Thursday, 24 December 2009

More on traditional songs - and a Christmas treat

A couple of nights ago my regular folk club, Sharps, held its Christmas party. There was a certain preponderance of comic songs and party pieces, inevitably. Ruth Bibby did some clogging, which was a treat - there's a photo of her dancing here, but it's not quite the same as seeing her dance on a pub table.
There was a nice couple in from LA. I didn't catch their names, but the chap stood up and sang his party piece, 'Aunty Maggie's Remedy'. He'd learned it from his father, who'd sung it at family parties in the north of Ireland. The singer didn't know where it came from, and nor did I, but it was a fun little song that suited the evening admirably.
Of course, when I got home (and sobered up) I did some searching around for it. It turns out to be a song by George Formby Junior. As a special festive treat I'm posting here the clip of him singing it in his 1941 film 'Turned Out Nice Again':
So, of course, it isn't remotely a traditional song. However, it was clearly learned traditionally, and the singer understood it as belonging to party entertainment, ie it already has a specific place in his understanding of vernacular singing events. It's also worth noting that the melody had changed slightly in his learning and singing of it
While folk clubs may be the place for hearing what we've always (traditionally?) understood as 'traditional' songs, a whole body of other popular song is also entering a vernacular singing tradition. There's a body of material of a certain age that's becoming part of the repertoire of domestic singing events. I prefer George Formby Senior's songs, personally, but George Junior's material is clearly part of that developing tradition. (I was struck by this some years ago when Ricky Tomlinson sang 'My Grandad's Flannelette Nightshirt' in a party on 'The Royle Family').
Maybe it's time to acknowledge these vaudeville pieces the way the folk scene of the early 1970s did with music hall songs. (Thinking of which, I sang a disgraceful Sam Mayo song, by the way). After all, there are plenty of people out there now who still use such songs and their singers as cultural touchstones. Earlier this year I was in Sainsbury's, East Ham, where there's a popular cashier named Mary. An elderly man saw her across two checkouts and shouted 'Mary! Mary!' before breaking into 'I fell in love with Mary from the dairy ...'
And so, partly because I've thus now authenticated it as entering tradition, but mainly because it still makes me laugh, here's a Christmas gift of the Cheeky Chappie himself, Max Miller. Miller's the name, lady, there'll never be another ...

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