A Rant About Lyrics Sites - Page 1


A Word of caution regarding "Lyrics" sites

Since the birth of the WWW, there has been a proliferation of sites presenting themselves as "song lyric" sites. Many of them are simply advert honeytraps, the "lyrics" being the bait to lure traffic to what is really a page of adverts, and they have little or no interest in the accuracy of the information they present.

Also, many of these sites simply harvest lyrics from other sites and dump them in their own. So, if there is an error in one, it will be reproduced across dozens of others. In reality, some of them are simply mirrors of each other, created and run by the same people in an effort to mask the fact that their sole purpose for existence is to make money from advertising and click-through links.


Then there are others which are generally run by well-intentioned enthusiasts. Unfortunately, particularly in the case of so-called "Irish Song Lyrics" sites, a large number of them also pay not the slightest attention to whether the information they present is accurate. Many of them simply transcribe lyrics from recordings and upload them, complete with misheard lyrics ("Mondegreens") and typos.

For example, on one site proclaiming itself to be a repository of "traditional Irish" song lyrics, can be found "The Skye Boat Song", "Flower of Scotland", "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and "Song for Ireland".

In case anyone is tempted to write off the following comments as Scots bias, before I go any further I will point out that I am half-Irish, a large number of my family still live there, and I was brought up with a solid sense of Irishness in a family of traditional Irish musicians and singers in a fiercely Irish republican exile community in Scotland. I'm as much proudly Irish as I am proudly Scots. This is about inaccuracy and distortion, not nationality.

So let's take a closer look at those four songs I mentioned above.

A closer look

Written in the late 19th century by an Englishman called Harold Edwin Boulton, "The Skye Boat Song" is a typical piece of Victorian English sentimental twaddle romanticising the trip by Charles Edward Stewart from the Western Isles to the island of Skye after the 1745-6 debacle. Last time I checked, the Western Isles and Skye were still parts of Scotland and Charlie Stewart was the Italian-born feckless piss-artist son of a London-born aristocrat of part-Scots ancestry who claimed the Divine Right to be the King of England. The only tenuous Irish connection is that Charlie's father also claimed to be King of both Ireland and Scotland.

"Song for Ireland" was written by Phil and June Colclough and it is not an Irish song, it is an English song about Ireland. Spot the difference. I do know what I'm talking about as I was the first person ever to record it ( Handful of Earth, 1981 ) and Phil and June are/were friends of mine (June is now deceased) and they're English.

"Flower of Scotland" is about as Irish as The Loch Ness Monster and was written by Roy Williamson. It is currently used as a jingoist anthem at Scottish Rugby and Football Internationals.

"The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" was written by Scots-Australian Eric Bogle and is about ANZAC troops in WW1.

In the cases of these latter three songs, the lyric was presented without any mention of author/composer or copyright. Given that those are all pretty much common knowledge amongst people with even a passing interest in the subject, that is absolutely unforgiveable. And no, it is not a harmless omission. There are naive people who will come across those songs on that site and leave with the impression that they are ancient Irish songs, authors unknown, and in the public domain, go off and record or otherwise reproduce them and subsequently end up in court for breach of copyright.


So, how then can you be sure of the accuracy of lyrics found on the Internet?

Short answer, you can't. The only way you can get close is to judge the credibility/authority of the site author and therefore the content.

For instance, on this site, you can be pretty confident that the lyrics for songs which I wrote are about as accurate as you'll get, given that I wrote them and can therefore reasonably be trusted as having some authority on them.

On songs which I did not write, I have put the statement "lyric as sung by Dick Gaughan". I make no claim that my presentation of the lyric is definitive or authoritative, it is simply the way I sing it.

But not only have I earned my living from songs for most of my life, songs are also my passion and I take research into them very seriously, so lyrics and related information on this site are as reliable as I am capable of making them. I am always delighted when inaccuracies or omissions are pointed out to me and I make any corrections a priority.

On the next page I present an example of what I'm talking about regarding treating lyrics sites with caution. On to page 2.

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