Article by Gerry Myerson
The web has many useful resources for folkies. I’m going to write mainly about one, The Mudcat Cafe, with brief mentions of some others. Of course, I make no pretence of being exhaustive here.
The Mudcat Cafe is a music discussion website. No musical genre is off topic there, but the vast majority of the threads concern folk music, broadly understood. The regular users are largely from North America and the British Isles, with more than a few from other parts of the world, including several who live in Australia. The music discussed mostly reflects the origins of the users, but if you want to ask a question about, say, traditional Finnish ballads, the chances are good that someone with expertise in that area will turn up to answer.
The site has been around for going on 25 years now, and developments elsewhere in web design have generally passed it by. It is entirely text-based; there is no way to post a pdf or an mp3. You type in what you wish to say, whether by creating a new thread or by continuing the discussion in an already-existing thread. The threads are not, themselves, threaded – that is, there is no way to post something as a reply to a specific earlier post in a thread (other than by explicitly writing something like, “This is in response to the post from Joe Bloggs at 8:34pm on 3 April 2007.”). You can include links to other webpages in your posts.
Anyone can post to a thread or start a new one. No membership or registration is required. There are some advantages to becoming a member, one of which is the ability to send personal messages to other members. Membership is free, uncomplicated, and does not result in unwanted messages filling your inbox. You’ll get email confirming your registration, and welcoming you to the site, and that’s it.
The site is largely, but not entirely, free of the flame wars that occur whenever people are free to post to public websites. Asking for a definition of folk music, or trying to discuss Ewan MacColl, could bring out the worst in some of the users. Even so, the moderators will step in to close a thread or to ban one or more posters when things appear to be getting out of hand. Discussions are usually rancour free and at quite a high level, as there are many extremely knowledgeable regulars who are there to learn and to share their knowledge.
One very useful feature of Mudcat is the easy access to the Digital Tradition Database (simply referred to as “the DT” on the site). This contains lyrics to thousands of songs, many of them in multiple versions, together with links back to relevant discussions on Mudcat proper. The fellow who curated the DT has passed on, and no one has stepped up to take his place, so it’s not possible to add new songs, nor to correct errors in the songs that are there. Users are requested instead to post new songs and corrections to old ones to threads at Mudcat proper. One peculiarity of the DT is that the many, many songs with titles beginning with the word “the” are indexed under “the”.
One thread that may particularly interest readers is titled, “Rise Up Mudcat Songbook – Australia“. This thread contains lyrics to several hundred songs from Australia and New Zealand, with links to Youtube or other recordings when these are available.
One last feature of the Mudcat website. The threads are divided into two types, the music threads and the “General Discussion” ones. The latter are at the bottom of the front page of the website, and down there, anything goes. Nothing is off-topic, and moderation is lighter. After spending a very small amount of time there, I decided it was not to my taste, but, of course, taste is very personal, and I don’t want to dissuade anyone from having a look around down there. Still, you’ve been warned. Another feature of membership at Mudcat is that you have you be a member to start a new thread in the General Discussion section.
Here are some other useful online resources:
Glad for Trad Archive Dennis & Judy Cook and Doug McClennen have been putting a program to air on radio weekly, each week with a different theme, and their programs are archived on this site back to 2014.
Bruce Olson’s Website “Roots of Folk: Old English, Scots, and Irish Songs and Tunes.” Olson passed away in 2003, so nothing has been added in a long time, but it looks like this impressive piece of scholarship is being maintained.
Stories of Scottish Songs It boasts “150 lyrics and background stories of traditional and newer Scottish songs sung by the Linlithgow song group Sangschule.”
Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music This is Reinhard Zierke’s website, where you can search by song title, or by artist, or by record label. The entry for a song will generally contain information on the history of the song, who recorded it and when, and one or more versions of the lyrics.
The Traditional Ballad Index Not a lyrics site, but a site with historical information – sometimes, lots and lots of it – about a huge list of songs.
Despite the web address Blue Grass Messengers is not restricted to bluegrass tunes, but has a wide selection of songs, some with extensive commentary.
Mark Gregory’s collection of over 1,100 Australian traditional songs.
I reckon that should keep you busy for a while.