Joe Stead – The Ramblings of an old Codger. Volume Four. January 2001.
May I start by wishing you all a Happy New Year.
I’ve been both delighted and extremely honoured to learn that “Folk on Tap”, one of my favourite folk magazines, has decided to issue parts of “Ramblings” as a regular column. For those of you who live outside Britain you might be interested to know that Folk on Tap is produced and edited by Sam and Sandy Satyanadhan, it comes out quarterly and has 90 or so pages. It’s based in Southern England (Southampton) and is the Magazine of the Southern Counties Folk Federation, it is also an outstanding production. If you would like to subscribe you should contact the editor (Sam). His e mail address is > firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise you it’s a quite wonderful magazine and well worth the price of less than £10 a year. Give it a try!
My last missive proved to be somewhat controversial which I have to confess I had mischievously intended it to be. I had one angry response demanding that I took his name off of my mailing list. This I happily did. I found it amusing (not that I upset him I would hasten to add) that he accused me if being an ‘expletive’ Sun reader. I only ever read the Sun on extremely rare occasions when waiting for takeaway meals in Indian restaurants, so I don’t really know what a ‘Sun Reader’ is. Perhaps it takes one to know one! I was going to suggest this to him, but decided that he had every right to be upset with me, so there was no point in upsetting him further. Some other poor devil received 72 copies. He wasn’t too amused either!
It is however a real pleasure when I get positive responses and happily I get more positive letters than those of the negative variety, especially from America. I’m listing four of the letters that have recently arrived from America pertaining to Volume 3 of my Ramblings. The first two letters came from radio dj’s, but they might all be of interest to those of you who do not have your origins in the USA.
They read as follows………..
Let me reply to some of your book. Was ignorant of the floods but glad you survived them. As to peasants, I'm beginning to wonder if we need less of them here. Who could be so stupid as to vote for George Bush? As to our "nation of law", we are converting to a nation of thieves as of this election. We did elect a president--Al Gore. He got 320,000 more popular votes. If the Republican tampered 1,500 were properly thrown out Gore would win. If the 20,000 palm Beach County ballots were counted, both statistical change and the exit polls indicate Gore would win Florida easily. Instead we meekly watch the courts comply with the undemocratic not counting of the ballots. The Democratic Mayor of Miami, who has congressional hopes in the redistricting this year, was seen talking to the Republican speaker of the house the day before Al Gore asked him to speak out for the continuation of the count that the Palm County Board of elections had stopped because there wasn't enough time. In stead he said, "It's not in my jurisdiction." That little two man deal and three members--or two out of three members of the Palm County board of elections are making Bush president,
Congressman John Conyers says that under the freedom of information act, that those ballots will eventually be counted proving Gore the winner.
It's a disgrace. Over 54% (including Nadar and Buchanan's 1% aside), voted against Bush. Our supreme court will look like a KKK meeting after he gets through with it.
I'm against caning. I learned the "rules" without being hit as have many others and many who have been hit get with the violence and do it themselves. It's interesting that there is a direct correlation between the murder rate and states that execute people...i.e. they go up together (rates not just number per state). It is said that violence creates a violent atmosphere.
There are sensible ways of not listening to students who lie. I have seen a few examples and the students who lie usually come from a violent and anger producing home.
Economic justice is old but still the solution. When men and women are trod on at every turn, they explode. Add the gun nuts over here, and they can arm their violent up-bringing. Here we pay lip service to good schools but they don't educate and the one thing Bush is actually right about is that a bad education is a form of discrimination--of course in Texas they have the worst schools in the country with fake competency tests that they are drilled in taking.
In progressive schools where I went as a child, curiosity and respect for the students was a lot more effective than discipline—either physical or otherwise. Even at that, some children do need more structure and pretending the teacher is at fault or the parent still leaves a kid in need of structure that hadn't ought to be able to disrupt the school system. It is ignorance and turning away that creates the situation fired by economic inequity.
At least in Britain, a racist murder makes the news. Other than the drama of the Texas dragging, racist murder here is common, or more the case when a black man gets killed. Where the victim is white, the death penalty is given with statistical regularity.
