February 11, 2016

Week 234 – Johnny Abourne

Photo of Phoebe Smith by Mike Yates, from the Veteran Records website.

Photo of Phoebe Smith by Mike Yates, from the Veteran Records website.

Tune, title, and words of verse 1 (mostly):  from the great Phoebe Smith, via Mike Yates’ recording on the Topic LP The Travelling Songster: An Anthology from Gypsy Singers.

All other words: from  ‘Bothy Songs & Ballads’ by John Ord.

Phoebe Smith’s title, ‘Johnny Abourne’, is a mishearing or corruption of the original Scottish title ‘Jamie Raeburn’.  Similarly, she consistently sang ‘Canada’  rather than the perhaps unfamiliar word ‘Caledonia’.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘Jamie Raeburn’ states that

Jamie Raeburn is reputed to have been a baker in Glasgow before being sentenced for petty theft, although he was allegedly innocent, and then sent out to the colonies as punishment…

In Robert Ford’s ‘Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland: With Many Old and Familiar Melodies’ (1901) he writes the following in relation to the song:

The above was long a popular street song, all over Scotland, and sold readily in penny sheet form. The hero of the verses, in whose mouth the words are put, I recently learned on enquiry, through the columns of the Glasgow Evening Times, was a baker to trade, who was sentenced to banishment for theft, more than sixty years ago. His sweetheart, Catherine Chandlier, thus told the story of his misfortunes: We parted at ten o’clock and Jamie was in the police office at 20 minutes past ten. Going home, he met an acquaintance of his boyhood, who took him in to treat him for auld langsyne. Scarcely had they entered when the detectives appeared and apprehended them. Searched, the stolen property was found. They were tried and banished for life to Botany Bay. Jamie was innocent as the unborn babe, but his heartless companion spoke not a word of his innocence.

You’ll find numerous recordings of the song from Scottish tradition at http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk

I’m always amazed that this version, with it’s wonderful tune, is not more widely sung.

Jamie Raeburn: broadside printed by James Kay, Glasgow. Probable period of publication: 1840-1850. From the National Library of Scotland Word on the Street site.

Jamie Raeburn: broadside printed by James Kay, Glasgow. Probable period of publication: 1840-1850. From the National Library of Scotland Word on the Street site.

Johnny Abourne

February 7, 2016

Week 233 – The Widow that Keeps the Cock Inn

On Boxing Day I posted – for the first time – a song where I had never really intended to learn the words. Here’s one which I did intend to learn, once upon a time, but after 35 years of not learning it, I think I should probably face up to the fact that it’s never going to happen!

I got the words – originally sourced from a ballad in the Nottingham University Library Broadside Collection – from The Common Muse: An Anthology Of Popular British Ballad Poetry, edited by Vivian De Sola Pinto and Allan E. Rodway, and made up a suitable tune.

I have to say, I rather like the tune, but otherwise the only reasons for singing it are a few weak puns, and the deliberately lewd last line of each verse.

 

The Widow that Keeps the Cock Inn

January 29, 2016

Week 232 – The Veteran

Charlie Bridger wrote out the words of this song, and sang it for me, when I first met him in April 1983. It took me another 25 years or so to get round to learning the song, and I have to confess that, having learned it, it’s not been something I’ve returned to very often. But I think perhaps I should sing it more.

The Veteran - as written out by Charlie Bridger

 

The Copper Family have a version, with a different melody to Charlie’s. It’s included in Bob’s book A Song for every Season, but not on the box-set, or on any subsequent releases. I recently asked on Facebook if anyone in the family sang the song, but the answer was “We don’t like it much… neither did Bob…”.

Well, it is a bit of a miserable old song, a bit of early Victorian sentimentality (the Roud Index has numerous songster and broadside listings, of which the earliest appears to be Bayly, Songs & Ballads Grave & Gay, 1844). But I think there’s a certain dignity in the song. It’s no Lear, but the song’s theme of an old man, alone, forgotten, friendless and with no one with whom to share his last days, has certainly not lost its relevance.

