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- Scarborough Unfair
An article on how Paul Simon stole Martin Carthy's arrangement of the English folk song "Scarborough Fair"
Modified: Jun 12 2009
Written by: John Renbourn
|Format: Method||Medium: Book/3CD|
|Series:||Publisher: Grossman's Guitar Workshop|
This comprehensive Guitar Workshop Audio Series book/3-CD set brings together a variety of fingerstyle arrangements featured in three of John Renbourn's video lessons. Illustrates unique and exciting fingerstyle techniques in the performance of traditional ballads and other tunes, using standard and several alternate tunings. In notation and tablature. Includes an extensive discussion about the tunes in the collection.
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Book of the Month 2002-10
Guitar Book of the Month October 2002 - John Renbourn: Fingerstyle Guitar
In the early 60's, London was where it all happened - at least as fingerpicking guitar is concerned. There were four key figures on the acoustic London scene at that time: Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy and John Renbourn. There was other artist hanging around, such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, but they were the students and not the inventors - remember that we are discussing guitar playing, not song writing.
The "godfather" of them all was Davey Graham, a player who is unknown to the general audience, and probably to many guitar players as well. He is probably one of those who influenced those who influenced those who influenced you. To give a testimony of his influence, it should be enough to mention that he was the one who invented the D-A-D-G-A-D tuning. He mixed jazz, blues, Arab music, folk etc. into a unique and personal playing style. No one had played like that before.
The Scotsman Bert Jansch too had a distinct personal style, more folk-based than Davey Graham. Martin Carthy was the real folkie among them. He was the one who taught Paul Simon the song Scarborough Fair. Paul Simon made it a hit as he learned it from Martin Carthy. Bob Dylan rewrote the song. His version of the old tune - based on what he learned from Martin Carthy, is Girl from the North Country. Bob Dylan also learned the song Lord Franklin from Martin Carthy, and used the melody for his song Bob Dylan's Dream.
John Renbourn was more influenced by classical and medieval music, but also from folk, blues and jazz. He teamed up with Bert Jansch as a duo, and in the group The Pentangle. In an interview with Stefan Grossman included in the book, John Renbourn describes the development of this guitar playing like this:
"I think what's happened with the British stuff is there was no on going folk tradition on the guitar at all. In America people have inherited set techniques which are absolutely well defined. There's the flatpick technique and there's the thumbstyle and one finger technique and so on. These things didn't exist in England so the people that came to the guitar often came through a general classical, for want of a better word, approach and then took up the steel string guitar often against advise from their so called betters. They found that this approach worked for steel strings, it opened up a lot more possibilities. I would think it would be very difficult to play a flowing harp tune using only a thumb pick and index finger."
The sad fact for us guitar players, is that all this creative guitar playing is hardly documented in print. You can get the records, but it is hard to learn sophisticated guitar playing directly from the records - at least I find it very hard. John Renbourn's Fingerstyle Guitar is the only publication available. But it is a good one.
This book/3CD set is actually the "soundtrack" from three videos by John Renbourn, combined with a book. It should then come as no surprise that the book is divided into three parts. Together the three parts give insight to the variety of influences that were poured into the London melting pot. He players and talks you through the tunes, both up to tempo and slowed down, and he discusses several parts in detail.
Part 1: Folk. Blues & Beyond
The first part is called Folk. Blues & Beyond. The title captures the essence of all these players, but it is also a tribute to Davey Graham, as the title is taken from one of his ground breaking album. It starts wit a medley with John Renbourn's tune Judy, and Davey Graham's classic tuning Anji or Angie. Angie is a tune based on what I like to refer to as Spanish progression. White House Blues is not really a blues, but a nice arrangement. Another nice arrangement is Watch the Stars.
Then comes some tunes that have for a very long time been among my favorites. The first is Lord Franklin the tune Bob Dylan used for Bob Dylan's Dream. John Renbourn has made a sophisticated and far from easy arrangement. The next tune is another favorite: The Booker T Jones tune My Sweet Potato. It is based on a nice swinging lick played in Dropped D-tuning, with solo phrases played in between the licks.
The first part is rounded off with another medley, now with the hymn Abide With Me and Great Dreams from Heaven, still inDropped D-tuning. The latter is based on the playing of the Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence. A similar version of the tune is recorded by Ry Cooder.
Part 2: Celtic Melodies & Open Tunings
The second part starts with still another medley, with the two tunes The South Wind and The Blarney Pilgrim. The first part is played in Double Dropped D-tuning, and the second part in Open-G. John Renbourn actually retunes his guitar by de-tuning the A-string from A to G when he goes from the first part to the second. He continues with three more tunes in Open-G tuning: Bunyan's Hymn, I Saw Three Ships and The English Dance.
Then comes three tunes in Open G-minor tuning, the Irish Lament For Owen Roe O'Neill, the Scottish The Mist-Covered Mountains of Home and the Irish The Orphan. Once again the tunes are played as a medley.
From here we go to three songs played in the D-A-D-G-A-D tuning: Tramps and Hawkers, Lindsay and Sandwood Down To Kyle.
Part 3: The Jazz Tinge
The title indicates that the third part is more jazzy music. It is not really jazz guitar, but illustrates some of the jazz influences. All tunes in this section is played in standard tuning. Buffalo is a blues in A, played in parallel sixths. It is based on Davey Graham's playing. Transfusion is a tune by Charles Lloyd who played with Chico Hamilton. Again the tune is in A. We are still in A in the tuneMy Dear Boy. It is based on blues, but is an example of "blues and beyond". The lines in the music is running against each other in counter movement.
The last two tunes are based on then playing of the African jazz pianist Dollar Brand, or Abdullah Ibrahim as he renamed himself after converting to Islam. The two tunes are Little Niles and Cherry.
In this book/CD set John Renbourn takes us from folk to blues to Celtic music to jazz. And still it sounds like a consistent, personal playing style. It does not sound like someone who is trying to go in all directions at the same time. And this is really the magic of this kind of British Acoustic Guitar playing.
The book of the month October
If you prefer video, you can have this series on three videos: