August 27, 2020

Week 295 – My Husband’s Got No Courage in Him

I’m not sure what brought this song to mind a few weeks back. My friend Mike and I learned it in the late seventies from the wonderful Silly Sisters LP. During the intervening years I’ve joined in the chorus numerous times at folk clubs, but don’t recall having sung the song itself. Still, it’s funny what sticks in the furthest recesses of your mind, and it didn’t take very much work to release these words from wherever they’d been hiding all these years. And then it seemed a shame not to post the song here, before I forgot all about it again.

I’d assumed this song came from – and had probably been “improved by” – A.L.Lloyd, and I’m at least partially right, I think. Lloyd prints a set of words in Folk Song in England which are similar (but not identical) to those collected by Sharp in 1904 from George Wyatt at Harptree, Somerset.

O Dear O, collected from George Wyatt, Harptree, Somerset. From the VWML archive catalogue.

O Dear O, collected from George Wyatt, Harptree, Somerset. From the VWML archive catalogue.

O Dear O, collected from George Wyatt, Harptree, Somerset. From the VWML archive catalogue.

The notes at the back of the book say “MS Text composite”, while the source for the minor key tune is, in typically vague, unverifiable fashion, given as “A.L.L. (Dorset 1939)”. In Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland, Peter Kennedy gives a Scottish version where much of the tune is major, but ends on the relative minor. The versions collected in the West Country, however, by Sharp and Hammond, share a tune which is definitely in the major key.

Listening to Lloyd singing the song on The Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love Songs, he is clearly the source of the minor key tune ubiquitous on the folk scene today (and which I sing here). But he actually delivers it in a gentler, more nuanced way, and the tune that he collected and/or concocted has more variety than the Silly Sisters’ rather stark version. While one may regret that Lloyd wasn’t more transparent with his sources, he was clearly a great performer (who I regret never having seen live); and when he “improved” a folk song, it pretty well always ended up, to contemporary ears at least, a better song.

He's got no courage in him - from Broadside Ballads Online

He’s got no courage in him – from Broadside Ballads Online

 

My Husband’s Got No Courage in Him

August 19, 2020

Week 294 – When You and I Were Young, Maggie

I always thought that I had first heard this song while watching Top of the Pops in early 1983, when I saw it performed in a pretty ghastly, slushy version by Foster & Allan (the song reached number 27 in the UK charts). However I see that De Dannan’s (obviously superior) recording of it, on The Star-Spangled Molly, came out in 1981, so I must have heard that one first. Either way, it never suggested itself as a song I would want to learn. A couple of months on from that Top of the Pops, I recorded ‘Maggie’ being sung by Charlie Bridger, which of course raised it in the authenticity stakes, as far as I was concerned; but it still wasn’t a song I really considered learning.

At some point in the 90s or 2000s I did toy with it, although I think I saw it mostly as a vehicle for a particular sort of parlour ballad concertina accompaniment. Then a few months ago, at a lockdown Zoom meeting of the Traditional Song Forum, Steve Roud mentioned this song. He said that he felt a particular affection for Southern English traditional singers, and also that there were songs to which he’d previously paid little attention but which, as he got older, seemed to have a greater resonance. He cited ‘Maggie’ as an example. Given that the song appears to have been recorded only a handful of times by English collectors, it may well have been Charlie’s version which he had in mind.

Prompted by this, I got the words out again and decided it was finally time to learn it properly. Initially I still saw it as a song which needed accompaniment, and over the next few weeks, on various boxes, I tried it in D, Eb, F and G. But – as with ‘The Isle of St. Helena’ – singing the song without an accompaniment, just to cement the words in my head, I found that I really liked it that way. It means I can sing more freely, and properly concentrate on the song. Also, I don’t have to compromise on what key to sing it in – G’s probably easiest for me to play a good anglo accompaniment, but it’s a bit too high… This way, I can sing it at whatever pitch I feel like on the day (E-ish in this recording!).

