A L (Bert) Lloyd
Bert Lloyd’s 1944 history of the evolution of English folk song from the 14th century to the 20th, `The Singing Englishman’, which evolved into his `Folk Song in England’ (1967), has rightly earned him the prestige of being the key interpreter of the tradition. Lloyd blended a Marxist approach to cultural history with an analysis of folksong melody and oral tradition.
His conception of folk music as a product of oral tradition was decisive to his recognition of both urban and rural song and enable him to extended the study of traditional music to include ritual songs, carols, sea songs, industrial songs and political songs. His work was an outstanding intellectual achievement but is now criticised by academics for failing, in the manner now considered standard, to document his sources adequately. It is perhaps more offensive to mainstream commentators that his interpretation of English history was largely derived from A L Morton’s `A People’s History of England’ (1938) and that both men were live-long members of the Communist Party.
Albert Lancaster Lloyd was born in London, February 29, 1908. He was to sat that his first exposure to English folk song was in Sussex when he was a child of five. He remembered both his parents’ singing and the singing of "gypsies" camped near his Sussex home. His father was a jack-of-all-trades, trawlerman, docker, draper’s assistant and poultry farmer before serving in the trenches during World War One, when he was severely wounded in the War. Although he worked for a while as an Automobile Association patrolman, he became more and more an invalid and died while Lloyd was still a child.
Supporting the family financially fell mainly on the shoulders of Lloyd’s mother. On her death from tuberculosis in 1923, Lloyd, 15, was left an orphan. His relatives’ response was drastic: in 1924 the youth sailed for Australia as an "assisted migrant," his passage paid by the British Legion and spent the next decade in Australia, mainly in New South Wales, working as a sheep-and-cattle hand.
There was little to do in the Australian bush except work, drink, and gamble, and he soon decided he had no desire to spend the rest of his life minding sheep. He saved as much as he could of his pay, with the aim of eventually buying a ticket back to England. Nonetheless, he bought a wind-up gramophone and a number of 78 rpm records of classical music from mail-order catalogues. Making extensive use of the Sydney Public Library’s distance education services, Lloyd borrowed by mail a variety of novels and books on art and music.
Lloyd also was exposed to a different kind of folk song: the songs of sheep-and-cattle hands, shearers, and itinerant swagmen who roamed from farm to farm. His enjoyment of these pieces prompted him, to purchase a printed collection of Australian folk songs, first published in 1904. Lloyd later acknowledged the importance of his first-hand experience of folk song as functional work song in the Australian bush. By the time Lloyd left Australia, be had collected and written up in exercise books the words of several hundred songs (but no tunes).
In early 1934 Lloyd seized an opportunity to leave Australia for a job minding merino sheep in the Transvaal. But his stay in South Africa was only a brief interlude, and. he was soon back in England. There, the Communist historian A Leslie Morton probably met Lloyd during the winter of 1934-35 and the two became firm friends. Through Morton, Lloyd met radical writers, artists, philosophers, and historians, including Dylan Thomas, Jack Lindsay, Alan Hutt, George Rude, and Maurice Cornforth. Having a natural talent for languages, Lloyd collected languages (as Morton put it) "the way some people collect postage stamps”. This gift proved invaluable to him later in the collection and comparative study of folk songs.
By 1936, however, Lloyd was on the dole but took advantage of being unemployed by obtaining a reader’s ticket for the British Museum as well as researching Marxism he also explored the English folk song in detail. By this time he had joined the Communist Party. In 1937, tired of being unemployed and without money, Lloyd went to Liverpool to sign on the whaler Southern Empress, setting out on a 7-month trip to the Antarctic. There were a lot of Welshmen aboard, who sang hymns and popular songs all the time. Some of the English also took to singing, mostly film-hits or Victorian and Edwardian music hall songs, but some whaling songs. One night, in the Antarctic, when whales were scarce and a storm was blowing, Lloyd and his singing friends gave a concert over the ship’s radio. From here on Lloyd began singing folksongs regularly.
1938 saw him again sailing out of Liverpool, but aboard a freighter, not a whaler. But by now, Lloyd was set to try his hand at making a living in radio journalism. He had already written for an anthology of socialist art criticism, as well as The Left Review, and the Daily Worker. In magazines such as `New Writing’, `The Listener’ and `Contemporary Poetry and Prose’ he had also published articles on, and translations of, Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.
