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

July 25, 2015

Week 205 – The Golden Vanity

This was number 286 in Professor Child’s list. But it’s not one of the “big ballads”, and the storyline (disappointingly, I’m sure, for ballad aficionados) has no incest, fratricide, sororicide, filicide, prolicide or suicide. Indeed the song is often sung to a fairly jaunty tune, and I must admit that, when planning a setlist, this is usually included in the “jolly songs with chorus” category. Having said that, stop to think about it for a while and you realise that the death toll is actually quite high.

This version comes from the Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty, although I learned it from Everyman’s Book of British Ballads, edited by Roy Palmer. At the time I suspect I’d never heard Johnny Doughty singing, although subsequently I saw him singing a number of times at Sidmouth and the National Folk Music Festival. He was a real entertainer, who relished being the centre of attention. His performances were punctuated by sly winks, and asides to his wife sat in the front row, especially when the topic of “a drop of treacle” arose (as I recall, his favourite tipple was a pint of Guinness).

Johnny Doughty. Photo by Doc Rowe, from the Musical Traditions article

Johnny Doughty. Photo by Doc Rowe, from the Musical Traditions article “Johnny Doughty… an interview with Vic Smith”

A recording of this song made by Mike Yates was included on the Topic LP Round Rye Bay for more, and I think I must have heard that at some point in the early eighties. I never owned a copy, however, until earlier this year when I was sorting through my parents’ record collection and, to my surprise, found a copy of the album snuck in amongst the country dance bands, the Tim Laycock, the Strawhead, the Max Bygraves, and Your One Hundred Best Tunes compilations.

Mike Yates’s notes on Round Rye Bay for more (quoted at mainlynorfolk.info)  provide this background on the song’s origins:

Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
And it is called the Sweet Trinity,
And was taken by the false gallaly,
Sailing in the Lowlands.

So begins a blackletter broadside [Version A in Child], “shewing how the famous ship called the Sweet Trinity was taken by a false Gally, and how it was again restored by the craft of a little sea-boy, who sunk the Gally,” that was printed during the period 1682-85 by Joshua Conyers, “at the Black-Raven, the 1st shop in Fetter-lane, next Holborn.”

The history books appear to have missed this particular episode in Raleigh’s life—no doubt because it was a flight of Conyers’, or some other unknown printer’s, imagination; a simple attempt to increase sales by the addition of a romantic and well-known name to an otherwise commonplace tale. Whatever the origin, the ballad certainly caught the popular imagination with the result that more than a hundred sets have been collected throughout England, Scotland, America and Australia. Johnny’s final couplet is, to my knowledge, unique to his version.

Johnny Doughty’s unique ending was a half-verse

Was there ever half a tale so sad
As this tale of the sea
Where we sailed by the lowlands low?

If I were learning the song today, I would almost certainly keep that in. But 30-odd years ago for some reason I found it unsatisfactory, so I made up my own, somewhat tongue-in-cheek final verse, in which the young cabin boy wreaks terrible revenge on the perfidious captain and his crew. Which, of course, increases the death toll even more…

The Golden vanity, or The low lands low. Such ballad from the Bodleian collection.

The Golden vanity, or The low lands low. Such ballad from the Bodleian collection.

