SING – FOLK – SPEAK

Talking about dialect, place and identity in folk song

Teachers, Ramblers and Spectres – a brief note of thanks June 28, 2012

A massive thanks to everyone who came to the Rude Shipyard on Sunday and helped to make Sing-Folk-Speak a success. Dr Fay Hield and Dave Burland were on brilliant form – both in their singing and in the insights they shared into the world of folk clubs and the role of dialect in folksong. It was clear from the start that the folkies who turned up on the day had a deep love of the music and had fascinating dialect-related observations and memories to share. One folk fan from Barnsley remembered a schoolteacher with a strong Ilkley accent informing him that Barnsley dialect wasn’t proper dialect, but slang. I suspect the same schoolteacher would have struggled to stick to that position after hearing Dave’s rendition of ‘The Barnsley Anthem’.  Professor Joan Beal, Dr Rod Hermeston and Dr Barbara MacMahon were also present to offer an academic perspective on some of the issues. Joan reflected on the appeal of local ways of speaking and songs about specific regions in an increasingly homogenised world, while Rod shed light on the relationship between music hall and folk songs in Tyneside. Regular folk-club goers will be unsurprised to learn that no one missed an opportunity to join Fay and Dave in singing the choruses of the better-known tunes. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person present who was delighted to hear the good people of South Yorkshire trying on the Lancastrian vowels and consonants of ‘The Manchester Rambler’.

In due course I’ll upload a more detailed account of the event, along with selected audio excerpts (courtesy of Joe, who did a fine job of recording it) and photographs. Suffice it to say at this stage that the highlights for me were Fay singing a ‘Tha’ Lowks a Proper Swell Lass’, a song based on a Derbyshire dialect poem, and Dave performing a new version of ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’, set to the melody of ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’, a number thought to have originated in America. Indeed, the theme of cross-cultural meetings was a recurring topic of discussion. On more than one occasion the spectre of the great Salfordian Ewan MacColl passed through the room, as people recalled his infamous edict to the turns at his 1960s Singers Club that they only perform songs from their native regions, as well the numerous occasions on which he chose not to heed his own advice, by singing American and Scottish songs. Due to the efforts of everyone there, I’m glad to say that it was not the spirit of MacColl the inward-looking traditionalist that prevailed on Sunday, but rather MacColl the enthusiastic explorer of dialect songs from around the world. Thanks again to everyone who participated.

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