AN MP clashed with a Government minister after claiming one of Simon and Garfunkel's most famous songs was recorded at the expense of North-East stonemasons.
Helen Goodman, the Bishop Auckland MP, protested that the legendary pop duo had made an “absolute fortune” from recording ‘Scarborough Fair’.
Yet stonemasons in upper Teesdale – from where the song is now thought to have originated – made “absolutely nothing”, the Labour MP said.
Ms Goodman used the example to urge ministers not to allow people to use a Bill updating intellectual property rights to put patents on our “common culture”.
She explained: “In the 1950s, some people collecting folk songs went to Teesdale in my constituency.
“They got the stonemasons to sing songs and recorded them. They took the recordings away and shared them with people making music. One of the songs they recorded was ‘Scarborough Fair’.
“I think Simon and Garfunkel are great and they made a lovely production of the song, but it was a part of our common culture.”
Asked whether anyone performing Scarborough Fair had to pay Simon and Garfunkel, Ms Goodman replied “Unhappily, I think that that is exactly what did happen.”
However, David Willetts, the universities minister, ridiculed the suggestion, during debate on the Bill which is designed to help firms protect their intellectual property (IP) rights.
Getting his counties mixed up, Mr Willetts said: “I am not aware of Simon and Garfunkel having gone around Derbyshire…sorry, was it Durham?
“I am not aware of Simon and Garfunkel prosecuting folk musicians for singing their version of ‘Scarborough Fair’.
“I do not think they ever did that and I very much doubt that the law would have sustained them if they had tried to do it.”
Speaking afterwards, Ms Goodman protested that the minister had ignored the key point – that the stonemasons had not received a penny of the millions of pounds made.
Evidence that the song can be traced to Teesdale was uncovered, in 2011, by researcher Mike Bettison, from Bowes, from an archive at the Library of Congress in the USA.
A lead-miner named Mark Anderson was recorded singing it in a pub in the late 1940s. The song was “collected”, but wasn’t published until the 1960s.
Paul Simon learned the song in London in 1965 from Martin Carthy, the leading figure in English folk, who gave it its distinctive guitar riff and recorded it that year.
However, in a further twist, Mr Carthy said he later discovered his own music publisher – rather than Paul Simon - had quietly copyrighted the song. Unwittingly, Mr Carthy had signed away his claim in a pile of documents at the end of a 1960s lawsuit against the American singer.