent to him by T S Cayzer, he wrote:

Many [an] … evening have Mr Sheppard, Mr Bussell and I spent … over the peat fire with the burly, red-faced moor men and shepherds, standing to sing their quaint old songs, and very happy evenings they have been.41
In fact, it might seem that this was one of the ways in which Baring-Gould himself first encountered songs:
When I was a boy, I was wont to ride over and about Dartmoor, and to put up at little village taverns.  There I was sure in the evening to hear one or two men sing, and should it be a pay day, sing hour after hour, one song following another with little intermission.42
Further still, in the Introduction to A Garland … he suggested that this was the best way to become acquainted with 'our folk airs'.  If anyone wished to learn about them 'let him put on an old coat and hat, and go on a tramp through England, lodging at little taverns, and associate with the labourers in the green fields and over the tavern table, about the tavern fire'.43

Lamenting the decline of singing, in his chapter on singers in Old Country Life, he suggested that the singer 'lingers on only in the ale-houses …'44

As for other venues and circumstances for singing: in one instance in commentary, Baring-Gould is found writing about the singer, James Olver, 'at Liskeard, sixty years ago' (around the 1830s, that is) and of how 'all the youngsters on summer evenings used to meet in a field outside the town' and wrestled and played games; and how, 'When the games went on, or between the intervals, songs were sung.'45  Yet another singer, whom Baring-Gould would only refer to as Elias Keate, a pseudonym ('because he is liable to become the worse for liquor, and to be quarrelsome over his cups'), 'goes round to all sheep-shearings, harvest homes, fairs, etc, and sings.'46  As well as the indication that singers and inns were indivisible at one stage in Devon life, Baring-Gould also suggested of the singers that 'at all gatherings, pay-days, harvest-homes, these men were in requisition'47  On the other hand, given his apparent attendance at various pay-days - as a boy, mind - and bearing in mind that we are considering his activities as song-collector not as a parson, there is no evidence to show that Baring-Gould ever attended any of the feasts and fairs which, he claimed, were occasions on which songs were sung.  But in the preface to the 1905 edition of SBW, for example, when recounting the Radford story, Baring-Gould referred to the fact that the company 'had heard many and various songs at Hunt-suppers, at harvest and sheep-shearing feasts'.48

The most extensive reference to customary calendrial practice involved Roger Luxton, 'a fine old man' … 'with bright eyes and an intelligent face', who lived at Halwell (sic - see text and footnotes above).  However, the gist of the reference is that things had changed dramatically.  Roger Luxton:

… was once very famous as a song-man, but his memory fails him as to a good number of the ballads he was wont to sing.  “Ah, your honour,” said he, “in old times us used to be welcome in every farm-house at all shearing and haysel and harvest feasts; but, bless-y! now the farmers' da'ters all learn the pianny, and zing nort but twittery sort and they don't care to hear us, and any decent sort of music.  And there be now no more shearing and haysel and harvest feasts.  All them things be given up …”49
Apart from the subject-matter here, much is revealed about Baring-Gould's ability to recapture the flavours of speech.  Maybe he recalled the exact words: maybe not.  Most certainly Baring-Gould the novelist surfaces … which, where accuracy of ascription and circumstance are concerned, may not always have been helpful.

We should note that he also wrote that, 'Many of the oldest singers can no longer be heard in the public-houses, they must be sought out in their humble homes.'50  Baring-Gould did claim to have visited singers in their own homes (we might, perhaps superficially, expect a parson to so visit his flock anyway) stating, when enlisting the help of his colleagues, that 'it needed that we should visit the cottages and taverns …'51  He recounted the particular occasions, for instance, when he met Jonas Coaker (noted also above) and how he went to Huccaby with Bussell on another occasion to meet Mary Satcherly and how he was forced to follow the latter round her house as she proceeded with various tasks.52

Baring-Gould certainly also brought singers into his own house at Lew Trenchard - the hall usually which, at the present time, is certainly big enough to cater for even a group and could certainly have provided comfort and quietitude, although the presence of a piano, as Baring-Gould recounts it, might give pause to remark the unusual and, sometimes, off-putting circumstances for singers.  Mostly, according to Baring-Gould, these singers would begin nervously but expand after sampling what must have been a genuinely hospitable streak in his character.  His references to sessions with James Parsons are the most prominent, perhaps because they were amongst first encounters with singers and were, in this sense, revelatory.  Mr Parsons, 'was not in my parish'.  However:

Hearing of his vocal exploits, I sent for him one winter, and many a cheerful evening did we have together, singing and sipping hot spiced wine and water.  He told me that when first invited to Lew House, he trembled with fright, but he soon got over that, and came to relish his musical evenings with me.  He was very strict with me and insisted on my taking down his airs correctly.  “You've gotten that note not right.  You mun know that I'm the master and you'm the scholar; and I wi'n't have any slurs or blunders.  What is right is right, and what I wrong niver can be right to the warld's end.'53
Baring-Gould also describes how he attempted to pick out the notes of tunes on his own piano and was guided by singers such as James Parsons, presumably in the manner indicated above.  He admitted that he was no musician and found difficulty in playing out the notes as sung to him - one obvious reason for employing the services of such as Bussell and Fleetwood-Sheppard whose musical competence was evidently greater.

