Dave Townsend found this carol in a handwritten manuscript compiled around 1814 by James Bridcut, from the village of Marsh Baldon, about 5 miles South of Oxford. It is one of many fine and rousing pieces included in Dave’s recently published Oxfordshire Carols (£8.50 from Serpent Press, and highly recommended). We’ve been singing ‘The Shepherds Amazed’ probably for twenty years now with the Christminster Singers, and it’s been a joy, the last two Sundays, to sing at workshops run by Dave using material from the new book. The noise made by forty-odd people blasting out ‘Lyngham’ or ‘High Let Us Swell’ in a confined space reminded me, if I needed reminding, of the visceral power of massed voices, and of how much I enjoy unrestrained choral singing. It was pretty special, too, to sing half a dozen carols in the atrium of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (I was standing more or less where the woman is standing, at the foot of the kouros in this picture).
Dave’s notes to this song say that the carol was first published in John Geary’s Fifteen Psalm Tunes, 1781. Geary was organist at Caldecote in Warwickshire. I see – from hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com that, like last week’s carol, ‘The Shepherds Amazed’ was included in Bramley and Stainer’s Christmas Carols New and Old(with a completely different minor key tune); and also in the Rev. Edgar Pettman’s The Westminster Carol Book, 1899 (with a different tune again). Although different from each other, all three tunes are in 3/4 time.
In James Bridcut’s book the carol is written out as tune plus bass for the verses, then in four parts for the chorus. My concertina part retains the chordal structure of the piece, without attempting to recreate individual vocal lines.
The Shepherds Amazed by Gilbert Spencer, Leeds Art Gallery.
It’s December 1st, it’s the first Sunday in advent, and I’ve spent the afternoon singing West Gallery carols: I think the time has come when I can start posting some Christmas songs to this blog.
I learned this one from Maddy Prior and June Tabor’s Silly Sisters LP. That album was released in 1976. I suspect that I was given it as a birthday present the following year, and have no doubt that the carol was in our repertoire that Christmas when my friend Mike and I went out “wassailing” around Ashford and Saltwood in Kent. Actually, it’s not particularly Christmassy – in fact, given that it ends with Christ’s crucifixion and ascension to “wear the crown of Heaven”, I suppose it could be classed as an Easter carol.
Seven seems to be the standard number of Joys. But with Magpie Lane we do a ‘Nine Joys’ collected by Vaughan Williams in Essex, while Tim Van Eyken does a Cornish ‘Twelve Joys’, and ten was also apparently an acceptable numbner. I had a recollection that at one point the number of joys reached fifteen, and the members of Magpie Lane have passed many a happy hour trying work out what the rhymes might be for thirteen, fourteen and fifteen (other than “contrived”). But alas, having just read through the very detailed and informative notes to the song in The New Oxford Book of Carols, it seems I may have made that up.
The notes to Silly Sisters say that Maddy and June had the song from lovely Cornish singer Vic Legg. Their version is basically the same as that in the Oxford Book of Carols, which was actually reproduced from Christmas Carols New and Old (1867) by the Reverend H. R. Bramley, a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Dr. John Stainer, organist at the same college. It’s also pretty much the same as the version collected by Cecil Sharp from the Kentish singer James Beale’s daughter Alice Harden in 1911 (one of three carols Sharp had from her).
Seven Joys Of Mary, collected by Cecil Sharp from Alice Harding. From the Full English archive.
Another song learned from the fabulous Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All Saints, Lincolnshire. I think the first recording of the song I heard was on the Watersons’ eponymous red LP. Their version was based on that communicated to Frank Kidson by his tireless informant Mr Charles Lolley of Leeds. Publishing the song in his Traditional Tunes Kidson – always a man to favour tunes over lyrics – commented
Musicians will, I think, congratulate Mr. Lolley upon obtaining such a fine and sterling old air. I wish I could say as much for the words.
Which is a bit harsh.
