The ballads on this disc and its companion (The Child Ballads 1/12T160) are all among those which Francis James Child included in his classic compilation The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, originally published from 1882 to 1898.
The poems in the Child collection (he dealt with texts only) have long remained the standard by which ballads are judged. Many of Child's 305 pieces have vanished from living tradition, but a large number still remain current in parts of England, Scotland and Ireland, and more than forty of them are presented on these two discs. The examples here show a great variety of vocal styles, speech-dialects, psychological ambiance, in versions extending from the craggy shores of Connemara to the flatlands of East Anglia, from the soft flowery Scillies to the gusty Shetlands.
Some of the examples are of great rarity, and were thought to have disappeared long ago; others abound in a large number of lively versions, and to show their variety and vitality they are, in certain cases, presented in a "collated" form, with successive singers from sundry areas taking up the tale, verse by verse.
A fair number of the ballads record the dramas and passions of a past age of feuding and cattle-raids especially along the border between England and Scotland. But many more of them are narratives from the general stock of international folklore, tales of magic, of battle, of romance, as much at home in France and Scandinavia, Hungary and the Balkans, as among the farm-workers and fishermen of the British Isles.
This album and its companion are indispensable to all ballad scholars. And not only that; they make fine listening for all who love a good song, well sung, with some depth to it.
About the Series
Hitherto, relatively few recordings of authentic British folk song have been issued commercially, and those few not easy to come by. Now, with the appearance on the British market of this series — formerly issued by Caedmon in U.S.A. — the range of our native tradition of folksong and balladry, in all its splendid variety, is brought into the home.
The recordings, made for the most part in country pubs and cottages over the last fifteen years or so, are largely the work of Peter Kennedy — England's most diligent folk song collector of recent years, and major contributor to the BBC's Archive of British folk song — and the distinguished American folklorist Alan Lomax, one time head of the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress. Other well-known and experienced collectors such as Hamish Henderson in Scotland and Seamus Ennis and Seán O'Boyle in Ireland also helped to compile this incomparable anthology of traditional song.
The singers here are as varied as the songs they sing: farmers and farm labourers, travelling folk and housewives, old sailors and young building-workers, some having a deadpan way with a song while others have something of the showman's approach; but all are true folksingers with a fine sense for the subtleties of the oral tradition, and their voices speak of a deep experience of life.
We confidently assert that here is the most important and rewarding series of British folk song recordings ever issued. Comments Robert Graves 'This is a faithful and authentic recording. Nineteenth century collectors lay under the mechanical disadvantage of being unable to perpetuate the voices, accents, grace-notes and tempo of the singers. The folk songs they harvested, and too often bowdlerized, lost most of their poignant magic when regularized as drawing room ballads with piano settings. Here, nothing is lost or falsified.'
Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 'The value of the series is twofold. First, the performers are all folk singers and folk instrumentalists, not simply performers of folk music — that is. they are of the genuine kind … Secondly, the performers are for the most part excellent artists able to express fully the force and beauty of their material, not old mumblers to whom one listens with more respect than pleasure. Traditional performance of British song is rare enough on commercial records; still rarer is the experience of hearing it performed by the masters (and mistresses) of the tradition in assembly.