Australian Folklore Network
Australian Folklore Research Unit
Curtin University of Technology
FROM THE CONVENOR
REVIEW OF 2008 FOLKLORE CONFERENCE
PEGGY SEEGER INTERVIEW
FROM THE CONVENOR
Transmissions 24 contains news, an exclusive interview with Peggy Seeger by Mark Gregory and a review of the 2008 Australian National Folklore Conference.
We also record the death of the distinguished folklorist and historian Edgar Waters and include a brief tribute to his outstanding contribution to Australian folklore scholarship.
This edition can also be read online at the AFN folk wiki hosted by the National Library of Australia at https://wiki.nla.gov.au/login.action;jsessionid=D06CAF5D37106AC3938CB9FDA6D19D48?os_destination=%2Fdisplay%2FFLORE%2FHome
Here you can also post comments, queries, etc. and access a growing archive of folklore resources.
Special thanks to Mark Gregory, Chris Boult and to other contributors to this edition. Please continue to send in items, articles and other information of interest.
Distinguished Australian folklorist and historian Edgar Waters died on May 1.
Edgar's contribution to the folk movement is considerable to say the least. Back in 1947 he and Stephen Murray Smith edited a slim volume called Rebel Songs. In the mid 1950s he was in London helping Alan Lomax complete his Folk Songs of North America. As editor for Wattle Records on his return to Australia Edgar helped Peter Hamilton publish the first field recordings of Australian Folk Songs ('Australian Traditional Singers' and Musicians and 'Australian Traditional Singers and Musicians of Victoria'), introducing such traditional singers as Sally Sloane, Simon McDonald, Duke Tritton and Catherine Peatey to the folk revival. Other recordings were of the Bushwhackers, led by John Meredith, the Rambleers and the folklorist and singer A.L.Lloyd who Edgar had met in London. Wattle recordings also included Patrick Galvin's 'Irish Songs of Resistance', John Greenway's 'Workin' on a Building', 'The Art of the Digeridu', 'Singing Sailors', 'Music of New Guinea' and a recording of Aboriginal singer/songwriter Dougie Young. Edgar Waters had a great influence on Gary Shearston's CBS recordings of bush songs especially 'The Springtime It Brings On The Shearing' and 'Bolters, Bushrangers And Duffers'.
For a while Edgar had a weekly folk column in the Australian. He was also a contributor to Wendy Lowenstein’s long running magazine Australian Tradition. In 1967 Edgar teamed up with the artist and publisher Rod Shaw to produce a desk diary depicting early Australian history though a selection of ballads for the National Trust of Australia.
From the 1980s Edgar spent many years helping consolidate the National Library of Australia Oral History and Folklore collections and in that time interviewed many folksingers and folklorists especially those who had been involved in the early years of the revival. Edgar wrote the entries on Folk Song and Folksong making in Australia in The Oxford Companion To Australian Folklore and more recently wrote the extensive notes for Martin Wyndham Read's Song Links double CD.
Edgar Waters was born in 1925 and died on May Day 2008.
Kevin Bradley’s obituary for Edgar Waters as published in the Sydney morning Herald can be seen at:
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REVIEW OF THE 2008 FOLK LORE CONFERENCE (PRIOR TO THE NATIONAL FOLK FESTIVAL)
The Folk Lore conference is a window into the National Library’s collections of songs and folk lore and also an avenue for the Library to promote their active seeking of more material and of bringing what is in their archives into the public’s eye and off the page.
The early part of this year’s conference focussed on the work of Gwenda Beed Davy and June Factor. This pair is best known for their collaborations on the “Far Out Brussel Sprout” series which is a fantastic example of how Folk Lore can feed back into society. Their topic: “Childhood, Tradition and Change”. The most pertinent information from this presentation is how litigation and red tape is making the collection of children’s games and rhymes difficult. This was not only for the collection of material but also for the inhibitions it place on the actual play of children.
“Cultural Threads: tradition and transition in Australian children's string figures” followed with Judy McKinty. Judy was able to enhance her presentation with anecdotes and demonstrations of her string figures making audience members fingers twitch at the memories and want to play those games again. Judy was also a guest performer on the children’s programme at the National Folk Festival. Another example of the cross flow of information dissemination by the worthwhile partnership with the National Library and the Festival.
