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EWAN MACCOLL & PEGGY SEEGER - Travellersí Songs From England And Scotland

EWAN MACCOLL & PEGGY SEEGER - Travellersí Songs From England And Scotland
Musical Traditions MTCD254 CD-ROM

This really belongs in your library rather than the CD collection – it’s much more a resource to go to for material than a CD to listen to, unless of course you’ve enough time to go through 131 individual recordings. Rod Stradling has taken the original 1977 book of the same name and re-united it with the field recordings that inspired it, and the result is a stunning CD-ROM tour de force and a fascinating slice through the strata of Traveller culture as it was perceived up until the mid 70s. For while by then other collectors were ferreting out songs around Gloucestershire, Kent, Essex and Scotland (among other places), MacColl and Seeger had been steadily recording material over the previous 15 years, and this is the result.

The songs are preceded by a most valuable general introductory section which includes potted biographies of all the singers, and the songs themselves are classified – Ballads (Child and other), seven different types of Love/Erotic songs, Soldiers and Sailors, Crime, Rural life, Humorous/Miscellaneous and Travelling Life. Each song has notes on its origin, distribution, etc, plus a full tune notation and a complete text. To listen, you click on the tune, and listen. It’s as easy as that, and for someone like me who neither reads music nor is particularly computer-savvy, this represents something of a miracle. The CD starts with a preamble from Rod, advising how to get the best out of the format, and cautions that things are slightly less straightforward with Google Chrome. Murphy’s Law, of course, means that Chrome is what my machine’s set up for, but it took about a minute to suss out how to get things the way I wanted, and away I went.

The singers are, broadly speaking, divided into those from Dorset (mainly the Hughes family) and those from across Scotland, plus Nelson Ridley from Kent, so you’ve got a choice of where to start your journey. Considering my background, it seemed logical to start in Dorset, and to pick songs I wasn’t so familiar with. That little trip on its own took a couple of very absorbing hours before I moved on to Kent and Nelson Ridley who had evidently been as prolific an informant as Caroline Hughes. Then it was off to Scotland for a dip into the Traveller tradition up there. The quality of the recordings, while it is obviously 60s/70s field quality, is perfectly adequate as presented here, and the atmosphere of the camps comes over loud and strong.

I confess that I have yet to listen to every single track, but that’s not what this CD-ROM’s about. It’s for reference, for dipping into during an idle hour (which will probably become several hours), and for following up on those questions that sometimes arise when singers get together. On all those levels it’s well put together and enjoyable, and Musical Traditions is to be congratulated on making this important source material so accessibly available. If you have any interest in traditional song, especially in the fascinating world of Traveller songs, then this is most definitely for you – you won’t be disappointed.

John Waltham


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This album was reviewed in Issue 111 of The Living Tradition magazine.