VARIOUS ARTISTS - Wait Till The Clouds Roll By
Not so long ago, we preferred to think that singers in the oral tradition only sang traditional folk songs. Now the blinkers are off, and we know that repertoires included whatever singers liked. Wait Till The Clouds Roll By deepens our understanding. It’s another mighty offering by Musical Traditions, more than three hours over three CDs, and it’s the last part in the Old World / New World Trilogy. This is a Mike Yates project, and the booklet includes his richly informative essay.
The format is simple. A recording by an American singer of a song originating in America is followed by a version by a British trad singer. We end up with around 40 pairs of songs imported here via minstrel troupes (all those blacked-up faces), music halls, variety theatres, sheet music for parlour ballads, early gramophone records, or American servicemen. From this side of the pond, the singers include most of the best known voices: Mary Anne Haynes, Cecilia Costello, Bob Hart, Fred Jordan, Cyril Poacher, Levi Smith, Harry Upton, Walter Pardon, Pop Maynard… well, Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
The choice of Wait Till The Clouds Roll By as the title song is telling. It’s among the songs which Cecil Sharp reckoned were “sentimental balderdash”. In his first week of song collecting, he “worked through that stratum and eventually struck a rich vein of Real Folk Song, of the kind we were searching for.” This patronising approach was widely shared by early collectors. Sentimentality is rife, and I wouldn’t swap the Child Ballads for these songs, but they brought comfort in adversity and showed empathy with the people in them.
Gems are here to be found, and rootling for them is a pleasure. Thanks again to Musical Traditions.
This review appeared in Issue 136 of The Living Tradition magazine