The Golden Vanity

July 17, 2015

Week 204 – Dust to Dust

This song was written by John Kirkpatrick, but I learned it from Martin Carthy’s 1971 LP Landfall. The song is written in the extremely rare Locrian mode. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only song I’ve ever heard in that mode. It’s only recently that I’ve got my head round the modes (and I still can’t exactly remember which one’s which). But to check out for yourself what the Locrian sounds like, play a scale on a piano keyboard, starting on a B and using only the white notes. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? And yet, somehow, while there is a certain strangeness about the tune of ‘Dust to Dust’, it doesn’t sound completely outlandish or contrived (and it’s just right for the macabre subject matter of the song). John must still have been quite young when he wrote this piece. Early twenties, I’d guess. I don’t know if there was anything in particular that prompted him to write this, or if it was just an interesting challenge for a budding songwriter. When I learned the song – in my early twenties – I’d had very little exposure to death. As the years roll by, however, we are all inevitably affected by death, and it has become increasingly apparent that, not only has John Kirkpatrick concocted a wonderfully memorable tune, but there’s also a lot of wisdom in the words of this song . My Mum died earlier this year, but she had lived to a fairly ripe old age, was very frail, and had dementia, so her death was a welcome release (indeed a close family friend referred to her funeral as a “joyous celebration”, which is exactly what it was). The deaths that have affected me most deeply have been those of my musical friends, Howard Salt and Dave Parry, both from cancer; and babies Edmund (still-born) and Patrick (born with cystic fibrosis, lived just a few weeks) who both died at a time when we were expecting our second child, and only months after my Dad’s death from cancer. Death come early, death come late… The song’s lyrics draw very heavily, of course, on words from the Anglican funeral service, and other biblical passages. The refrain is from the Order for the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer:

Then, while the earth shall be cast upon the body by some standing by, the Priest shall say, FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

The last verse echoes Ecclesiastes Chapter 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

while the lines

Rich and poor all go the same, I’ll bury you all there is no favour. Don’t spend your life in seeking gain, No gold from death will ever save you

remind me of this wonderful verse from Sternhold and Hopkins’ “Old Version” of Psalm 39

Man walketh like a shade, and doth in vain himself annoy, In getting goods, and cannot tell who shall the same enjoy.

And the whole song (like this traditional song) shares the sentiment of this passage from the Anglican burial service:

When they come to the grave, while the corpse is made ready to be laid into the earth, the Priest shall say, or the Priest and Clerks shall sing: MAN that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death…

When my Dad died, I had been to only a couple of funerals, and had not particularly thought about what to expect. I was brought up sharp when, following behind the coffin, at the entrance to the Church the vicar intoned that passage. The truth contained in it was brought into sharper focus by the rather Gothic language (and not diminished by the fact that, personally, I have no sure and certain hope of eternal life). Twenty years on, at my Mum’s funeral, I don’t recall that passage being used – or if it was, it was in a more modern translation. But really, for the sheer majesty of the words, you can’t beat the Authorised Version.

The Sir John & Elizabeth Smythe memorial, St Mary's Church, Ashford, Kent. Photo from geograph.org.uk

The Sir John & Elizabeth Smythe memorial, St Mary’s Church, Ashford, Kent. Photo from geograph.org.uk

Dust to Dust

July 9, 2015

Week 203 – The Oyster Girl

‘The Oyster Girl’ is a widely-collected song. Given my interest in songs with a Kentish connection, you might expect me to sing George Spicer’s version, or the version which Francis Collinson collected from Mrs Frances Baker in Maidstone, or maybe one of these. But in fact I learned this from Roy Palmer’s Book Songs of the Midlands. Roy himself collected the song from the Black Country singer George Dunn of Quarry Bank in Staffordshire.

When I paid tribute to Roy Palmer a few weeks ago, I neglected to mention his collecting activities. In fact Roy recorded a number of singers, primarily in Gloucestershire and the West Midlands, including major figures such as George Dunn and Cecilia Costello. You can listen to his recordings on the British Library Sound Archive website, at http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Roy-Palmer-collection. Here’s George Dunn singing ‘The Oyster Girl’, recorded in 1971, when the singer was 84 years old.

The recording is also included on the excellent Musical Traditions CD Chainmaker.  I’d been singing the song for many years before I heard the original recording. When I did, I was pleased to find that George Dunn also appeared to enjoy delivering the line “So it’s ‘ook it with your basket of oysters” – that’s always been the high point of the song for me.

The notes to Chainmaker  say of this song that “The song’s earliest appearance in print seems to be as The Eating of Oysters in a garland of eight texts issued under the title of A New Patriotic Song by M Randall of Stirling (c.1794-1812)”. Here’s a printed copy from the mid-nineteenth century where, somewhat bizarrely, in the last verse the narrator is identified as a Frenchman (so, clearly, thoroughly deserving of being tricked by the oyster seller).

