October 1, 2015

Week 215 – Nottingham Goose Fair

If you were a regular at Whitstable’s Duke’s Folk, or at Oyster Ceilidh Band dances in the seventies, you’ll almost certainly remember this song, as it was an oft-performed favourite in the repertoire of top local band Fiddler’s Dram. It was the final track on their debut LP To See the Play, and I’ve a feeling it had also been one of the band’s contributions to the Duke’s Folk cassette (although that was a little before my time). If you only know Fiddler’s Dram from their 1979 hit single ‘Daytrip to Bangor’ then do yourself a favour and check out their pre-Top of the Pops recordings – pretty much their entire recorded repertoire has recently become available as a download, and that first album in particular has a number of great songs and arrangements which have really stood the test of time.

I had the words of this song from Roy Palmer’s classic book A Touch on the Times, and I assume that’s also where Cathy Lesurf and the band had got it from. Roy doesn’t give a source for the tune, so I wonder if it was actually made up by his wife Pat. In the book it’s given in 4/4, whereas Fiddler’s Dram played it in 6/8. Whether that was deliberate or an accident I don’t know, but I think it benefits greatly from the change.

In my student days I used to sing this with Caroline Jackson-Houlston. She sang the tune, and I sang John Jones’ harmony part from the record pretty much note for note. I’m not sure I could improve on it and would most likely end up doing exactly the same were I to attempt a harmony now.

Although I’ve not sung the song often since those days, it’s never been too far from my mind. So when I visited Nick and Lizzie Passmore earlier this year, this seemed like an obvious one to try together. Mind you, I think Nick had been expecting to play it on guitar, so was somewhat wrong-footed by my suggestion that he should give it a melodeon accompaniment. Needless to say, he rose to the challenge and obliged. This is the last of the four songs we recorded that weekend – must be time to plan another trip to Llandrindod Wells.

There’s only one entry for the song in the Roud Index: ‘The Rigs and Fun of Nottingham Goose Fair’ from the Madden Collection, which is unfortunately not available online.

Another ballad with the Fair as a setting is ‘The unconscionable batchelors of Darby: or, The young lasses pawn’d by their sweethearts, for a large reckning, at Nottingham goosefair; where poor Susan was forced to pay the shot’, which Early English Books Online dates to between 1687 and 1695. It’s not an especially entertaining song, but no doubt it pleased the good people of Nottingham by providing them with another example of just how untrustworthy young men from Derby can be. Meanwhile  ‘The Country Squire’, included in Bentley’s Miscellany, Volume 9 (1842) purports to tell “An Ancient Legend, Showing How The Fair Held Every October At Nottingham Was First Called Nottingham Goose Fair”. It’s nonsense of course and, again, not particularly amusing.

You’ll find plenty of information online about the history of Nottingham Goose Fair, however. The fair dates back to the granting of a charter by Edward I in 1284, and it’s still going strong to this day – in fact it’s on right now (although you’re unlikely to spot any geese).

George Austin, who was Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures and Clerk of the Markets in Nottingham from 1907 till 1944, had responsibility for the Goose Fair during those years. In his memoirs he gives a description of the Goose Fair in Nottingham’s Old Market Square in 1896

My strongest impression is of the surging crowds moving ceaselessly round the fair. It was impossible to change direction once one was in the stream. Gangs of young people, and some older ones, formed “crocodiles”. Linked together by arms on the shoulders, or round the waist of the person in front, they forced a passage through the crowd.

There are a couple of Pathe newsreels of the Fair which you can view online, from 1935 and 1947. In the earlier of these, you see a dignitary, presumably the Lord Mayor of Nottingham, pronouncing the fair open. He concludes “Get you straight away, and thoroughly enjoy yourselves”. This echoes the sentiment of the song. Although, perhaps unwisely, he neglects to repeat the song’s warnings “in moderation pleasure take” and “keep an eye upon your purse”.

Nottingham Goose Fair, Market Place, 1890s. From the Nottingham Hidden History Team blog. Picture credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

Nottingham Goose Fair, Market Place, 1890s. From the Nottingham Hidden History Team blog. Picture credit: The Paul Nix Collection.


A modern view of Nottingham Goose Fair - photo from the Nottingham Post

A modern view of Nottingham Goose Fair – photo from the Nottingham Post


Nottingham Goose Fair

Andy Turner – vocal
Nick Passmore – G/D melodeon

September 25, 2015

Week 214 – The Blacksmith

Song number 8 in Classic English Folk Songs, formerly the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and few would argue that this is a classic of the genre.

It’s actually a song which I’ve almost certainly never sung in public, and which I’ve never really considered to be part of my repertoire. Partly because I’ve always planned to learn Tom Willett’s magnificent version (and having got this version of my chest, so to speak, maybe I finally will), but also because it’s just one of those songs which everyone knows. Still, I seem to know the words without having to think about them, and it is a classic, and it’s a great song to sing; so it seemed daft not to post a version here.

I would have first heard it as the opening track of Steeleye Span’s Please to see the King. Where – like a lot of songs on the two Carthy / Hutchings Steeleye LPs – it’s given a wonderfully sparse, austere, atmospheric and totally effective arrangement. Shortly after hearing that recording I would have heard the OK but far less interesting arrangement on the first Steeleye LP, and then Andy Irvine’s take on the song, on the debut Planxty album. I suspect most of the words went in by osmosis, but having them in the Penguin book would have helped – no need to transcribe them from tape or vinyl.

Vaughan Williams noted the tune, but no words, from Mrs Ellen Powell, at Westhope, near Weobley in Herefordshire. Malcolm Douglas, in his additional notes for Classic English Folk Songs, suggests that Vaughan Williams and Bert Lloyd used Peter Verrall’s version, or possibly the Such broadside shown below, as the basis of the verses given in the book.

The blacksmith: broadside printed by H. Such, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The blacksmith: broadside printed by H. Such, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The Blacksmith

September 18, 2015

Week 213 – Here’s Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

This must have been one of the first Copper Family songs I ever learned – although if my chronology is right, I think by the time I heard A Song for Every Season in the autumn of 1976 I was already familiar with the two-part harmony version on Tim Hart and Maddy Prior’s LP Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1.

Back then, I used to sing it with my friend Mike Eaton (he was Ron to my Bob). I doubt I’ve sung it in public for many years, but it’s one of those songs which frequently gets an outing in the car, or when I’m just singing around the house. It might be a bit of a hoary old chestnut, but it’s a classic – is there anyone on the English folk scene who doesn’t know this song? (apart, it would seem, from the person who chose to sing this at the Bob Copper Centenary event back in January).

I’ve only recently worked out the concertina accompaniment, having borrowed a Bb/F anglo from Rob Fidler, the Fool with Bampton Morris. Previously I could never decide on a suitable key to play it in, but Eb (the People’s Key!) is just right – so many thanks, Rob.

The song was widely collected by the early twentieth century song collectors – exclusively, as far as I can see, in Southern England, although that might just reflect the fact that Sharp and his contemporaries did the vast majority of their collecting in the South. It was also, unsurprisingly, frequently printed on broadsides; in one case – the ‘New Sailor’s Farewell’, so looking for some unnecessary novelty, perhaps – the otherwise ubiquitous Nancy becomes Betsy.

My Lovely Nancy, from the Frank Kidson Broadside Collection, via the Full English.

My Lovely Nancy, from the Frank Kidson Broadside Collection, via the Full English.

Here’s Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

Andy Turner – vocal, Bb/F anglo-concertina

September 12, 2015

Week 212 – Enniscorthy Fair

There was once a time – long ago now – that I would sit at home accompanying myself on mandolin or mandola. Occasionally, this would even happen in public. One song which got this treatment was ‘Galtee Farmer’, learned from the Steeleye Span LP Commoners Crown. As far as I can recall that one never got a public airing, and at some point I stopped singing it altogether. However in 1986 I bought a cassette issued by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Early in the Month of Spring, which contained a traditional variant of ‘Galtee Farmer’. The singer was Bill Cassidy, a traveller originally from Co. Wexford but, at the time he was recorded by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie in 1973, camping illegally under the Westway flyover in North Kensington.

I immediately decided to learn Bill’s version, but felt I needed to change soem of the words, to make it more singable. It’s not that the story is incomplete the way Bill sang it, but the sense in some of the lines seemed to have been mangled a bit e.g.

I’ll engage this mare to all kind work
And her trial won’t be a quest


She looks so style and handsome
And so action in my eye

On a visit to Cecil Sharp House, Malcolm Taylor found me a couple of excellent sound recordings as a possible source of alternative lyrics. One was by Lal Smith, another travelling singer, recorded by Peter Kennedy in the 1950s. And the other was by an unidentified singer, recorded at Killorglin Puck Fair, Co. Kerry. Checking the Roud Index, it must have been this BBC recording, made in 1947 (the catalogue record says “Co. Derry” but that must be a typo – the Puck Fair is definitely held in Kerry).

This Killorglin recording was quite remarkable. Made, I imagine, in a pub, with a very noisy, boisterous clientele, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a recording where it was so obvious that the singer, and everyone with him, was quite so monumentally plastered.

I can no longer remember which lines of my version of the song came from Lal Smith or the singer at the fair (or perhaps from my memory of the Steeleye recording). It may even be that some I just made up.

For more on Bill, and the other Irish travellers recorded by Jim and Pat, see the notes to the Musical Traditions set, From Puck to Appleby; and then purchase the CD, or download a copy – it will cost you all of £4.

Enniscorthy Fair

September 5, 2015

Week 211 – The Jealous Sailor

There’s a long history of poets and songwriters, from Robbie Burns through W.B. Yeats and Ewan MacColl to Bob Dylan, writing verse inspired by, based on or adapted from traditional songs. In the British folk revival, there have been many attempts to write new songs “in a traditional style”. Often the results are little more than pastiche; or else sound less like a traditional folk song, and more like the kind of nineteenth century broadside ballad which would never have entered the tradition in a million years. Some have succeeded however – Roger Watson and Martin Graebe spring to mind – in creating new songs which retain the structure and form of traditional song, but have a value in their own right. I’d say Richard Thompson also succeeded in doing this, with his ‘Little Beggar Girl’, while Chris Wood’s ‘Hollow Point’ makes no attempt to sound like an old song, but shows how traditional lyrics can be woven into a powerful new composition. And Dylan, to this day, weaves snatches of traditional song lyrics into his compositions.

But to mind, this song, written by Bob Davenport and set to a traditional tune (‘The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite’), comes closest to sounding like a traditional song – and being a really good song in its own right. I learned it from the LP 1977 by Bob Davenport and the Rakes, released on Topic in… oh, you’re ahead of me.

The Jealous Sailor

August 28, 2015

Week 210 – So Was I

In which our hero – against the express wishes of his wife – goes on a drunken spree with a pal, spends the night in the cells, is landed with a fine by the magistrate… and is totally unrepentant. It would be worth learning just for the classic final line. But as an added bonus you also get to sing

Old Brown said “Go and boil your head!”

which is not a line I’ve encountered in any other songs.

The song is in Roy Palmer’s A Taste of Ale, and it’s one of the pieces included on the Magpie Lane CD brought out to accompany the book.

It was written by the British stage actor and silent film star Arthur Lennard (1867-1954) published in B. Mocatta & Co’s Second Comic Annual (exact date unknown – late 19th century).

The song has been collected a couple of times in oral tradition – by Fred Hamer in Cornwall, and by Sam Steele from Charlie Giddings in Cambridgshire. In fact you can hear Charlie Giddings singing the song on the Veteran CD Heel and Toe (although I have to confess that this is one item in the Veteran catalogue I don’t own, and have never heard).

I dare say that there were actually many more country entertainers who had this in their repertoires, but it’s not the sort of thing that folk song collectors would have been interested in at one time. Certainly those of Cecil Sharp’s generation would not have given it a second thought. And while I’m glad that collectors such as Mike Yates and John Howson have taken a much more open-minded  approach to their work, I can’t say I really blame Sharp et. al. for ignoring songs like this. After all, even at the time of Sharp’s death, this song was probably no more than 25 years old. So collecting it then would have been comparable to collecting, say, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ today. In Sharp’s pre-war heyday, it might have been more analogous to a modern day collector making a field recording of that X-factor wannabe’s ballad of choice ‘You Raise Me Up’!


So Was I

August 20, 2015

Week 209 – Bonnie Woodhall

And so, ladies and gentlemen, we boldly go into the fifth year of this blog’s existence. And it’s my birthday soon. So to celebrate, here’s something recorded earlier in the year, with a typically sensitive guitar accompaniment from my old friend Nick Passmore (for more on Nick, see Week 188).

Andy and Nick at a recent Oyster Ceilidh Band  dance in Canterbury.

Andy and Nick at a recent Oyster Ceilidh Band dance in Canterbury.

I used to sing this back in the 1980s with Chris Wood. Chris, Nick and I all knew the song from the classic post-Planxty Andy Irvine & Paul Brady LP – although, being averse to transcribing lyrics from records if I can possibly help it, I’d got the words from Roy Palmer’s book The Rambling Soldier. The album sleevenotes say that Andy Irvine first heard the song sung by Dick Gaughan, but set the words (probably from Sam Henry’s Songs of the People, although that’s not explicitly stated) to his own tune.

