I was listening to Martin Simpson singing Dives and Lazarus the other day, and was reminded of one of my many bugbears. There’s a particular cod Wessex-type burl that folk singers adopt, regardless of where they come from. It has a vaguely Irish twang (even from English singers), a fairly strong ‘r’, and requires singing through one’s nose.
This ‘accent’ is Folk snobbery. The ‘r’ locates the accent in the west of Britain/ England, and the Irish twang hints at those all-important Celtic credentials (Simpson has rather dreadful Celtic bunny tattoo…). But it’s as foreign to the music as RP or American.
A related issue is early musicians’ attempts at Middle English pronunciation. This ends up being a Wessex burl, too, but of a more ridiculous sort. I once talked to a Middle English academic and well-known musician about accents: he knew very little about modern accents, and certainly had made no comparative study between them and the spelling of Middle English texts.
It would be nice to have a bit more honesty about accents. Folk and early music singers should sing in their own accents, whether they be Scunthorpian or Sloane Square. Let’s leave the O’Wessex burl alone.