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Score Review

Richard Stoker (arrangements)
Eight British Folk-Songs Opus 39c

For voice and guitar (fingered and edited by Werner J. Wolff).
Doblinger
Munich 2002.
www.doblinger.at


I suppose it is a mark of getting of getting older that one laments the supposed loss of ones heritage. Perhaps it is more to do with harking back to school days and wondering why 'if it was good enough for us why is it not good enough for today's children.' On the other hand, some things we were made to do at school have caused us to have a bad taste in our mouth when we are re-presented with them in later life.

I had nothing against Miss Mackintosh (name changed to protect the innocent) at Stepps Primary School. She used to come in on Thursdays to try to instil some sense of music into our empty heads. In those far off days any normal schoolboy would be out emulating Bobby Charlton rather than getting the larynx around Bobby Shaftoe. Yet Miss Mack insisted we sit indoors in the summer sunshine learning our folksong heritage. And that is what it amounted to. I never heard the 'classics' at primary school. Music was simply about All through the Night and By yon Bonny Banks. We tried to do our best. But it was quite frankly boring. I would rather have been fighting my friend Stephen or chasing Diane and June round the playground. Memories! I wonder if today's Games Boy has to splutter through 'Camptown Races?'

So I am afraid it is with trepidation that I approached Richard Stoker's 2002 offering for Voice and Guitar - Eight British Folksongs.

Here are at least five of my early horrors: All Through the Night, Londonderry Air, Early One Morning, The Oak and the Ash and Bobby Shaftoe. They bring back memories of sitting near the front of the class and a certain bully trying to stab me with a set of compasses! At least he got caught by the mistress!

However Stoker has tempered these 'well known' numbers with three which are 'hidden gems'. The Noble Duke of York, The Keys of Canterbury and The Poacher. Now on inspection the Noble Duke turns out to be what I know as The Grand Old Duke of York. Aaargh. More memories of enforced dancing lessons. Imagine some poor middle-aged teacher trying to inculcate the rudiments of country dancing into children from a mining community! Well she did succeed. I can still trip a light 'Hesitation Waltz' and a rumbustious 'Eightsome Reel.' And let's face it, the 'Gay Gordons' had no connotations for us 'when we were seven.'

But I am older and wiser now. I see parts of my heritage destroyed or made politically incorrect. There was a time when I was unable to read Biggles or The Famous Five for fear of upsetting some guardian of public morals. Fortunately this madness seems to have waned. George and Ginger can have their adventures once more. However there are things that are going the way of all flesh. Those elements of British Culture that have not been listed or preserved by English Heritage or the National Trust. I think of the language of The Book of Common Prayer, English puddings and Mild Ale.

Seriously, I believe that we are in danger of losing our key societal markers: those things which define the British as a nation. I read in the paper the other day that most children do not know who won the battle of Trafalgar. Few know who Joseph or Moses were. As for Cronos and Charon and Bottom! Well, there seems to be no hope.

So it is with some pleasure that I find a modern composer setting words that have echoed down the ages in Britain. Words that were compiled in many 'Community Songbooks’ (a thing of the past surely). It would have been so easy to tackle a more 'contemporary or meaningful' poet.

These songs are well wrought with interesting guitar accompaniment. They are perhaps a little adventurous harmonically for my taste in places, but certainly Stoker cannot be accused of writing 'strum along' support for the singer. The arrangement of the key signatures makes for variety, so the songs do not seem to pall on the ear. The only problem, it seems to me is that some of them are a trifle long. The Keys of Canterbury runs to ten verses! So, a lot of light and shade will be needed by the performers.

I must confess that I hope the composer knocks up a piano score for these tunes, as the guitar is not my favourite instrument (unless played by Page, Hendrix or Zappa)

But it is very nice to have these eight songs. They ought to be played as a set and not excerpted.


John France June 2003

 



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