Michael Raven West Midlands' Ballads

  • £17.95

This book is a collection of ballads, which begs the question: What is a ballad? Forget the modern usage, meaning 'a slow, sentimental song'. This is a misuse of the ancient word 'baler' derived from the Old French via Middle English, meaning to dance, and later used as a poem or song performed as an accompaniment to dancing. These usually narrated a popular story and today the story element is the prime feature. If a song tells a story it can be called a ballad.
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Ballads used to be long and include several episodes. In our times of limited attention span these episodes have often taken on a life of their own, and so we now have many shorter pieces. But they can still be classed as ballads, as long as they contain a proper story and are not purely evocations of the charms of nature or an expression of love and suchlike.

I have taken great care in my selection of material and have only included what I think are worthy in both text and tune. There is a vast amount of rubbish out there, much of it emanating from the pens of hack writers working for broadside printers in the late 18th century and the whole of the 19th century. The new industrial areas were bombarded by turgid accounts of mining disasters, murders and the like. Having said that, the rural tradition is by no means unblemished. The ideological idyll of the uneducated peasant polishing rough gems to a high poetic gloss often works in the reverse.

I have also gone to great lengths to obtain fitting and artistically worthy drawings, etchings, woodcuts and photographs, both ancient and modern.

This collection contains only three carols, even though the West Midlands is noted 'carol country'. The reason is that we have only just published a new edition of A Good Christmas Box, a selection of 58 carols first printed in 1847 by G. Walters of Dudley. This is renowned as a source book with complete versions of songs and ballads of high poetic standard not found anywhere else. It is also lavishly illustrated with the highly-regarded Albrecht Durer wood cuts of the Small Passion,
There are facsimiles of many broadsides in The Folk-Lore of the Black Country and the West Midlands (three volumes) by Michael Raven and Jon Raven; and in Folklore of the Black Country, by Roy Palmer.

In conclusion, I would remind readers that the ballads in this book can be read privately or narrated publicly, as well as being sung. Long ballads, such as The Wedgebury Cocking, would become tedious if sung all the way through. When performing this particular song my brother, Jon Raven, recites it but breaks into song for some passages, and the whole is delivered in a somewhat dramatic fashion, as if he were in a Victorian Music Hall. It works very well indeed.

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