19 June 2016



Yes, there’s a lot happening at the moment. Those of you who’ve read my previous posts or some of my pieces in Facts & Fiction storytelling magazine ( http://www.factsandfiction.co.uk ) won’t be surprised to hear that I’ll be voting for the UK to remain in the EU on Thursday. (Or did vote for that if you’re reading this at a future date when history could have changed dramatically!) 

Recent open air spot at Belper Goes Green Festival 
Even though for the past 40 years I have concentrated on singing English songs and telling English stories the more I find out about them the more I realise that they are mostly part of a huge pan-European repertoire of folklore themes and most of the things which are considered to be quintessentially ‘British’ can be found in a slightly different form somewhere on the Continent.

Britain has always been part of Europe, for better or worse. We’ve fought wars against most of the countries and also with them. At one time Queen Victoria was called the ‘grandmother of Europe’ because the crowned heads of almost every European country were related to her through the marriages of her many children and grandchildren. 

On the football front: Euro 2016 is well underway and the England football team (soccer for those of you in the USA!) has been its usual disappointing self so far—promising a lot and then failing to achieve what it should when it comes down to it. (But fingers crossed...)

The main thing I wanted to write about here is that same competition in 1996 when it was held in England. 

1996 £2 commemorative coin

Euro 1996 was spread over the country and one group was based in Nottingham. The city put on a lot of festivities including concerts in ‘Slab Square’ (the Old Market Square in the centre of the city). I was pleased to take part in one of those.
If I’m asked what kind of venue I prefer to work in I’ll always say an intimate, in-door place where you can really communicate with the audience and build a good atmosphere but, over the years I’ve done quite a few big, open-air performances and they can be enjoyable too if there’s a nice crowd and you’ve got a good PA and sound man. At such events I concentrate on song; if I put in any stories at all it’s only one or two very, very short, jokey, ones as a break between songs. I don’t think people can listen to a story in those circumstances when there’s a lot going on and they are moving around.
The enjoyable thing about the Nottingham event was that not only did you get the local people who’d come down for the music but there were visiting football supporters too, in all their colours with scarves and shirts. I seem to remember that we had Croatians, Portuguese, Danish and others who might have been passing through rather than playing their games at the City Ground. I don’t know whether there was trouble at other times but I was struck by the friendliness of the crowds. There would be a bit of good natured rivalry and some singing of rival songs but they were  going round arm in arm, drinking with each other and with the hosts and were all willing to listen to the music. It was what sporting competitiveness should be like—no assaults or baton charges; no teargas or bottlings.
It was Europe at its best!

The Big City Bash in Derby with Popeluc
Sadly, my music—traditional English songs—would have been as ‘foreign’ to most of the English people in the crowd as they would to the visitors because, on the whole, the English know nothing about their folk culture.
I’ll quote three little stories to illustrate this:

1) Another open-air event I did was a publicity event for Loughborough Council. I was employed to entertain the passers by while other people distributed leaflets. Two of these were a young, local man dressed as a lion and an Irish girl dressed as a dragon. At separate times they both came and asked me about the songs I was singing. “What are they?” asked the lion? “I’ve never heard anything like that before.”
“Your songs are making me homesick” said the dragon. “I know they’re not Irish but they have the same feeling behind them as our folk songs.”

2) On another occasion I was playing at an event where there were a lot of Romanians. One woman came and asked me about the songs: “Are they Irish?” When I told her they were English she said she didn’t think the English had any folk music. When I assured her we had she wondered how she could have lived in London for quite a few years and never heard any on the radio!

3) Which brings me to the third story which is also linked to radio although I saw this on a TV programme. The DJ Andy Kershaw was doing a programme about the Andes and one sequence was him and his guides setting up camp for the night. When the fire was going they passed round the drink and started to sing local songs. After a while they asked Kershaw and his camera man for an English song. The only thing he could think of to sing was Ging Gang Goolie… which, far from being ‘an English song’ is described in Wikipedia as ‘a gibberish scouting song’ and it seems to have evolved in Sweden or Denmark before spreading through the scouting/girl guide world.

Britain and Europe—inseparable whatever the result of the referendum!

More info on: Pete's web site

and a lot of music and storytelling on Pete's You Tube Channel 


No comments:

Post a Comment