 

The Veteran - broadside ballad published at Taylor's Song Mart, 93, Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, London, between 1859 and 1899. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The Veteran – broadside ballad published at Taylor’s Song Mart, 93, Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, London, between 1859 and 1899. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The Veteran

January 22, 2016

Week 231 – Georgie

When a singer knows upwards of 250 folk songs, you might reasonably expect his or her repertoire to include certain classic ballads – say, ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’, ‘Banks of Green Willow’, ‘The Unquiet Grave’ and ‘Georgie’. All widely sung on the folk scene, and widely encountered in British and American tradition. Well this time last year, I didn’t have any of those songs in my repertoire. With ‘Banks of Green Willow’ the problem has been – and continues to be – deciding exactly which of the many fine collected versions to learn. I do have a version of   ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’ lined up  to learn – indeed last January I was confidently saying that it would be the next song I learned. It wasn’t, and I’m wary of making any promises about quite when I might knuckle down and get it under my belt. But in the spring I did at least put together a version of ‘Georgie’ and have been singing it often enough since then to begin feeling at home with the song.

I found the melody some twenty years ago when scrolling through the copies of Vaughan Williams’ MSS held in the library named in his honour. In those days, these copies were available only on microfilm, whereas now, of course, you can get them all online. I was looking for songs RVW had collected in Kent – specifically those he noted from Mr and Mrs Truell of Gravesend. This song is the next one in the MS.

There’s a lack of clarity about its provenance. The page is headed “Kent Songs” but the source of the song is given as a Mr Jeffries, at Mitcham Fair (in Surrey). In the VWML index record the Place collected reads “England : Surrey : Mitcham CHECK” so clearly some doubt remains. I suppose Mr Jeffries may have been attending the annual fair, but have hailed from Kent. With no other information recorded about the singer, I guess we will never know.

Typically, Vaughan Williams noted just the tune and one verse – in this case verse 9 (verse 5 in my reconstruction)

He stole neither sheep nor cow
Nor oxen has he any
But he has stolen six of the king’s fat deer
He sold them to Lord Daney (Davey?)

Typically, also, I can’t quite decipher Rafe’s handwriting.

Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.

Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.

I have assembled a set of words from various oral and printed sources:

  • The first two verses – including the placing of the action on “a Whitsun Monday” and the “pretty little boy” line – come from a broadside printed by Armstrong in Liverpool in the 1820s.
  • Most of the other verses come from a Such ballad, from later in the nineteenth century, or the version collected by Henry Hammond from Sergeant Fudge, at East Combe Lydeard in Somerset.
  • The “lawyers, lawyers” verse meanwhile is based on an American version, collected by Vance Randolph from Georgia Dunaway, Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1942.

You’ll find historical background to the ballad on Mudcat and the Mainly Norfolk site. Basically, there are two similar but distinct ballads: the Scottish ‘Geordie’, where the hero’s wife successfully saves him from the gallows, and the English ‘Georgie’ (or ‘Geordie’), where her efforts are in vain. The songs may or may not have been based on actual historical incidents. But, as with Shakespeare, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, the love and grief felt by the female protagonist are real enough.

Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Georgie

January 15, 2016

Week 230 – Corduroy

Many of the Copper Family’s songs are much loved and widely sung – national treasures, you might say. This is not one of those, but there was a time when I would be called upon to sing it at least once a year. I learned it from the Copper Family 4 LP set A Song for every Season, and from Bob Copper’s book Early to rise. 

The entry for this song on the Copper Family website links to this Mudcat post where the late Malcolm Douglas provides the following background information:

This was a popular song of the mid-19th century; presumably it had its origins in the Music Halls–the tune is very much of that type. There are several broadside copies at the Bodleian Library Broadside Collection:

Suit of Corderoy Printed between 1846 and 1854 by E.M.A. Hodges, (from Pitt’s), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials.

The suit of corduroy Printed between 1860 and 1883 by H. Disley, 57, High-street, St. Giles, London. W.C.

Suit of corduroy Printed by Bebbington, J.O. Oldham-road, Manchester.

Suit of corduroy! Printed and Sold between 1849 and 1862 at Such’s Song Mart, 123, Union Street, Boro’ S.E.

There is also a mostly illegible Glasgow edition, which specifies the tune as that of Four and Nine.