 

The following notes on the song’s origin were posted on Mudcat by Dale Young, who found them on a website about John McCormack, the Irish tenor:

According to the notes by Philip Lieson Miller for RCA LP ARL1-1698 (“When You and I Were Young Maggie.” Robert White, Tenor), this song commemorates one Maggie Clark, born in Glanford, Ontario. George Johnson also was born in this area, where he eventually became a teacher in a local school. The two became engaged and eventually married. The song alludes to features in the countryside there, including an old sawmill located on a creek near Maggie’s home. After marriage the two moved to Cleveland, but Maggie died less than a year later (in May 1865). She was buried near her old home, and Washington too came home to Canada, where he was a Professor at the University of Toronto. The poem was first published in 1864. After his wife’s death, Washington arranged for it to be set to music by Butterfield, who then lived in Detroit. He was a music teacher and minor composer, whose numerous other works are largely forgotten. The poem and the song attained great popularity in post-Civil War America. Maggie’s sister published this background information in 1941, in response apparently to various erroneous tales of its origins that had circulated.

I had thought of the song as being about an old couple, “aged and grey”, but still very much in love after all these years. Reading the notes above, at first I thought “ah no, it’s an old man still in love with his wife, even though she died years ago”. But hang on – he published the song in 1864, while his wife died the following year, in 1865. So it was actually written by a young, newly-married man, using his imagination to portray how he would feel in forty or fifty years’ time. You’ll find more detail in this 1933 article from the Canadian MacLean’s magazine.

There’s a completely different set of words sung to the same tune, where the last line of each verse is “And you said you loved only me”. According to that same Mudcat discussion, that version was written by Seàn O’Casey for his play The Plough and the Stars with the woman’s name changed to fit that of his lead female character, Nora Clitheroe. However, when Mary Black recorded this version with De Danann, to the annoyance of Noras worldwide, she changed the name back to Maggie.

 

 

When You And I Were Young Maggie, published by Oliver Ditson & Co., 451 Washington Street, Boston, 1866. From the Lester Levy Sheet Music collection.

When You And I Were Young Maggie, published by Oliver Ditson & Co., 451 Washington Street, Boston, 1866. From the Lester Levy Sheet Music collection.

 

 

When You and I Were Young, Maggie

August 5, 2020

Week 293 – Brigg Fair

It was on the fifth of August, the weather hot and fair,
Unto Brigg Fair I did repair, for love I was inclined.

I got up with the lark in the morning with my heart full of glee,
Expecting there to meet my dear, long time I wished to see.

Well it’s one of the undisputed gems of English traditional song, so I suppose it was inevitable that I’d learn this eventually. And clearly there’s only one day in the year when I could post it up here…

I would have first heard ‘Brigg Fair’ sung by Martin Carthy on the LP Byker Hill. The sleevenotes to that album refer to Percy Grainger’s cylinder recordings of Joseph Taylor, and say what a fine singer he was. I’d have also heard Martin’s recording of another Joseph Taylor song, ‘Creeping Jane’, around the same time. So when I spotted a copy of Unto Brigg Fair in Blackwell’s Music shop circa 1980, I bought it without a moment’s hesitation (what else was a student grant for?). And it’s a purchase I have never regretted. Frankly, it’s quite a privilege to be able to hear any recordings of traditional singers from the first decade of the 20th century – in Joseph Taylor’s case, a singer born in 1833, almost 4 years before the accession of Queen Victoria. That Percy Grainger should have encountered and recorded such a wonderful singer as Taylor; that those recordings survive in a reasonably playable form – well, truly we are blessed.

Joseph Taylor sang only the two verses given at the top of the page. The only other version ever collected was noted by Grainger in Brigg from a Mr Deene – who sang the same two verses. When Grainger published his choral arrangement of the song, he lengthened it by adding verses from ‘Low down in the broom’ and ‘The Merry King’ (a version of ‘Some rival has stolen my true love away’ which Grainger had collected in Wimbledon in 1905). I was leafing through some old copies of English Dance & Song recently, and came across these words in Vol XXII No 3, November/December 1957, with the following note:

The tune of this song is known the world over through Delius’ Rhapsody “Brigg Fair.” It was first collected in 1905 and recorded a year later by Percy Grainger when he went “collecting with the phonograph” in Lincolnshire. Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All-Saints, who sang it to him, had a very fine flexible voice and, as Grainger said, relied “more on purely vocal effects than almost any folk-singer I have come across.” Although he could remember only two verses, his son John who was recorded by the B.B.C. in 1944, remembered all six. John and his father are both dead, but their son and grandson, Joseph Taylor of Saxby has kindly given us permission to print the words and tune of this lovely song.

Actually, I don’t think John Taylor remembered the long-lost verses – I think he had, pragmatically, learned the verses assembled by Grainger (but where’s that 1944 BBC recording? I really want to hear his singing). Joseph Taylor’s grand-daughter, Marion Hudson, from whom Francis Collinson noted the song in 1944 (he subsequently published a vocal and piano arrangement) sang pretty much the same words, but omitted the “I catched hold of her lily-white hand” verse.

