Songs from VFSS members
What I appreciate most about the VFSS is its open-minded attitude toward what songs are VFSS appropriate. Almost anything goes, reflecting Louis Armstrong’s attitude that he thought ALL music is folk music, ‘cause he never heard a horse sing. This suited me fine as when I joined I had no background in UK traditional songs, which is the focus of some clubs. My own repertoire was broad drawing from black gospel, jazz and show tunes, blues, sea shanties, comedic parodies, and my own one-of-a-kind originals. Like everybody else in VFSS, I am exposed to a rich diversity of songs. When I came across this rarely heard song from the US Folk revival of the 1950s, I thought it expressed the one thing we know we have in common: ‘We Come for to Sing’.
My choice would be a song I wrote called ‘Modern Truth’. I first sang it at the Folk, and I remember how kind people were when they talked with me about the song during the break. I think the song captures something I have always liked about The Folk – there is an honesty to all the songs people bring to the circles and the features. The songs speak to an ongoing search for truth, and the music is a torch for that search. Hence, a song about truth seems to fit well with my impressions of the VFSS.
I grew up in England but knew very little about the rich culture of traditional folk music in the UK. I think ‘Greensleeves’ was the only song I knew in my childhood. The Vancouver Folk Song Society introduced me to so much traditional music from the country of my birth. I had to travel across the wide ocean to learn a song such as ‘I Like to Rise’.
One of the things I like best about the VFSS is joyful group singing. This song has the best lead-up to a raucous group chorus!
Bill Marshall & Kate Smith
Keeping folk music alive and well is what the VFSS does. Folk music is a big category from modern to long ago songs. The Crossroads Coffeehouse in Port Coquitlam, which we manage, shares this venerable task and joy with the VFSS. Our songsters and audience visit back and forth often.
Lately we have been song leaders for folks who are a bit lonely for singing together so we do a few online zoom nights – and this old tune is one that most people know and enjoy singing: ‘Scarborough Fair’.
When I first joined the VFSS in the fall of 1970, I was delighted to see how members were so readily willing to share songs – to learn and practice songs together and to form ad hoc performance groups. This feature of the Society has continued to the present day and is one of its greatest strengths. I personally have collaborated with current members too numerous to mention. The song I am offering was recorded live at the Folk some time in 1973 and was just one of the many occasions when former member Nancy Darling invited me to join her on stage to sing this particular song: ‘I Once Loved a Lass’
In the fifteen years I’ve been a member of the VFSS, I’ve received all sorts of encouragement to practice and to extend some effort in an informal way. Everyone has seemed very supportive and friendly.
I have learned about and enjoyed the wide range of instruments used by our members and visitors. As a Folk Song Society, just about any genre is encouraged and song-writing is very much valued as we grow together, share our experiences, and prepare for a strong future.
In this folk song, ‘Timber Winds’, I attempt to convey some feelings about changes to work and life in the American West. Lyrics and melody are self-composed and situated especially in B.C.
You have asked for songs that represent what is important to me about the Folk. I came to the Folk in 2000 and had been singing the song ‘Three Ravens’ for many years but did not know its historical significance. I thought it an antiwar song written by Peter, Paul and Mary. You opened my eyes to the fact that this song was first written about in the year 1611 and there are many versions of it throughout the world. Thank you for showing me the profoundly rich universe of traditional music. I treasure it.
I learned ‘A Maid I Am In Love’ from the singing of Mrs. Stan Marshall, from Truro, Nova Scotia, on the album Maritime Folk Songs: from the Collection of Helen Creighton, 1962.
This song connects me to the Folk in two ways. The first is that it was Phil Thomas who played the recording for me. He correctly intuited that this song would suit me well, and the experience of learning from a Canadian field recording shaped many of my future choices as a singer. I still sing this song and I am including it on my upcoming album, Safe & Sound.
The second connection to the Folk was the permission I received there to sing unaccompanied. I had come from social singing in which I could only sing what the boys knew how to play on the guitar. I instantly recognized at the Folk that unaccompanied singing was not only allowed but celebrated as the traditional way of presenting the old songs. This was a liberation for me as a singer.
Although the Folk was also about massive group harmonies and many other ways of doing folk songs, it was the validation of one voice alone that I wish to highlight with this selection.
I am including my song ‘Union Steam’, recorded during the 50th Anniversary of the Folk held at St. James in 2009. I think it epitomizes a lot of what the Folk has meant to me.
First, I should say that I began writing songs relatively late in life for songwriters, a few years before I discovered the VFSS (1987), autobiographical songs that I wrote for myself. Later, when I performed a few of them at the Folk, with no little trepidation about their musicality and acceptability, they were received very warmly, especially by the “old guard” like Phil Thomas and Rika Ruebsaat whose judgement I respected very much. That gave me a very important sense of validation, that I could render these vibrant memories and images into useful songs. It was with such engendered confidence that I wrote Union Steam in the early ’90s, a song about the passing of an era on the BC Coast and the wistful feelings I had about it.
I’ve included this particular copy of the song because, if listening carefully, you can hear the audience of Folkies singing along with the performance. That is the second major point about the VFSS: the great support that is given to its performers and the joyful desire to sing at the drop of a hat. People in the VFSS make music FUN!
Jim Edmondson, Madeleine DeLittle, & Charles West
Why “Kettle Valley Line” represents the VFSS to Jim, Madeleine and Charles
The words in bold say it all. This is a VFSS song to us because it has a real authentic feel to it – it’s about real people who were riding the rails to find work in the 30’s in British Columbia. It combines a nitty gritty description of riding the rails with just a touch of down-to-earth humour. Singing about all that makes the past come alive. The KVL is definitively part of the underground river of the local, BC, folk music tradition. The past reaches out to us in the present in another way because of the Kettle Valley Line’s proximity to the Princeton Traditional Music Festival. Also, linking the past to the present, all three of us have walked, skied or biked sections of the old track of the Kettle Valley Line. As a VFSS outreach project, Madeleine and Jim organized a re-enactment of the song at Brigade Days in Fort Langley. During the singing, children sat on a moving 4×3 board held high by 4 adults, got arrested by a railway bull in a top hat, etc. Finally, there’s the growing together thing. Charles and Jim sang this very early on when Charles was new to the VFSS. Now all three of us are doing it again for this important VFSS project.
‘Song of the Lower Classes’ was written in 1852 by Ernest Jones, a leader in the Chartist movement in England which advocated for universal male suffrage at a time when people without property had no voice. Folk music has always been a way of communicating such ideas, as documented by E.P. Thompson in “The History of the English Working Class”, where he described how traditions and beliefs about rights were carried on in oral (often sung) history even when people were not literate. The Vancouver Folk Song Society has provided such a vital avenue for me to connect to that tradition and to become more aware of the breadth of the role of song in people’s political consciousness. My former partner Stoney Bird joined me in recording this song some time ago.
I like that the Folk has a fine spirit of cooperation rather than competition. The song ‘Teaming up the Cariboo Road’ is about an activity in BC that required a great deal of cooperation between the drivers, the freighters and the swampers. I like the way people in the Folk help others along in every way. [Jim Edmondson joined Vaughan on this recording of ‘Teaming up the Cariboo Road’.]