Folksongs Of Britain And Ireland by Peter Douglas Kennedy : Oak Publications, 1998


Peter Kennedy's Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, originally published in 1975, is perhaps the major single work on British and Irish folk song to be compiled in the 20th century. It includes over three hundred traditional songs from all parts of Britain, in English, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, and Channel Islands French, with meticulous scholarly notes on printed and recorded sources. All songs are given as simple monadic musical scores, with all lyrics in English or, in the case of other languages, in the original language with English translations. The Celtic language traditions songs are particularly valuable, since most of them are extremely difficult to find elsewhere. Originally the book was accompanied by a series of recordings on tape cassette and LP of most of the songs issued by Folktracks, Caedmon, and Topix records; most unfortunately -- I in fact would say, outrageously -- most of these recordings seem to be no longer available commercially, though some at this writing are listed as available from Folktrax (note the change in spelling) records. I noted though that many of the songs in the book's last chapter, Songs of the Travelling People, are included in the anthology CD Songs of the Travelling People in versions for the most part closely similar to those given in the book.

The book itself is hard to find used and often is in poor condition and outrageously priced if you can find it. (In addition to the original 1975 hardbound edition, there was at least one subsequent paperback edition which may be cheaper, but I haven't seen it and can't confirm whether it's an exact reproduction of the original.) In all honesty, I would call the virtual disappearance of these materials from the market an indictment of how corrupt our culture has become.

There apparently was some controversy over how Peter Kennedy handled the rights to these materials, which I don't think is relevant to a review, but I believe some record of it may be found on various web sites dealing with British folklore.

This book must count as a specialist and advanced work, and the typical folk music fan or even performer probably wouldn't make much use of it. But if you have a special interest in the British and Irish folk song tradition, are already fairly familiar with the more readily available relevant printed and recorded materials, and want to get deeper into the subject, this is the first thing you should buy, and you will find that getting your own copy is worth the time and expense.

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