April 23, 2017

Week 267 – The Grey Funnel Line

I have two Cyril Tawney songs in my repertoire. I posted ‘Sally Free and Easy’ almost a year ago; now here’s the other one.

Written in 1959, it was the last song Cyril Tawney wrote before leaving the Royal Navy. You’ll find his own account of its composition at https://mainlynorfolk.info/cyril.tawney/songs/thegreyfunnelline.html.

I learned it from the Silly Sisters LP, which I must have got not long after it came out. Actually I say I learned it – it’s one of those songs where at any given time in the last 40 years I could probably have sung about 95% of the song, but never properly nailed it until now. And I have to say it was worth making the effort to learn it properly – it’s a really good song.

On this recording, the accompaniment is provided (unwittingly) by Ian Kearey playing an epinette de Vosges with two pencils (HB, as I recall). I sampled this from an old Oyster Band LP, looped it, pitch-shifted it slightly, and played around with it a bit more in Audacity, Nero Wave Editor and Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. And hey presto! here it is.

The Grey Funnel Line

April 23, 2017

Welcome the May! Part 1

Magpie Lane will be playing a May Eve concert in Oxford next Sunday afternoon:

Sunday 30th April – Holywell May Eve concert

Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford OX1 3BN

2.30 – 4.30

Promoted in association with www.maymorning.co.uk

Tickets from https://www.ticketsoxford.com/whats-on/all-shows/welcome-the-may/4734
or ring Tim Healey on 01865 249194

Welcome the May poster

There’ll be a lot of Magpie Lane Maytime favourites, including Dave Webber’s May Song, the Swalcliffe May Day Carol, Martin Graebe’s Jack-in-the-Green, and tunes such as The First of MayJack’s Alive and Round about the Maypole.  When the band first started we always used to do concerts at Maytime, and are very pleased that Tim Healey has given us the opportunity to revive the tradition.

 

In other news, we’re about to send off a series of 0s and 1s, and in return, in a few weeks’ time, we’ll be receiving 40 boxes of shiny silver discs – yes, the long-awaited new album, Three Quarter Time is very nearly here.

You can sample some tracks from the new record at https://soundcloud.com/magpielane/sets/three-quarter-time – I hope you like them.

I will of course let you know as soon as we have copies of the CD, and how you can get hold of one. Or, indeed, several.

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April 13, 2017

Week 266 – Dwelling In Beulah Land

Swan Arcade recorded this song on their 1986 album Diving for Pearls, and it’s an outstanding example of their exuberant, no-holds-barred approach to harmony singing. I got the words from Hymnary.org (other online hymnals are available) from where I learn that it was written in 1911 by the prolific American hymn-writer Charles Austin Miles (1868-1946). I don’t know where Swan Arcade learned it from, but there are various recordings you can find online, including one by the Sons Of The Pioneers, with Roy Rogers on vocals. It’s OK, but not a patch on the Swan Arcade version.

I worked out some time ago that this would sound great on a C/G anglo – but that I couldn’t actually sing it comfortably in C. So when I asked Bampton Morris Fool Rob Fidler if I might borrow his Bb/F instrument, recording this song was uppermost in my mind. I must confess I still haven’t learned the words properly, but I thought I’d better get it recorded sooner rather than later – one of these days Rob is going to ask for his concertina back!

Dwelling In Beulah Land

Andy Turner – vocal, Bb/F anglo-concertina

April 9, 2017

The week before Easter, the morn bright and clear

Well it is one week till Easter, and where I’m sitting, the morn is indeed very bright and clear. In stark contrast to the weather 4 years ago, when I first posted the Copper Family’s A Week Before Easter.

In the absence of any new posts recently, here’s a Spring / Easter ‘playlist’ for you.

Easter carols and religious songs

Week 33 – The Leaves of Life

 

Week 189 – The Holly Bears a Berry

 

Week 139 – There is a Fountain of Christ’s Blood

 

Easter customs

Week 84 – Pace Egging Song

Hector is slain by St George - Midgley Pace Eggers in Todmorden, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, on Good Friday 1965. Photographer: Brian Shuel. http://www.collectionspicturelibrary.co.uk

Hector is slain by St George – Midgley Pace Eggers in Todmorden, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, on Good Friday 1965. Photographer: Brian Shuel. From http://www.collectionspicturelibrary.co.uk

 

Tip Top Polka (Bacup Britannia Coconut Dancers tune, from my Squeezed Out blog)

 

Spring

Week 243 – When Spring Comes In

 

Week 134 – The Birds in the Spring

 

Week 34 – The Banks of Sweet Mossen

 

March 11, 2017

Percy Manning Centenary Concert

Percy Manning. Image copyright Bodleian Library.

Percy Manning. Image copyright Bodleian Library.