This has particular relevance when we recall Baring-Gould's habit of trying to hold a tune in his head whilst travelling back from a meeting and then re-constituting it in the privacy of his own home: a method, obviously, fraught with possible dangers as regards accuracy which may well, if this were so, have been ameliorated if Baring-Gould had re-visited his singer and checked the tune (and, indeed, the text).  In some cases, particularly those near at hand to Lew Trenchard, this may well have been the case - with James Parsons and Matthew Baker ('an old tenant of mine'), for instance, who both lived close by and who were both revisited throughout 1888-1890, when Mathew Baker died; but in others there is the suspicion that this was not so and we have to rely on Baring-Gould's own 'interpretations' after what might appear to have been a single visit.

We are faced here with something of a dilemma in accepting or rejecting versions of songs resultant on Baring-Gould's working methods - pen and pencil, recollection and amateur musicianship - and it is relatively easy to criticise from our own supposedly enlightened standpoint.  We are used now, perhaps, to the utmost fidelity in recording exactly what a singer sings - though this is sometimes to forget that we can, in such cases, only claim that we may have heard one song sung in a particular fashion on one particular occasion - a good enough justification, but one which does not necessarily allow singing dynamics on different occasions their full potential.

In any case, it is quite possible that, when singers listened and then tried to reconstitute songs, they altered what they heard, unconsciously, and that Baring-Gould's experience of re-constitution, if, perhaps, not so well attuned, was different but at a remove.  In particular, the habit of trying to hold a tune in the head is an obvious candidate amongst both singers and collectors for possible change in phrasing if not musical metre: the underlying manifestation of variation.  What we often lack here (given the absence of corroboration on the part of the collector by using second or third notations) is the kind of evidence illustrated, say, in a positive identification of such and such a song allegedly learned from such and such a singer and the means - the different versions - for comparison in order to test the validity of a claim, and, indeed, to note any changes that might have been made.

One of the great white holes in current study is, in this respect, the relative absence of detailed exposition of any particular singer's repertoire and its 'place' in a local (and national) history of potential genesis and transmission of songs.  In such a repertoire, it must be a logical deduction that songs did change as they were transmitted through unconscious change of emphasis, memory loss and the like, or the more conscious attempt to reconstruct text and tune and the choice of substitute material.  Nowadays, one has only to cite the continuing endeavour of singers such as Len Graham or the late Gordon Hall who both took - and, in Len Graham's case, takes - a long time to arrive at a position of current satisfaction with a song before it was made public.  It might be hazarded that one of the major reasons why songs did survive for so long is, precisely, that they changed in some measure to suit the conditions of any one time - even fashion - and the predisposition of a singer towards his or her material or the absorption of interest engendered by a song or a singer: so that the 'meaning', as it were, of a song to a singer might, in differing circumstances, undergo a subtle alteration.  One recalls Stephen Spooner's insistence on singing the word 'Plare' in his version of The Rambler from Clare, suggesting that he was completely unaware of the significance of the reference and possible genesis and pedigree of the song.54  Such instances can, from our own experiences, be multiplied.  They are really a constant factor in the acquisition of songs.  Thus, we should not, perhaps, be so absolute in our reluctance to accept this or that collector's evident mediation in ways which might parallel that of the singer.

Obviously, this is a subject capable of much extension, refinement and argument, one of those areas of debate that could be further explored in detail with reference to individual songs and singers.  In the case of Baring-Gould, we need to acknowledge that there may have been accidents of conception, of change in singing dynamics on different occasions and of re-construction amongst singers and in Baring-Gould's own deliberations.  One notes, in this connection, his comments on the song Something Lacking, got from Thomas Dark, labourer, Holcombe, where a process is intimated:

This was most difficult to note, owing to the old fellow changing his key when asked to re-sing it for the purpose of notation.  I am not satisfied that it is right now.55
In this they obviously differ from deliberate reconstruction, omission or re-constitution of text especially - an aspect of Baring-Gould's collecting already mentioned in the first piece in this series and one that cannot be dismissed.  At the same time reconstruction could not have been unknown amongst singers who decided for themselves just how they would eventually present material.  Baring-Gould, in this sense, was hardly a villain.

Roly Brown - 21.2.05
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT153

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