Anyway, I decided it was high time I learned this beautiful song, and I’ve really been enjoying singing it these last few weeks. I’ve also enjoyed digging around on the internet for information about the song. For instance, I found an article in the Spring 2001 issue of The Delius Society Journal which focuses on Grainger and Delius, but gives a lot of useful background on Brigg, the annual Brigg Fair (established in a charter granted by King John in 1236) and how this song came to be collected. As well as some pretty spurious stuff about traditional song melodies and lyrics.

My best find though – transcribed, edited and put online by someone who I’ve actually known since about 1976, but who I had totally forgotten was a descendent of Joseph Taylor – was this: Brigg Fair: A memoir of Joseph Taylor by his grand-daughter E Marion Hudson. It’s a charming piece of writing, providing a very warm and affectionate of her grandfather, and giving us a fuller view of Joseph Taylor as more than just a traditional singer. But there is a lot about singing and music in the memoir. Joseph Taylor himself had a great love for music, and the whole family was musical. For instance

Uncle John who had inherited Grandpa’s voice. He was invited to become a member of a Cathedral Choir but preferred his farm. He sang at many concerts and won every Festival for which he entered. He was asked to sing ‘Brigg Fair’ at one of the Anniversaries of the Festival and made a record for the B.B.C. Many people cannot distinguish between his and Grandpa’s voice. He died as he lived – singing.

Now I really want to hear that BBC record!

And here’s Mrs Hudson’s account of how Joseph Taylor learned “that song”

The manner in which Grandpa learnt the song is a fascinating story. One evening when he returned from work, his mother told him that the gipsies had arrived, as they did each year at that time. The same thing would be happening to other tribes around North Lincolnshire as Brigg was annual meeting point where they gathered to exchange news and have jollifications – they still do.

He had been awaiting their arrival with impatience, since he loved their singing. So as soon as possible he dashed off to the “pit” where he knew they would make camp. Straight up the steep main road to his stand-point, a gate on the right-hand side. This led to a rough cart track on the edge of the field leading to the pit. The next night he went again, but being braver, this time he went along the track to the second gate which was the entrance to the pit. Now he could see the camp and its occupants. The following night he perched there again, little thinking what the consequences would be, not only to him but to all lovers of Folk Music. As soon as he was settled on top of the gate, he saw the leader of the group coming towards him. At first he thought he was going to be sent away, but no! the man was smiling and obviously not hostile. When he reached the gate he said “Young man, you like our singing.” It was a statement not a question. The gipsies had obviously been aware of him the previous evenings. He had been on trial and passed the test. Music is a wonderful leveller and in no condescending manner but with dignity, the lad was invited to join the revels. He was led into the camp by the “King” and received as an honoured guest. He was seated beside the King, in the circle around the camp fire, on which the evening meal was cooking. Song followed song and in later years he sang them to his grandchildren.

The song, Brigg Fair, was sung by one of the young gipsies and obviously came from the heart.

She also writes about the performance of Delius’ orchestral arrangement of ‘Brigg Fair’ at which Joseph Taylor was guest of honour, but doesn’t mention the often-repeated story that Taylor couldn’t help singing along. In fact, Patrick O’Shaughnessy, in his Twenty One Lincolnshire Folk Songs says

Mrs Hudson, however, challenges this, allowing only that he might have “hummed a wee bit”.

 

Market place in Brigg, Lincolnshire, ca. 1905. Image copyright the British Library.

Market place in Brigg, Lincolnshire, ca. 1905. Image copyright the British Library.

You can hear Grainger’s 1908 recording of ‘Brigg Fair’ on the British Library website.

And you can hear several other recordings of both Joseph Taylor and his daughter Mary singing ‘Brigg Fair’ on the British Library Sounds website – but not if you use Chrome or MS Edge! Unfortunately none of the recordings on the site seems to be playable using those browsers at the moment, but they do play in Firefox (although even with that browser I found that longer recordings just stopped before they reached the end). Hopefully the BL technical elves will sort this problem out eventually. I was very interested to hear Peter Kennedy’s recording of Mary Taylor, made at Saxby All Saints in 1953 when she was 82. Kennedy’s notes on the tape give an idea of what the recording itself contains

PK when you were young, you remember him singing. Used to sit round winters evenings. Church choir. Brother John was beautiful singer. Everyone of us used to sing – choral society at Saxby. Used to go into each others houses and harmonium. My father also used to play the violin, always singing to violin then piano. PK J.T. didn’t sing with harmonium? The fiddle and unaccompanied. PK in what sort of way? Sit back in chair and put up his head. Sang because he loved to sing and liked us all to sing. Very proud. PK Style? The turns and twiddles that you don’t hear nowadays.

