October 17, 2014

Week 165 – Who owns the game?

I first met Mike Yates in April 1984 in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. We both happened to be visiting the library, and were introduced by Malcolm Taylor the Librarian, who knew that I had “discovered” a traditional singer, Charlie Bridger. A week or two later, on St George’s Day, Mike came down to Kent to record Charlie at his home in Stone-in-Oxney. Over lunch at the Ferry Inn, Mike was enthusing about the recordings he had been making in Suffolk, and in particular about this song, which would be the title track of ‘Who owns the game?’, an LP released later in 1984 on Mike’s Home-Made Music label.

This song certainly has a home-made feel to it. Mike recorded it from Fred ‘Pip’ Whiting, of Kenton in Suffolk – actually better known as a fiddle-player than a singer – and it has so far only ever been collected from Fred. Fred learned most of his songs in local pubs; this one he picked up in Burstall Half Moon.

The song raises a perfectly reasonable question. It also charts the lessening severity over times of the punishment meted out to those found guilty of poaching: grandfather – transported; father – two or three months’ oakum picking; singer – fined.

You can hear a 1980 recording of the song made by Carole Pegg in The Victoria, Earl Soham on the British Library website – but only, I’m afraid, if you are affiliated with a UK Further or Higher Education establishment. [Edit 18/10/2014] The LP ‘Who owns the game?’ has unfortunately never seen any kind of digital release, as far as I’m aware. A shame, as it has a lot of good performances of both songs and tunes. The LP Who owns the game? has been released on CD by Veteran, and is well worth hearing both for the songs and the tunes. There will be more songs learned from the record making an appearance in future weeks on this blog.

Who owns the game?

October 11, 2014

Week 164 – Carter’s Health / Mistress’s Health

Two more Sussex healths learned from Lucy Broadwood’s English County Songs. Miss Broadwood didn’t have to travel far to collect these songs: the singer, John Burberry, was a retired gamekeeper, who had worked on the Broadwood family estates at Lyne in Sussex.

About the ‘Carter’s Health’ Lucy Broadwood wrote:

“Hey” and “Ree” are right and left respectively; “Who with a hey and ree the beasts command” (Micro-Cynicon, 1599). “Hoo” or “Ho” is the same as “Woa” – stop; “So when they once fall in love there is no Ho in them till they have their love” (Cobbler of Canturburie, 1608). “Gee” is of course “Go on.” “Gio” used in this sense is quoted in Dialogus Creaturarum, 1480.  In the “Chorus” part, the four names are sung by four of the singers in order, all joining in at “But the bobtailed mare.” 

A carter is, of course, “One who drives a cart” (OED). A wagon is probably not the same as a cart, but I really like this harvest-time photograph from East Sussex County Libraries’ Historical Photos collection on Flickr. A collection well worth checking out if you like old photos like this.

Hay wagon c.1890  Part of the George Woods collection. Image scanned from the photographer's original glass plate negative, located at Hastings Library. From East Sussex County Council Libraries Historical Photos collection on Flickr. Copyright East Sussex County Council.

Hay wagon c.1890 Part of the George Woods collection. Image scanned from the photographer’s original glass plate negative, located at Hastings Library. From East Sussex County Council Libraries Historical Photos collection on Flickr. Copyright East Sussex County Council.

The notes on the ‘Mistress’s Health’ say:

When sung at harvest homes and the like, the singers, at the words “O is she so?” &c., carry candles up to the mistress as if to investigate her claim to be “the fairest of twenty.”

We recorded these with Magpie Lane (as separate items) on our second album Speed the Plough. Then a few years ago we found that if we took one health down a bit, and the other up a bit, they worked pretty well together.  At our 20th birthday concert at the Holywell Music Room last year, we had at least twenty people on stage singing this, including Jackie Oates, Chris Leslie, John Spiers, Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick, Hilary James and Simon Mayor. That was really special (actually it was even better at the run-through in the afternoon – the acoustics in the Holywell are really good, but they’re even better without an audience to soak up any of the sound!). I’d like to share that with you, but have never managed to get my hands on the recordings. Grrr. Anyway, here’s a live recording of the normal five-person band line-up, made last autumn in Bampton Church.

Incidentally, we have some gigs coming up over the next few weeks: Leafield, Oxon (Friday 24th October), Lichfield Festival of Folk (Saturday 25th October), Oxford Folk Club (Friday 14th November). Then in December we’ll be doing our Christmas shows as usual. Further details at http://magpielane.co.uk/ml_news.htm

Carter’s Health / Mistress’s Health

Magpie Lane

Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Sophie Thurman, Jon Fletcher, Mat Green – vocals

Recorded Saturday 21st September 2013, St Mary’s Church, Bampton, Oxfordshire.

October 4, 2014

Week 163 – Mistress’ Healths

Two healths from Sussex. I learned the first one from Shirley Collins’ album Adieu to Old England (where it is followed by Lumps of Plum Pudding played on anglo-concertina by the inimitable John Watcham). A L Lloyd’s notes to the LP say

Harvest-homes were ceremonial suppers, given by the farmer to the harvest labourers when the crop was gathered. The custom has been widespread all over Europe, at least since the Middle Ages, maybe longer. It’s an occasion for big eating and drinking and plenty of music; but very ceremonious, and an important feature was the singing of elaborate compliments in the form of toasts. At the harvest-homes in England, right up to the present century, the queenly qualities of the farmer’s wife were commonly extolled (“anything for another mug of ale” was a comment reported by a 19th century observer). This toast, doubtless referring to Elizabeth I, was traditionally applied to the farmer’s wife in many parts of Southern England. The Cuckfield baker Samuel Willett noted it from harvest hands and passed it on to Lucy Broadwood.

Lucy Broadwood printed the song in her English County Songs. A health which starts with very similar lyrics turns up in North Yorkshire, as a ‘Bridal Song’ sung by Jack Beeforth (1891-1974):

Here’s the bride’s good health we’ll now begin
In spite of the Turk and the Spanish king.
And as for the bridegroom we’ll not let it pass
We’ll have their drink in a flowing glass.

So see, see, see that you drink it all
See, see, see that you let none fall
For if you do you shall have two
And so shall the rest of the company too.

This is included in Volume 2 of David Hillery’s PhD thesis Vernacular song from a North Yorkshire hill farm : culture, contexts and comparisons. I have to confess I’ve only discovered this work whilst Googling this morning, but it looks to be an interesting read.

“Harvest Home” – illustration from Chambers’ Book of Days

The second song here is one of several healths and toasts included on Vic Gammon’s double-LP set The Tale of Ale. It was collected from Henry Hills of Lodsworth in Sussex and included in the very first volume of the Journal of the Folk-Song Society in 1901, in an article by the collector W P Merrick. For more on Henry Hills and folk traditions in Lodsworth, see the ‘Lodsworth Folk Songs and Carols’ section in Notes for a History of Lodsworth by Wilfrid Lamb M.A. who was Vicar of Lodsworth 1955-1961. There are some nice photographs of harvest suppers from that era, from Bodiam in East Sussex, at www.bygonebodiam.co.uk.

Harvest supper, possibly 1952, New House Oast, Bodiam. From http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk

Harvest supper, possibly 1952, New House Oast, Bodiam. From http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk

Mistress’ Health (Our Mistress’ Health we’ll now begin)

Mistress’ Health (Now Harvest is over)

September 27, 2014

Week 162 – My Love is Gone

I’ve been singing this one for an awful long time, and  I never tire of it. Bob Copper sings it solo on A song for every season and I learned it from my friend Mike’s single LP of songs drawn from the box set. Mike made up two harmony lines for the chorus, and we were able to make use of those when, as students, we sang the song with Caroline Jackson-Houlston. When Mike went on a year abroad I carried on singing it in harmony with Caroline, and then when I left University I went back to singing it on my own. Which I’ve been doing ever since. Then a dozen or so years ago, Ian Giles suggested we should add it to the Magpie Lane repertoire. It’s a great joy to sing it in harmony with Ian (happy birthday, by the way!), and a particular joy when we sing it at a club or festival and it seems like the entire room is singing along.

