How Alan Lomax Inspired Me
I have recently got deeper and deeper into the work of Alan Lomax. A few weeks ago I watched a documentary made about him and his work. I highly recommend watching it. It’t not available on the usual platforms, but I was happy to find it for rent for $1.99 on Vimeo (it’s well worth it!)
If you haven’t heard of Alan Lomax, then a little bit about him:
- During his lifetime he travelled the world and made 10,000 recordings of folk songs
- He was upset by the idea that these folk songs and work songs might disappear if he didn’t document them
- He believed in “Cultural Equity”, that all cultures deserved 'equal time on the air and in the classroom'
Many of the songs he recorded were work songs. Songs that accompanied men and women while they laboured. Including;
- Milking songs; sang as a woman milked a dairy cow
- Tree chopping songs; sang as men swung their axe in time
- Waulking songs; sang as women thumped tweed fabric to shrink and soften it
- Sheep herding songs; sang as men herded their sheep
There were celebration songs, sang at special occasions. Songs sang in prison. Children’s songs from the playground. The recording technology back then was rudimentary compared to what it is now. But the songs he captured were far from rudimentary. They were full of soul, passion and connection.
Watching his documentary and listening to the songs he recorded has re-connected me to my purpose around singing and recording songs.
All of the songs he recorded, I believe, were created with the aim of connection. The work songs kept the workers in time and connected them in rhythm. The songs in prison connected the inmates through their difficult situation. The celebration songs connected the group to the joy of the moment.
At the end of the documentary he said “You and your CBS and all the big amusement industries represent a way of silencing every body. Communication was supposed to be two-way, but it’s turned out to be basically one-way. From those people can afford to own a transmitter which costs a few million dollars, to the little guy who can afford to own a receiver that costs a few bucks. So there are millions of receivers and people at the other end and only a few transmitters."
Unfortunately there was a time where there were gatekeepers when it came to music. You had to have the money to afford expensive equipment, or know somebody in the music industry who would record you. And then, the only way for you to disemminate your music was by putting it on vinyl, which was also expensive. But the times have changed...
I think Lomax would be thrilled to see what’s happening now. Technology is cheap and we can all become transmitters! Although the big transmitters like Radio 1, will always dominate in some way, the underdog can still share their music.
I love listening to the Alan Lomax archives because the songs give me a little peek into different cultures and different lives all over the world. It’s an amazing way to travel without leaving your home.
It’s also made me feel good about what I make. My music is the music of a mother living in a village in the Garden of England. My music represents how I spend my days and what is important to me. It’s not glitzy or glamorous, it’s heartfelt and honest. I’m excited to be recording my music again, and give my friends all over the world the opportunity to travel to my home in a quiet and green corner of Great Britain for a few minutes. Inspired by all this, I will be releasing new music soon, but in a totally new way!
Watching the Alan Lomax documentary has given me permission to make raw music. It’s also inspired me to record more of what I do, rather than just the 10% that makes it onto an album. The field recordings he made capture a moment in time. And I want to record and document more of my musical moments! So, I’m working on a library of my music. The library will be filled with "Song Journals". A Song Journal is the musical equivalent of an artists sketchbook. Along with the journals I will also be sharing the origin stories of the songs, lyrics sheets and teaches. The Library goes live on 3rd May 2022. Counting down!
This is my current home recording bedroom studio setup (yes that is a baby sleeping in the bed behind me!)
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