Singing a broadside
As you read the texts, and listen to the songs, within the Murray collection,
it is vital to consider how singers used the texts, and how these texts
both draw on, and have passed into, oral tradition. It is, of course, hard
to understand the specific experiences of the nineteenth century performer,
or their audiences. The English poet John Clare, in his Autobiographical
Writings, ed Eric Robinson, (Oxford, 1983), describes his literal devotion
to 'Sixpenny Romances' from 'Cinderella' to 'Zig Zag'. Walter Scott
(himself an avid collector of chapbooks, as the library at Abbotsford demonstrates)
refers to the use of broadsides in South West Scotland in Redgauntlet
(1824) where Darsie Latimer is staying in a Dumfries inn: 'A notably clean
Englishwoman keeps this small house, and my bedroom is sweetened with lavendar,
has a clean sash-window, and the walls are, moreover, adorned with ballads
of Fair Rosamund and Cruel Barbara Allan' (Letter 2). However, we
hope that, by including modern versions of David Murray's songs, we have
allowed some opportunities for speculative reflection.
By including these items, we hope both to
give a flavour of how broadsides might have been used in the nineteenth
century by singers, and to show how these particular songs are performed
today. All these songs were physically recorded within Scotland, with the
exception of Anita Best's Newfoundland version of 'Lord Bateman'.
The rest were all recorded in Murray's area, South West Scotland.
Several are from live sessions at Dumfries Folksong Club, made between
1979 and 1981. Joyce Cunningham and Phyllis Martin were recorded
at the Crichton Campus of Glasgow University, in Dumfries, and sang purpose-made
versions of 'Annie Laurie' and 'Barbara Allen'. At the time of recording,
they had seen the broadsides in the collection although, for the site,
they used their own versions of the songs. All the other songs were
recorded independently of this website. Cunningham and Martin, incidentally,
do not normally perform these songs in a public context, although they
were within their passive repertoires. In future, we hope to include additional
versions, along with reflections from the singers themselves.
The songs can be explored in comparison, too, with
other performances and texts. We include alternate sung versions, for instance
'Barbara Allen' by Phyllis Martin, for instance and 'Barbri Ellen' by Nic
Jones. In most cases, too, there are alternative versions of the
texts in the Murray collection, for instance Mu23-y1:138 'Barbara Allan'
and Mu23-y1:138 'Barbara Allan the Cruel'. Many of the songs, too,
are available in printed collections and we would encourage users to explore
the bibliography in our 'Further Links' section. Within South West
Scotland, too, there are a number of significant collections of broadsides:
in addition to Glasgow University's collection, holdings can be found,
for instance, at the Ewart Library, Dumfries (within the Frank Miller collection)
and in the archive at Broughton House, Kirkcudbright (within the Macmath
collection). Significant collectors of song material relating to the South
West include Robert Burns and Allan Cunningham, as well as William Nicholson,
the Borgue packman who wrote 'The Brownie of Blednoch'. These associations
all allow, we hope, for a fruitful, and contextualised, exploration of
David Murray's broadsides.