In 1955, when the accompanying photograph was taken, you could walk all through London's Soho by day or night, and not see a single guitar, nor hear a single note of folk music. Now the guitar has become a symbol as familiar as a loaf of bread, and songs created a decade ago in America's Southern States by Negro folk musicians are whistled on every street corner in the country. People everywhere have become aware of folk music.
But folk music is very tricky and elusive; preserve it, and you kill it: popularise it, and you still kill it. In its natural form, whether it is a blues on a street corner in Memphis, or a bothy ballad on a farm in Aberdeenshire, it still has a universal quality of of simplicity, strength, and feeling, the natural and functional beauty of a ploughshare or a stone dyke. When this is captured, written down, and preserved, a service is no doubt done to scholarship and history, but the song is only half preserved; the life and fire of it are only there when it is in its natural surroundings, sung by its natural singers.
And if it is popularised as many folk songs have been recently, it also inevitably, loses its original meaning, and turns into something other than a folk song.
The older generation of folk singers is gradually disappearing, both here and in America, and, owing to the growth of the mass media of entertainment, there are no young men and women growing up naturally in the old tradition, singing the old songs unquestioningly and instinctively.
But what has happened is that the interest in the songs has been kept alive by such men as Peter Seeger and Alan Lomax, Ewan MacColl, Bert Lloyd and Peter Kennedy, and there has sprung up a new generation of singers who have, as it were, come to folk music from the outside and worked themselves in, building up knowledge and technique and taste until they are ready to take over from their predecessors.
The songs on this record were learned, then, with this background and attitude. They were accumulated from the most varied sources over a period of years, and are all treated with as much resepct as possible for the spirit in which they were originally created.
My brother, Alex and I have known Isla for a long time and have sung with her on many and various occasions. I have always thought her the best young girl folk singer in the country, and we are proud to share this record with her.
Incidentally, the instruments used on most of the bands are six-stringed guitars. On Side Two (1) and (9), Side Two (2), (4) and (6) a twelve string guitar is used, and on Side Two (5) a six-string is paired with a Bouzouki, Greek instrument that looks like an elongated mandolin, has three pairs of strings, and sounds like a five string banjo!