Percy Manning (1870-1917), “the man who collected Oxfordshire”, was a Victorian antiquary, archaeologist and folklorist. 2017 is the centenary of his death, and to commemorate this, the morris historian Mike Heaney (formerly of the Bodleian Library, and founder member of Eynsham Morris) is coordinating a series of lectures, exhibitions and workshops taking place at locations including the Bodleian, the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Bate Collection. Full details of all of these events can be found on the Folk in Oxford website.

Among Percy Manning’s many interests was folk song and folk dance. In 1899 he persuaded the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers, who had not been out dancing for several years, to revive the tradition. The occasion was a concert held at the Oxford Corn Exchange – now the Old Fire Station – at which the Morris dances alternated with folk songs, performed by various classically trained singers.

We know exactly what songs and dances were performed, thanks to a report in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 18th March 1899. Here’s a copy of the report from Jackson’s Oxford Journal.

And on Friday 24th March Magpie Lane, together with the present Headington Quarry side, will be recreating that concert. Not with classically trained singers, with polite pianoforte accompaniment, but in our own style, with our own arrangements. Only one song in the programme (‘Twas early One Morning’ aka ‘All Jolly Fellows That Follow The Plough’) has previously featured in our repertoire, so this is an opportunity to hear a bunch of songs we’ve never performed before in public.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that in 1899, not an awful lot of folk song collecting had yet been carried out in England. The Folk-Song Society was only founded in 1898, with its first Journal being published in 1899. All of the songs performed at Manning’s event came either from

  • English County Songs (1893) edited by Lucy Broadwood and J.A. Fuller Maitland (and lazily or misogynistically credited only to Fuller Maitland in the Jackson’s Oxford Journal report)
  • William Chappell’s Popular music of the olden time (1859) – Volume 1 and Volume 2 available in full on the Internet Archive.
    (The newspaper report of the concert gives the source of ‘Gossip Joan’ and ‘The Country Lass’ as D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy, but D’Urfey’s versions of those songs include verses which would never have been performed in public in polite society in 1899, so we’re pretty sure Miss Taphouse must have sung the cleaned up versions which appear in Chappell. Our fans will no doubt be reassured to learn that we shall be reinstating the rude humour of D-Urfey’s original verses in our arrangement.)

For anyone interested in morris dancing, and the history of the morris, this event is a must. Had it not been for Manning’s concert, it is extremely unlikely that Headington Quarry would have been out dancing at Christmas 1899, when they bumped into Cecil Sharp – a meeting which is commonly held to have sparked the 20th century morris dance revival.

So it’s a recreation of a historically important event, as well as (we hope) a thoroughly good evening’s entertainment.

Percy Manning centenary 1917-2017

Percy Manning Centenary Concert

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers and Magpie Lane

St Andrew’s Church, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UG

Friday 24th March 8 p.m.

Tickets from https://fao.yapsody.com/event/index/59194/percy-manning-centenary-concert

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. Mark Cox playing the fiddle. Photograph Henry Taunt, 1899.

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. Mark Cox playing the fiddle. Photograph Henry Taunt, 1899. see viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk/search/detail.aspx?uid…

February 26, 2017

This blog is undergoing essential maintenance

Just a note that I’m doing some work on the blog over the next few weeks, so if some things stop working that will be me, not quite getting it right…

The work has been prompted – nay, forced on me – by Dropbox’s decision to discontinue their Public Folder feature. The MP3 files embedded in each week’s blog post are all stored in a Dropbox Public Folder. And, unless I do something about it, all of those audio files will stop working after March 15th this year. In fact, I’ve paid for a bit of extra web space, have copied the MP3 files to it, and yesterday started editing all of the existing links on the blog. It’s not difficult – just a tedious copy and paste job – but it will take me a while: I have to fix 274 links in all.

When I’ve done that, I’ll have a look at fixing some of the broken images, which are quite common on the early blog posts. Mostly they’re broken because, since I started this blog in August 2011, the EFDSS Take Six Archive became the Full English, while the Bodleian’s Broadside archive is now Broadside Ballads Online. Those moves led to new URLs, so images being pulled in from the old sites no longer display. And then of course there are other sites which have been reorganised, and some, I suspect, that have just disappeared. Anyway I’m going to try to restore as much as I can.

If you do find a page where the audio doesn’t work, or images are missing, or links are broken, do a leave a comment so I know to have a look.

thanks
Andy

Jan Fabre 'The man who measures the clouds', Forte di Belvedere, Firenze, 2016.

February 4, 2017

Week 265 – The Cruel Mother

Another week, another lady living in the North country, and once again things do not end well for her. This, of course, is much less to do with the fact that she lives in the North, than that she finds herself a character in a Child Ballad – and not many of those have a happy ending.