There's great evil afoot and the example we set of letting a man obviously steal the presidency doesn't make for citizens who don't see "getting over" as superior to fairness and justice.
On the news side, I may make it to your birthday. I had another minor heart attack which has fouled up three weeks but did little damage. So, hopefully, we'll make it over for your birthday . That would be nice.
Good Knight Sir Joe:
Thanks ever so much for the newsletters. As a yank (especially a New Englander), I have to say that I am of that 50% that is indeed not offended by your Bush quotations. My only comment, and I don't mean to insult my dear brother with this one (being the fundamentalist republican that he is), would be that if Bush wins, we deserve him. Unfortunately, that affects the world as well, but perhaps we need to learn a lesson- especially in light of all of the pro-Reagan/Bush revisionism that is occurring these days. I guess some people never learn and will probably continue on through the next four years with the blinkers of a race horse on. I've been listening to the BBC for years now, and have been keenly interested in the environmental summit. I've also noticed that the American "free" media has virtually ignored what may be one of the biggest issues of the upcoming century. But then again, who in Santa Barbara really cares if thousands in Chile die of a skin cancer epidemic? If we could make environmentalism profitable for these companies, you'd see a revolution occur. But for now, we'll just continue to consume 20-25% of the Earth's resources and drive huge SUV's whilst complaining about the gasoline prices. It will take a cataclysm to wake people up, and I'm afraid nothing less will change our misguided policies. This country has had the most terrible foreign policies since World War 2 (arguably the last thing we did right), and this is just a continuation of business as usual. Public opinion is simply that Europe is using this to squash American corporate "success". It may already be too late. And then we'll have the looney at the wheel. The next decade will be great fodder for songwriters, comedians, and television alike. It'll be great copy. I just hope we'll all be here to read the morning edition.
Good luck on your touring sched. Best to you and your family, Joe, for a Happy Christmas and merry crimble.
What a lovely Thanksgiving treat. We Yanks can be grateful for our Brit friends who help us try to keep some sort of grip on perspective. Believe it or not, you're the third person who's sent me a version of God save the Queen (NOTICE OF REVOCATION OF INDEPENDENCE). Yours appears to be the mother of them, being longer and stronger than the others, but then haven't the ladies always said that about Joe Stead?
Joe, it's been enjoyable to get your monthly mailings and to follow your active career and your undying concern for other people and sane causes. Thanks for thinking of me. Take care and if we can ask God to take time out of her hectic schedule to bless the old queen, then she ought to bless you as well. I hope you and your loved ones enjoy the holidays.
I enjoyed your last newsletter. I think they are a great idea and you do them extremely well.
I enjoyed your remears about education in your newsletter. One of the reasons that I decided to retire was because education has become more an exercise in political correctness than true education. As far as the violence in American schools goes, that is overblown by the media. It certainly exists in inner city schools but then the inner cities are filled with violence. One of the reasons that I moved far away from them years ago. They are certainly not a place in which to raise children.
Love to all
The contents of these letters cause me to reflect on folk music and those who today participate as performers, hirers and enthusiasts.
I first went to a folk club in 1958. In those heady days they were all extremely left wing and run by people who had very leftist, (ban the bomb), principles. Our idols in those days were Ewan MacColl, AL Lloyd, Dominic Behan, Alex Campbell, Rambling Jack Elliot, Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, Pete and Peggy Seeger. (Martin Carthy was still a spot on the landscape!). All were either members of the Communist Party or had had affiliations with the party in the past. Folk music was after all the music of the common man. “I ain’t never heard a horse sing it” (a statement attributed normally to Louis Armstrong – although I once owned a long playing record recorded live in San Francisco on which Big Bill Broonzy actually said it too! Circa 1952) also goes hand in hand with the fact that “I ain’t never heard the Queen sing it”. Today folk clubs, those that still exist, regrettably seem to have no political affiliations whatsoever. Could this be one of the reasons why folk clubs in Britain are still on the demise?
I’m back on the road again in January and February. You can find (or avoid) me at the following venues:-
Monday January 15th: The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle. (‘Valparaiso round the Horn’ with Benny Graham, Jim Mageean and The Newcastle Shanty Choir).
