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Artistic Licence

Once, long long ago, I worked in the upper reaches of Glen Garry in Inverness-shire. The boss insisted the folk music was for the people, by the people, and truly something termed "authentic". So, at night when we got bored seeing who could hang by their arms from the rafters of the house- converted to a dog kennel- converted back into a bunkhouse for the longest time, we'd cook ourselves up some genuine folk songs. One was a song about the boss. Another was about a glue sniffer who joined a woodwork class to get his fix and at the end of the song everything he'd made fell apart because all the adhesive had gone up his nose. It was hilarious. You'll have to take my word for that because no-one can now remember a single word of the song. Now, neither I nor any of my workmates, as far as I know, was actually a glue sniffer. But then Ewan McColl was never a fisherman or a miner and he produced some pretty memorable songs about life and work as seen through the eyes of both. We have a woman here in Edmonton who regularly knocks out songs about doing jobs she's never done during time periods she never lived in. Some of her songs are OK but it is shame that the people who actually had done these jobs never put together a song about them. My old boss would have approved of that as "authentic". The problem with folk songs penned by people who weren't there is that they can slip into cliche and put thoughts into the supposed participants' heads and mouths that were quite possibly never there. I might be a little more impressed if modern song writers did a little more research into the periods and people they are writing about. "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" by Ozzie-Scot Eric Bogle is classic anti-war song. But how many Anzacs felt the way the narrator of the song does? One thing I know for certain is that none were given a tin hat in early 1915. And I seriously doubt that anyone straight out of school would have found themselves taking part in the 1914 Christmas Truce as John McCutcheon would have us believe in his haunting "Christmas in the Trenches". It's just a shame that few, if any, of the genuine participants in the events being chronicled had the same way with words as these modern song writers.


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