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Jim Moray on the folk 'tradition'

Mike Harding | 14:39 UK time, Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Jim Moray writes:

If you are reading this, you are probably already interested in folk and acoustic music. You might even consider yourself a fan of traditional music. In some ways I'm not entirely sure that 'traditional music' as an entity exists. This might sound like an outrageous sweeping statement but let me explain...

In Georgina Boyes' book 'The Imagined Village' (the recent Simon Emmerson project was named after the book) she argues that what is presented as a coherent and tangible folk tradition is in fact a series of isolated and not necessarily connected things. The body of evidence collected in the first folk revival of the late 1800s and early 1900s was rationalised by the folk song collectors to fit their own patterns and preconceptions.

Just like in astrology it is probably human nature to join up the dots to create a picture, but what if they are just dots? We should be eternally grateful that the likes of Cecil Sharp, Lucy Broadwood and numerous others were out preserving the repertoire and documenting the music being made by ordinary people, but it's also important to keep an open mind as to what it all means. I'm not saying that I have the answers, but I'm not convinced that it has to mean anything beyond some fantastic songs and tunes that are worth treasuring in their own right.

Let's celebrate the music collected by these pioneers first and foremost because it is great music created by people just like us, and not allow the lust for categorisation and meaning to overshadow that.


  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting comments Jim. I'm not sure that I would want to leap in to say that there was any meaning to the folk tradition. For starters, you would need to define each of those terms - not exactly an easy task, and one which usually leads to a considerable amount of argument rather than reasoned discussion.

    I'd have to take issue with you on the suggestion that the first folk revival (again - what does the term "revival" actually mean... for something or someone to be revived, they have to be dead first... not something that the tradition has yet achieved, thank heavens) took place in the late 19th century. The Rev John Broadwood (and others) were out collecting well before the collecting movement of the 1880's and 1890's kicked in. In Broadwood's case this was in the 1840's.

    Sadly the link for Lucy Broadwood leads nowhere ... I have a sneaking suspicion that the original link may have been to my own website (now defunct). However, there is a Folkopedia entry for her at http://folkopedia.efdss.org/Lucy_Broadwood . I am currently putting together a show entitled "Listen and You Shall Hear" on the lady and her work in order to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth (last Saturday), details of which (and a photo of her alabaster memorial in Rusper church) can be found on a MySpace page www.myspace/listenandyoushallhear together with some sound clips of three of the songs which she collected.


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