Some of the above are in Standard English, others are written in the “Stage Cockney” of the day. There isn’t a great deal of variation in the texts, though locations and the name of the tailors vary. Evidently, the song made it to the USA as well; there is a songsheet at the “America Singing” Collection:

The Suit of Corduroys H. De Marsan, Publisher, 60 Chatham Street, N. Y. [no date.] Again, much the same, but with the incontinence episode omitted, perhaps for the benefit of tender American sensibilities!

 

Suit of corderoy. Broadside from the Bodleian collection. Printed between 1846 and 1854, by E. Hodges, Printer, (from Pitt's), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials

Suit of corderoy. Broadside from the Bodleian collection. Printed between 1846 and 1854, by E. Hodges, Printer, (from Pitt’s), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials

I have followed John Copper’s lead on the 1970s recording and inserted an additional raspberry into the last line of the song. As John so eloquently put it

Well, hardly worth paying a man for one raspberry

Corduroy

January 9, 2016

Week 229 – Once I Courted a Damsel

Percy Grainger recorded the melody for I Courted a Damsel from the great Joseph Taylor, and the words are from various sources. I learned it from Bill Prince, who had it from a woman he calls a songfinder extraordinary, whose name is Michelle Soinne.

Liner notes to Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, Skin and Bone, from https://mainlynorfolk.info/martin.carthy/songs/icourtedadamsel.html

Now I’m pretty sure I own a copy of that LP – bought at Sidmouth in the early-mid nineties, when festival record stalls were selling off their stocks of vinyl at knock-down prices. Bizarrely, I can’t recall ever having listened to the record though (an omission I mean to rectify as soon as possible). And – although I knew that Martin had learned this song from Bill, who in turn had learned it from Michelle – I hadn’t realised that he had ever recorded the song.

I first heard it performed by my friends Michelle Soinne and Andy Cheyne, both at live gigs and on their excellent cassette-only album Fish Royal.

It appears that Percy Grainger – with Frank Kidson, whose transcription is shown below – first noted the song from Joseph Taylor in April 1905.

Once I courted a damsel, as noted by Frank Kidson

Once I courted a damsel, as noted by Frank Kidson

He returned to make a phonograph recording of the song in July the next year. As far as I know, that recording has never been made publicly available – it’s not on Unto Brigg Fair nor on any of the volumes of The Voice of the People. Maybe the surviving copies of the recording are simply no longer playable.

Once I courted a damsel, phonograph transcription by Percy Grainger

Once I courted a damsel, phonograph transcription by Percy Grainger

I learned the words from Yellowbelly Ballads Part Two edited by the poet Patrick O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy had previously included Joseph Taylor’s fragment, with additional verses composed by himself, in Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk Songs, but had subsequently realised to which family of songs the fragment belonged, and in Yellowbelly Ballads the additional words are adapted from the version collected by Henry Hammond in the Alms Houses at Taunton, from a Mr Poole.

The beauty bright - broadside printed for W. Armstrong, Banastre-street, Liverpool, between 1820 and 1824. From the Bodleian collection.

The beauty bright – broadside printed for W. Armstrong, Banastre-street, Liverpool, between 1820 and 1824. From the Bodleian collection.

Once I Courted a Damsel

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

January 1, 2016

Week 228 – Padstow Wassail

A few days ago I was considering a temporary suspension of activity at A Folk Song A Week. I have a particularly busy month coming up, and no song recordings in my store (apart from the one I have saved for use as The Last Song On The Blog). But a recording window presented itself (i.e. the rest of the household were out for the day!) and I now have enough songs put by to last me into February. Moreover, prompted in part by a reminder from Jim Causley that there are twelve days of Christmas, and they’re a long way from being over, this song suggested itself as just right for New Year.

I knew it from a 1950s Peter Kennedy recording of Charlie Bate from Padstow, included on the Topic/Caedmon LP Songs of Ceremony (Volume 9 of the Folk Songs of Britain series). Some twenty years ago I suggested it as a possible Magpie Lane number, but at the time it met with little enthusiasm. Subsequently I’ve occasionally thought of trying it out as a solo piece, but never quite got round to it. On Monday, however, I found the tune going round my head so, in the evening, I listened to the Songs of Ceremony track to get the words down. What I had forgotten was that the LP only included a couple of verses before segueing into the Truro Wassail Bowl Singers singing the ‘Malpas Wassail’. A search of the web failed to turn up any further verses, although clearly Charlie Bate’s song is a version of this Cornish Wassail song (source not given) and this one from Ralph Dunstan’s Cornish Song Book (1929). I emailed a query to the TradSong list, and by 10 next morning had been sent a different Kennedy recording of Charlie Bate, made in 1956, and included on the Folktrax cassette West Country Wassailers.

