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Bert Lloyd Tribute - Cecil Sharp House 15 November 2008

From Kevin Bradley (3 December 2008)

It was serendipity, pure and simple, that had me in London on the 15th November, the day of the the EFDSS Bert Lloyd Tribute. I was in transit to some UNESCO meetings and took advantage of the trip to spend a few days in London working with colleagues at the British Library. A quick Google for "folk in London" for the only free evening I had presented me with a few tempting choices, but when the 12 hour event "A Tribute to Bert" came up on the list, the choice was made.

The English Folk Dance and Song Society, Cecil Sharp House, and A.L. Lloyd particularly, loom large in the history of Australian folklore for various reasons. However, the controversy that surrounds the authority Lloyd claimed in his knowledge of Australian folklore is the single factor that springs to mind when his name is mentioned here in Australia. As well as this, a trip to Cecil Sharp House is something of a pilgrimage for anyone interested in folklore studies, so it was with some anticipation that I finally walked into the imposing building on the corner of Regents Park Rd and what google maps told me was Darwin Court.

I had hoped to catch the afternoon concert, which included Martyn Wyndham-Read, but sadly, Google maps and the directions given by "the place near the station" had me wandering the streets for longer than I'd hoped, and I arrived at the end of the afternoon concert, but there was still Dave Arthur's talk, the evening concert and with a chance to talk to some of the people. Martyn and his wife Danni generously introduced me to all and sundry in the downstairs room where we ate between musical offerings, (surrounded disconcertingly by various Morris parphenalia such as Elk heads) and explained much of the minutiae of the English Folk scene. What became very aparent is that few, if any, of those present were interested in the "Australia Controversy".

Lloyd was a giant in folklore studies, and his influence on the English folk performance style hard to overestimate. Performer after performer told stories of how Lloyd had advised them on reportoire, pointed them towards traditional performers and recordings he thought might interest them, and drew on his encyclopeadic (though self-taught), knowledge of traditional music and song to explain the meaning of the material they were performing. Alistair Anderson's pyrotechnic piping and concertina playing, was peppered with stories of Lloyd, and a young and exciting duet of Lisa Knapp and Sam Lee, could easily show his influence, albiet before they were born. Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, Dave Swarbrick, Norma Waterson and Mike Waterson brilliantly performed song after song, citing Lloyd's pivotal influence on their own lives. Frankie Armstrong had many songs to sing and Lloyd stories to tell, but I was most enthralled when Bulgarian singer Dessislava Stefanova, who sang with Armstrong, pointed to Lloyd's recordings as the way she began to research her own culture. His Eastern European work appeared far more infuential than I imagined. Indeed, a week or so later I found that an Austrian friend and ethnomusicologist was one of two people who, along with Lloyd, were regularly invited to a communist folk music festival that recognised, with due respect, the work that Lloyd had done. His reputation was widespread.

Dave Arthur spoke for an hour on the research he had done in his writing of the Lloyd biography, and this all too brief discussion has whetted my appetite for the upcoming release of the book. There is much more detail to be revealed which will doubtless fuel discussion, at least in Australia, particularly about the dates Lloyd was in Australia, which according to Arthur's work appears to be somewhat less that he often claimed, and the continued absence of the unconfirmed notebooks remains a factor. Lloyd was clearly a complex and many faceted individual.

This concert, talk and event confirmed for me that Lloyd was an extraordinary and influential character, and the strength of his personality, 26 years after his death, still resonated amongst the excited buzz which surrounded all those leaving Cecil Sharp House. I was probably one of the few there who had never met him, yet I was as impressed as anyone there with the testament to the breadth of knowledge and influence he possesed. It was an impressive evening which will doubtless lead to more discussion, information, and reminscence.


Many thanks to Kevin for permission to add this review to the Australian Folk Songs website.
Kevin Bradley is Curator, Oral History and Folklore, National Library of Australia.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory