In November 1959, in the Punch Bowl, a public house in the village of Turners Hill, in the county of Sussex, England, a part-chance meeting took place between two men, who we will conveniently construct as the respective representatives of two musical cultures: one residual and traditional, the other emergent and revivalist . It was also a coming together of two generations. The residual is represented by folk singer George Spicer, then in his fifties. The emergent is embodied in Brian Matthews, then in his twenties and the co-owner of the Ballad Tree Coffee Bar, Brighton, Sussex. Matthews had taken the name of his bar from the book he was then reading: a study by Evelyn Kendrick Wells of British and US ballads, and was motivated to attempt a similar documenting of traditional folk song in Sussex. Equipped with a portable but cumbersome 5-inch reel tape-to-tape recorder, Matthews recorded some of this older generation of traditional singers in the public houses of Sussex, based on a snowball sample started by his meeting with Spicer.
This chapter will situate the development of this older generation of traditional folk singers in the academic context of the concept of a music scene, with particular respect to Peterson and Bennett’s (2004) distinctions between local, trans-local and virtual scenes. It will argue, first, that only certain elements of the residual culture of traditional singers could be regarded as locally scenic, despite some of these singers having already achieved a trans-local audience; second, that this older generation then became involved with the emergent culture of revivalist folk song with local and trans-local scenic properties; third, that this scene subsequently took on virtual scenic qualities, long after most of the older generation had died. In so doing we shall examine how it was possible that a CD recording of the spontaneous singing of traditional folk song by a farmhand, who rarely strayed out of his local area and who died some thirty years ago, could be heard in an academic conference in Vienna, in the new millennium .
1. The concepts residual and emergent are taken from Williams (1977). The use of the words traditional and revivalist to describe these two musical cultures is not intended to convey any sense of relative authenticity of the former compared to the latter. For an argument about the manufactured status of traditional folksong, see Harker (1985).
2. To save extensive and repetitive citations, I acknowledge that except where indicated otherwise, the empirical information presented in this chapter - on dates, times, recordings people and places - is from three sources: (i) the liner notes of the Musical Traditions (2000) Double Compact Disc that provides part of the title to this chapter; (ii) the Musical Traditions website; (iii) Clive Bennett’s (2002) comprehensive book on the Sussex folk music revival
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