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root salad f16 Ate Doornbosch

The man they called ‘the Dutch Alan Lomax’ passed away in June. Here’s an appreciation from Ken Hunt.


n 1957 Ate Doornbosch embarked on a miraculous journey. His tale of folk song derring-do is one of saga length, for he would stay the course on his chosen odyssey almost until the end of his life. He transformed and informed his nation’s appreciation of its native folk song traditions more than any individual in the history of Dutch culture. There is no place for weasel words like ‘arguably’ or ‘probably’ in this tale of a man appropriately compared to the American folk music collector and folklorist Alan Lomax.

Doornbosch was a folk song collector and archivist who moulded and shaped the Dutch and Flemish folk song revivals. He fed the imagination of a nation with ‘old songs’ – that is, with straight, unadulterated recordings. He was particularly, though not exclusively, passionate about Dutch-lan- guage verhalende liederen or ‘narrative songs’, as distinct from, but also overlap- ping with, ballads such as Heer Halewijn (Lord Halewijn), Dutch cousin to Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight of Child ballad fame. If that is a weakness, as his critics stated, it was a weakness that served him well.

Wim Bosmans in his entry for the Low Countries in the Europe volume of The Garland Encyclopedia Of World Music (2000) lauded him as the Netherlands’ “most prolific field worker”. Laypeople would have typecast him as a broadcaster

because of his wireless programme, Onder De Groene Linde. First broadcast in 1957, it ran until he retired in October 1993. Ini- tially it went out on VARA, later NRU and NRU’s successor, NOS.

Tellingly, that very first broadcast included his wife, Rinie Spa’s grandmoth- er, Rika Vegter-Deen singing Toen Ik Stond Op Hoge Bergen (When I Stood On Mountains High). That recording appears on the CD accompanying Louis Peter Grijp and Herman Roodenburg’s Blues En Bal- laden: Alan Lomax En Ate Doornbosch, Twee Muzikale Veldwerkers (Blues And Ballads: Alan Lomax And Ate Doorn- bosch, Two Music Fieldworkers), pub- lished as an Amsterdam University Press Salomé imprint in 2005. Comparing him to Lomax was not done lightly.

Born on 1 January 1926 in Nuis in the northern Dutch province of Groningen, Doornbosch was part of that generation of adolescents who grew up during the Nazi occupation of 1940-1945 when notions of nationhood and national iden- tity were under severe strain. Consequent- ly, his vision fitted the times. His chief con- duit to disseminate this music was radio and a series he masterminded and present- ed called Onder De Groene Linde, mean- ing ‘Under The Green Linden’. One of the longest-running series in the annals of Dutch – and European – educational radio, in December 2008 it lent its name to one

of the ultimate artefacts and greatest trea- suries of European folk song. Music & Words’ nine-CD and one-DVD boxed set is Doornbosch’s abiding monument.


Doornbosch died on 23 July 2010 in Schiedam in Zuid-Holland. Days after my obituary appeared in The Independent on 30 July, Hans Peters of Music & Words, who spent years working on the boxed set, told me: “There was a sort of avalanche in the Dutch press after the official announce- ment [delayed until after his cremation on 29 July]. You could see the number grow in Google by the minute. Ate wasn’t always recognised during his life; still good to see people finally realise he did a maybe not faultless but tremendous job.”

here is an oft-repeated incident in Nederfolk circles. Sometime in the 1960s whilst touring there, Martin Carthy was flabbergasted that local folk acts were not singing their own songs. In partial defence, there was only a limited folk club scene, nothing like the British or West German ones. Plus, as elsewhere in Europe’s emergent folk scenes, Anglophone language material seemed more attractive and captured the tijdgeest or ‘spirit of the age’ better. Of course, there was Cobi Schreijer (1922-2005), roughly Doornbosch’s contemporary, and a cultural figurehead. She sang in Dutch and went on to Dutchify songs by Peggy Seeger, Ralph McTell and Malvina Reynolds. But that wasn’t what Carthy was driving at. What he was asking was, ‘Where are your own folk songs?’

That was where Doornbosch had already stepped in to redress an omission that he – and immediately before him, Will D. Scheepers (1913-1990) – would put right. Onder De Groene Linde provided the cultural wherewithal that pivotal acts on either side of the border – acts of the cali- bre of Wolverlei and its similarly Utrecht- based forerunner, Wargaren and ’t Kliekske (The Bunch) in Flanders – leapt upon. It was no accident that ’t Kliekske called their 1973 LP Onder De Groene Linde and it was no accident that Doorn- bosch’s final broadcast on 2 October 1993, preserved on the boxed set, included ’t Kliekske singing a snatch of Vaarwel Bruid- je Schoon (Farewell, Fair Bride). The award- winning boxed set remains less a tomb- stone than a living treasury, the essential repository of Netherlandish narrative folk song. It is the tip of the iceberg as far as his 5000-some depositions in Amsterdam’s Meertens Instituut are concerned.

With thanks to Pieter de Rooij, Matthijs Linnemann and most especially Hans Peters at Music & Words.


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