Letters - December 1999 to April 2000|
Came across your excellent site by chance today while researching a new guidebook I'm writing for the AA.
Trouble was, there's so much interesting stuff there that I spent a fair part of the morning reading when I should have been writing. However there's one part of the article on the British Folk Revival which is not only misleading but factually incorrect.
It's in the section: The Prospect Before Us festivals and youth - the road ahead?
'The Girvan Folk Festival, which had been running for 21 years, failed to materialise in 1996 and organiser and editor of The Living Tradition, Peter Heywood admitted in March, 1996 that some organisers were their own worst enemies'Girvan Folk Festival did take place in 1996 and has just celebrated its 26th year, last weekend. Full details of this and next year's festival are on the website at http//welcome.to/girvan
I was a member of the 1996 committee who decided for a variety of reasons, mainly connected with council grants, not to proceed with the Festival. I was not involved in that decision, disagreed with it, and, when approached by local hoteliers and several long term festival members, launched a rescue package.
With assistance from the local business community and support from a variety of artists including Davy Steele, Sheena Wellington, Marilyn Middleton Pollock and The Stewarts of Blair the festival went ahead and was a great success. A meeting was held and a new interim committee elected charged with producing a constitution and securing finance for the next festival. I remained as artistic director until 1998, then handed over to Maggie MacRae of Kilmarnock Folk Club who is still in post.
The Festival remains one of the premier events in the Scottish calendar with the same format, look and feel as the one evolved by Pete Heywood during his years as Artistic Director.
Broadcaster and Travel Writer
Thank you for reprinting Vic Smith's interview with Gordon Hall and also his thoughtful appreciation of such fine man. Gordon was so many things to so many people on so many levels; I don't think there was a subject on earth upon which he could not discourse or add his own intelligent comment. There wasn't a person who met him who wasn't touched by his spirit and kindness.
His passing is a tragic loss, there was so much more to come from him. Let's hope that someone will complete his magnificent researches on the Henry Burstow repertoire and bring them to publication. That would be a great epitaph.
So it's goodbye the pints of gin and tonic, goodbye the '4 cigarette' ballads, goodbye the mighty voice, goodbye the stories, goodbye the great good humour and intelligence - but worst of all, it's goodbye valued friend.
I regularly get quite upset with contemporary academic folklorists and other critics who patronize researchers like Sharp for their 'nativist' attitudes while simultaneously allowing our music to die away. A minor example that personally piqued me: in Rounder's early days I compiled an LP from a latter-day 'collector' who did a small amount of work within one of Sharp's regions but who had, in those flower child days, lost interest in the material. When an extended version was later re-released on CD (a turn of events in which I had no involvement), this self styled 'collector' inserted a number of patronizing comments into the old notes about "scholars who tried to catalog the songs in musty books" or some such nonsense. If I'd had any awareness of this, I would have had my name removed from the reissue; as it is, I've never been able to listen to that album again.
Yes, Cecil Sharp and his peers often entertained attitudes about race and national identity that look less than appetizing now, but none of it will look quite as silly in the future as the opinions that inform their smug and self-promoting modern critics.
Editor - North American Traditions Series, Rounder Records
I really have enjoyed the Musical Traditions web site. I have especially enjoyed the Voice of the People articles and reviews. I am a fiddle player from Michigan. The major part of my tunes are from field recording such as Kerry Fiddles from Topic and some of the recordings by John Doherty, Denis Murphy, Michael Coleman ... It's all quite wonderful, and because of reading about Voice of the People, I've been listening to the recordings and finding a new appreciation for song as well. I hope to keep reading the artciles.
Last Sunday I sent you a small ad asking for info on the Dick Hewitt video. You must have put it on the page almost immediately. By Monday I'd had a reply from someone who knew of a supplier who still has it in stock. The video dropped onto my doormat this morning! Impressive or what?
Many thanks for your help. Needless to say, the ad can be removed now.