It can’t have been too long after hearing The Watersons that I came across the recording by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick on their album But Two Came By. Martin’s version is that sung by Joseph Taylor, which I first heard in my student days. Finding the classic Leader LP Unto Brigg Fair in Blackwell’s Music Shop in Oxford, I immediately coughed up the £4.50, or whatever records cost back in those days. Whatever it cost, it was money well spent. These days, you can find a recording of Joseph Taylor singing the song on The Voice of the People Volume 18.
There’s a lot of interesting information about the origin of this song on the Yorkshire Garland website, and some nineteenth century examples of broadside printings of the song on the Bodleian’s Ballads Online website. The copy shown was paired with a comic ditty entitled ‘Who’s your hatter’. Not sure it’s quite my style, but someone out there must surely fancy learning a song which includes such great lines as
Come pull up your trousers and go along slap
And purchase a Flipiday Flobbody hat.
The White Hare, broadside ballad from the Bodleian Collection.
Two weeks ago I posted a song learned from gipsy singer Tom Willett. At the time I noted that I was looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the newly-released Musical Traditions 2 CD set, Adieu to Old England. Well it’s a crazy world – you wait fifty years for a new album of Willett Family recordings, and then two come along at once: as Reinhard Zierke commented a fortnight ago, Rod Stradling of Musical Traditions was not the only one to have put out a 2 CD set of the Willetts; a few weeks earlier Paul Marsh had put out a very similar collection on his Forest Tracks label. I now have in my possession a copy of both Adieu to Old England(Musical Traditions) and A-Swinging Down The Lane (Forest Tracks) and I can heartily recommend that, if you enjoy traditional singing, you get hold of either, or both.
It turns out that Rod and Paul had been working on these releases without being aware of what the other was up to. Both releases have two discs, housed in a DVD case, with an A5 booklet giving biographical details of the singers, plus transcriptions of and notes on the songs. And both draw either exclusively (Forest Tracks) or largely (MT) on the same, previously unissued recordings, made in the early 1960s by Ken Stubbs. In fact this is where the Forest Tracks set is particularly interesting, in that it is the first release in a planned programme to make available, either on CD, or as MP3 files, everything recorded by Kenb Stubbs – see http://forest-tracks.co.uk/kenstubbs for details of this project. I’ve heard Ken Stubbs’ recordings of Southern English singers and musicians such as Pop Maynard and Scan Tester, but I’m intrigued to find out what else may be in store from this source.
This particular song is included, sung by Tom Willett, on both of the new releases – in fact you can hear a snippett of Tom singing it at http://www.forest-tracks.co.uk/folk_music_pages/folk_music_Willettstracks.html. I learned it, however, from his son Chris, via the Topic LP Travellers. That track, recorded by Mike Yates, has subsequently appeared on a few CDs, including the new MT Willett Family set.
I have filled out the words a bit with help from Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs of the Midlands. Actually, looking at the notes in that book, I see that Roy’s words were in fact taken from a broadside version – not the one shown here, but not too far removed (although without the rather incongruous “God save the Queen” message in the last verse!).
The American Stranger, from the Lucy Broadwood Broadside Collection, via the Full English archive.
Back in 2005 I was honoured to be asked to perform at the opening of an exhibition, Destiny Manifest – Eden’s End, by my artist friends Cathy Ward and Eric Wright. The centrepiece of the show was an extraordinary painting, which took up one entire wall of the gallery. This portrayed the route of the Donner Party, a wagon train which set off for California in 1846, and which ended in disaster for many of the travellers. ‘The American Stranger’ was one of the songs I sang at the event, not just because of the obvious American connection, but particularly because of the song’s final verse
Now we’re all bound for America, and our ship will soon sail
And may heaven protect us with a prosperous gale
And when we are landed, we’ll dance and we’ll sing
In a land of all plenty where no danger can bring.