This very concise version of what is usually a much longer ballad was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs Eliza Woodberry of Ash Priors in Somerset (also the source of the version of ‘Come all you worthy Christian men’ in the Oxford Book of Carols). Sharp included it in his Folk Songs from Somerset, Series 4, and Sharp’s tireless assistant and evangelist Maud Karpeles printed it in her 2-volume collection, The Crystal Spring, which is where I learned it.

The Cruel Mother, as collected from Mrs Eliza Woodberry, from the Full English.

The Cruel Mother, as collected from Mrs Eliza Woodberry, from the Full English.

The Cruel Mother

January 28, 2017

Week 264 – Dowie Dens of Yarrow

Here’s one of those songs I have been meaning to learn for years…  well over 30 years, in fact having originally heard it in the early 1980s on the LP 1977 by Bob Davenport and the Rakes.

Bob Davenport learned it from the Scottish traveller singer and accordion player, Davie Stewart. You can find Davie’s version on Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland Vol. 2, the Rounder Records reissue of the Caedmon / Topic anthology The Child Ballads 2  from the Folk Songs of Britain series (hint: it’s easier and considerably cheaper to buy this album as a download than an actual CD).

There are various theories about this song being based on actual people and events (see the song’s entry on the Mainly Norfolk website). But whether or not there’s any historical basis for the song is really irrelevant – it makes no difference to the power of the story and the song.

The verse which always caught my attention was

Her hair it was three quarters long
The colour of it was yellow
She’s wrapped it round his middle so small
And she’s carried him home from Yarrow.

The image of the grieving lover with her hair “three quarters long” is what always came into my head whenever I thought of this song, and it’s that which – finally – prompted me to learn the song.

Back in the autumn I had a conversation with an artist friend, Cathy Ward, about taking part in an exhibition she’ll be putting on at Conquest House in Canterbury, in May this year. Over the years Cathy has produced a number of astonishingly detailed drawings of, or inspired by, women’s hair. I’ve placed a couple of examples below, and you can see plenty more on her website at http://www.catharyneward.com/project/drawing-archive/. As far as I know, Cathy has never turned her hand to illustrating Child Ballads, but if she decides to give it a go, this song might be the obvious place to start.

Flaxenvale by Cathy Ward

Flaxenvale by Cathy Ward

Exquisite Knot by Cathy Ward

Exquisite Knot by Cathy Ward

Dowie Dens of Yarrow

December 24, 2016

Christmas Bonus: a festival of nine carols, and no lessons

I like the idea of a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, but in practice I just can’t get on with a lot of the music – neither the arrangements, nor the way it’s sung. So while I prepare my stuffing, and giblet stock, and cranberry sauce, I’m far more likely to be listening to carolling from Sheffield or Padstow, or The Messiah, or Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. So here’s nine carols as an alternative. All have appeared on this blog over the last five years – except, bizarrely, ‘Foster’, which I always think I’ve posted before, but somehow never have. I hope they get you into whatever mood you’d like to be in as Christmas approaches. Now – is it time to put the sprouts on yet?

 

1. While Shepherds watched their flocks by night (Foster)

for other versions see Week 225 – While Shepherds Watched and 

 

2. This is the truth sent from above

see 

 

3. As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care

see 

 

4. Newton’s Double

see 

 

5. The Shepherds Amazed

see 

 

6. Lo! The Eastern Sages Rise

see 

 

7. All Hail and Praise

see 

 

8. Hark Hark What News

see 

 

9. The Sussex Carol

see 

December 23, 2016

Week 263 – Morning Star

After last week’s shipwreck, I thought the blog could do with a bit of Christmas cheer. And this is very jolly indeed. Like ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ I learned it from the Oysterband’s John Jones, and it’s a carol sung in Meltham, the South Yorkshire village where John was brought up.

It was written by Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915), an American hymn-writer who seems to have had more than her fair share of pseudonyms, and was published in Song Worship for Sunday Schools (1884). There it is credited solely to L.O.Emerson – not another of Crosby’s noms-de-plume, but joint editor of the collection. I assume it was he who set Miss Crosby’s text to music.

Ring Merry Bells, from Song Worship for Sunday Schools (1884), via hymnary.org

Ring Merry Bells, from Song Worship for Sunday Schools (1884), via hymnary.org

John Jones used to sing just the first and last verses, but having discovered a couple more online, I thought I’d include them all here – I rather like the rose of Sharon verse.

The song was very nearly featured on the Magpie Lane album Wassail. We recorded it, but it was cut from the final mix – there was a rather fancy a cappella section which, the lead and harmony vocals having been recorded at separate recording sessions, didn’t quite hang together. Having recently listened back to that outtake, however, there’s a possibility we might revive it next year.

Although I’ve usually referred to the song as ‘Ring, Merry Bells’ I believe it’s known as ‘Morning Star’ in Meltham, and that title prompted the inclusion of the Bledington morris tune ‘Morning Star’ in this arrangement.

Happy Christmas everybody!

Morning Star

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina