One of quite a number of songs I’ve learned from Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring: English Folk Songs Collected by Cecil Sharp. Dear old Cecil had the tune and first verse of this song from Michael William Johnson at Ilmington in Warwickshire. Mr Johnson was one of the Ilmington morris dancers; as far as I can see this is the only song that Sharp noted from him.
Sometimes, however, a cigar is just a cigar. And in this case, as far as I’m concerned, the poor old horse is just a poor old horse. Certainly you can read it as a metaphor for the frailties and indignities of human old age, but there’s no resurrection, just an inexorable decline into the grave.
Poor Old Horse, collected by Cecil Sharp from Michael Johnson, April 1911. From the Full English archive.
Last September I went to Cecil Sharp House to see Nic Jones be presented with his EFDSS Gold Badge and – much later in the proceedings than many of us would have liked – to hear him sing a few songs. This was the first time I had seen Nic perform in over 3o years; for many younger members of the audience it was the first time they’d ever seen him perform. To be honest, we’d have cheered him to the rafters just for being there, but - mirabile dictu - after 30 years away from performing, the moment he started singing it was clear that he hadn’t lost the old magic. Backed, magnificently, by his son Joe on guitar, and Belinda O’Hooley on piano, he began his set with ‘Master Kilby’. A wonderful moment, and I don’t mind admitting that a tear bedimm’d my eye.
And what a wonderful song this is. To quote the late Malcolm Douglas on Mudcat
So far as can be told, Master Kilby has been found once only in tradition; Cecil Sharp noted it from Harry Richards of Curry Rivel in Somerset, in January of 1909. That’s all we know; it doesn’t seem to have been published on broadside sheets.
Benjamin Britten published an “art music” arrangement of it, but you can be pretty sure that anyone who sings it now learned it from Nic Jones’ recording, at one remove or another.
Actually, looking at the records on the Full English site (at http://www.vwml.org/roudnumber/1434) it seems that Sharp first took this song down from Harry Richards on 29th July 1904, then went back and noted the song again – with a slightly fuller set of words – on 6th January 1909. Well, it’s a song that is well worth collecting twice.
I had messed around with it over the years, but never with any real intention of working up a proper arrangement. But just after Christmas I had another go at it, and discovered that if I moved the song down from G to F, it fitted rather nicely on the concertina. At the time I tweeted “I think I’ve just worked out a concertina accompaniment for Master Kilby. Very exciting.”
(to which my son, elsewhere in the house, sent the laconic reply “I heard”)
I made a point of going back to the tune and words as collected from Harry Richards, rather than learning the song from a Nic Jones record. But all the same, it’s only now, six months on, that the song is beginning to feel like part of my repertoire, rather than a Nic Jones cover version.
Postwar folk song commentators and activists such as A.L. Lloyd seized on industrial folk song – ‘Blackleg Miner’, ‘Four Loom Weaver’, ‘Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife’ and the like – as the product of a proletariat engaged in class struggle. Their Marxist beliefs would, I suppose, have predisposed them against expecting to find similar material coming out of the rural working class, and this was probably just as well – I can think of very few examples of traditional country songs raging against the social order. (Even in poaching songs, while there are often complaints about the “hard-hearted judges”, it is the gamekeepers – the agents of the landowning classes, rather than the landowners themselves - who are usually perceived as the enemy).
This song, judging by the number of times it has been collected in England and beyond, seems to have been hugely popular. Not only does it not challenge the status quo, but invites us to join in blessing the noble gentleman who – most improbably – bestows “fifty five good acres” on the hardworking labouring man. Although actually traditional singers do seem to have toned down somewhat the obsequious nature of the song as found in printed broadsides, such as Good Lord Fauconbridge’s generous gift, printed by J. Pitts of London, between 1819 and 1844, of which this is the final verse.
No tongue was able in full to express
In depth of their joy and true thankfulness
Then many a courtsey and bow to the ground
Such noblemen there are few to be found
This particular version was collected by Cecil Sharp at Hamstreet in Kent, in September 1908. Not being an authority on Sharp’s handwriting, I’d be hard-pressed to say if he meant to record the singer’s name as Clarke Lankhurst or Lonkhurst (or even Larkhurst). In fact it was almost certainly Clarke Lonkhurst, who the local Kelly’s Directory lists as landlord of the Duke’s Head at Hamstreet. George Frampton, who has researched all of the singers Sharp encountered on this collecting trip, has established that Mr Lonkhurst also worked as a carrier, and was a keen sportsman – playing football and cricket, and a member of the Mid-Kent Stag Hunt. He has also found – just to add even more confusion to the matter of his surname – that in the 1901 Census he is listed as Clarke Longhurst, age 37, born at Dunkirk near Faversham. There are Longhursts from Romney Marsh in my family tree, on my mother’s side, so it’s just possible that this singer is a distant relation of mine.
