Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The First Book Review ...

I have just finished reading Georgina Boyes’ award-winning book The Imagined Village. (1993, Manchester University Press.)
It was a hard read, albeit a paperback!

My expectations of a romantic account of rural England in bygone days were utterly misplaced.
This is  a well crafted and meticulously researched academic social/historical tome about the folk revival in England.

Within these pages Georgina questions the very existence of ‘folk’ in her first chapter.
Enigmatically she entitles that chapter: ‘A Name for our Ignorance’.
She describes the early years of The Folk Song Society, (founded 1898,) as a hegemony overseen and orchestrated by Cecil Sharp.
In 1911 Sharp was instrumental in founding The English Folk Dance Society, and it was not until 1932, (after CJS's death in 1924,) that the two organisations amalgamated to become The English Folk Dance and Song Society.
Key-words in the aims of these organisations were ‘preservation’ and ‘education’.

Georgina has little sympathy for Sharp.
He comes across as an arrogant dictator.
She accuses folk song/dance collectors of appropriation of heritage from those rustic people from whom they recorded their material.
Sharp near-raped country folk for his own commercial benefit.
Then CJS sanitises the lyrics and arranges the songs for piano accompaniment, to be performed during school lessons, and only publicly exhibited by trained singers dressed in evening-wear.
Moreover, CJS claims copyright!

It is clear from Georgina’s account that the folk revival was not immune from politics.
CJS is perceived as an autocrat.
Mary Neal, Sharp’s accomplice in promulgating traditional dance, seems to have been largely ignored by history. I think she was a socialist, and she had suffragette sympathies. Both seem to have been colluding in an effort to bring about a socio-cultural transformation. 

Misogyny was rife, even though membership of all these societies was oestrogen-heavy.
FDS declared that morris and sword dancing were exclusively male activities.
Women could only attend social dances if they were accompanied by a man.
Then came Henry B. Gardiner. He is portrayed a fascist.
He was followed by Douglas Kennedy who had near-Nazi sympathies, and very political agenda.
Women remained problematic.

This all gets a bit scary! 

Was ‘folk’ rescued by Ewan McColl and Bert Lloyd? (Communists, both.)
McColl used to require that singers at his folk club restricted material to their native language.
The guitar was unwelcome.

Were we in Britain reminded of our heritage only when Joan Baez brought back British songs from across the Atlantic?
What about all those protest songs?
Where do contemporary compositions fit in?

I return to my earlier contention that folk music is what you hear in a folk club.


London Apprentice and Special Bitter said...

"Women remained problematic"
Sharp a music teacher with some self serving ideas - eh?
"Guitars unwelcome to Ewen McColl & Bert Lloyd the communists.
One feels the need to say something. Might that be unprintable heresy or profanity?

parkingspaceman said...

In CJS's and other collectors' favour, and although they didn't know it, without them many songs would have been lost, dying with their singers in the trenches. Perhaps women of the time sang songs - even about great battles, although I think it's likely that battle songs was a male thing. Whatever the collectors' motives, those of us who like traditional music should be grateful to them.

As to their stance on women's participation: judge them in the context of their time- women did not go into pubs on their own, if at all, in rural England in those days, so to dances, in the Morris... ?

P.S. What do you mean by a 'folk club'? Are there horse clubs, then?

Dogsbody, Scrivener and Wretch said...

Oh, at last, some intelligent debate. Thank you, PSM.

I entirely agree that CJS and those early collectors have preserved a cornucopia of traditional material, albeit sometimes in sanitised form.
My post was never intended to be derisory about those accomplishments.
Indeed, I am grateful, and I can ignore the politics.

Yes, for our next discussion it would be interesting to address the question. "What do you mean by a 'Folk Club'.

Final answer: "We are!"