The Oyster Girl - nineteenth century broadside from Broadside Ballads Online.

The Oyster Girl – nineteenth century broadside from Broadside Ballads Online.

The Oyster Girl

July 4, 2015

Week 202 – Six Dukes

I learned this song from Maud Karpeles’ book, The Crystal Spring Volume 2, a copy of which I received as an eighteenth birthday gift from Cathy Lesurf and Will Ward. The song was just one of a number of good pieces collected by Cecil Sharp from the inmates of Marylebone Workhouse. This one was sung to him by William Atkinson on 19th October 1908.

You can view Sharp’s original notes on the EFDSS Full English archive. When the song was published in the 1914 Journal of the Folk-Song Society he wrote

Mr. Atkinson was born in York and plied his trade of silversmith in Sheffield and London. He learned this song from a shop-mate, Mr. Frank Habershon, a native of Sheffield, who regarded the song as a “family relic.” Mr. Habershon learned it from his father, who, in turn, had had it from his father. The song was always sung at weddings and other important family gatherings.

– no doubt because it’s such a cheerful piece!

 

Often known as ‘Six Dukes Went A-Fishing’, in The Crystal Spring it is given the title ‘The Duke of Bedford’. The mention of Woburn, the family seat of the Dukes of Bedford since 1547, appears to link the story firmly with that branch of the aristocracy. And a note by Lucy Broadwood in the 1914 Journal attempts to make sense of the “weird rush of waters” in the last verse:

It is possible that “Wo-burn,” which is in a neighbourhood where “woe-waters” suddenly flow – to the alarm of the superstitious – may have given rise to the idea that a bursting forth of a “woe-burn” was prophetic of disaster to the Duke of Bedford’s family.

But honesty forces her to admit that

The distinguished member of the family to whom I submitted the ballad cannot connect the story or the superstition with any of his kin.

 

Indeed, she concludes that the song as collected may be the combination of two separate ballads, and that the original had nothing to do with any historical Duke of Bedford. Various other nobles have been suggested, but on this Mudcat thread ballad expert Bruce Olson says quite categorically that “This is a traditional version of a broadside ballad on the death of the Duke of Grafton (son of Charles II and Barbara Villers) killed while storming Cork in 1690”. As so often, the same thread has a really valuable contribution by Malcolm Douglas, summarising the various versions, early ballad sources, and linking to sources of further information.

When I first learned this, as an impatient youth, I thought the simple 8-bar melody somewhat repetitive, and added a second strain. I’ve retained that, but just in verses 4, 8 and 10.

A few years ago I came across this song while browsing through the copy of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Words in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. I was pleased to see that Sharp had collected a couple of verses omitted from The Crystal Spring.

The courts of his father
No longer will ring
With the clink of his gold spurs
And the twang of bow string.

In chase and in tournament
A valiant knight,
Who kept his escutcheon
With honour most bright.

Initially I thought I’d have to learn these – one does not lightly pass up the chance to sing the word “escutcheon” in a folk song. But it didn’t take me long to decide that actually Ms Karpeles’ editorial judgment had been sound. The two verses don’t add anything, they’re not particularly singable, and they seemed to add an air of nineteenth century fake medievalism to the song, which had not previously been apparent. Sharp wrote

I suspect that the earlier stanzas are traditional but that the concluding four were either added by some member of the Habershon family or derived from a broadside of recent date.

And in the case of the two omitted verses I’ll have to agree with Lucy Broadwood’s comments (actually pertaining to the whole of the second half of the song)

the stamp of the early nineteenth century is on their matter and phraseology, and they are full of absurd anachronisms.

Six Dukes, as collected from William Atkinson. Cecil Sharp's 'Folk Tunes' via the Full English archive.

Six Dukes, as collected from William Atkinson. Cecil Sharp’s ‘Folk Tunes’ via the Full English archive.

