Link to Living Tradition Homepage





GWILYM DAVIES - Catch It, Bottle It And Paint It Green 

GWILYM DAVIES - Catch It, Bottle It And Paint It Green 
Pegasus Publishers ISBN: 9781784655914 

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Catch It, Bottle It, Paint It Green
Musical Traditions MTCD379

This is a remarkably enjoyable and effectively presented package, comprising a book relating Gwilym’s experiences and opinions as a lifelong recorder and collector of folklore, and a CD featuring items mentioned in the text. As Steve Roud points out in his foreword, this is something that earlier collectors have rarely (if ever) done, and Gwilym’s efforts demonstrate amply the additional resonances that this approach gives to the songs that are included (although this is obviously not intended as a book of songs). The book recounts tales and paints characters and situations from half a century of collecting, and the Musical Traditions-produced CD, complete with their usual comprehensive booklet, illustrates all the songs and some of the tunes detailed in the book.

Gwilym is an excellent raconteur, with a light and lively writing style and a vivid imagination that adds a rich vein of humour to the anecdotes and pen portraits; his style is definitely not a standard academic one. He starts by setting out his approach to the collecting (or recording) process, which includes a determination to harvest the entirety of a person’s repertoire – the lack of which is frequently an accusation levelled at the collectors of old. He compares that editing process of yore as being akin to a doctor who will only treat part of a person – an apt simile. He also wanted to examine how traditions had changed throughout the 20th century, and to introduce us to the people he’s met. In my view, he achieves his aims on these and all other counts; having done a little modest recording/collecting myself, I kept finding myself empathising with his reactions to people and situations described in the book. His discussion of the “old song/folk song” situation, where a singer produces a song which he regards as old for the collector, reminded me of the lad I met in Ireland who sang me an “old” song he’d learned from his dad. He sang Are You Lonesome Tonight, complete with all Elvis’s inflections – exactly as his father had sung it.

What comes over most in the book is the writer’s enthusiasm for his subject, his relishing of the old songs’ survival, his open-minded approach, and the sheer joy he’s experienced, and which he conveys to the reader through his writing. The book’s title encapsulates all this, but I won’t spoil your pleasure by explaining it. The answer is on page 133.

At 200 pages (including 25 song and music notations), the book ran out of pages a long time before my interest was satisfied. It entertained me, made me think, and left me feeling much better acquainted with the people he’d met, and gives a tantalizing glimpse into what Gwilym describes as “the twilight world of the folk-song collector”. If only Sharp, or Baring Gould, or the Hammonds had written a book like this!

The CD illustrates an extremely diverse selection of material, and moves from Hampshire and Gloucester to the Appalachians and Adirondacks, covering the last four decades of the 20th century. It represents a very small sample of Gwilym’s collection of songs, music and stories.

He is ensuring that his entire collection of folklore material will be available via the British Library Sound Archive; this book and CD will undoubtedly be the springboard that will send many who’ve enjoyed them to that Archive to broaden their interests further. Anyone with even a cursory interest in folk music should be able to enjoy this publication.

John Waltham


This review appeared in Issue 139 of The Living Tradition magazine