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

August 16, 2014

Week 156 – The Gentleman Soldier

I learned this song many years ago from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs – but only did so as a result of having heard it performed by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick on the LP Byker Hill.  The version in the Penguin book was collected by Anne Gilchrist in 1907 from Thomas Coomber of Blackham in Sussex. Miss Gilchrist’s notes say “Sung in camp” – Mr Coomber had apparently been in the local militia.

 

The sentry box - ballad printed by H. Such of London, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The sentry box – ballad printed by H. Such of London, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The Gentleman Soldier

August 9, 2014

Week 155 – The Bald-Headed End of the Broom

This song was recorded in 1954 by Sean O’Boyle and Seamus Ennis from Mrs. Martha Gillen, Co. Antrim. I remember Dave Townsend singing it at the Heritage Folk Club in Oxford, in the early 1980s, and learned it soon afterwards from Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain & Ireland.

It’s originally an American song, recorded by the likes of old-time singer and banjo-player Grandpa Jones – you can hear his version on the Internet Archive. This Mudcat thread cites examples of the song in print going back to the 1870s, as well as an 1885 appearance in the wonderfully-named Marchant’s Gargling Oil Songster. Further details are provided, meanwhile, in The Alabama Folk Lyric edited by Ray Broadus Browne, along with a couple of versions recorded from oral tradition in Alabama.

Mrs Gillen’s version however is, I suspect, the only one to refer to the old saying “A mole in the arm’s worth two in the leg”, which is probably the line which first attracted me to the song.

All the other versions in the Roud Index are from North America – apart from one recorded by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie from Walter Pardon in 1989, and one fragment  recorded from an unknown singer by John Howson at The Railway Tavern, Finningham, Suffolk, which you can hear on the British Library website.

 

I have, I think, always followed the song with a tune which I also learned from Dave Townsend. It was printed, as ‘Sussex Polka’, in his First collection of English country dance tunes. Dave learned it from Vic Gammon, and it would appear to be a slightly misremembered (by Dave and/or me) version of ‘What a Beau My Granny Was’.

 

The Bald-Headed End of the Broom / What a Beau My Granny Was

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

August 3, 2014

Week 154 – Allan MacLean

Here’s one which I’ve recently revived after a long gap. I learned it originally (under the title ‘The Minister’s Son’) from Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s book Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland. They had recorded the song in 1963 from Charlotte Higgins – you can hear a slightly earlier recording made by Hamish Henderson on the excellent Tobar an Dualchais site (search hint when using that site: if you want to search by Roud number, use the Classification field in Advanced Search and prefix the number with “R” e.g to find other versions of this song search for “R2511″). For reasons which I no longer recall, I chose not to sing Charlotte Higgins’ tune, but instead used Harry Cox’s tune for ‘Blackberry Fold’ (or at least, Harry Cox’s tune as learned from Peter Bellamy’s rendition of it on The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate). It seems to fit pretty well – at any rate it’s flexible enough to accommodate the lines which simply have too many syllables to fit.

The song concerns a student who is expelled from his College following a sexual liaison initiated at a party. Of course, Universities and Colleges still take a very strict line on this kind of thing. As a result, noone in higher education today would ever contemplate getting involved with sex and drinking and that kind of thing. That’s what my children tell me anyway…

 

Allan MacLean

July 25, 2014

Week 153 – Rose of Allendale

A song from the Copper Family repertoire, included in Bob Copper’s memoire Early to Rise. Internet sources seem to  agree that it was originally an English parlour song, words by Charles Jefferys, set to music by Sidney Nelson in 1836. Various versions can be found at the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection and also at Ballads Online.

'Rose of Allandale. A Favorite Ballad'. Published by Thomas Birch, 95 Canal Street, New York. From the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection.

‘Rose of Allandale. A Favorite Ballad’. Published by Thomas Birch, 95 Canal Street, New York. From the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection.

I’m not sure who I first heard singing the song. I have a vague recollection that it was the Coppers themselves on a Radio 2 broadcast. Or perhaps Nic Jones (on the Bandoggs LP), or the Oyster Band’s John Jones at a pub session.