A new piece of information for me was learning about the body of string games that was evident in Aboriginal culture prior to European settlement. Warren Fahey’s comment that “they made string” was pertinent, however, Aboriginal populations have demonstrated more than one third of all string figures found in the world.
Again we were made aware of the difficulty facing collectors of children’s material as Judy Mckinty, was in most instances, only able to film children’s hands.
Crossing the line: The need for a permanent home for Australian Railway History and Folklore. Was presented by Barry Blair. Barry is the Public Relations Director for the Rail Journeys Museum/Australian Railway Monument at the town of Werris Creek in northern NSW. Barry related many humorous stories of the railway men often concerning their disregard for safety sometimes mixed with considerable understanding of train mechanics that meant these men could get a way with such antics. The wealth of stories of the steam drivers out there and people collecting was balanced again against the war against time and the risk of so much knowledge being lost as people are dying.
“Sing Us Anotheree, Dirty as Buggery” gave Warren Fahey the chance to sing many bawdy song fragments. Few of Warren’s sources wish to be personally acknowledged with this genre that he considers being another expression of our national identity. Parody, of course, featured due to familiarity of tune bases. I found myself remembering listening to some of the songs mentioned and was just beginning to squirm when he decided to call a halt to his version of Barnacle Bill. Lots of fun and excellent insight as always from one of our most prolific collectors and exponents of traditional Australian song and folklore.
Robert Smith from Southern Cross University gave a more academic presentation on “Dog’s Eye”: The Language and Culture of the Pie.” The pie is yet another expression of our identity. Robert went into the history of the pie and why it was able to ingratiate its way to become such a huge part of our national culture. People favour certain pies, have their favourite pie shops, revere the pie floater but sadly are the pies, our iconic food, under major threat from the fast food chains?
Lunchtime led to us moving to the foyer of the National Library ,provided paper bag lunches in hand, to listen to “Rhythms, Rhymes and Riddles – the Folklore of Children” produced and presented by Rob and Olya Willis. The concert began with Judy McKinty who demonstrated and described string figures. She was followed by a brother and sister duo Vasek and Vendulka Wichta who presented some traditional songs and tunes learned from their father, Victor .
Dennis O’Keeffe presented The Creation of Waltzing Matilda: Australia’s unofficial national anthem and international Australian icon. Dennis had many relevant slides to accompany this paper and it was a delight to hear such a passionate speaker. He believes that Paterson created Waltzing Matilda and gave us a convincing argument for several subtexts in the meaning of the song. As well as being a love ballad Waltzing Matilda is also a song steeped in political context. Again Dennis created the link between study and performance of folk material. His passion for the history and lore of Australia imbue his performances with knowledge and compassion.
Graham Seal stepped in for Chris Sullivan and presented “Roast Pork the Jack Lang: Rhyming Slang in Australian Folk Speech” giving some useful insights into one of our anti-languages. Clark Gable means table, Jimmy Grant means immigrant and so on. Some rhymes were more relevant than others but what is specific to our slang is that we often adopt the shortened form of the rhyme that can leave people wondering why such a word is used. For example, “Jill and Jack” means sixpence which came from the familiar use of Zac. and “pass me the Bob Hope” (soap).
The final speaker was Mark Cranfield a member of the board of directors of the National Folk Festival and Public Officer of folk Alliance Australian. His topic was “Two National Folk Festivals: Some Significant Differences, Some Significant Similarities, Some Significant Opportunities?”
Mark has recently returned from the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folk life. He felt that our festival compared favourably but floor speakers contradicted his opinion and a debate moved around the room. Nevertheless the Smithsonian is a high profile institution that attracts a massive following for its festival. It remains to be seen as to whether our own festival could do the same and/or whether we would want it to.
Wind up time brought forward some questions and some points of interest raised were the demise of archives throughout Australia and how to disseminate the content of the folk lore collections. A reminder was given to check out the Folk wiki on the Folklore Network for continuing information and debate on the conference topics as well as people researching and collecting. There is an International Railway conference in Australia next year.
Thanks to Graham Seal (Convenor: the Centre for Advanced Studies in Australia, Asia and the Pacific, Curtin University), Kevin Bradley, (the National Library of Australia) Rob Willis (Australian Folklore Network) and Mark Cranfield (the National Folk Festival) for facilitating this invaluable annual conference.