We recorded the song, under the title of ‘The Constant Lovers’ on our 2002 CD Six for Gold. Below you’ll find a version of us singing it at the Oxford Folk Festival in 2006. I remember that we had sung it two years earlier, at the first Oxford Folk Festival, which happened to be the same day as Bob Copper’s memorial service in Rottingdean.

Gordon Hall also learned the song from Bob Copper but, in typical style, added a few extra verses:

Legend gives us a happy ending to this lovely old song
I pray you pay attention, I shan’t keep you long.
When Phoebe leapt from the clifftops to the wild billows roar
There a bloody big bramble snarèd up in her drawers
And she cried o-o-o-oh, my love is gone
That sweet youth I adore
And I’m left a-swinging, by my calico drawers.

A young naval lieutenant, so salt (?) and so true
Was patrolling inshore for King George’s Revenue
When he spied that young damsel through his eyeglass (?)
He said: I knows that’s my Phoebe by the size of her -
Ah-ah-ah-ah, my lover’s saved
That sweet girl I adore
She’s been saved by the bramble and her calico drawers.

Well he lowered a boat and he rode for the shore
And he brought that fair damsel to safety once more
Straight away to the church, where they married in speed
Now in a cot by the seaside they live happy indeed
Crying o-o-o-oh, my lover’s saved
That sweet love I adore
She’s been saved by a lawyer, and her calico drawers.

And so now every morn when the sun shines so clear
Especially when tourists and trippers are near
This constant young couple earn a fortune in gold
By exhibiting the scars where the brambles took hold
Crying o-o-o-oh, my lover’s saved
We’ve got bright gold in store
And it all came through wearing those calico drawers.

You can hear Gordon’s version on the CD Good Things Enough (Country Branch CBCD095).

Another Sussex singer who learned it from Bob was Ron Spicer, and a recording of him singing the song is on the Veteran CD When the May is all in Bloom. John Howson’s notes to that CD say

In Sussex, Jim Copper had the first verse and the tune and Bob completed it from the Gardiner manuscripts. Ron first heard Bob singing it and he says that it is thought of as being of local origin as the cliffs at Fairlight near Hastings are known as a ‘lover’s leap’.

Derek Schofield investigated the background to Bob Copper’s song in the Autumn 2012 edition of English Dance & Song, without being being able to reach any definite conclusion. The Gardiner connection seems to be tenuous – there’s not a version collected by him with the same words as Bob’s, and in any case Jon Dudley thinks it unlikely that Bob ever searched through collectors’ manuscripts at Cecil Sharp House. A more promising clue is given in the notes to the Song for every season box set:

First verse and tune from Jim Copper (from his father), rest of words from Folk magazine, No. 1.

But in that 1962 EFDSS magazine the source is given as – the Copper Family! There’s no definite evidence, but it seems quite possible that Peter Kennedy, who recorded the Coppers, edited Folk magazine, was prominent in the EFDSS and most probably had spent time going through the Gardiner MSS, provided Bob with a complete set of words, then collected it back from him!

Whatever the story, it’s a great song.

The lover's lament for her sailor. Broadside printed by H. Paul, 22 Brick Lane, Spitalfields, from the Bodleian Collection.

The lover’s lament for her sailor. Broadside printed by H. Paul, 22 Brick Lane, Spitalfields, from the Bodleian Collection.

My Love is Gone

Andy Turner – vocal

 

Magpie Lane

Ian Giles, Andy Turner, Marguerite Hutchinson, Sophie Thurman, Jon Fletcher, Mat Green – vocals

September 21, 2014

Week 161 – The Rambling Irishman

An Irish emigration song which I learned back in the 1970s from Cathal McConnell, via an early Boys of the Lough LP. Checking online I find that the song was on their Second Album, under the title ‘Lough Erne’. That’s an album I never owned. I might have borrowed a copy from the local library, but actually I think I might have bought it for my friend Mike as a birthday present (following the time-honoured music-lover’s rule of buying other people records you want to hear yourself). I’d have got the tune from listening to the record; I probably learned the words from Music and Songs from the Boys of the Lough, a Boys of the Lough songbook published in 1977.