 

Six Dukes

June 26, 2015

Week 201 – The Bonny Bunch of Roses O

Here’s one last Napoleon song (for the time being). It’s a song which I’ve only learned in recent weeks, although I’ve been aware of it for a very long time. I first came across it in Frank Purslow’s book Marrowbones, where the words are set to a slowed down version of the dance tune The Rose Tree. Since then I’ve heard numerous versions both on record and at folk clubs and festivals, but have never really felt inclined to take the song up. Largely, I think, because of the rather confused narrative structure of the song – who, exactly, is supposed to be talking to whom? And when? And in what tense? And why, yet again, does Napoleon think the best way to get to Russia from France is to go over the Alps?

The general consensus is that it’s a conversation between Napoleon’s only legitimate son, Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles (Prince Imperial, King of Rome, Prince of Parma, Placentia and Guastalla, Duke of Reichstadt, blah blah blah) and his mother, Napoleon’s second wife,  Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma. I’ve no idea if the young Napoleon had delusions of restoring the glories of his father’s Empire, but it seems likely enough, given his father’s own inflated sense of self-worth, and the way that, later in the century, Louis-Napoleon / Napoleon III traded heavily on the family name. At all events, although he showed promise in his military training in exile in Austria, in 1832 he caught pneumonia, followed by TB, and drooped his youthful head for the last time, at the age of only 21.

What made me sit up and take notice of the song was hearing the Hastings fisherman Noah Gillette singing it on You Never Heard So Sweet, one of the second tranche of Topic’s The Voice of the People series, released in 2012. That recording was made by Bob Copper during his song-collecting days for the BBC, in 1954, and Bob’s time among the fishermen of Hastings Old Town is recounted in chapter 6 of his book Songs and Southern Breezes. The  song was actually the opening track on the 1977 Topic LP Songs and Southern Breezes, an album I have never owned, but had heard a couple of times over the years. I can only assume that I wasn’t paying proper attention on those occasions.

Noah Gillette - photo from the Copper Family website

Noah Gillette – photo from the Copper Family website

I was reminded of the song again by Shirley Collins’ multimedia presentation on Bob’s collecting activities as part of the Ten Thousand Times Adieu event at Cecil Sharp House in January this year. And as the bicentennial of Waterloo approached, I reckoned that if I was ever going to learn this song, the time to do it was now.

I’ve made no attempt to slavishly copy Noah Gillette’s words (in fact I’ve swapped a couple of the verses around), his phrasing or his melodic variations. But I have retained, for example, his “famous warbling songster” and his oh-so-simple, but really effective, trick of reversing two notes in the phrase “in spite of all the Universe”. I’ve also retained a really important phrase from the very last line. In nineteenth century broadsides, and versions noted down by the early collectors, the last two lines are usually

The deeds of bold Napoleon
Will sting the bonny bunch of roses O

But singing in 1950s Britain, perhaps mindful of recent historical events, Noah Gillette had changed this to

All the deeds of bold Napoleon
Will never conquer the Bonny bunch of roses, O

And that’s what I sing. Because, when all is said and done – and whatever Andrew Roberts might tell us to the contrary – we don’t have any more time for a little Napoleon than a little Hitler.

Bonny Bunch of Roses O - 19th century broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

Bonny Bunch of Roses O – 19th century broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

 

And following on from that thought, I really can’t resist sharing this photograph of a wonderful wartime newspaper cutting, which my friend Gavin Atkin spotted on the wall of Hunton Village Hall, in Kent. That’s the way to deal with jumped-up little dictators with their silly moustaches and their silly uniforms – call them a little squirt!

1940s newspaper cutting, photographed in Hunton Village Hall by Gavin Atkin.

1940s newspaper cutting, photographed in Hunton Village Hall by Gavin Atkin.

Incidentally, Gavin also maintains a blog. It’s mainly concerned with boats and boatbuilding, but you’ll also find a number of sea-related songs and tunes on the site. Do check it out.

The Bonny Bunch of Roses O

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