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Scottish and Celtic Music Discussion
over-arrangement of songs
Jack Campin
Posts: 1785
Posted: 04-Mar-2009 11:06
Listening to Travelling Folk last week, I was struck by how many songs were watered down by excessive cleverness in the arrangement. You don't actually NEED all those instrumental breaks in every number.

The pits was Ed Pickford's version of "Pound a Week Rise", which is a bitter polemic that absolutely IS NOT improved by having jolly little dances in between verses. Gimme Dick Gaughan any day.

Honourable exception was Lau's number, where the massive quasi-orchestral texture was the main point (how did they do that?) The vocals could have done with bit of electronic beefing up, though - it would have taken a Hamish Imlach to match up to that backing unassisted.

Posts: 12842
Posted: 04-Mar-2009 11:09
Even Dick Gaughan has been subjected to the 'if you wanna play at Celtic Connections - expect to have some wholly unnecessary keyboard accompaniment' rule.
Chris Wright
Posts: 204
Posted: 04-Mar-2009 15:00
This is one of my pet hates, and is actually something I think is rarely commented on by reviewers, probably because it doesn't gel with the misguided positivism prevalent in today's Scottish traditional music scene.

In an age when most commercial music is designed to be disposable, the real awesome, naked power of song has been occluded by gimmickry; 'traditional' song is no exception.

I don't think over-arrangement only comes about by adding superfluous instruments - some of Dick Gaughan's songs are overarranged with just his guitar and voice.

Anyway, I would rant all day on this subject, but I have to go and underarrange some songs to redress the balance...

Posts: 32
Posted: 04-Mar-2009 16:37
What drives me nuts is are the myriad instrumental tracks that start of with a guitar being furiously strummed then everything but the kitchen sink comes piling in.

I am also fed up with 'interesting' jazzy guitar chords in some open tuning under sets of tunes which seem to be made up of just one phrase repeated at great speed.

I suppose i just dont like guitars. Maybe the guitarists are insecure or something and they need to show how crucial they are to the band. Best guitarists in trad music bands actually should not be noticed...much

Tattie Bogle
Posts: 3849
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 01:44
The ones that get right up my nose are those over-funky ones where the words become secondary to the arrangement. I recently listened (with difficulty) to an arrangement of Amans..................................................aman.............................fora.......................................................................that!
(You get my drift! - like someone with a very bad case of dysphasia - where .......................................= guitar funky arrangement) I was taught to read song words through, then phrase them as if you were speaking them: not a bad maxim.
Otherwise you might just as well dispense with the words and make it an instrumental.
Posts: 14820
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 10:16
"Otherwise you might just as well dispense with the words and make it an instrumental."

The same applies with tunes and instrumentals too. Too often, a performance suffers from "over busy arrangements", unnecessary variations etc just for the sake of it. I'm not suggesting that it should never be done but it ought to be tasteful. Let's face it, some musicians have the talents and skills to carry it off while others are just trying to be too clever for their own good. If in doubt, a minimalist and uncluttered arrangement is always best.

More annoying still is when someone tries to do this sort of thing in a session situation which immediately excludes almost everyone else there perhaps with the exception of his/her own elite group of "musical friends". It then turns into a "performance".

The above is also relevant to this thread

which has received little attention so far.

andy s
Posts: 16
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 10:25
auld fogies... just listen to them!

Nae worries stamp - guitar just a passing phase..just like midi bagpipes no doubt.

Posts: 14820
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 10:30
Nobody's mentioned the djembes and all those other "drummy things" yet. :-(
Posts: 311
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 10:39
Aw, now, drums can be great.
Like any other instrument, it's what you do with it that counts!
Posts: 14820
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 10:40
Exactly... :-)
Posts: 3461
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 12:06
Last night I was at a gig where the only instruments were human voices.