However, with three of their latest releases, a small chink of light has emerged. The jewel cases for Bali, SA 141027; Cuba, SA 141024; and Thailand, SA 141023, all tell us that they were recorded on field trips to the various locations by one Francois Jouffa.
I do not know who this person is, and searches through various ethnomusicological journals have failed to reveal any clues. If anybody knows of his or her whereabouts, I would be glad if they would let me know.
Fred McCormick - 4.12.99
With regards to his complaint about the lack of discographic information: it's not about not taking the needs of the linernote readers seriously, it's that the labels want to obscure the ownership of the original discs thereby avoiding any copyright infringement suits.
Sad, but true.
All the best,
Henry Sapoznik - 1.12.99
First, though, I'm delighted that it evoked a response from Luigi Fazzo and thank him for his courtesy.
The review, as a whole, will stand or fall partly on its own merits or whatever and partly by virtue of response from the musicians and from listeners, expressed publicly or held at heart, and I see no reason to retract what I wrote. I must emphasise, as I did in the review itself, that I take the group seriously. So that it was certainly not my wish to offend in comments on the tune written for their dead friend. In no way do I impute their sincerity and dedication. My objections, such as they are, were on purely musical grounds.
Secondly, I didn't use the word 'pathetic' but did use the word 'bathetic' - and in or out of context they are very different in import. Was there a misunderstanding here or a mipspirnt? And I claim contextual immunity for 'embarrassing' and 'ridiculous'… you'll have to return to the exact lines in the review.
Thirdly, it would certainly be very nice to be able to sit round a table and talk and I look forward to such an occasion but that isn't the point. The CD has entered the public domain and will evoke a public reaction (mine in this case). And it isn't quite simply a question of opinion but of the palpable evidence of music-playing in Irish and other traditions against which comment can be balanced. Birkin Tree's experience of Irish and other music is not a matter for dispute: indeed, where the group is successful on the CD this helps to demonstrate a particular immersion and I had hoped that that was made clear in my review. Where is there any suggestion of Italian (or any other un-Irish) presumption?
Following from that, I'm well aware of different developments in the presentation of Irish music and that there will always be a tension between what was and what is – hopefully a beneficial one (that is, beneficial to the music) but this is not always the case and my own concern over what I've called commercial proposition, the gig and the concert platform, is a way of nudging ramifications into focus. In this matter, any reviewer has to make a way through the possibilities as well as the next person and in so doing will naturally expose degrees of limitation in understanding and experience or, it is hoped, degrees of knowledge and even judgement… all subject to change as a matter of course. Hence the pleasure of debate.
A few more observations might, perhaps, broaden that debate (and may help to settle Mr Queally's mind somewhat too). Thus, at the Crossroads conference in Dublin in 1996 it was Tommy Munnelly who pointed out that whatever Riverdance did or did not do, the film Forty-Second Street offered the sight and sound of mass, choreographed tapping (you'd be too young, Michael)… It was Kevin Conneff (of the Chieftains) who pointed out to me many, many years ago that, whatever the appeal of the Chieftains themselves and whatever the possible distance they had put between themselves and your average run of session music, a great number of people had, through their agency, been introduced to the sound of the pipes… You can take that one a bit further: how many singers and musicians came to the body of Irish traditional music (perhaps it would be even more accurate to reconstitute the phrase as 'Irish musical traditions') through the exposure of the likes of the Clancy brothers? Riverdance - et al - may take a place in this kind of stirring of interest.