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PEGGY SEEGER INTERVIEW
Mark Gregory interviews Peggy Seeger at the National Folk Festival 21 March 2008
I have met Peggy Seeger many times over many years, starting off in London in the Singers Club in 1969. I was looking for songs for Cinema Action documentary films and Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl had a well organised and seemingly vast collection of such songs. You could take a copy of a song from their filing cabinets if you replaced it with one typed in triplicate, so I spent a day looking for suitable songs in their house. I already knew about the Radio Ballads and had number of Peggy Seeger records. I even had a copy of her five string banjo book.
Peggy Seeger has played such a big part of the folk revivals in Britain and the United States that it's hard to know where to begin. She is a wonderful songwriter the Peggy Seeger Songbook (1998) contains 147 songs. Her The Ballad of Springhill is often referred to as an old folk song while her Gonna Be an Engineer and Carry Greenham Home have become labour movement, women's movement and peace movement anthems! Her first recording was in 1955 for Folkways and over the years she's played and sung on over 100 records. She has visited Australia a number of times, twice with Ewan MacColl at the invitation of Australian unions. An early connection she had with
the Australian revival came through her instrumental backing of A.L. Lloyd on his Wattle LPs Banks of the Condamine (1957) and Across the Western Plains (1958. I began my interview reminding her of that.
One of the first things I wanted to ask you, you've been involved in Folk Revival business I suppose in three countries really, the United States, Britain and Australia.
I haven't really been involved down here, I tour down here.
Yes but the odd thing is that one of the first recordings of Australian Folk Songs, one of the first LPs ...
Oh with Bert Lloyd ...
You of course were accompanying him.
Very simply, but in a way that seemed to have quite an effect on the way people played Australian music afterwards
Oh My! Oh dear I hope I didn't add to the Americanisation of Australia!
I don't think it was that so much I think it was an air of skill and expertise in terms of musicianship that wasn't common at that time
Oh I appreciate that, thank you
So it wasn't a question of copying so much as perhaps an emphasis on getting skilled up.
Well there's a lot of skilled players down here now!
In terms of those first recordings what are your memories of that, that was a long while ago 1957 I think the first recording was.
I was thrilled with the new material, I'd never heard it, and of course I stayed at Bert's house when I first went to England. He was very kind to me, I think I stayed at his house for six weeks, I think long by the sell-by date I'm sure! My father gave me an introduction to Bert Lloyd, because he knew him. And of course I was with Ewan at the same time. My memory was just of enjoying the songs so much, and getting a real respect for the unaccompanied singer, even though I plonked accompaniments down on them, they asked for it. Also I think they were pleased with the fact that I knew how to accompany folk songs, because they had some guitar and some banjo players there who were in on Music Hall and in on session playing, who didn't really know that you needed consistency and you needed to be in the background when you accompany folk music, you can't be strutting your stuff.
And of course you were brought up doing that in a sense weren't you?
Oh yes I was. I used to sometimes do some pretty bad accompaniments though, until I began to study how folk song is different from other songs.
I think that is true of all revivals and the people who come into it with enthusiasm learn about the depth of the material and about some of the traditional aspects that they weren't aware of when they began.
If you're in it for a long time you either get horrendously bored or you have to study it, or you are horrendously boring! If you don't study it and improve yourself.
How do you feel now after 50 years of being involved in folk revivals, how do you feel about the revivals you see about you?
Well I would be very glad if a lot of singers pulled back on instruments. I think sometimes we put too many instruments on a simple little song, we try to jazz it up and we say oh this is what young people will like or this is what the media will like, and sometimes maybe don't think what the song would like. The power of the folk songs that we have is that they are so strong on melody and words. This is Anglo American Australian paradigm. And you can take them anywhere with you, you can take them to the top of a mountain and still do justice to them. If you have to plug in and you have to have a four or five piece band in order to do them, sometimes I think you weaken
them. I think you take away their pulse, you take away a lot of their independence, and you inevitably flatten the tunes out to fit the harmonies that you put on top of them. I think if you are learning a song, begin singing it unaccompanied, see what it does by itself before you add something to it.