She also talks about the famous singing competition in Brigg where Joseph Taylor won first prize; she says that the family “think” that he learned ‘Brigg Fair’ from gipsies; and confirms that Mr Taylor just hummed along – rather than sang out loud – when he first heard Delius’ Rhapsody based on the song.

Finally, let’s reproduce this from Marion Hudson’s memoir.

Percy Grainger’s Estimate of MR. JOSEPH TAYLOR OF SAXBY-ALL-.SAINTS – LINCOLNSHIRE.

Is bailiff on a big estate, having formerly been estate woodman and carpenter.

Though his age is seventy-five his looks are those of middle age, while his flowing, ringing tenor voice is well nigh as fresh as that of his son, who has repeatedly won the first prize for tenor solo at the North Lincolnshire musical competitions. He has sung in the choir of Saxby-all-Saints Church for forty-five years. He is a courteous, genial, typical English countryman, and a perfect artist in the purest possible style of folk-song singing. Though his memory for words is not uncommonly good, his mind is a seemingly unlimited storehouse of melodies, which he swiftly recalls at the merest mention of their titles; and his versions are generally distinguished by the beauty of their melodic curves and symmetry of their construction.

He relies more on purely vocal effects than almost any folk singer I have come across. His dialect and treatment of narrative points are not so exceptional but his effortless high notes, sturdy rhythms, clean, unmistakable intervals, and his twiddles and “bleating” ornaments (invariably executed with unfailing grace and neatness) are irresistable.

He most intelligently realizes just what sort of songs collectors are after [an interesting comment on the collector-source singer relationship! AT], distinguishes surprisingly between genuine traditional tunes and other ditties, and is, in every way, a marvel of helpfulness and kindliness. Nothing could be more refreshing than his hale countrified looks and the happy lilt of his cheery voice.

Facsimile of the insert from the 1908 HMV release 'Percy Grainger's Collection of English Folk-Songs sung by Genuine Peasant Performers'

Facsimile of the insert from the 1908 HMV release ‘Percy Grainger’s Collection of English Folk-Songs sung by Genuine Peasant Performers’ – from Wikipedia

Label from Library of Congress disc copy made in 1940 from Grainger's original wax cylinder recordings. From the British Library Sounds website.

Label from Library of Congress disc copy made in 1940 from Grainger’s original wax cylinder recordings. From the British Library Sounds website.

 

Brigg Fair

July 25, 2020

Week 292 – The Isle of St Helena

When I first became interested in folk song, in my late teens, my local library had four collections of traditional songs: Garners Gay by Fred Hamer, Baring-Gould’s Folk Songs of the West Country, a Cecil Sharp volume – probably Folk Songs from Somerset – and The Singing Island by Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. Garners Gay had the longest lasting impact, certainly in terms of the number of songs I learned from it, but The Singing Island was important too, and something Seeger and MacColl say in the introduction has always stayed with me. They tackle the question – as I think was common in sixties and seventies folk song books – of how to accompany folk songs. They say (or at least, this is what I remember them saying, 40-odd years later) that you should always learn the song first, before trying to work out an accompaniment. Now, I’ve broken that rule on numerous occasions, but it really does make a lot of sense. I certainly find that the only way to get a song’s words into my head is to sing it over and over – at home, in the car, doing the washing up – without part of my brain being preoccupied with what buttons to press on my concertina. But more importantly, singing a song like that, you can actually get to know it properly – knowing the words is essential of course, but it is only part of the story.

The only problem is that, increasingly, having sung a song unaccompanied while learning it, I then decide that’s the way I want to sing it – without any of the rhythmic restrictions imposed by an accompaniment. And thus, today I present an unaccompanied rendition of a song which I’d always visualised as wanting an accompaniment, and for which I had a pretty reasonable concertina accompaniment well on the way. But right now, I just feel like I want to sing it more freely than I could if I added an accompaniment.