There’s an irony in that last line, when one considers the members of the Donner Party – America may well have been / be a land of plenty, but certainly not a country which was / is free from danger.
Finally, a note for anglo anoraks. For reasons which are a little perverse, but do make sense, I play this in C on a G/D anglo. A few years ago I sang the song at the Saturday night concert at Concertinas at Witney. Brian Peters, one of the other tutors that year, was stood right at the back of the hall. So I was very impressed when he said, as I came off stage, “were you playing that in C on a G/D?”. Guitar tuning geeks will probably recognise this sort of interest.
Billy Bragg ‘Between the wars’ EP sleeve, from Wikipedia.
By my reckoning, the first time I sang this song in public must have been just over 29 years ago.
I can’t swear that I heard Billy Bragg’s first, mushroom biryani-inspired airplay on the John Peel show. But I’d heard his early Peel sessions, and admired both his songs and his attitude (although back then, the suggestion that he might one day appear on the bill at folk festivals, still less on the panel of Question Time, would have seemed quite preposterous). I first saw him, with my friend Adrian, in October 1984, in a sports hall at the University of Kent at Canterbury. This was part of the famous ”Hank, Frank and Billy” tour, with Frank Chickens and the Hank Wangford Band.
I knew the songs from Life’s a Riot and, although it had only just come out, I was also familiar with quite a lot of the songs on Brewing Up from the Peel show. Of the new songs, the one which really made an impression was Between the Wars. A week or so later Billy was In Concert on Radio 1, and I had a cassette ready. That was early Saturday evening. The following lunchtime, at a small session at the Shipwright’s at Hollow Shore, I sang this for the first time.
Thereafter, I sang it wherever I went. The Oysterband certainly had it from me, and I think I was the first person Martin Carthy heard singing the song. That was in one of those lovely semi-formal singing sessions you used to get at the National Folk Festival at Sutton Bonington, in March or April 1985. By that time, of course, the Between the Wars EP had been released, and Billy was climbing up the singles chart (here he is singing the song on Top of the Pops). Naturally I included the song on my 1990 album Love Death and the Cossack.
This is a new recording from a couple of weeks ago. I have to confess that I could reach those top Gs with rather greater facility back in 1990 - judge for yourself at andyturner.bandcamp.com/track/between-the-wars - but frankly, I’m amazed I can still get them at all. And I still get a real buzz out of singing the song. Although born out of the conflict of the Thatcher years, specifically the bitter, year-long Miners’ strike, the sentiments of the song do not go out of date.
There has been no shortage of “skies all dark with bombers” over the last thirty years. And how about
For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man
I learned this from octogenarian Gypsy singer Tom Willett, via the Topic LP The Roaming Journeyman.
That album - Topic’s very first release of traditional English singers – is a bit of a classic. When Mike Yates, Keith Chandler and various other writers on traditional music nominated Ten Records that Changed my Life for Musical Traditions, this record was, I think, the most frequently selected. It’s been available as a download for a couple of years now, but I was very excited to learn last week that Rod Stradling has now released a 2 CD set of Willett family recordings, Adieu to Old England on his Musical Traditions label. This contains a number of previously unreleased recordings of Tom Willett, and his sons Ben and Chris. I don’t have my copy yet, but there’s one on its way to me.
You want to hear the ‘Jolly Waggoner’s song’ then? Well, I learnt that at school actually and I come across – well, I found a book with it in the other night… ‘The Jolly Waggoner’ – “this was collected and arranged by S. Baring Gould and Cecil Sharp”. You heard of old Cecil Sharp I expect.
Then, having sung it
I learnt that at school actually. I couldn’t remember the last verse.
I asked “Did they teach you it out of a book like that? A folk-song book?” to which Charlie replied “I expect so – a thing like that, yeah”.
