Lost songs

Mar 13th, 2008 | By | Category: Personal Columns

The radio played “I’ll tell me ma” this morning: a rowdy song before 7am. Perhaps it was in honour of the date that approaches, there are stories that Patrick’s weekend will last a fortnight this year. It brought memories of sitting in a nursing home for an hour last week during the twice weekly gathering for music and song. There was a power in familiar tunes and words to transform the moods of those gathered there; no matter that the same tunes might get a run out each time, no matter that only snatches of the words were remembered, it was a positive and life affirming moment.

Perhaps those gathered in that drawing room are the last generation who will have songs that they might sing, or even tunes that they can hum. Street music has disappeared, the sort of thing that might be sung in nursing homes in a generation’s time is no longer being written.

Who were the last of the songwriters? Who were the last people to write a song that might one day be played on a drawing room piano while elderly and frequently confused people join in the singing? Perhaps the odd Lennon and MacCartney song? Perhaps Bob Dylan? Maybe Simon and Garfunkel? After them, who is there that has written anything that will remain in the long term memory? The only song that springs to mind is Shane McGowan’s Fairytale of New York, and it will probably be banned in a generation’ s time, anyway.

Music has changed and our culture has changed. Being number one in the charts has become no big deal in a culture that has fragmented to the point that the BBC in Britain pushed aside its television chart show because those buying chart music represented only a small part of music buyers.

The change and fragmentation allow us all to buy what we like individually, but it means we have lost what we might have had in common. In a generation’s time, when there are fewer and fewer who remember the words of the old songs, what will there be left to sing? Will there be no chance of rowdy songs before seven in the morning?

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  1. For many of the old songs go to Google and try Mrs Amy Ford there is a move by some people in Somerset to trace and record all the old country songs

  2. But those songs are like the current chart songs in that they were only ever known to a particular group of people – they were not songs that spanned a nation or a generation.

    The songs in the nursing home were things like “When Irish eyes are smiling” and “If you’re Irish, come into the parlour”, things that everyone in the room would have heard. There are no longer songs like that.

  3. Ian I agree, The generation in the nursing homes now, found entertainment singing around the firesides in the days before TV.

    If I were a Blackbird, Danny Boy, Come Back Paddy Reilly, Galway Bay, Rose of Tralee and Will Ye Go Lassie Go, they all bring to mind for me the folk who made them their signature tune. If I hum the tune I am transported back and see the person sitting in our house warmed by the fire, the food and a drink, singing their heart out.

  4. I agree Ian the one eyed monster in the corner of the front room has a lot to do with it also the break down of the family unit, with a lot of families worshiping the one eyed monster sitting with tea tray in hand eating in silence.There is a glimmer of hope I am lucky enough to live 3 miles from Sidmouth where in the summer for one week people young and old from around the world come and listen sing play their folk songs at ‘The Sidmouth Folk Festival’. Its worth a visit.Or look it up on t’internet

  5. Ian – when I clicked on ‘write a comment’ for this post, it came up on the toolbar as…

    Lost songs – For the fainthearted

    That kinda says all I wanted to say 🙂

  6. Too true folks although in our little hearts and hearth retain three little ditties that have been transformed into lullabyes and have been sung to our babies now for three generations: “Who’s Your Lady Friend”, “Lily of Laguna” and another what would be deemed very racist these days, “Go To Sleep My Baby” (Mama’s little Alabama coon!). I once went to a German beer hall in Manchester where they had a rock band playing all the old songs . . .maybe that’s a way to pass them on to the new generation! I rocked out to Bye Bye Blackbird!

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