English Songsters

In my fair city this week and last there's been a lot of Scottish music. There's a woman who's been active in the local Scottish community (who knew?) for years, and she's a retired music teacher and she does a program each year where she brings in top notch Scottish musicians to teach in local schools. It's pretty cool, and it means that a lot of great Scottish musicians do concerts here. Anyway, this is a much more macro entry into this story than you really need, but it's my blog and it seems fitting.

Anyway, Ed Miller, an amazing folklorist and singer did a concert and sang "A Bottle of the Best" which some googleing has revealed is written by Jack Foley. It's a perfectly good song, and one that I'd heard dozens of times before, but it wasn't something that had really stuck with me as you might it expect. It does, however, have the following "make fun of the English" verse:

And the English like their ale warm and flat, straight oot the pail They aye slitter wi' their bitter; it would slaughter Jack the Ripper, And they sip their cider rough, they huff and puff and sniff and snuff, And as if that's no' enough, they start tae sing.

When Jones' Ale Was new, or John Barleycorn's fine brew Fathom the Bowl, the Barley Mow, Bring us a Barrel, just a few But their songs are far surpassed by the tinkle in the glass When you've broken oot a bottle of the best.

Which is, on the face of it, not a particularly clever verse as these things go, but he was able to sing it in a way that perfectly captured a very English way of singing. It was hilarious, or at least I thought so, because while it's a fine verse, the musical pun really made it.


It helps that I really like that kind of singing. There's something really cool about standing around in a doorway with friends or strangers singing a song, and it's not so much about the redeeming musical value--I happen to like it, but it's admittedly an odd taste--as it is about the value to the community/spiritual [1] sense.

And maybe I've answered it, but the question I'm left with is, what makes those sorts of songs so awesome? And really, is there a quintessentially English way of singing? While we're at it am I the only one who finds this entertaining?

[1]I should post a rant about this at some point, but you hear a lot of people these reformed days saying, "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual," and while I support a flight from religion, I think this is an incredibly dumb thing to say. Spirituality as understood by all religions isn't about G-d nearly as much as it is about a historical lineage and set of ritualized practices. It turns out what people are saying when they say "I'm spiritual," is "I have a moral system." Which is a nice thing to say, but also doesn't (I think) have nearly as much to do with G-d as it does with being a human without a pervasive developmental/organic psychological condition and having an intact brain with a frontal lobe. But that's just me.
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