Contextual study of singing in the Fisher family
Smith, Stephanie Deborah Ladd
This ethnographic study of a Scottish singing family, the Fishers of Glasgow, is based largely on fieldwork conducted over a period of three years. The Fishers were chosen because of their early involvement in, and their enormous influence on, the Scottish folk revival, which dates from the 1950s. Three members of the Fisher Family, Archie, Ray, and Cilia, sing professionally, and perform both traditional folksongs and contemporary material. This study focuses on them, although commentary about and from other family members is also included. In Chapter 2, I present a biography of the family, which is a patchwork of oral accounts by family members. Their biography leads us back to the islands of Vatersay and Barra, and the island traditions have obviously shaped the family ethos, even though they are an urban family. Chapter 3 is in part an oral history of the folk revival in Scotland, and the emergence of Archie and Ray Fisher as performers in the revival, as well as an analysis of important musical personalities and currents which had an impact on the revival, and particularly on Archie and Ray Fisher. Chapter 4 examines the professional careers of Archie, Ray, and Cilia, as well as the involvement of sisters Joyce, Cindy, and Audrey in the revival. The repertoire of the Fishers is examined in Chapter 5, with reference to the patterns of repertoire in the Scottish folk revival, and traditional sources. The way in which Archie, Ray, and Cilia categorize their songs is considered. Their categories, such as "heavy songs" and "light songs" tend to reflect the emotive impact of a song in performance, rather than structure. The problem of song "ownership" and repertoire within a family is also dealt with here. Chapter 6 focuses on the "aesthetic systems" of Archie, Ray, and Cilia, considering the following components: attraction to and selection of songs for learning; relative importance of tune and text; preferred song content; degree of emotional identification with songs; suitability of voice for a particular song; singing style; vocal range; the choice to accompany or not; the desired impact of the singer on the audience; the performing venue; and self-imposed expectations. The Fishers' aesthetic systems are also compared with those of other singers, both traditional and revival. In Chapter 7, I discuss the functions of songs in the Fishers' public performances, and analyse transcribed performance extracts of Archie, Ray, and Cilia (performing with her husband Artie). The spoken portion of the performances is seen as a significant and integral part of the performance as a communicative event. Analysis focuses on the structure of the performance, how the performance reflects the individual aesthetic system, and what levels of meaning may be derived from the performance. In Chapter 8, I conclude with a brief summary, and assess the place of the Fishers in the Scottish folk revival. Other data on the Fisher family, such as repertoire lists, a discography, and transcribed performance extracts may be found in the Appendices.