I was first introduced to ‘The Isle of St Helena’ by Chris Wood in around 1983 or 1984. He’d learned it from Mary Black’s singing with De Dannan. As I recall, someone we knew was doing the sound for De Dannan’s tour, and he invited Chris along to be his assistant at their London gig. Afterwards, Chris was raving about the band in general – and who wouldn’t be? – but this song in particular. So much so that he learned it, at a time when Chris didn’t actually have many songs in his repertoire.

I always admired the song, but only properly considered learning it about 8 years ago, when a bootleg recording of Mary Black singing this live with De Dannan on a BBC radio programme surfaced on the internet. It’s beautifully sung and arranged (although unfortunately with a jump in the middle – perhaps the home taper had to turn their cassette over at that point?). And it reminded me what a great song it is. By then, of course, unlike the 1980s, it was easy to find various versions of the words. My verses are compiled from this broadside ballad from the National Library of Scotland and various other sources including this American site, which is where I found the rather wonderful penultimate verse. Actually there’s several English, Scottish and American versions at Broadside Ballads Online, and it seems the song survived well in oral tradition in America, having been collected by Frank and Anne Warner, among others. Some of the rhymes for St Helena are rather spurious – ‘misdemeanour’ works, but even if I stuck to the Scots ‘winna’ instead of ‘will not’, that one’s a bit tenuous.

St. Helena - broadside ballad from the National Library of Scotland

St. Helena – broadside ballad from the National Library of Scotland

I did perform this once in public back in about 2013, at an outdoor party where I’m not sure anyone was really listening, with accompaniment from Tom Miller and Joe Turner. That was a one-off, and it had remained one of those songs that, at the back of my mind, are labelled “must do something with this one day”. And then I was reminded of it once more by the song’s inclusion on this lovely new album by George Sansome, from the band Granny’s Attic. Do check that record out – you can listen to it for free, but please do George the courtesy of paying to download it, or even better, buy a physical CD; like many other folk musicians, George will have been unable to gig for the last 5 months, and probably for several months to come, so will no doubt appreciate your support.

Incidentally, if you want to listen to other versions online, with a bit of searching you’ll find recordings of the song by Mary Black (although not with De Dannan), Frank Harte and Donal Lunny, and even (rather lo-fi but to be treasured) a bootleg tape of Nic Jones singing it in a folk club in 1972.

 

The Isle of St Helena

July 23, 2020

Week 291 – Come Write Me Down

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know that I’m a big fan of the Copper Family. This must have been one of the first Copper songs that I learned, which means I must have been singing it for very nearly 44 years. Towards the end of our wedding reception – 32 years ago today – Carol and I led a mass rendition of this in the Geoffrey Chaucer School hall in Canterbury. And a couple of years ago we did the same again, during a party at a local village hall here in Oxfordshire. The recording below provides evidence that Carol and I number some very good singers among our friends.

I had it in mind that my mate Bob (“Bob the Curator” as he likes to be known) had sent me this recording. But actually, I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a phone capable of making such a good recording at the time. So maybe it was Cathy, who I’ve known literally my entire life? Or Eric? Whoever it was, thank you for recording this, and apologies for my failing memory (getting old you know!).

And massive thanks, of course, to all our friends.

1988

Andy & Carol leading Come Write Me Down, 2018

2018. Same song, different beer.

Normally in these blog posts I write about where the song comes from. But this morning, I can’t be bothered – you’ll find plenty of details on Reinhard Zierke’s excellent Mainly Norfolk site. Meanwhile, here’s a broadside printing of the song, entitled ‘Second thoughts are best’.

Second Thoughts Are Best, from Broadside Ballads Online

Second Thoughts Are Best, from Broadside Ballads Online

 

Come Write Me Down

 

July 18, 2020

Week 290 – The Parting Glass

I consider myself lucky that I was around on the folk scene at a time when you could still see traditional performers at certain festivals and folk clubs. In the 1980s and early 90s I saw singers such as Johnny Doughty, Fred Jordan, Walter Pardon, Jeff Wesley, Packie Byrne, Frank Hinchcliffe, Freddie McKay and Willie Scott. And, of course, the famous Stewarts of Blairgowrie. I first saw them in 1980 at the first Downs Festival of Traditional Singing in Newbury, and I’m pretty sure Belle, Sheila and Cathy were all there. Over the years I saw various members of the family at the National Folk Music Festival at Sutton Bonington and, to be honest, I probably didn’t fully appreciate at the time just how lucky I was to do so.