There were some beautiful harmonic arrangements enhancing the songs' messages from Loadsawimminsinging and the hit of the evening was a stunning set from Maureen Jelks. An almost entirely non-folkie audience nearly raised the roof for her singing of songs like " Terror Time" and "The Rue and the Thyme".

Posts: 14820
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 12:20
"the only instruments were human voices"

I'd like to suggest.... very nervously..... that the same problem can also arise there too. So far, the focus has been on instrumental arrangements(Although the human voice is also an instrument, of course) of the non vocal kind. However, excessive harmonisation or that which is badly arranged can also be an issue.

I know from previous experience of listening to Maureen and her ilk that this wouldn't have been the case last night. Far from it. Nor as far as the majority of good singers are concerned but it can happen.

Of course, whether or not it's vocal or instrumental, much of it is down to one's own personal taste. You can't please everyone or "be pleased" by everyone.

kris d
Posts: 210
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 13:09
I do agree that there is a very formulaic way of arranging the folk songs commonly and one of the things that happens a lot is the pinching of a wee bit tune for between the verses. Possibly time that tool was given a rest for a bit but it is valid when used well. I'll give you Solas' version of "pastures of plenty" as an example.

Stamp says. "I am also fed up with 'interesting' jazzy guitar chords in some open tuning"
If they're "jazzy" they're probably not in an open tuning. The open tunings commonly used with our music involve widening the intervals between the strings and that coupled with the fact that there are also more doubles of individual notes means that it's sometimes a stretch to play more than 4 notes simultaneously. The open tunings are generally used for a less is more thing where sitting on chords made of 1 and 5 is commonplace and reaching for the 3rds becomes more exciting.
Just to be clear, i do not mean that open tunings are boring, merely that the 3rd becomes a much more powerful addition in tunings with many duplicate notes.

Stamp also says. "I suppose i just dont like guitars."
Thats fair enough, Good for you. I'll join your club ;)

Posts: 32
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 17:26
Thats it exactly Kris D. All that reaching for the 3rd and doubling the intervals so your sitting on stretchy simultaneousness! Fed up with all that.

Posts: 32
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 17:29
Just realised you might be Kris Drever. I am quick up on the uptake

your good. Like your web site too. You play guitar but you may go in peace

Posts: 123
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 18:06
lets not get confused between the technical rights and wrongs of musical arrangement (of which their are none), and the individual tastes of those on this forum.
Posts: 3461
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 19:02
I don't agree, slender_tree.

If an arrangement either makes the words of a song unintelligible or is totally at odds with its sense it's a bad arrangement and that is it. I've heard accompaniments to "Sheath and Knife" that would be more suited to "Jingle Bells" !

Posts: 123
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 19:07
absolutely, it's a BAD arrangement - whether or not it is OVER arranged is entirely down to individual interpretation.
Tattie Bogle
Posts: 3849
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 19:37
Well I heard one of my favourite English folk songs totally murdered at a festival last year: after xxx xbars of really rajjj guitar playing it came in with a funked up unrecognisable tune, and more rajjjjj guitaring in between: the only way I recognised it as being the song I so much loved, was by a few of the words that got through. I sat there with my head in my hands: had I not been in the middle of a row, I would have left the room!
OK maybe all down to taste.............................or lack of???
I don't expect everyone to sing it just like the Copper family, but have a heart...............!
(Not being more specific re which song it was as I'm not totally hurtful that way).
Jack C talks about "watering down": to my mind, and I'm not a total purist, the worst enemy of a good song is "funking up" (OK change the n for a c if you like!)
Posts: 1073
Posted: 05-Mar-2009 20:00
The wind of change is blowin through the pages of footstompin!!.......Could this be the longed for backlash against the commercialisation of traditional music......or is it just the auld grumps lettin aff steam.

Will it blaw awa the dreaded Blackadder and his hellish minions, or is he fated tae stare it us oot o' ten million TV screens fur aw eternity?

Time will indeed be the revelator!

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