Collected by Cecil Sharp at Warehorne in Kent on the 23rd September 1908, from James Beale.
Other versions – George Maynard’s for instance – often have the female protagonist as “The Poor Old Weaver’s Daughter”.
I added the last verse, because otherwise the song ended with the line “May your prospect never be blighted”. That didn’t seem right when almost every other verse had ended with the phrase “poor old woodman’s daughter”. Actually, having seen other versions now, I realise that a simpler approach would have been to just switch Mr Beale’s last two verses around.
I learned this – along with quite a number of other songs – from Maud Karpeles’ collection The Crystal Spring. Cecil Sharp noted the song in September 1903 from Louie Hooper and Lucy White, at Hambridge in Somerset. It was included in Sharps’ Folk Songs from Somerset where it is notated in alternating bars of 2/4 and 3/4. I sing it pretty much in 6/4 – but what’s the odd extra beat between friends?
The line “when he spied his watch hanging by her clothes” always brings to my mind an image of the two lovers walking in a garden (actually it’s my Mum’s back-garden) where a load of washing is hanging out on the line. And there’s his watch, pegged up between one of her nighties and a pair of bloomers…
In common with a good many other people, I imagine, I first heard this on the Young Tradition album Galleries, where it was sung by Royston Wood. Having heard that performance, I then learned the song from Maud Karpeles’ collection The Crystal Spring.
Cecil Sharp had the song from 76 year old George Radford, a shoemaker from East Brent in Somerset who, being a bachelor with no children to support him, had become a resident of the Bridgwater Union – the Workhouse. The notes at folkinfo.org quote Maud Karpeles as follows
The singer said that his father had been a great singer, but that this was the only song he had managed to learn from him. It was the only modal tune in the singer’s repertory, most of which were ‘composed’ songs. Cecil Sharp had some doubts as to whether this was an authentic folk song.
I’m certainly glad that Sharp put his doubts to one side and noted the song down – because otherwise we would know of no other version from the English tradition. Indeed the Roud Index lists only one other version from any source, from Kentucky, printed in 1923 in Song Ballads & Other Songs of the Pine Mountain Settlement School (not, you may be surprised to learn, a publication with which I am familiar).
Jack Crawford, who recorded this song on his Pride of the Season CD, offers it as an example of just how much chance plays in determining which songs have been noted and recorded from the tradition. If Cecil Sharp hadn’t visited the Bridgwater Workhouse on 22nd August 1905… if he hadn’t been introduced to George Radford… if he had decided the song wasn’t worth collecting….
Within less than a year from Sharp’s visit, Mr Radford had died. Fortunately this song, the only one he had learned from his father Job Radford, did not die with him.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
I can’t actually remember much about the rest of the novel, but that opening sentence is totally unforgettable.
Which is completely unrelated to this week’s song, except that the narrator of the song very nearly faces a firing squad, and is saved from his fate – somewhat implausibly – at the last minute.
I came across this version in Cecil Sharp’s MSS at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Sharp had it in December 1908 from Jack Barnard at Bridgewater in Somerset.
Mr Barnard started the song with “the first time I deserted…”
That’s fair enough, but I thought I’d give the central character a bit of back-story, so I added an initial couple of verses (from an unnamed source) in the Alfred Williams collection.
Jack Barnard, photograph by Cecil Sharp; copyright EFDSS.
The Deserter, from the Bodleian Library collection.
The truth sent from above, from the Bodleian collection: T. Bloomer, Printer, 53, Edgbaston-street, Birmingham, between 1821 and 1827.
I got this – and a number of other goodies – on a carol-collecting expedition to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library ten or so years ago. I had the song from Cecil Sharp’s Folk Tunes MS. He noted it down in October 1911 from seventy-one year old Samuel Bradley (not Bradley Wiggins, as I mistakenly announced at a recent concert) and seventy year old Seth Vandrell at Lilleshall in Shropshire. His notes in the MS say “Always sung to this tune. Learned many years ago”.
Sharp published this carol, and at least a couple of others noted on the same 1911 collecting trip, in his English Folk Carols – and he can’t have wasted any time preparing these songs for inclusion since the book was published late the same year.
The notes in the book say
This carol was sung to me by the two singers in unison, Mr. Vandrell refreshing his memory by referring to a small book of carols, printed locally, from which the words in the text have been transcribed. I have, however, omitted seven stanzas between the eighth and the last. “The Truth” is printed in A Good Christmas Box, and is included in Hone’s list [Christmas Carols now annually Printed].