You wrote down the music notation for a book that Alan Lomax put together when he was living in London, the Folk Songs of North America, what was that like?
Alan's house was chaotic! There was Shirley Collins and Alan in one room, myself and Alan's daughter in another, and Alan's ex-wife came to visit with her Spanish partner, and this was a tiny flat in Highgate. Then there were all the visiting folk singers and Alan's tapes and tape recording all over the pace, a kitchen that two people couldn't be in at once, absolute chaos. But thrilling absolutely thrilling, being near to Alan was like being near a power house, you were constantly charged by his energy and his interest, his enjoyment. Also you could hear him sing, you didn't hear Alan singing much on stage because he had terrible stage fright, but he sat around the house singing. Wonderful, I thought he was a wonderful singer, I really did.
Well he seemed to have an amazing ability to set folk revivals going in some way. He seemed to have this ability of bringing together people who should have known each other but didn't, I was thinking of Ewan and Bert for instance.
He was a catalyst. I always thought it was a shame there wasn't a huge thank-you concert for him. I mentioned it to several people. I'm not an organiser of things I'm afraid, I know how to do it but if I get involved in it I don't do my own work. There should have been, there should be a huge one for Pete but Pete says no, there was one for Harold Leventhal who facilitated a lot of these things, there was one for Ewan, but there never was one for Alan.
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PLAY AND FOLKLORE LATEST ISSUE
The latest Play and Folklore – number 50 - is now available, including:
1. ‘The Joy of Playing Naturally’ – Carla Pascoe
2. ‘With Respect: Adult Contexts for Children’s Play’ – Gwenda Beed Davey & Judy McKinty
3. ‘Why Kids Don’t Run Free’ – Matt Condon
4. ‘Let Kids Rule the Playground’ – June Factor
The latest edition of the journal Australian Folklore is now available.Contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW ZEALAND LINKS
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THE SONGS OF HENRY LAWSON BACK IN PRINT
In 1989 Chris Kempster published The Songs of Henry Lawson, which became the standard anthology of tune settings for Lawson poetry. Beautifully produced with words and music, accompanied by photos and information about the poems themselves, the book has been out of print for some years.
Nineteen years later and following two years work by a dedicated team the Second Edition has been published. It was launched at the Port Fairy Folk Festival with a very successful concert (audience 1000) and will be launched again at the National Folk Festival in Canberra over the Easter weekend. The New edition adds forty pages to the original collection with the new tunes that have been written for Lawson verse over the past 29 years. The new edition is priced at $35
Visit the Chris Kempster website at http://chriskempster.net
EARLIEST SOUND RECORDING A FOLK SONG
A 10-second recording of the folk song "Au Clair de la Lune" was discovered in March, 2008 in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.
Listen to restored recording from 1860 of 'Au Clair de la Lune' (mp3) at
Lawrence Berkeley scientists used optical imaging and a "virtual stylus" on high-resolution scans of the phonautogram, deploying modern technology to extract sound from patterns inscribed on the soot-blackened paper almost a century and a half ago. The scientists belong to an informal collaborative called First Sounds that also includes audio historians and sound engineers.
JOHN MANIFOLD’S BUSH LUTE
A round of applause for Pamela Rosengren of Brisbane. On a local luthier’s rubbish pile she came across what turned out to be the bush lute made and played by pioneering folklorist John Manifold. Realising the significance of the instrument, Pam made contact with the National Library of Australia. The Library picked up the lute and is currently conserving it ready for displaying along with the Stockman’s Fiddle in the offputtingly-named ‘Objects Collection’. Another round of applause for the NLA.
WESTERN AUSTRALIAN FOLKLORE ARCHIVE GOES TO A NEW PRIME-MINISTERIAL HOME
The WA Folklore Archive was established at Curtin University in 1985 when Graham Seal began folklore teaching and research at that institution. It is the only state folklore archive in Australia and has significant and unique collections covering a period from approximately the late nineteenth century to the present.
On April 30 the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library (JCPML) took possession of sixteen large boxes. The plan is to accession the archives into the JCPML collection where they will be available for research and also, partially at least, in digitised form through a dedicated website. At the moment the archive has a page at http://www.ari.curtin.edu.au/wafa_index.cfm
This will eventually be replaced by a more elaborate and higher profile site through the JCPML. Watch this space.