Lloyd now had his first radio script accepted for broadcast. Entitled "The Voice of the Seamen", the program documented the daily lives and opinions of ordinary mariners. Written from the lower-deck point of view, Lloyd’s script was lively and controversial, evoking considerable public response and even questions in the House of Commons. The BBC was pleased with the publicity, and the program launched Lloyd on his new career as broadcaster and journalist. He was given a contract, an office and a secretary at Broadcasting House.
Lloyd’s next major project for the BBC, a radio series, recreated dramatically, but at the same time analysed the rise of Nazism in Germany. Co-written with Russian historian Igor Vinogradoff, "Shadow of the Swastika" was broadcast by the BBC during 1939-40. Earlier in 1939, Reynolds News had published a series of Lloyd’s newspaper articles on the same subject. Lloyd and Vinogradoff then published a book-length version of the radio series (1940).
Lloyd now had ready access to the BBC sound archives. There he could browse among the folklore and folksong recordings made since 1935. not only in England. He began to explore more systematically various types of sailors’ songs and became fascinated with American folk song, especially cowboy songs which he felt were similar to the bush songs he had encountered in Australia.
As a Marxist, Lloyd was also interested in songs of the labour movement, both American and. British. In 1938 the Workers’ Music Association published Alan Bush and. Randall Swingler’s collection, `The Left Song Book’, but it contained few, if any, folk songs. Lloyd. suspected there was a wealth of British traditional industrial, occupational and political song to be collected and reclaimed for the labour movement as had been the case with American political song.
By the end of the decade, Lloyd was an amateur folklorist and singer with a small but growing repertoire that consisted of Australian bush songs, American cowboy and topical songs, Anglo-American sea shanties, and English ballads and folk-lyrics (the latter learned mainly from printed sources). As yet he knew few British industrial or occupational songs, but he was eager to find and learn them. Leslie Morton took him to the Eel’s Foot at Eastbridge in Suffolk, a pub whose regulars had long maintained a song school. Out of this visit came a historic broadcast, the first where authentic traditional singers, as distinct from collectors and arrangers, were heard on the air.
Llyod was so impressed with their singing that he returned with recording equipment to record "The Foggy Dew," "The Blackbird," "Indian Lass," "Poor Man’s Heaven," "Little Pigs," "There Was a Farmer in Cheshire," and "Pleasant and Delightful" plus a concertina solo called "Jack’s the Boy." The resulting program was broadcast on July 21st 1939.
During the phoney war, the BBC did not renew his contract, probably because his political affiliations were thought too embarassing. After a brief spell of unemployment, Lloyd found journalism work with Picture Post. In March 1942 Lloyd enlisted in the army and began training as a tank gunner in the Royal Armoured Corps. But he was soon seconded by the Ministry of information to work as an Anglo-Soviet liaison officer, writing material for a Russian-language newssheet that promoted British culture. He was able to resume his study of both English and American folklore and folk music. One of the first results was an article on "The Cowboy and His Music" which first appeared in a student magazine in May 1942, and then in an expanded version with musical examples in `Our Time’ in April 1943. Meanwhile, Lloyd used his journalistic skills in 1942 as co-editor of The Turret, a left-wing service newspaper.
Already an active member of the Workers’ Music Association, in 1943 Lloyd published a brief article on "The Revolutionary Origins of English Folk-Song" for its William Morris Musical Society Bulletin. This was a first attempt to sketch the Marxist interpretation of English folksong history Lloyd had been gradually working out since his days at the BritishMuseum. Colleagues in the WMA greeted Lloyd’s ideas with enthusiasm and encouraged him to develop them at greater length. The result was a sixty-nine page booklet the WMA published in 1944: The Singing Englishman.
This was a serious challenge to the English Folk Dance and Song Society that folk song could be appropriated from its middle-class guardians and returned to the workers who had created it. Written from an overtly Marxist point-of-view, it was conceived as a radical alternative to Cecil Sharp’s English Folksong: Some Conclusions.
Lloyd’s booklet was highly original: nothing like it had ever appeared before on the subject but negative voices sought to challenge his (at this stage) sketchy evidence for the social origins of traditional songs, for example his proposition that the celebrated song `Cutty Wren’ arose from 14th century peasant struggles. Lloyd’s proposition is now the widely accepted view.
David Gregory, `A. L. Lloyd and the English Folk Song Revival, 1934-44’, Canadian Journal for Traditional Music (1997)