Woodhall is apparently on the banks of North Calder Water in North Lanarkshire.

Bonnie Woodhall

Andy Turner – vocal
Nick Passmore – guitar

August 16, 2015

Week 208 – New Garden Fields

Well, this post completes the fourth year of this blog. And I’m glad to say there will be another one along next week (and for some little time to come).

I used to sing this song with Chris Wood back in the 1980s, and it now forms part of Magpie Lane’s repertoire – yet another song in the band’s setlist to be gleaned from Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was collected on 22nd April 1904 from a Mr Broomfield, a woodcutter, at East Horndon in Essex – here it is reproduced from Vaughan Williams’ MS on the Full English site.

New Garden Fields, as sung by Mr Broomfield of Essex. From the Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

New Garden Fields, as sung by Mr Broomfield of Essex. From the Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

Funnily enough, the very next day he collected another version, from a Mr J. Punt, also in East Horndon. Both versions were included in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol 2 No 8 (1906). RVW noted that he had completed the words from a Such ballad sheet – presumably one of these two.

If you look this song up on the Full English archive you’ll find it on several ballad sheets, from the collections of Vaughan Williams, Lucy Broadwood and Frank Kidson. I always liked the fact that this song is set on the 17th August, my dad’s birthday. But that seems to have been peculiar to Mr Broomfield – all the other versions have it as 18th August.

The New Garden Fields - Catnach broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

The New Garden Fields – Catnach broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.


New Garden Fields

August 6, 2015

Week 207 – Now All You Lads / Lord Rothschild / Old Green River

Three unrelated song fragments, none of which is long enough to deserve an entry of its own.

‘Now All You Lads’ is from the Copper Family. The song has its own Roud number but the first half of the song is normally found as part of Roud 1572, the ‘Brisk Young Bachelor’ family of songs. This is sometimes sung as a slightly comic (if misogynistic) piece, but in other versions is quite dark – that’s certainly the case in what is probably the best known version, Martin Carthy / the Albion Country Band’s ‘I Was a Young Man’. In Rottingdean, however, it served as Jim Copper’s passport to a free pint of beer: the notes on the Copper Family website say

This was the shortest song Jim knew and he had developed a terrific speed in the chorus “Twenty, eighteen, etc.” and thereby frequently qualified for the free pint of beer offered by the landlord of the local inn to the first man to sing a song.

Elsewhere it might also have served as a way of avoiding having to pay in a “Sing, Say or Pay” session. Charlie Bridger from Stone-in-Oxney in Kent sang me an example which he remembered being used for this purpose by one old boy who only knew the one song:

I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it was narrow
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round

Now All You Lads


I learned ‘Lord Rothschild’ from Mike Waterson’s eponymous 1977 LP. Recently I heard a recording of him singing it at Sidmouth, circa 1988. In the intervening years he must either have discovered – or made up – additional verses to the song; having learned his original two verses more or less without trying, I’ve stuck to those.

Lord Rothschild


Bob Davenport sang ‘Old Green River’ on the Bob Davenport & The Rakes LP, 1977. Its full title is ‘I’ve Been Floating Down the Old Green River’, and it merits a Wikipedia entry. From where I learn that it was

a 1915 song with words by Bert Kalmar and music by Joe Cooper.

The song is sung from the point of view of a husband who has to explain to his wife why he stayed out until 4:30 in the morning. The tag line in the lyric is:

I had to drink the whole Green River dry
To get back home to you.

The song is a play on words, as Green River was a popular brand of whisky at the time.

The popular vocalist Billy Murray recorded the song for Victor Records in 1915.

And indeed you can listen to that 1915 recording, played on a 1905 Victor Type II Talking machine, on YouTube. There’s quite a lot more to it than the chorus which I learned from Bob Davenport. And the words aren’t the same! Oh well, it’s an aural tradition.

Old Green River

July 31, 2015

Week 206 – Sing a Full Song

Another one from John Kirkpatrick. This was on his 1984 solo LP, Three In A Row: The English Melodeon, which featured mainly self-composed tunes played on one- and two-row melodeons, and three-row button accordion. And which is probably the record I would pull out if I ever had to demonstrate why John is not only my favourite anglo player, but also my favourite melodeon player.

There are two songs on the album: a lovely version of ‘A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square’, and this fine love song. If you saw John performing this at the time, you may remember that the accordion accompaniment featured his unique “hammering on” style. Not able to match that, I sing it unaccompanied.

Sing a Full Song


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