Friday January 19th. The Dog and Partridge, Bollington, Near Macclesfield, Cheshire.
Friday January 26th. The Cannon, Newport Pagnell.
Thursday February 8th Bishop Stortford Folk Club in All Saints Church
Monday February 12th The Three Tuns, London Road, Staines.
Television enthusiasts who enjoy spotting the odd folkie here and there (and might I add how much I enjoyed seeing Bernard Wrigley on Christmas Day in “Victoria Wood with all the Trimmings” 9.20pm BBC1.) should keep their eyes wide open during January for a peep at yours faithfully. I’m an unhelpful prison inmate in Emmerdale Farm when poor old Jack goes into the television room for a bit of peace. We do a bit of ‘eyeballing’ when I won’t move my feet (It’s all dreadfully exciting stuff). I’m told this is going to be screened sometime around the middle of the month. I understand that “The Innocent” and “At home with the Braithwaites” are also starting in January on ITV. In ‘The Innocent’, which I believe is a serial thriller, I’m a solicitor at the solicitor’s ball with Caroline Quentin – but I don’t at this time know which night or which week. Finally if you blink you will miss me during “At home with the Braithwaites”. In this latter production (Thursday nights) with Alison and Rahel Guzulian I’m simply an inquisitive onlooker when one of the stars tries to commit suicide. It seems that ITV have started casting me in the right parts. Solicitor, Moron and Prison inmate. I was also promised a speaking part in another production – but the scene got cut even before we filmed it.
Now to the subject of record reviews.
Chris Sugden has written the most wonderful piece about Record Reviews. It has already been published in both Tykes News and Folk on Tap. But it is worth spreading on to a wider audience, to people who are not fortunate enough to get either of these wonderful folk publications. The following is printed with Chris Sugden’s permission and is his copyright.
As a performer I have a two-handed attitude to reviews. On the one hand I want my work to be reviewed - that advertises me and affirms my existence, and, hopefully, promotes my product. On the other hand the last thing I want is a bad review.
Of course, we must here think of heat and kitchens. But we are vulnerable, us performers. I suppose every performer believes in what they are doing, that they have done their best to make what they do as good as they can, and that it is worth doing in the first place, but that doesn't mean they don't have doubts. And the time when those doubts are most exposed is when someone else publicly evaluates what they do.
As a reader, I enjoy a good bad review - of someone else, of course. I delight in a review which is well written and carefully argued, and accurately pricks the bubble of someone I consider to be at best mediocre. I'm not saying I like myself for that, or that I would have the courage to write such a review, or heaven forfend that I would wish to receive one, but I do enjoy it. Because, to be frank, it makes a change. To read most of the folk press you might be persuaded that almost every album must be nominated for the Mercury Award and every performance was an event of such musical and emotional quality that it changed the lives of all those there forever.
Well, it's a pleasure to be involved in a scene where people want to say nice things about you. All over this country people are writing reviews for folk magazines, just as I am writing this. They may have various motivations. They may wish to share with others something they have enjoyed. They may like to see their name in print. They may be doing it as a favour to an editor, or they may genuinely wish to serve their fellow folkie as best they can. It doesn't matter, really. As long as their work is as fair and accurate as they can make it they have done their job, and - in theory at least - they have done all of us a favour.
Of course, occasionally they have their own axes to grind. I once saw Billy Brag at Trowbridge Festival. By my estimate about a quarter to a third of the audience did exactly what I did - they listened to a couple of songs, decided it wasn't really for them, and discretely went elsewhere. Imagine my surprise, then, when the concert was reviewed in one national periodical with words to the following effect. "Apart from a few die-hard Tories, who left, muttering oaths, he held the audience spellbound". An interesting use of a review - to deny the truth. (Actually I'm not certain about the 'spellbound' bit, but I am sure about the 'die-hard Tories' remark because it amused me. Presumably it was felt that readers needed an explanation of the failure of anyone to appreciate The Master). But I have to assume that sort of thing is exceptional.