Baring-Gould collected a number of versions of the song in the West Country. This tune, although in Baring-Gould’s MSS, would appear to have been collected by his collaborator H. Fleetwood Sheppard in 1890, from James Parsons of Lewdown in Devon,
The visitor to Oxford is of course immediately struck by the beauty of the honey-coloured stone of the medieval colleges, the Old Bod, the Radcliffe Camera, the Sheldonian… But another of the glories of Oxford to my mind has always been the Covered Market. And when I was a student one of the glories of the Covered Market was, without doubt, Garon Records. I spent many a happy hour browsing through the racks of second-hand LPs, and there are quite a number of records in my collection which I picked up in that shop. I’d actually discovered the shop even before I became a student, having come across it on a visit to Oxford a few months earlier. It’s funny what one remembers after 35 years. I can’t remember much about my visit to the college, but I do remember having something to eat and a couple of pints of Morrells in The Grapes. then sitting on the grass by the canal reading E.H. Carr’s What is History? And while, sadly, I cannot recall Professor Carr’s answer to that vexed question, I’m pretty sure the two LPs I bought in Garon Records that day were The Watersons and Among the many attractions at the fair will be a really high class band.
Generally the records I bought from Garon were in pretty good nick, the exception being a dreadfully beat up copy of Peter Bellamy’s Tell it like it was. This was in such a bad state that I think I only played it a couple of times. But that was sufficient to introduce me to two Bellamy classics, ‘Courting too slow’ and ’On Board a 98′. Bellamy wrote his own tune for both of these, finding the tune which Vaughan Williams had collected for this song “unimpressing”. I was surprised, therefore, when I found the tune in Sharp’s English County Folk Songs, that it was a perfectly acceptable tune which fitted the song rather well. I learned it immediately, and have been singing it on an off ever since, either on my own or, for a few years in the 1980s, with Chris Wood on fiddle. It seems like a suitable song to post here on the eve of Trafalgar Day.
Vaughan Williams had the song from a Mr Leatherday (sometimes given as Latterday), a sailor of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, in 1905.
On Board A ’98, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr Leatherday, 1905. From the Full English archive.
On Board of a Ninety-Eight, printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials “between 1813 and 1838″ from the Bodleian collection.
One of my wife’s ancestors was a Greenwich Pensioner, although not a resident of Greenwich Hospital itself. In the 1841 Census John O’Leary’s wife and five children are listed as living in Portsea; while he, we imagine, was off at sea. In 1851 his occupation is given as Greenwich Pensioner – one assumes he had “done his duty, served his time”, although whether he now “blessed his fate” we can’t know. He and his family were all living in New Rents, Ashford, Kent. This is a really strange coincidence – Ashford is my home town, and I certainly would have had ancestors living in the town in 1851; Carol had been unaware that any of her forebears had any connection with Kent, still less Ashford. The association seems to have been shortlived, however, as the O’Leary family were no longer in Ashford by the time of the next census in 1861.
Here’s one from the archive – from a demo tape I made c1995 with Chris Wood. You can find a later recording of the song (again with Chris on guitar and harmony vocals) on my now-downloadable-but-originally-cassette-only album Love, Death and the Cossack. As I wrote on the cassette liner notes
I have an ambivalent attitude towards hunting songs, but was won over to the Westmorland Hare hunting song by its gloriously pompous words. Brave boys only need apply!
Inspired to learn the song by the Watersons’ version (under the title ’The Morning Looks Charming’) on their 1966 LP A Yorkshire Garland, I subsequently had the words from Roy Palmer’s English Country Songbook.
The song was collected by Frank Kidson in Westmorland in 1902, from a Mr. Cropper – and here it is from Kidson’s manuscript, now available on the EFDSS Full English site.
Hare Hunting Song, from the Kidson MSS, via the Full English archive.
The song has also been collected in Cumberland and Yorkshire – from the singing of the famous Holme Valley huntsmen. But looking at the Roud index it’s clear that this is not a peculiarly Northern song, a version also having been collected at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.