Again – though this is to divert somewhat - Coleman's influence on fiddling through what seems to have been a wholesale love affair with mechanical recording in Ireland has had its up and down effects (not himself alone, of course, and the word 'influence' always needs care in use - which I haven't the time to expand on here). And yet, without trying to bring the two phenomena into a stranglehold, where are the regional fiddling styles – those of, say, Antrim or Fermanagh… or south Galway? We could not do better than to value and promote them as against any all-pervasive sound. And let's remind ourselves of the fiddling of Tommy Potts: absolutely unique, exhilirating and moving by turn… but, surely, without any tangible effect on what may be termed mainstream fiddling traditions since that brief, one-off recording of The Liffey Banks (c.1971)… I daresay that this bringing to bear of individual contributions could be extended in piping circles… It's perhaps a matter of the impact of style and personality in the senses that Percy Grainger once mulled over when he was recording his Lincolnshire singers: not new, then, and by no means defunct, I'm pleased to say, in the present and any other context, as a subject for discussion.
Suffice to say that we all have our heroes (though the use of a word like 'genius' is part of that sloppy and dangerous tendency to overblow – hype – which is more properly associated with footballers and pop stars. Elsewhere I've mentioned the frequent occurrence of the term 'folk act'. Act, for goodness' sake? Is this what's really meant?). In heroic terms, then (and I grant the irony in applying a somewhat fulsome term), it would have been impossible not to succumb to the character of Sweeney's Men in my day; or, later, in my case, of De Danaan… and any number of individuals in all sorts of contexts – Ned Walsh in the back room of a dive in Waterford, John Kelly senior and Jimmy Ward philosophising in Marrinan's in Miltown Malbay, Felix Kearney and Francie Quinn in Stack's bar at one of the Listowel fleadhanna of the early seventies… One grows up; one is educated.
So, to return by degrees, it is a matter of regret that the music of someone like Martin Hayes appears to be above comment – he's quite clearly one of the heroes, I'm not complaining about his abilities and I certainly never suggested that his playing was 'peculiar'. I remember being tremen-jush-ly enthused by his debut (I believe) on An Fidil 1 (1978) and on a little cassette, The Shores of Lough Graney, with P Joe later. I would not, in any case, like to drag Martin's playing down to the status of dog-and-bone. Similarly, though, with Sharon Shannon and her delightful sister and the rest of the bunch: do we really need blinkers? (that'd spoil the fun, wha'?) I refer to my recent review of The Boys of the Lough… Should we not be asking, amongst other things and in the midst of our sheer enjoyment, what it is, precisely, that these individuals (and groups) do contribute to existing traditions? I can't see any disgrace in that: it's part of our learning curve? Does that help, Mr Queally? There's no reason to withdraw admiration and they'll continue to excite and even provoke listeners (not too passive, then) including me.
Even with the distinction between – shall we say – functional (specifically, dancing) and listening modes, though, which I take it that Luigi Fazzo is here concerned about (for starters), it still remains to be able to assess and absorb or reject whatever is being heard. Lucy Farr's fiddling, especially in listening mode, always evokes delight and curiosity – why that tune at the end of a dance recalled; why a doubling of the second part in that reel; whose setting revealed… Paddy Fahy's tunes have the same sort of effect… I find this to be endlessly fascinating and would re-iterate the point that Birkin Tree have also raised such issues – I hope that this is clear, once and for all – in strength and vital force (to quote) even if I (who, indeed, is he?) might have reservations which themselves do not suddenly acquire the force of diktat but are genuinely posed as a means of asking : this is so, isn't it (or not)?
This brings me to the other point raised by Luigi about the hornpipe, which seems to me to invite wariness of the implicit ideas in 'developing of the tune, its underlying harmonic suggestions, accents and resting notes of the phrase' insofar as the character of the hornpipe form as we now have it, at the least, may be changed – as yer man, Yeats, said - 'utterly'…which was something I raised in the course of my review (and do go on about).
Finally, I confess to a bit of mischief and am sorry if it misfired: Birkin Tree - what kind of a name is this at all?… a class of a Dublin expression if, perhaps, not entirely bona fide. And yet: a Tannahill Weaver's recording as source? There's a little bit of QED about this, surely. Something about dilution comes to mind, the vagueness of a 'Celtic' label on the music…
Roly Brown - 1.12.99
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