This recording had six verses which I quickly transcribed and set about singing. As I had anticipated, the song sits beautifully in C on a C/G anglo, and by 11.30 that morning I had recorded the song for inclusion here.

 

Charlie Bate

Charlie Bate

Charlie Bate was an important figure in Padstow, and a man with a lovely, gentle singing style. You can hear a number of recordings of Charlie singing if you search the British Library Sounds website. I’m making no promises, but I’m greatly tempted to learn his I was the lover of Lady Chatterly!

Given the state of the world, it might be unduly optimistic to wish everyone peace, happiness and prosperity, but I hope at least that making and listening to music may bring you joy in 2016 – in fact, I can do no better than to repeat the traditional blessing

Joy, health, love and peace
Be all here in this place

Padstow Wassail

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

December 26, 2015

Week 227 – Boxing Day

Most of the songs that I’ve posted on this blog I could sing more or less at the drop of a hat. With others I would need a bit of time to mug up on the words and/or accompaniment. And although I do sometimes sing with the words in front of me – particularly when recording a song where I’ve only just worked out the concertina arrangement – that’s purely a practical measure to avoid mistakes, and having to do multiple takes, in a week when the time I have available for recording might be in short supply. So far there has been only one song posted here where I have never known the words – and that was a bit of an exception, as I’d been unaware of the song’s existence until a few days before recording it.

This week, however, I’ve recorded a song the words of which I’ve never made any attempt to learn and, in all probability never will. But it’s appropriate for the season, might entertain a few listeners, and if I don’t record it there’s a pretty good chance that no one else will!

I came across the song on the Bodleian Broadside Ballads website, when looking for possible additions to the Magpie Lane Christmas repertoire, and provided the words with a tune (I briefly entertained the idea that it might be a suitable song for Ian to sing, somewhat in the style of ‘Stuff Your Guts’).

According to Broadside Ballads Online, the song was printed by T. Birt, wholesale and retail, of 10 Great St. Andrew-Street, Seven Dials, London, between 1828 and 1829. It describes the various tradespeople who were (or thought themselves) entitled to receive a “Christmas Box”, and the various other ways in which they would entertain themselves once they had benefited from their customers’ largesse (chiefly in eating and drinking – nothing changes!).

Interestingly, there’s another ballad in the Bodleian’s collection, ‘Boxing Day in 1847’, which mourns the decline in Christmas boxing customs over the intervening twenty odd years.

Verse 5 of ‘Boxing Day’ has Dick setting off “to see George Barnwell at the Surrey”.

This refers to The London Merchant (Or The History Of George Barnwell) written by playwright George Lillo and first produced in 1731. This was Lillo’s greatest hit and still popular a century after the play first opened – it features in Great Expectations in a way which clearly suggests that Dickens expected his readers to be familiar with the play and its plot.

The Oxford Companion to English Literature (accessed via www.oxfordreference.comdescribes the play thus:

A prose tragedy by George Lillo, produced 1731, based on a popular ballad. A young apprentice, Barnwell, is seduced by the heartless Sarah Millwood, who encourages him to rob his employer and murder his uncle. For this crime both are executed, he penitent and she defiant. The play was frequently performed as a moral warning to apprentices. It was admired by Alexander Pope, though Oliver Goldsmith mocked it as a ‘Tradesman’s Tragedy’ for its commercial focus. The play had a European impact and was commended and imitated by G. E. Lessing and Diderot.

The University of Cambridge Staging Crime site has this to add:

The story of George Barnwell, who robbed and killed his uncle to fund his relationship with a prostitute, was one of the most popular of the nineteenth century, though when Barnwell lived is difficult to say. His tale is first recorded as a ballad in the 1650s, and in 1731 was turned into a play, The London Merchant; it was staged almost 100 times in its first ten years and was printed in as many editions by the end of the century. At about the time this edition was printed, the essayist Charles Lamb drew attention to the strong moral tone of the story, calling it “a nauseous sermon”.