Belle Stewart, the matriarch of the family, was a wonderful singer – her singing of ‘Queen Among the Heather’ on the Topic album of the same name is, in my opinion, one of the finest things ever recorded. Sheila Stewart had a harsher voice, but she could still deliver a moving rendition of tender ballads like ‘The Mill o’ Tifty’s Annie’ or ‘Wi’ My Dog & Gun’. And when she sang a rousing chorus song – boy could she belt it out! The one I associate most with her was ‘Jock Stewart’ – I remember that she sang this as the closing song at the end of the National Festival, whichever year it was in the 1990s that Fred Jordan had overdone it somewhat, and had to be taken to hospital. With her powerful voice, and a room full of festival-goers singing along, she could really raise the roof.

Sheila Stewart. Photograph by Doc Rowe, from The Guardian.

Sheila Stewart. Photograph by Doc Rowe, from The Guardian.

I had forgotten about ‘The Parting Glass’ until last year, when Doc Rowe played a collection of his video recordings at the Musical Traditions Club’s weekend festival. One of the recordings Doc played was Sheila Stewart singing this, and I was reminded of just what a powerful song it was – in her hands at least. It’s included on the 1999 Topic album From The Heart Of The Tradition (recorded, as it happens, by Doc Rowe), but I learned it from this wonderful live recording made at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, in 2003 or 2004.

I’ve found myself listening to this quite often during lockdown, and in the end I couldn’t resist learning it. I was able to sing this out for the first time on Thursday night, at the Islington Folk Club’s Zoom session, and that proved that, yes I had learned all the words, so it’s properly in my repertoire now – in fact I’ve just written the title down in my little black book. The song seems to have a particular resonance at the moment, when we can’t all meet together with our loved ones, or our friends and companions, and when, quite literally, “we may or might never all meet here again”. Keep safe out there, people. Listen to the scientists, not this joke of a government.

 

The Parting Glass

May 24, 2020

Three songs from the Bridge

Just over a year ago I found myself in Newcastle for a few days. Arriving on a Monday evening, I took the opportunity to go to the Bridge folk club, which I’d last visited when I was a student at Newcastle Poly back in 1983/84. The club used to be in the basement back then, now it had moved to an upstairs room. And none of the array of 1980s residents that I remembered was there: Ray Fisher and Colin Ross have sadly passed on, although apparently Johnny Handle still looks in occasionally. But Jim Mageean was there, and a number of other good singers, and actually I have to say I felt far more welcome than I ever did back in the day.

It was a singers’ night, and I got to sing three songs. Which you can now watch or listen to, should you have the inclination, as there’s a chap sat in the front row who records all of the performances, some of which subsequently get uploaded to the club’s YouTube channel.

So here they are. All three songs have featured in previous blog posts, if you’d like more information about the songs.

see Week 1 – Riding Down to Portsmouth

 

see Week 52 – The Crockery Ware

 

see

May 17, 2020

Week 289 – The Ghost Ship

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I have rather an ambivalent attitude towards Peter Bellamy’s singing. But I can’t deny that hearing his album The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate at the age of 17 or 18 had quite an effect on me. I learned several songs from the LP – certainly ‘The Female Drummer’ and ‘Saint Stephen’. And at a time when my singing style was heavily influenced by those I heard on record (Martin Carthy, Mike Waterson, Tim Hart, Cathal McConnell) I couldn’t help picking up some of Bellamy’s vocal tricks too. I learned this one with the aid of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Singing Island – an important book for me, as it was one of the few books of folk song in my local library.

It was quite a few years later before I heard the song sung by Bellamy’s source, the Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner. That was on the Topic CD Now Is The Time For Fishing, which features recordings made by MacColl and Seeger between 1958 and 1960. It’s a great record, fully deserving of its classic status. But in fact you can get all of the 1958-60 recordings of Sam Larner made by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker on the award-winning Musical Traditions double CD Cruising Round Yarmouth. If you root around on the Musical Traditions website you’ll find a Downloads page, where you can buy a copy for the price of a pint (actually less than the cost of a pint, if you’re used to London and SE England prices – and anyway, all the pubs are shut at the moment).

I’m very clear that I learned this from Peter Bellamy, not Sam Larner. Indeed there are certain points in the song where – although I’ve probably not listened to Bellamy’s recording of the song more than half a dozen times in the last 30 years – I feel I have to consciously restrain myself, to stop myself throwing in a Bellamyesque yelp. But having just listened to my recording alongside that on The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate I think I might finally have arrived at my own way of singing the song.

