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Bert: The Life and Times of A. L. Lloyd Hardcover – 8 May 2012
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When everyone else was listening to Cream, I was listening to A. L. Lloyd. (Frank Zappa)
I'm old enough and have been close enough to many of the events recounted in this thoroughly but sympathetically researched book to recognise the ring of truth when I hear it. (Bill Leader, legendary record producer)
As broadcaster, scholar, collector and singer, Bert Lloyd was one of the truly inspirational characters of Britain’s 20th century music history – without roving, curious minds like his we would have a much reduced view of folk traditions, global music or the political import of sound in daily life. Dave Arthur’s biography captures his complexity and energy with affection and unflinching honesty. (David Toop, author of Ocean of Sound (2001) and Sinister Resonance (2010).)
A. L. Lloyd was a catalyst, a man who made things happen, divided opinion, enthused, annoyed, embraced and attracted immense loyalty. He was a self-taught intellectual, a committed Marxist and a romantic, too. He might have exercised his propensity for genius in any number of areas but he did so most notably in the field of traditional music and song, becoming a touchstone for generations that followed him. This book will please and astonish those who read it. (Malcolm Taylor OBE, Library Director, English Folk Dance and Song Society)
About the Author
Dave Arthur has gained a considerable reputation as a researcher, collector, writer and broadcaster of English song, music and folklore. He edited English Dance and Song for twenty years, and in 2003 was awarded the EFDSS Gold Badge for services to folk music. His writing has appeared in The Times, the Independent, Melody Maker, Words International, the Folk Music Journal, English Dance and Song, the Stage, Encyclopaedia Britannica and New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Top customer reviews
This is certainly no uncritical hagiography - Dave Arthur examines Lloyd's tendency to embroider the truth of aspects of his own early life, his willingness to actively blur the distinction between the source material as it was collected and the arranged or reconstructed songs Lloyd performed and disseminated, and the inevitable colouration that Lloyd's strong political beliefs brought to his work and the obstacles those beliefs placed in his career path.
Against this, however, Arthur rightly points out that such criticisms are made with the benefit of fifty years of the scholarship that Lloyd himself played a part in formalising. He also brings us closer to the man himself, showing Lloyd's unstinting generosity towards fellow performers (even when he personally disliked the results) and researchers, the obvious and genuine affection that almost everyone who encountered him felt for him, and the enormous, pivotal position Lloyd occupies in the history of the post-war English folk revival. Through narrating this latter aspect of his life, the book also acts as a potted history of the early revival itself. Lloyd's interactions with other key figures, such as his complex relationship with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger and with Alan Lomax, are detailed, and the book gives a great insight into the processes, personalities and politics that shaped the folk revival.
Lloyd was also a prolific radio scriptwriter and journalist, a researcher into folklore across much of the world, and had interests and influence in a range of other spheres; Arthur juggles the various parts of Lloyd's life with great organisational skill, preferring sometimes to give the arc of a particular aspect of Lloyd's life rather than slavishly following the chronology, but successfully avoiding the twin dangers of confusion and excessive repetition.
This is a highly readable biography, meticulously researched without becoming drily academic, affectionate yet critical. The Bert Lloyd who emerges from these pages is at once both more accessible and more impressive than the Marxist pedagogue portrayed by some of his detractors. It is a biography that deserves to be read, not only because it is an important portrait of a crucial figure in the recent history of folk and traditional music, but also because it is a well-written, entertaining and highly informative read.
Dave Arthur's biography encompasses not only those early beginnings but the breadth of Lloyd's contribution to translation, radio documentary, ethnographic film, industrial song, folklore, poetry, broadcasting, magazine journalism, teaching and radical politics.
It's a riveting story of a man, his friends, relations, triumphs, tragedies, his wide-ranging influence and his ideas.
Returning to London from Australia at the beginning of the depression in 1930, the 21-year-old Lloyd soon became involved in the radical politics of the Communist Party, of which he was a lifelong member.
Lloyd's first publications were on revolutionary art and a translation of Spanish poet Lorca's Lament For The Death Of A Bullfighter And Other Poems which was published in 1937 while he was working on a whaling ship.
A year later his script Voice Of The Seamen, with its use of working-class language, was broadcast on BBC radio. It created an outcry from ship-owners and questions were raised in the House of Commons - the first of a number of "Lloyd controversies."
Arthur describes Lloyd's first encounter with "working-class people doing their own thing, singing songs ... a thriving folk culture on his own doorstep," an experience which led to a session recorded in a pub, broadcast in the summer of 1939. According to Arthur, it was the BBC's first full-length programme of genuine traditional singing.
That same year Lloyd and the historian Igor Vinogradoff began work on the marathon drama-documentary series The Shadow Of The Swastika which re-enacted the "fantastical" history of the Nazi Party and Hitler.
Twelve million people tuned in to this vast and complex story which was later published in book form and recorded for the Ministry of Information.
Though Lloyd went on to work for the famous Picture Post magazine, his open membership of the Communist Party put paid to his job continuing at the BBC, despite his having written eight scripts and translated two plays in a period of seven months for the corporation.
At the end of 1949 Lloyd's bar from the BBC was officially removed and by this time he'd published The Singing Englishman And Corn On The Cob: Popular And Traditional Poetry Of The USA.
For the lay reader it was an eye-opener, introducing Lloyd's concept that folk music was not impossible to revive. "It's largely because Bert wrote The Singing Englishman at a critical time and nudged open the folkloric floodgates that the folk revival developed the way it did," Arthur writes.
Come All Ye Bold Miners followed and in 1959 Lloyd compiled The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs with composer Vaughan Williams.
The folk revival was under way and Lloyd's part in it was unmistakable.
In the introduction to the book, Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson says that at school, where he first came across Lloyd's The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs, he and his peers were spared "having to sing the more prim Victorian versions of our national folk songs in class" as a result.
Between the early 1970s and '80s Lloyd's films for the BBC included documentaries on legendary US singer Doc Watson, the work of Hungarian composer and folk song collector Bela Bartok and the music tradition of the Hebrides.
That the BBC ran with such material attests to the extraordinary influence of Lloyd at the time
Lloyd's singing style was rooted in learning how to make each breath go a long way and "release the song from its hobbles." Arthur reveals that he didn't aspire to teach people how to sing but he enjoyed singing so much himself that it was pretty hard to resist his appeal.
Lloyd's engagement with and interest in so many aspects of his time described in this biography shine through.
And it documents yet another side of Lloyd - his admiration for Bob Dylan and interest in the use of electric instruments to deliver centuries-old ballads and tunes to large audiences.
It's an excellent biography and the author and Pluto Press are to be commended for bringing it out.
The only thing I didn't like was the egregious negativity about Ewan MacColl. I felt it was unneccessary in telling Lloyd's story. For example, Lloyd had a positive attitude to Bob Dylan. Great, in a book about Bert Lloyd tell me that. Ewan MacColl had a very negative view of Dylan. How does portraying that in a very critical way help me understand Bert Lloyd better? Some bandwagons aren't always worth jumping on, and the anti-MacColl one needn't have been drawn up here.
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