Boxing Day, from Broadside Ballads Online

Boxing Day, from Broadside Ballads Online

Boxing Day

December 23, 2015

At Christmas play and make good cheer…

At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year.

Thomas Tusser, A Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1557)

This is the fifth Christmas season since I began A Folk Song A Week. For those who have only discovered the blog more recently or, indeed, for anyone who fancies a quick recap, here’s a list of all the songs I’ve posted in previous Advent and Christmas seasons:

Week 15 – One Cold Morning in December / The Drunkard and the Pig

Week 16 – Have you not heard / The man that lives

Week 17 – The Holly and the Ivy / Christmas now is drawing near at hand

Week 18 – The Sussex Carol

Week 19 – The Moon Shines Bright

Week 67 – Lazarus

Week 68 – Lo! The Eastern Sages Rise / Hark Hark What News

Week 69 – This is the truth sent from above

Week 70 – The Boar’s Head Carol / Babes in the Wood / The King

Week 71 – The Gower Wassail

Week 119 – The Seven Joys of Mary

Week 120 – The Shepherds Amazed

Week 121 – Saint Stephen / Rejoice and be Merry

Week 122 – Hymn for Christmas Day / Sellwood Mollineux’ Carol / Newton’s Double

December 19, 2015

Week 226 – God Bless the Master

I learned this from the Watersons’ 1977 LP Sound, sound your instruments of joy. Bob Copper recorded the song in the 1950s from Frank “Mush” Bond of North Waltham in Hampshire. The song was included in Bob’s Book Songs and Southern Breezes and you can hear the original recording on The Voice of the People Volume 16, You Lazy Lot of Bone-Shakers, alongside Frank’s brother Sam singing ‘Where Does Father Christmas Go To?’. Both brothers were members of the North Waltham Jolly Jacks, a Mummers team founded by Frank, and which continued to perform up to about 1950. They went out on Boxing Day; ‘God Bless the Master’ was sung at the end of the performance, and if you invited them in for a bit of hospitality, you’d be treated to ‘Where Does Father Christmas Go To?’.

You can see the Jolly Jacks in action (but not hear them, unfortunately) in a silent film preserved by Hampshire County Council’s Wessex Film and Sound Archive:

Manydown Park films: Various Subjects 1929-1931
Silent B/W amateur film by Colonel A S Bates at his estate in Hampshire, England. Shows family activities and events, including North Waltham Mummers and the Vyne Hunt.

The text at the start of the film says:

The actors include 3 Bonds and all come from North Waltham. This family has performed this play for certainly five generations.

Reg Hall’s notes for the Voice of the People CD state that Frank and Sam’s father had been a member of the Overton Mummers (a few miles from North Waltham), and five generations seems entirely plausible.

North Waltham Mummers - Hackwood Park 1948, from the Roud/Marsh collection

North Waltham Mummers – Hackwood Park 1948, from the Roud/Marsh collection

I notice that A.L.Lloyd’s notes to the song on Sound, sound your instruments of joy say

A carol that is midway between a wassail and a hymn, so a link between pagan luck-wish and pious hope. The words were widespread on garlands and broadsides around 1850, and several versions have been collected in the Southern counties during the twentieth century (most recently by Bob Copper at North Waltham, Hampshire). The Watersons’ tune and words are close to the set found by Vaughan Williams in 1909 at Preston Candover, barely five miles from North Waltham. The song was much used as a Mummers’ Salutation, sung as an overture in front of the houses at New Year before the mummers began their patter.

The Full English shows that the song was in fact quite widespread in Hampshire, as well as Sussex, Surrey and Berkshire. My words are a bit of a mixture of the Watersons’ interpretation of the Preston Candover version and  the version printed in Bob Copper’s book (which in fact supplements Frank Bond’s words with a couple of verses from Turp Brown, from nearby Cheriton). There was a time when I took delight in singing Turp Brown’s  line “He was buried in some safe old acre”, but these days I’m more inclined to sing “sepulchre”, which is perhaps not such a memorable choice of words, but makes a lot mores sense.

 

God Bless the Master

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

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