Article MT212

Peter Kennedy

The Darker Side

A couple of months after Peter Kennedy's death in 2006, I wrote - as Enthusiasm No.53 - an appraisal of his work in the field of folk song and dance.  I said that, 'as it stands, it will seem biased towards the negative - primarily because the published material to date has been almost all positive, as befitted the 'obituary' type of writing which followed closely upon Peter's death.  Readers with additions, amendments or corrections are asked to e-mail me with their contributions.'

With the welcome news that the Peter Kennedy archive has been given to the Halsway Manor Society, and that Topic Records and MT Records will be releasing many of his recordings, this seems like an appropriate moment to close the correspondence - and I suspect that, by now, all who wished to contribute will have done so.

As I promised in the original piece, I contacted Derek Schofield, asking if he would be interested in publishing the result in EDS?  He replied:

The whole piece is longer than I would normally accept in EDS (it’s 3000 words which, with illustrations, would run to 4 pages).  Okay, it may deserve that coverage, but I only get 48 pages every 3 months!
Accordingly, I am now publishing the results here.  I was a little surprised that none of the contributors wanted to correct any of the points I'd raised - and that none had anything to add to the 'positive' comments I'd included ... namely that:
  1. He was in the right place at the right time, and made the very most of his opportunities, producing some superb recordings, exceptional photographs and film.
  2. We will be for ever in his debt for the record he left of a now-vanished world.
  3. He came from a very privileged background, yet was interested in the culture of ordinary people.
  4. His attitude to traditional singing and music showed an insight and a ‘good nose’ for where he would find traditional song and music - more so than his father or aunt.
  5. He was often extremely kind and helpful to others.
  6. He was capable of being extremely charming.
  7. He was a very hard worker.
  8. He had supreme self-belief.
I was told that a Mudcat thread had been started on the subject but, beyond criticising me, I found nothing there which really added to any of the above positive points.

But I did get quite a number of letters and e-mails illustrating the negative aspects which I'd highlighted.  My sincere thanks to all who wrote to me.  Their contributions follow, in no particular order:

In conclusion then, it would appear that nothing I wrote in Enthusiasm 53 was inaccurate or biased - beyond the fact that it was intentionally negative, intending to balance the primarily positive comments in the media at that time, as befitted the 'obituary' type of writing which followed closely upon Peter's death.

Peter Kennedy's archive will now be properly conserved, and his recordings will soon be widely available, with appropriate contextual booklets which will treat the performers with the respect they deserved ... and did not receive in their lifetimes.  The worth of what he recorded will be there for everyone to see, and to study.

I do not believe that it is in anybody's long-term interest that a false and misleading account of one of this country's foremost collectors and innovators should come to be accepted as the whole story.  Peter Kennedy was a normal human being - with faults as well as virtues.  We would do well to remember this - and to realise that he was not the only prominent figure in this genre to leave a rather mixed legacy.

Rod Stradling - 8.2.08

Article MT212

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