I’ve omitted even more of the sixteen stanzas – I use only those printed in the Oxford Book of Carols. I don’t know if the carol words have a West Midlands origin, but that this might be the case is suggested by the opening couplet of one verse
Then after this, ‘twas God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise
which would be a perfect rhyme if sung in a Brummie accent!
This song was included on the Magpie Lane CD Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell. I’ve posted up two versions (although basically the same arrangement): the first is just me and concertina, the second is the full band, recorded a couple of weeks back in the generously reverberant acoustic of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking.
This is the truth sent from above
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Magpie Lane, recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 8th December 2012.
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Jon Fletcher – bouzouki, vocal
Sophie Thurman – cello
Mat Green – fiddle
Marguerite Hutchinson – flute
It must have been 1976 or 77 when I discovered a remarkable thing: folk dancing can be fun. It happened like this…
Before I was born, my parents used to go out dancing a lot: ballroom, old time, barn dances, square dances. Then in my teens, when I was old enough not to need a babysitter any more, they started dancing again, mainly at dinner dances organised by the school PTA. When my Mum tried to teach me to waltz, or do the foxtrot, I was completely uninterested. And although a bunch of my schoolfriends went to a PTA barn dance – and had fun, to be fair – I don’t think any of us considered it might be something we’d want to do on a regular basis. Similarly, when I discovered folk music at the end of 1975, I enjoyed the jigs and reels played by bands like Steeleye and the Chieftains, but thought of them only as music to listen to, not as music you might dance to. But when my Mum and Dad were invited to a barn dance in the village hall at Warehorne, a few miles from where we lived, at the last minute I tagged along. And it was a revelation.
What really made the difference was the band – the Oyster Ceilidh Band, whose music was not only extremely energetic and danceable, but also very listenable. I was hooked, and (along with quite a number of my teenage friends) became a regular at the dances organised by Ron and Jean Saunders at Warehorne. It was a tiny village hall, and the six or seven-piece band would crowd onto a stage created by placing boards on top of the snooker table (some years later I discovered that this had also been the practice in the 1930s, when Charlie Bridger – of whom more another week – used to play for village hops in the same hall).
At my 18th birthday party John Jones, Chris Taylor and Cathy Lesurf from the Oyster Ceilidh Band came along to play and call a few dances. And as a birthday present Cathy gave me a copy of Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring Volume 2. This is a collection of songs collected by Cecil Sharp, and over the years I’ve found it to be a really good source of songs. But I was particularly excited to find that one of the songs had been collected in Warehorne.
This was a song which, in The Crystal Spring, is given the title of ‘The Baffled Knight’, and which Sharp collected in Warehorne on 23 September 1908 from James Beale. Even at 18 I realised, I think, that ‘The Baffled Knight’ was a ballad scholar’s title, not what a traditional singer would have used (it doesn’t even mention a knight in Mr Beale’s song – it’s a shepherd’s son who is “baffled”). A few years later, when I looked at the copy of Sharp’s manuscripts in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I found that in fact Mr Beale had also sung “Stroll away the morning dew”, rather than the more usual “Blow away the morning dew”. So that’s what I’ve sung ever since, and that’s how I refer to the song.
James Beale’s last verse was
So if you meet any pretty girl
And your father in the town
O never mind her squalling
Or the rumpling of her gown
But I prefer to stick with the “if you will not when you can / you shall not when you would” verse given by Maud Karpeles.
During my time at Oxford, the Heritage Society, the University folk club, was supposedly run by students, but in fact it received a very significant helping hand from former student Caroline Jackson-Houlston – who is still active today in the running of the Friday night Oxford Folk Club. I sang with Caroline in various vocal harmony groups throughout my time as a student. In my last year we performed as a duo, under the name Flash Company, and this was one of our songs.
The song was collected by Cecil Sharp from William Nott, Meshaw, Devon in 1904, but I’m pretty sure that Caroline learned the song from Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs’ book The English Folksinger.