The notes in that book say that Cathal learned the song from Joe Holmes, a traditional singer from near Ballymoney in Co. Antrim. This Mudcat thread contains a lot of background information about the song, posted by Jim Carroll from Here I Am Amongst You, Len Graham’s book about his friend and musical partner Joe Holmes. From this we learn that this song probably pre-dates the Famine. While after the Famine the majority of Irish emigrants to America were Catholics, before then the greatest number had been Protestants:

In Ireland the Ulster Presbyterians experienced a number of problems that made their lives difficult. As Presbyterians in an Anglican state, most of them faced religious hostility from the government. Like the Catholic population they were subject to penal laws barring them from higher education and the professions and forcing them to pay tithes to the Church of Ireland. From the 1680s until the American Revolution temporarily cut off shipping, at least 250,000 sailed to North America. After the Revolution an even larger wave crossed, perhaps 500,000 more, peaking in the period between the Napoleonic wars and the Great Famine.

The Rambling Irishman

September 13, 2014

Week 160 – Rolling in the Dew

Another song from the great Pop Maynard. I first heard this on the Topic LP  Ye Subjects of England but learned it with help from the transcription in Ken Stubbs’ excellent little booklet The Life and Songs of George Maynard (an EFDSS reprint from the  1963 Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, December 1963). The recording on Ye Subjects of England was made by Peter Kennedy. More recently, different recordings made by Reg Hall and Mervyn Plunkett, and Ken Stubbs, have appeared on the Who’s That at My Bed Window? (Volume 10 of The Voice of the People series), and the Musical Traditions compilation Just Another Saturday Night. In the notes to the latter collection, Rod Stradling notes that a significant number of the versions collected by Cecil Sharp were from singers who don’t appear to have sung him anything else:

Maybe this is an easy song to learn and remember, so that someone who didn’t know anything else could trot it out for the roving collector … or maybe it was one of the titles Mr Sharp listed when he asked the singer “D’you know any of those old folk songs? You know, songs like Rolling in the Dew?” I offer this suggestion purely on the evidence that he collected 31 of these examples!

An interesting conjecture.

The song is clearly of considerable age – the printed ballad sheet shown below dates back to 1688 or 1689.

A merry new dialogue between a courteous young knight, and a gallant milk-maid. Printed for W. Thackeray at the Sugar loaf in Duck lane, between 1688 and 1689. From the Bodleian collection.

A merry new dialogue between a courteous young knight, and a gallant milk-maid. Printed for W. Thackeray at the Sugar loaf in Duck lane, between 1688 and 1689. From the Bodleian collection.

It occurs to me that the song can be viewed in two ways. It could be seen as typical male fantasy: he makes all kinds of suggestions why the milkmaid might not want to have sex with him, and (wanton, depraved female that she is) she just brushes them all aside. But I prefer to see her as a sexually-liberated, independently-minded woman who knows what she wants, and intends to get it on her own terms.

Rolling in the Dew

September 6, 2014

Week 159 – Canadee-i-o

Those of you who sometimes find life imitating High Fidelity may have been asked to list your top five opening tracks on albums. My list would certainly include ‘I saw her standing there’ and ‘Country Home’ (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory). Perhaps ‘The Kesh Jig’ etc. (The Bothy Band, The Bothy Band) and ‘Shirley’ (Billy Bragg, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry). And definitely ‘Canadee-i-o’, the opening track on Nic Jones’ timeless classic Penguin Eggs. I first heard Nic play the song at a concert in Hertford College, Oxford in early 1980. Penguin Eggs was released later that year and of course I, like many others, played it over and over.

It was probably just a little bit later than that when I acquired a copy of the Topic LP Sussex Harvest, on which the opening track, funnily enough, is ‘Canadee-i-o’ – sung by Harry Upton from Balcombe, West Sussex, recorded by Mike Yates. I fairly soon decided to learn Harry Upton’s version, although it was probably some years later before I ever sung it in public – I always felt that the song wanted an accompaniment, but it took me a long time to work one out. In fact the accompaniment I play now has had several iterations over the years. I remember that I was always vaguely dissatisfied with it, but having recently come back to the song for the first time in about five years I’m much happier with it. So either I’ve got better at playing it, or I’ve improved it somehow, or my quality threshold has gone down.

