Folk Song in England
On the face of it, almost eight-hundred pages on Folksong in England sounds overwhelming. But be not deceived. The scholarly pages are interspersed with curious information and humor, opening for many readers a new and fascinating world. British folklorist Steve Roud asks if the songs, the singers, the venue, the traditions, or the successive means of communicating from one generation to the next are most central to his subject. The question is rhetorical, for there can be no certain answer. His research reaches back centuries, finding verses with words no longer in our daily language, rural occupations with no place in today’s world.
The subject sounds esoteric, even arcane. By encompassing broad detail, Roud leads in unexpected directions, illustrating with verses retained or rediscovered by songsters from all walks of life, generations before present-day technology. He explains succinctly how single-side broadsheets produced cheaply by jobbing printers were hawked in the marketplaces, pinned to tavern walls. He teases our imagination, telling how ragged children and fake disabilities swelled audiences for street balladeers, encouraging complicity with pickpockets.
Sea shanties, bawdy songs sung in and out of pubs, the daily toil of workers in fields and slums, religious themes, local and regional songs, all share under the rubric of “folksong.” Sifting through memorable pages, none will strike a chord more deeply than “street singing really was one of the last resorts of the genuinely very poor,” not least for destitute widowed mothers with nowhere else to turn.
Faber & Faber