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VARIOUS ARTISTS "Classic English Folk Songs" EFDSS 0854181881

This, in a roundabout way, is the "Penguin Book of English Folk Song", 2003 edition. When I started writing this I searched, with the aid of Google, for a second-hand copy of The Penguin Book of English Folk Song. There were none on e-BAY and the only one on Amazon was in the US of A - "1990 in well used condition $18.50 plus shipping" - somehow I expected that price to be more. It made me wonder how many will be searching for this new version in a few years, or even how many will be searching for it now. These thoughts deepened my depression somewhat because although this is a book of great worth and full of interest, the slice of song tradition covered in this book seems to be held in low esteem, particularly among newer performers.

So. Of great worth? Full of interest? Yes, on both counts. There is much background to the formation of the original book from 1959 and farther back still to the collecting of the original material, the majority of this, written by hand after extended and repeated performances. There are seventy songs complete with tunes and so they should be. I get fed up with "song" books with no tunes. Many are well enough known: The Grey Cock, The Bramble Brier, Lucy Wan, Long Lankin, Ye Mar'ners All and Lovely Joan, but they are quality, representative of particular styles and well worth revisiting. The back half of the book caught and held my interest most. These were the chapters headed, "Notes on the Songs" and "The Singers". Fascinating stuff, from engineers, navy men, boot and shoemakers, farm hands, glove makers and even Sister Emma, an Anglican Nun. All of which helps to link these singers, from the late 1800s onwards, who helped make and shape these songs to new, present day audiences and performers.

But. I can't help thinking that while this book has been well worth the effort of publishing and getting back into print, it should only be the first in a series of books of folksongs, complete with backgrounds, histories and biographies. The EFDSS, and others, must have access to much more along similar lines, much of which may not have been broadcast so widely. Folk song is a secret that improves with sharing, so let's try and share it a bit more.

Peter Fairbairn.

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.