On the excellent BBC Four documentary  The Enigma of Nic Jones – Return of Britain’s Lost Folk Hero there were several sequences where Harry Upton’s ‘Canadee-i-o’ could be heard, behind film of the old blue-label Topic LP being played. I’m not sure if this was meant to suggest that Nic Jones learned the song from a recording of Harry Upton. If so, it’s further evidence, if any were needed, of Nic’s wonderful creative ability, as his wonderful rendition bears only a passing resemblance to the song as recorded from Harry Upton.

Mike Yates’s 1970s recording of Harry Upton singing ‘Canadee-i-o’ can now be found on the Musical Traditions CD Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike’s notes tell us that Harry, a retired cowman, had learned ‘Canadee-i-o’ from his father, a Downsland shepherd. Apparently he and his father would sometimes sing together in harmony. It is also interesting to note that “like the Copper Family, Harry had many of his songs in manuscript form, often in his father’s handwriting, and had owned a collection of broadsides, mainly printed in the 1880s by the daughter of Henry Parker Such, of the Borough in south London.  Bought originally in Brighton, these had also been inherited from his parents”.

The Roud Index shows that this song was popular on broadsides, and has been collected throughout the British Isles. Had I not already had a version of the song in my repertoire I might well have been tempted to learn the version collected by Francis Collinson from Mr Newport of Boughton Aluph,  a village just outside my home town of Ashford in Kent. Perhaps some seafaring, folksong-singing Kentish resident who follows this blog might like to give it a go? If it helps, there’s a transcription of the tune and words on Folkopedia.

 

The lady's trip to Kennady, 19th century broadside ballad from the Bodleian Collection.

The lady’s trip to Kennady, 19th century broadside ballad from the Bodleian Collection.

 

Canadee-i-o

Andy Turner: vocal, C?G anglo-concertina

August 30, 2014

Week 158 – Ye Boys o’ Callieburn

Earlier this year I attended a singing weekend in and around Stroud, as the guest of Rod and Danny Stradling. One of many good things about the weekend was that I got to meet Pete Shepheard and Arthur Watson, two fine Scottish singers with a store of good songs, and good stories to tell about them. Pete sang this in the Stradling’s kitchen, after hours on the Friday night, then again at the final session on Sunday lunchtime. I was immediately taken with the song, but didn’t at first consider learning it, as it was just so very Scottish. I still think that to really do the song justice you need to have a Scots accent, to be able to roll your Rs, and to pronounce words like “burn” with two syllables (“burran”). But with the song still going round my head days later, I found the words on the internet and decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did, because I just love singing this song (all the same, if you want to hear a really good performance of this song, check out the recording by Shepheard, Spiers & Watson on their CD They Smiled as We Cam In, Springthyme SPRCD 1042).

Pete Shepheard’s notes say

When I was involved in organising the early TMSA festivals in Blairgowrie we set out to bring together traditional singers and musicians from all parts of Scotland. The Mitchell Family of Campbeltown in Kintyre (father, mother, daughter and son-in-law) were invited to the 1968 festival on the recommendation of Hamish Henderson who had come across Campbeltown butcher and amateur folksong collector Willie Mitchell in 1956 during a lecture tour in Argyll organised by the WEA. The Mitchells’ singing of several Kintyre songs provided a most memorable highlight of that gathering in 1968 – two songs in particular – Nancy’s Whisky and the local Kintyre emigration song Ye Boys o Callieburn (Roud 6932) that he had collected from Mr Reid, the farmer at Callieburn. Willie Scott was also a guest that same year and, after a wonderful informal Saturday afternoon ceilidh in the Sun Lounge of the Angus Hotel and with the texts from Willie Mitchell, he quickly took both songs into his repertoire.

The small farming community of Callieburn is in the hills a few miles north of Campbeltown and the song tells of emigration from an area that suffered hardship in the 1830s and 1840s – especially during the ‘hungry 40s’ when the West Highlands had a famine almost as severe as Ireland’s.

 

Among the riches to be found on the Tobar an Dualchais website, are several recordings of this song, including a 1979 recording made by Hamish Henderson of Agnes Mitchell  from Callieburn.

