Saturday, 6 June 2009

Old Songs, New Songs

It seems to be a given truth that even the most boring of all present day trivia will one day in the future be fascinating. You only have to watch an episode of ‘The Antiques Roadshow’ to realise that this is true. Suddenly, old tat from years ago that most sane people would’ve thrown away becomes transformed into a valuable and much sought after object (especially if you’ve still got the box). I wonder how much my ‘Roland Rat’ mug from 1984 is worth now? But I digress.

My real reason for bringing up the subject is to ruminate on how traditional folk songs have been the media for transporting much old tat down thorough the ages. I’ve been listening to a lot of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Pentangle of late and despite what I said above, it really is interesting to hear songs that were written centuries ago and for two reasons. The first is that it just goes to show that musicians of the 17th and 18th centuries knew how to write a cracking good tune and the second is that the content of the lyric often gives us a tantalising glimpse into their lives. This is where the trivia theory comes into play. I’m sure that most of what they wrote about was common knowledge at the time and the majority of their audience was probably bored stiff with hearing about lost virginity, the problems of industrialisation of manufacturing and forbidden love across social divides, yet to us in the 21st century, it is all of great interest because it paints a picture of a long ago time and place from a human point of view.

On Maddy Prior’s 2000 album, ‘Ravenchild’ there is a song called ‘Rigs of the Time’ which she updated herself as a ‘modern folksong’ which incorporates what she imagined would be sort of trivia that would fascinate an audience hundreds of years hence. She includes rants against out-of-town supermarkets, the slavish adherence to designer labels and speculation about Charles and Diana’s marriage. Just the sort of stuff that the tabloids delight in and most of us are bored to tears over. Yet she is probably correct in that these seemingly turgid details and the seamier the better, will delight historians of the far flung future. Even 9 years down the line the subjects are beginning to take on an historical sheen.

Oh and as a final point, why is it that Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior and Jacqui McShee are not feted in the same way as say, Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin – they move me in just the same way?

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