While the Coppers repeat the last line of each verse as a refrain, I sing the same chorus throughout. I have, however, retained the Coppers’ somewhat irregular timing in the chorus. And I have it on good authority from Pete Collins, who was once privileged to sing bass with the Copper Family, that Bob would have approved of the fact that I sing “Dale” with two syllables.

Rose of Allendale

July 18, 2014

Week 152 – Nora Daly

It was down near Miltown Malbay,
Not a thousand miles from Galway,
When I was young and merry
In the breezy hills of Clare,
That I spied a colleen comely,
With winsome ways and homely
And she driving in a donkey-cart
And she going to the fair.

One of the treasures I borrowed in my youth from my local record library was the Topic LP The Russell Family of Doolin, County Clare. This featured recordings made by Neil Wayne and John Tams of the three brothers Micho (flute, whistle and vocals), Pakie (anglo-concertina) and Gussie (whistle). Their playing was delightful, but what stole the show was undoubtedly Micho’s singing of ‘St. Kevin of Glendalough‘, ‘The Poor Little Fisher Boy‘, ‘When Musheen Went to Bunnan’, the bizarre ‘The Roscrea Cows‘, and this little gem.

The following information is quoted from the online version of Micho’s Dozen: Traditional Songs from the Repertoire of Micho Russell, Doolin, Co. Clare

Micho picked up this song from the singing of his father, Austin. This is, without a doubt, one of the most popular songs sung in Clare today. It was written by the poet, schoolteacher, and Gaelic scholar, Tomás Ó hAodha (1866 – 1935) of Miltown Malbay. It first appeared in a collection of his poems entitled ‘The Hills of Clare’, published circa 1922. In common with many singers Micho has compressed the original twelve verses into a more singable seven.

The tune is ‘The Stack of Barley’.

Micho Russell. Copyright: RTÉ Stills Library

Micho Russell. Copyright: RTÉ Stills Library

My friend Nick came across a two-verse parody of this song where “the crossest man in Clare” had become “the coarsest man in Clare” – and his daughter had, to judge by the lyrics, inherited his rough tongue.

Nora Daly

 

July 14, 2014

Week 151 – Fathom the Bowl

I learned this from The Watersons’  1966 LP The Watersons. A.L.Lloyd’s sleevenotes to the album mention “the collection of English songs made by William Alexander Barrett and published in 1891″ without specifically saying that’s where the Watersons got their version from. But actually, thanks to the Internet Archive, we can see that what they sing is very close to what Barrett printed in his English Folk Songs.

The versions collected from oral tradition all seem to come from Southern England, with examples from Sussex, Hampshire, Devon, Wiltshire, Somerset and Oxfordshire. Unsurprisingly, numerous printed versions can be found via the Full English or Ballads Online.

The punch ladle - late nineteenth century broadside from the Bodleian collection.

The punch ladle – late nineteenth century broadside from the Bodleian collection.

I have heard Jackie Oates sing one of the versions in Sabine Baring-Gould’s collection, which seemed to be less bumptious and rather more reflective. I couldn’t be sure if those qualities were inherent in the song itself, or just the way she sang it; either way, it was very pleasant to hear.

Fathom the Bowl

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July 6, 2014

Week 150 – Young girl cut down in her prime

It’s Week 150, and here to celebrate is the song which is number 2 in Steve Roud’s index (bizarrely I don’t currently sing a version of Roud number 1). There are 219 examples listed, but no doubt the number could be much higher. Starting life in the late eighteenth century as a “homilectic street ballad… concerning the death and ceremonial funeral of a soldier “disordered” by a woman” (A.L.Lloyd’s notes, Penguin Book of English Folk Songs) the song has spread all over the English-speaking world, and the expiring principal character has metamorphosed from an Unfortunate Rake or Unfortunate Lad to an Unfortunate Lass, a Sailor Cut Down in his Prime, Dying Airman, Dying Stockman, Cowboy, Gambler… while the location might range from St James’ Hospital, to St James’ Infirmary, down by the Royal Albion, the Banks of the Clyde, Cork City, the Streets of Laredo…

The unfortunate lad, broadside printed by Such between 1863 and 1885, from the Bodleian collection.