This Mudcat thread provides links to a number of more modern versions involving airmen, Lancers and stockmen as well as sailors – oh and a decidedly politically incorrect Australian parody which commences “Charlotte the harlot lay dying, A piss-pot supporting her head…”
I sang this last night at the Frittenden Old Fashioned Night Out
I chose it because it’s a song with a jolly chorus. Temporarily forgetting that actually it’s a song about a man planning his funeral. And that maybe this wasn’t the best choice given that a very close friend had died the previous night, after a long illness. But actually, as I got to the last verse it occurred to me that this was exactly the kind of rumbustious funeral Dave might have planned for himself. Wherever you are Dave, RIP.
Ballad sheet from the Bodleian Library collection. Published J. Pitts, Seven Dials, between 1819 and 1844
Sometimes when I go to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library I am looking for something in particular. But recently I’ve taken just to browsing through the bound volumes of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Tunes and Folk Words. Somehow it can be quite a thrill to see some classic of the folk revival, as originally notated a hundred years or so ago, in Sharp’s hand. But even better when you come across an unusual variant of a song, or discover a song which you’ve never encountered before.
Such was the case with ‘A Cornish Young Man’, which Sharp noted down on 11th April 1904 from Fred Crossman of Huish Episcopi in Somerset. In the 1950s, Fred’s son – also Fred – was recorded singing a version of the same song by Peter Kennedy. But Mr Crossman Junior had learned it from another singer in the area and, funnily enough, had no recollection of the song having been in his father’s repertoire.
The Outlandish Dream - from the Bodleian Library collection
I have added three extra verses at the end of the song, taken from a ballad sheet in the Bodleian’s collection, titled ‘The Outlandish Dream’ (which starts, potentially misleadingly, with the phrase “An Outlandish Knight”).
Of course it is always rash, having found a “new” song in Sharp’s MSS, to assume that no one has been there before you. In particular, that Martin Carthy hasn’t been there before you. Since learning the song I’ve discovered that Martin has recorded ‘A Cornish Young Man’, and it’s on the CD version of Right of Passage – a fact which had escaped my attention since I only have the vinyl version of that album.
Last week it was Shropshire, this week we have two carols collected in Herefordshire.
In quires and places where they sing, if you hear ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ it will invariably be sung to the tune which Cecil Sharp collected in 1909 from Mrs Mary Clayton at Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire, and which was included in the Oxford Book of Carols. On the folk scene, this tune exercises a similar hegemony. It was recorded in the 1950s from Peter Jones of Bromsash in Herefordshire, and that recording was included on the LP Songs of Ceremony (part of the Caedmon / Topic Folk Songs of Britain series). I first heard it in 1976 or 77, at a mass door-to-door carol-singing event in the village of Warehorne in Kent, where the singing was led by John Jones and Cathy Lesurf of the Oyster Ceilidh Band. It was an absolute revelation to me a) that carols like ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ sounded really good when accompanied by melodeons and guitars, and b) that there was more than one tune to some carols – notably this one, and ‘While Shepherds Watched’ (little did I know at that stage just how many different tunes ‘While Shepherds’ could be sung to).
I’m joined on this recording by my son, Joe, on fiddle. He said he’d never actually played the tune before, but it was lodged in his brain after “years of exposure to Magpie Lane at Christmas”. Well, it doesn’t seem to have done him any permanent harm…
In the Journal of the Folk-Song Society for 1914 you will find a number of versions of ‘Christmas now is drawing near at hand’, collected by Vaughan Williams and Sharp in various locations, but particularly in the West Midlands and counties adjoining Wales. You can find transcriptions of some of the versions which appeared in early volumes of the Journal at http://folkopedia.efdss.org/wiki/Christmas_now_is_drawing_near_at_hand
I, like almost everyone else on the folk scene, learned this fine carol from the singing of the late, great Lal Waterson, on the seminal Watersons LP Frost and Fire.
A.L. Lloyd’s sleeve notes for that LP say:
This moralising carol was much used by beggars and others towards Christmas time. Its tune turns up over and again attached to such carols as The Fountain of Christ’s Blood, Have You Not Heard of our Dear Saviour’s Love, and The Black Decree, also to the favourite old dialogue-ballad of Death and the Lady, traceable to the sixteenth century. Here it is sung by Elaine Waterson in a form common among gipsies habitually drifting through the West Midlands half a century ago.
It looks to me that Lal based her tune on that collected by Vaughan Williams in September 1913: “Sung by a Waggoner (name unknown), Pool-End, near Hereford, Herefordshire”, and one of those printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol V, No. 18 (1914).