Writing reviews is generally a pretty thankless task. It carries a responsibility for fairness on both sides - to the artist and to the reader. But there are some things that annoy me.
For instance, the reviewer who is desperate to include themselves in the review. "We'd had a long journey that day, and then we had a very nice meal beforehand, which took rather a long time to come, so .......". So what, I say.
Or "I first saw X in 1987 at a concert in the old folk club which isn't there any more, which was a really great place. The landlord had a singing rabbit. I saw lots of really great artists there before they were nationally known .............". That is to say, I've paid my dues, and even though X has recorded 17 hit albums and been awarded a number of highly respected awards, they're no better than I am. While that may be true, it's not strictly relevant.
Or those reviews which consist chiefly of a verbatim regurgitation of the information in the album booklet - a list of tracks, who plays on what, where it was recorded, and so on.
Or "This is not really my sort of thing, but if you like this sort of thing you'll probably like this". A paradoxical one that, saying that my opinion is that I don't really have an opinion.
But the worst thing of all is the sheer wasteful duplication of effort, as every publication reviews every album. So what I suggest is that all the folk magazines get together, and have their reviewers produce one short paragraph and a mark out of ten for each album. These could then be printed together, giving readers some real information. If an album scored consistently then we'd have a fair idea of its quality. If the marks varied considerably we'd know that this was the sort of thing you'd like if you liked that sort of thing, or that it had qualities that came at reviewers in different ways.
Of course, it won't happen. And probably just as well. Because I'd be depriving myself of that guilty pleasure of the good bad review. And, what's more, I'd have to face up to a frank opinion of whether I'm as good as I think I am - or not.
Chris has said everything here I’ve thought myself so often. It’s all very succinct and quite brilliant. So with that in mind ……. here’s a couple more reviews of Valparaiso Round the Horn – this time from two of our Northern Folk Magazines.
On Joe Stead’s latest, a concept album concerning a trip in a sailing ship from Liverpool to Valparaiso in 1860, he sticks to what, in my opinion, he does best – sings shanties. The 28 tracks include many of my favourites South Australia, Little Sally Rackett, Roll the woodpile down, Lowlands, Leave her Johnny leave her etc, as well as some unfamiliar ones Flying Jib Halyards, The Captains Apprentice and Lindy Low. Joe also provides a spoken commentary of the voyage that include explanations of when and for what the Shanties were used, as well as defining some of the more obscure terminology and slang employed. There’s a large crew providing enthusiastic but never obtrusive support in the chorus’s and the whole endeavour is an invaluable aid to anyone interested in sailing ships and the sea, as well as a useful learning tool for educational institutions. Recommended.
Ian Spafford – Stirrings December 2000 – February 2001.
This is another story in song and spoken word. Sea shanties used to be heard in folk clubs much more than they are today. Certainly there are very few specialists in the genre now, but we have one on our doorstep in Joe Stead. If this cd were simply a parade of shanties, most of us would listen once and then consign it to the ‘reference only’ shelf. But Mr Stead has made it much more accessible than that by hanging the songs on the framework of a journey from Liverpool to Valparaiso and, with spoken introductions and commentaries throughout, leads us painlessly along. I suppose it also helps that most of the shanties are familiar enough, and many are extremely inviting chorus wise (Drunken Sailor, Shenadoah, Shallow Brown and the gorgeous Lowlands). There is a sizeable choir on board which includes Gina le Faux, Brian Farrer and David Kidman.
You don’t need to be a shanty anorak to enjoy this. It is well conceived and executed, and carries much detail that is of interest regarding the “origins of the various shanties, why, when and where they were sung” (CD insert notes). Moreover, like some other areas of our folk song heritage, there is a “lest we forget” aspect to this material which can be both sobering and uplifting. My old Dad knows, and he zimmers off to an old seadogs reunion in Peterborough once a year to remind himself. And that’s just WW2 stuff. These work songs bring us the voices of blokes much farther back in time, who spent body and spirit and years of their lives in conditions we could scarcely imagine, let alone endure.
Kevin Loughran – Tykes News. December 2000 – February 2001.
Still with me? OK. So it’s time to sign off……and remember.
Keep smiling and keep singing.