Thursday, 18 February 2010

Singing away to the click of the shuttle

Well this week is well and truly packed with sampling shenanagins, in Manchester and later in the week in Tunbridge Wells.  More about both of those in my next couple of posts.

To kick start the week, on Monday evening I started a short six-week evening class about English Folk songs at the English Folk Dance and Song Society hq  - Cecil Sharpe House in Camden.  This has been inspired by my trips to Romania and Turkey and conversations with members of the sampler collective about folk, and other popular, songs from around the world that are sung whilst either making textiles, or are about textiles.

I wanted to start my research by finding out more about songs from england, scotland, wales and ireland and for the last few months I've wanted to visit the EFDSS library and to search their amazing archive of recordings and printed broadsides.  So when I found out about the course, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  30 of us crammed into the room, a much more diverse group of people than I thought it might be.  It was great, so six weeks of listening to, discussing, debating and learning more about the traditional songs, in particular those recorded and collected by the likes of Cecil Sharpe, Peter Kennedy and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

We were given a number of handouts to take away and read. So on the train up to manchester later that evening I started to read through them.  The first that caught my eye, needless to say given my interest in music and textiles and the fact that I grew up in Lancashire, was an article entitled " Singing away to the click of the shuttle - musical life in the handloom weaving communities of Lancashire" - written by a R.P. Elbourne and published in the Local Historian Vol 12 No 1 (feb 1976).  In summary the article explores the nature of pre-industrial music making in Lancashire by people involved in domestic based hand weaving production, even exploring the weaver-poet.  See, it's all connected, and by now I should really no longer be surprised!!!!

It's a great little article, and I particularly liked the section about the Deighn Laycocks or Larks of Dean, named as such due to the beauty of their singing.

"In his autobiography, the cotton spinner Moses Heap places the work-rhythms of domestic industry in a fresh perspective: ' A great deal of hand-loom weaving was carried on in the homes, both cotton and woollen goods...but many of our musical friends were so fond of singing and fiddling that their looms would be idle until about Tuesday night, then they would work night and day to finish their allotted task before Saturday.'

At peak periods such as before the Christmas holidays he explains that "Play hours were nearly given up, and whole nights would be spent at the loom, weavers occasionally striking up a hymn or Christmas carol in chorus.  A few hours of the late morning would perhaps be given to rest; work would then be resumed, and the singing and rattle of shuttles would be almost incessent during the day."

Oh, and I highly recommend the book English Folk Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L.Lloyd published by Penguin as part of its English Journeys series.

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