The Unfortunate Lad, broadside printed by Such between 1863 and 1885, from the Bodleian collection.

The very first version I heard would have been ‘When I was on Horseback’, on the Steeleye Span album Ten Man Mop. That version, recorded in the 1950s from Irish tinker Mary Doran, is rather minimalist: if you don’t already know the story it’s hard to work out exactly what’s going on (incidentally you can hear Mary Doran’s stunning version on the recently-released Topic CD set The Flax in Bloom). A bit later I came across ‘St James’ Infirmary’ in the Penguin Book of American Folk Songs edited by Alan Lomax. It’s a song I’ve always meant to learn, but never have (although I can play the chords on the ukulele). Then I heard another version, in the shape of ‘The Bad Girl’ on Fiddler’s Dram’s eponymous post-‘Bangor’ LP (it’s actually one of several pretty good tracks on the album).

I don’t suppose I connected these songs at the time; that realisation came later (and, later still, the history and evolution of the song was covered in some depth by David Atkinson in the first of the EFDSS’s short-lived Root & Branch series).

I had planned for many years to learn Harry Upton’s ‘Royal Albion’ (or possibly Alf Wildman’s similar ‘The Banks of the Clyde’) but again never got round to it. Then I came across this version, and very soon realised it was a song I had to learn – especially when I found I could sing it in D minor, and it just fits like a dream on the C/G anglo.

The tune was collected by Cecil Sharp from Shadrack ‘Shepherd’ Haden, at Bampton in Oxfordshire. It is printed, along with two others, in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society number 17, in 1913. Sharp does not seem to have collected more than the first verse from Shepherd Haden; the five verses given in the Journal were noted by Francis Jekyll at East Meon in Hampshire (the singer’s name is not given). I put together a composite set of words from various sources, including the Hampshire version – which is also the version included in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

“Sailor Cut Down In His Prime” collected from Shepherd Haden 21 Aug 1909, from the EFDSS Full English archive.

Although I’ve been singing this for a few years now, I’ve not actually performed it in public that often, and the accompaniment is still quite fluid: I recorded it three times for this blog, and played the ending differently each time. Still not sure which one I prefer, so if you see me singing this at a gig, it might have changed again.

Young girl cut down in her prime

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

June 28, 2014

Week 149 – The Isle of France

‘The Isle of France’ was collected by H.E.D. Hammond from Joseph Elliott of Todber, Dorset. It concerns a transported convict who is on his way home at the end of his sentence, but is shipwrecked on the island of Mauritius. l’Île de France was the name given to Mauritius until it passed from French to British control in 1810.

I discovered the song while looking for something else in the Hammond MSS, which at the time were available only on microfilm at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, but which are now of course included in the Full English archive.

The Isle of France, from the Hammond Collection, via the EFDSS Full English Archive.

The Isle of France, from the Hammond Collection, via the EFDSS Full English Archive.

Joseph Elliott had a number of songs with not-the-usual tune, which it seems he picked up during his time in Canada:

In about 1850, when he was around 19 years old, he signed on as a fisherman in the Newfoundland cod fishing industry, sailing out from Dartmouth with about 60 other men (mainly men from Dorset).  He was out there for 3 or 4 years, and told the Hammond brothers that that was where he learned his songs.

(thanks to John Shaw via the Musical Traditions site for this information)

 

The song appeared frequently on ballad sheets – check out these versions at Ballads Online.

The Isle of France: broadside ballad printed by H. Such of London between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The Isle of France: broadside ballad printed by H. Such of London between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

I recorded the song with Magpie Lane on our CD The Robber Bird. Below you will find a live recording of us performing it last year at the Red Lion Folk Club in Birmingham.

 

The Isle of France

Magpie Lane:

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Jon Fletcher – guitar
Sophie Thurman – cello
Mat Green – fiddle

Recorded at the Red Lion Folk Club, Birmingham, 6th March 2013.

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