I love the homespun nature of these verses – it really is “a song of our own composing”, and you can well believe that it was put together by a local man on the eve of emigrating. And what a wrench that must have been. The chances of ever seeing one’s friends or family again would have been negligible, hence the importance attached to the hope that “maybe yet we’ll meet in Zion”.

The picture below was painted by William McTaggart (1835–1910), who had a house in Machrihanish, and painted a number of views of the area, as well as a series depicting emigration.

William McTaggart - The Sailing of the Emigrant Ship; National Galleries of Scotland.

William McTaggart – The Sailing of the Emigrant Ship; National Galleries of Scotland.

 

And here is a more modern view (but, one hopes, largely unchanged since McTaggart’s day) of the beach at Machrihanish: “Machrihanish, bright and bonnie, It’s o’er thy beach the waves are rolling”.

Machrihanish Beach; from Wikimedia Commons.

Machrihanish Beach; from Wikimedia Commons.

Ye Boys o’ Callieburn

August 23, 2014

Week 157 – Old John Braddalum / Leaning on a Lamp-post

Well here we go, Year 4 of the blog starts here… with two songs which are completely unrelated, except for the fact that I sing them both in C, with anglo-concertina accompaniment.

I believe ‘Old John Braddalum’ comes from the Sussex singer Bob Blake, although I never heard him singing it. I learned it from my friend Adrian Russell, who got to see Bob Blake, Bob Lewis, George Spicer and quite a number of Sussex singers at festivals and other events in the seventies, just slightly before I was interested in folk, or had the means to get to such happenings. At my request, Adrian sent me the words of the song so I could learn it to sing it to my eldest child Joe, when he was first born. I used to sing it to him unaccompanied, but very soon worked out an anglo accompaniment. It’s one of several accompaniments that I play on the C/G anglo where I contrive to insert an Eb chord, whether the song needs it or not.

The Roud Index lists Bob Blake’s song as one of only five versions listed under Roud number 1857. These include one collected from Bampton morris man Francis Shergold – although his (in common, I suspect, with the other versions listed) is a counting song. It has a chorus “With a rum tum taddle um, old John Braddleum, Jolly country folks we be”, but I think that’s where the similarity ends. It strikes me that the version I sing is in fact a version of Roud 469, ‘The Foolish Boy’ / ‘The Swapping Song’, a much more frequently collected song.

In live performance I tend to follow ‘Old John Braddalum’ with George Formby’s ‘Leaning on a Lamp-post’ (written by Noel Gay), and do so here. I worked out the accompaniment about thirty years ago, from the printed sheet music. As I had no idea at the time what sus and dim chords were, I worked them out from the ukulele tabs – once I’d discovered how a ukulele was tuned! I no longer have a copy of the sheet music, so I’ve no idea how far the chords I play now have strayed from the original. I do know, having actually heard George Formby singing it all the way through, that while I may have got the chords right, I’ve got the timing and the rhythm for the introduction completely wrong . I would say “oh well, that’s the oral tradition”, except of course I (mis)learned it from print. Still, I like it this way. Hope you do too.

Old John Braddalum / Leaning on a Lamp-post

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

August 22, 2014

Three years and counting

Last week’s post concluded three years of this blog. Three years in which, somewhat to my surprise, I have managed to post a song every single week (and some weeks two, or even three songs). And there will be another one along very shortly.

When I started I thought I probably had enough songs for about three years, and it seems that was not too far off, but still something of an underestimate. I’m not sure I have another year’s worth, but I reckon I could probably keep going till Easter. What I think will actually happen is that I’ll keep up the weekly posts till the end of the year, then review the situation. I won’t have run out of songs by then, but I may start to post less regularly.

There are quite a few pieces that I haven’t yet recorded because ideally I want to sing them with someone else accompanying me. Right at the start of this project I wrote that I was hoping to feature some collaborations, and I’ve not done nearly enough of that. Largely that’s just pressure of time – some weeks it’s hard enough to find time to record myself singing unaccompanied, never mind arranging to meet up with someone else to do some recording. But it’s also – let’s be honest – laziness. So time to give myself a kick in the pants and get on with it. I have several ideas up my sleeve, and hope to bring some at least to fruition before too long. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, thanks to all my regular readers / listeners for your continued support; Week 157 will be along very soon.

Andy

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