Sometimes I think I’ll relearn the tune the way Vaughan Williams wrote it down – not in a vain attempt to be more “authentic”, but because it has some rather nice subtle twists. But after singing it like this for well over 30 years, I suspect that’s not going to happen.
The Holly and the Ivy
Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Joe Turner: fiddle
In December 1911 Cecil Sharp was in Shropshire collecting Christmas carols. I’m not sure if he went to Shropshire specifically to collect carols or whether, it being near to Christmas, that was simply what the people he met chose to sing. Equally, I don’t know if the counties along the Welsh border were a particularly rich source of folk carols, or if he’d have done just as well at that time of the year in, say, Essex, or Kent, or Oxfordshire. Whatever the case, he had a rich haul.
Actually, Sharp probably did have a good idea what he was looking for. He’d already visited the village of Lilleshall in October that year, and collected some fine - and mainly pretty obscure – carols from the splendidly named Samson Bates: ‘Awake, awake’,'The Little Room’, ‘This is the truth sent from above’, ‘The Twelve Apostles’, ‘The Virgin Unspotted’… He returned to see Mr Bates on 19th and 20th December, but this was just part of a very productive few days, during which he collected carols from a range of singers in the area. On December 18th, for instance, he noted ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ and ‘The man that lives’, from a Mrs Kilford of Lilleshall.
By Sharp’s time - and for some decades before that – carols had become associated almost exclusively with Christmas. Historically of course, that wasn’t the case – and there were plenty of carols which now got sung at Christmas which really had nothing to do with that particular season. Equally, he found plenty of Christmas carols which focused on the need to live a godly life (and what would befall you if you didn’t), rather than cosier motifs such as angels, shepherds, ox, ass and baby Jesus in a manger. All the same, ’The man that lives’ has to be one of the least cosy carols I know. It sets out its stall right from the start:
The man that lives must learn to die,
Christ will no longer stay;
Our time is short, death’s near at hand
To take our lives away.
To my mind it seems to look with rather too much relish on the fate of unrepentant sinners. That they’ll suffer the torments of hell may well accord with your personal theology; but what pleasure can the supreme being derive from seeing the sinner’s sheep rot?
Mrs Kilford’s text is very similar to that found in printed sources such as A Good Christmas Box (a collection from 1847 which we know was still widely used as a source by the singers Sharp met in this area) or this ballad sheet in the Bodleian’s collection, printed in Birmingham around 1850. This suggests that she had probably learned the song from a printed source. Other versions of the carol were collected by Ella Leather and Vaughan Williams in Herefordshire, and by Sharp himself from a Mrs Halfpenny (again, what a wonderful name!) at Lilleshall on 20th December 1911.
Saviour's Love - from the Bodleian Library ballad collection
In between, on 19th December, he had taken down two very similar versions of ‘Have you not heard within a few miles of Lilleshall’: from Samson Bates (at The Trench) and Henry Bould (at Donnington Wood).
This is another carol which turns up (usually as ‘The Saviour’s Love’) in printed sources: for example this sheet printed by T. Bloomer of Birmingham, between 1817 and 1827; and, of course, in A Good Christmas Box. Indeed Sharp noted just two verses from Samson Bates, before writing “Rest the same as in ‘A Good Christmas Box’”.
Originally, I based my tune on the way Henry Bould sang the carol. But I find that, having sung it for a few years without consulting the music, I’ve drifted away in places. Oh well, that’s the oral tradition… sort of.
I started off learning just the three verses printed in E.M. Leather & Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire. Those are, in themselves, a bit of a mish-mash: the notes say “Text from Mr C. Bridges, Pembridge, and Mr W. Phillips, Leigh, Worcestershire, with a few additions from A choice collection of Christmas Carols (Tewkesbury, 1786) and A Good Christmas Box“. Subsequently, I’ve added three more from the fourteen available in A Good Christmas Box.
Have you not heard
The man that lives
‘The Man that lives’ appeared on the Magpie Lane CD Knock at the knocker, ring at the bell, but this is a live recording – straight off the mixing desk – made at the Oxford Folk Festival in April 2006.
Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Ian Giles: vocal
Marguerite Hutchinson: vocal, recorder
Jon Fletcher: guitar
Sophie Thurman: cello
Mat Green: fiddle