Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Good Order ! Ladies and Gentlemen please:
Traditional singing & music from 'The Eel's Foot', Eastbridge, Suffolk recorded in the 1930s & 40s.
(from Veteran Mail Order, 44 Old Street, Haughley, Stowmarket, Suffolk IP14 3NX; tel. & fax 01449 673695;

This fascinating CD of very considerable historical interest consists of BBC recordings of traditional singing made during two Saturday evening visits to a Suffolk pub, The Eel's Foot in Eastbridge, in 1939 and 1947. The earlier visit was made by the folk-song expert A. L. Lloyd and BBC producer Francis Dillon who took with them 'a handful of BBC money to ensure that enough liquid refreshment flowed to banish any inhibitions'. E. J. Moeran and Maurice Brown were involved in the 1947 recording, and Moeran himself described his visit in an article 'Some Folk Singing of Today' in the December 1948 issue of the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (pp.152-4):

'Last autumn I was asked by the British Broadcasting Corporation to make investigations in East Anglia with a view to obtaining authentic recordings of traditional singers. I visited my old haunts in East Norfolk, and to my delight and surprise, I found that not only were many of my old friends living, hale and hearty, but that they were still having sing-songs on their own in the local pubs. . . I was also told of a remote pub in Suffolk where singing took place, and there I found the same thing happening. One of the singers there was a man of about fifty who learned his songs from his father. The latter was also present, singing in the quavering and asthmatic tones of old age, but it was only recently that he had allowed the young man of fifty, his son Jumbo to "perform in public", for he was determined that he must acquire the true traditional style, uncontaminated by outside influences, before so doing. . . Two weeks after my preliminary trip I went again with a recording van. The singers seemed quite excited about it and were out to do their very best. The engineers, for the most part, arranged things in such a way that all the men had to do was to sit and sing and carry on as usual. In one place, however, this was not possible, and each man had to sing into the microphone. There were five men in the party of singers, and it was really lovely to see what a delight they took in singing into this thing. They seemed to regard it as some sort of new toy. One of them. having sung a song, would pass it on to his neighbour, unprompted by myself, saying "Now it's your turn: hand it on to Bob when you've done." '

The result of this excursion was a forty-five minute programme, 'East Anglia Sings', that was broadcast on the Third Programme (by then only a year old) on Wednesday 19th November 1947, with a repeat three days later. It was compiled and introduced by Brown and Moeran. Their introduction and all of Moeran's spoken contribution unfortunately are not included on this CD but the first four tracks, lasting altogether some 12 minutes and including Brown's linking commentary, come from this broadcast. The folk-songs recorded on that occasion were False Hearted Knight, The Old Sow and The Dark-Eyed Sailor which coincidentally was the first folk-song that Moeran had collected, in 1912 in Norfolk, his interest having been aroused after hearing Vaughan Williams' Norfolk Rhapsodies (Nos. 2 & 3, no longer extant) at a Queen's Hall Balfour Gardiner concert.

In their introduction to this 1947 broadcast, Brown and Moeran stressed the importance of folk-songs being sung unaccompanied - both bemoaned the use of the pub piano, Brown commenting on some singers they had heard elsewhere who 'knew folk songs but they'd sung them too long with a vamping piano - all the character had been ironed out of them'. They also agreed that there should be no 'coyness and squeamishness' about the words - no attempts at any Bowdlerised version ! The broadcast continued with the first four tracks on this CD. (For the remainder of the broadcast, Brown described how they went on to The Windmill pub in Norfolk and Moeran spoke about his Norfolk folk-singers there, followed by nine recordings of their singing.)

The 1939 recordings are of equal interest. Together with those of 1947 (14 folk-songs in all) they give the impression of a tradition almost untouched by an intervening world war. Greater damage was to be done by the pub piano, the juke-box and television. The recording quality throughout is remarkably good and the booklet, which contains photographs and biographical sketches of the singers, is an historical document in itself. There have been a number of specialist releases that have taken us to the heart of the folk-song tradition, two of the best examples being the Hungaroton LP of Hungarian folk music recorded by Béla Bartók on phonograph cylinders between 1906 and 1914 (LPX18069) and the LP of Percy Grainger's 1908 cylinders of Lincolnshire folk singers, Unto Brigg Fair, on Leader LEA4050. The one big difference of this CD is that there is a real sense of occasion because there is no cut between each folk-song, allowing us to hear the chat and jovial banter in between (and even during) the songs and the occasional comments such as 'Shut up across the way there !' and calls for 'Order, please !' For anybody interested in the roots of the folk-song tradition from which many an orchestral rhapsody sprang, this is a CD well worth investigating.

Stephen Lloyd

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