"I have been using your Embrocation for Capped Elbew with great benefit. — Clarke Lonkhurst, Duke's Head Hotel, Hamstreet, Ashford, Kent, July 29th, 1908." ]
Clarke Lonkhurst only sang four verses of this song; I followed my usual practice of completing the words by borrowing verses from the Copper Family version. Had I held on a little, I would have come across a pretty complete set of words collected in 1942 by Francis Collinson from Harry Barling of South Willesborough, Ashford, Kent. This Mr Barling was most likely the same Harry Barling who is listed in the 1901 Census as a Carrier General, living at Aldington, born at Ruckinge; and in the 1881 Census as living at the “Good Intent”, Aldington Frith – i.e. from very much the same part of the world, and a similar age, as Clarke Lonkhurst. The singers’ tunes are almost identical except that Harry Barling’s is in 4/4 and Clarke Lonkhurst’s in 6/8.
Including a song collected by Cecil Sharp gives me the opportunity to mention the EFDSS’s Full English archive, launched a couple of weeks ago. I’ve not, unfortunately, had very much time to explore the site as yet, but it is without doubt an incredible resource – both for researchers, and for those on the look-out for new versions of old songs.
It builds on the Take Six archive, which presented digital images of the collections of Collinson, Butterworth, Blunt, Hammond, Gardiner and Gilchrist. Now we also have access to the work of relatively little-known collectors such as Harry Albino and Frank Sidgwick through to the big names: Lucy Broadwood, Ralph Vaughan Williams and, of course, Cecil James Sharp. The whole thing has been thoroughly and professionally catalogued and indexed, and even looks quite cool – whatever has happened to the DEAFASS we used to love to malign in the past!
As you’ll see, each record has a permament URL, to make it easy to refer others to a specific record. And there are some nice little features, like the ability to refer to a simple URL to point to all the versions of a particular Roud number e.g. this song would be www.vwml.org/roudnumber/19 - just substitute the Roud number of your choice.
One of my all-time favourite records is Selected Jigs Reels And Songs by De Danann. Of course Frankie Gavin’s fiddle and Alec Finn’s bouzouki were at the heart of the De Danann sound. But one of the things that makes this LP special is the singing of Johnny Moynihan, especially his two unaccompanied songs, ‘The Flower Of Sweet Strabane’ and ‘Barbara Allen’, both of which are simply sublime. Johnny’s version of ‘Barbara Allen’came from the County Armagh singer Sarah Makem. And if you’ve not heard her singing, do yourself a favour and get hold of the Topic CD The Heart Is True, which is as good a record of traditional singing as you’re likely to hear (then, if that just whets your appetite, you can move on to the 3-CD Musical Traditions set As I Roved Out).
This is not Mrs Makem’s gloomy minor key version however. I’d always meant to learn it, but never got further than writing out the words from the De Danann record. The version I actually sing comes (yet again) from Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring and was collected by Cecil Sharp in 1923, from William Pittaway of Burford in Oxfordshire. I’m not completely sure when I learned it, but I think it was probably in the early days of Magpie Lane, when I was very much on the look-out for Oxfordshire material. In fact this song was, briefly, in the band’s repertoire. Maybe it’s time to revive it – although I’ve a sneaky suspicion that I’ve grown too attached to singing it unaccompanied to like it any other way.
The song is, according to the notes in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs ”far and away the most widely collected song in the English language”. It dates back to at least the mid-seventeenth century. Samuel Pepys heard it sung on 2nd January 1666:
to my Lord Bruncker’s, and there find Sir J. Minnes and all his company, and Mr. Boreman and Mrs. Turner, but, above all, my dear Mrs. Knipp, with whom I sang, and in perfect pleasure I was to hear her sing, and especially her little Scotch song of “Barbary Allen;”
Mrs Knipp was an actress, and predictably it was not just her singing that Sam Pepys admired:
Thence, it being post night, against my will took leave, but before I come to my office, longing for more of her company, I returned and met them coming home in coaches, so I got into the coach where Mrs. Knipp was and got her upon my knee (the coach being full) and played with her breasts and sung, and at last set her at her house and so good night.
The earliest known printed version of the ballad dates from around the same period; the ballad sheet shown here was printed in Newcastle c1760. This copy is from the Bodleian’s collection, but you’ll find another copy of the same ballad at the Huntingdon Digital Library.
“Barbara Allen’s cruelty: or the young man’s tragedy” from the Bodleian Library collection.
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.