The Ghost Ship

April 18, 2020

Week 288 – Our Captain Cried

This blog started less than 9 years ago, but the wealth of resources that has become available in that time to folk singers and researchers is quite staggering. The EFDSS Archive Catalogue aka Full English was launched in 2013 and continues to grow both in terms of the number of collections included, and the number of records with some kind of media attached. New collections added over the course of the last couple of years include the James Madison Carpenter collection, which has sound recordings made at a time when hardly anyone else in England was making them – and which was previously inaccessible to anyone not able to go on a research trip to Washington DC – and Ken Stubbs’ 1960s recordings from Southern England. Meanwhile, more and more catalogue records now include an image, for instance a scan of the relevant page from an old Folk Song Society Journal. The catalogue record for this song is a case in point.

The one regret I have – and in truth it could easily be remedied – is that I no longer need to go up to London on a regular basis to visit the library. In the old days I’d find an excuse to go about once a year, often coinciding with a Library Lecture, or some other event at the House. Sometimes I’d be looking for something specific: songs from Kent or Oxfordshire, or folk carols. But latterly I’d let serendipity be my friend and just flip through the pages of a bound volume of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Tunes. If I saw something that piqued my interest, I’d copy the tune into a manuscript book, or take a photocopy, then look up the words in the relevant volume of Sharps’ Folk Words. Sometimes there was no entry – Sharp had only noted the first verse – or the words were incomplete, so then I’d consult the catalogue and find other versions. And then, naturally, one thing would often lead to another.

This approach yielded such songs as , , , and the version of ‘Rout of the Blues’ that Sophie Thurman sings on Three Quarter Time. It was actually that song which led me to ‘Our Captain Cried’. I knew ‘Rout’, of course, from the Dransfields’ LP of the same name, but had never really considered that the song might have been found in the oral tradition. Having found a couple of versions collected by Sharp, I then looked for other versions, and found one from Mr Henry Hills of Lodsworth, in an old Journal. It’s one of a considerable number of Sussex songs contained in ‘Songs from the Collection of W. P. Merrick’, Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1901), pp. 66-138. I quickly decided that Mr Hill’s ‘The Blues’ wasn’t very interesting, but a few pages further on I found this – and if nothing else, I’m sure I was drawn in by the fact that the song is written out in 4/4 but with frequent shifts into 5/4. You could actually bar it in 13/4, which is not a time signature you expect to find too often in the English tradition (although, as Martin Carthy has been known to say, English folk songs are all basically one beat to the bar).

Our Captain Cried, from JFSS Vol 1 No3; from the VWML Archive Catalogue

Our Captain Cried, from JFSS Vol 1 No3; from the VWML Archive Catalogue

The tune, you’ll quickly realise, is a member of the ‘Monk’s Gate’ / ‘Who would true valour see’ family of tunes – Vaughan Williams having based that hymn tune on one he collected (as ‘Our Captain Calls’) from Mrs Harriet Verrall, 20-odd miles away from Henry Hill’s home in Lodsworth.

For another similar version – very nicely sung by George Sansome, and with a wonderful anglo-concertina accompaniment by Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne – check out the CD Wheels Of The World by Granny’s Attic.

Our Captain Cried

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

March 8, 2020

Maintenance work completed – all audio recordings should be playable again

As mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, this blog suffered from the increased security measures introduced by Google Chrome version 80 – the changes meant that almost none of the audio recordings were playable.

After a bit of deliberation, I moved all of the files (easy) and then set about updating all of the links (easy, but really time-consuming). I believe that I’ve completed that task now, and the recordings should be playable, whatever browser you use/

While updating these links on the blog, I’ve also tried to fix any other problems, particularly embedded images which were no longer displaying. In some cases this was simply because the source website had moved, or reorganised all of its content – it’s worth remembering that when this blog started in 2011, we were still excited by the results of the EFDSS’ Take Six project, and the Full English was still some years away. And the Bodleian broadside ballads collection has also moved to a much bigger, better site, Broadside Ballads Online (of which more anon). Meanwhile, the Copper Family website has had a makeover – it’s a very attractive site now, but the detailed information about the family’s songs, and songs collected by Bob Copper, is no longer part of the site. Never mind – in an all-too-frequent demonstration of its worth – the Internet Archive Wayback Machine comes to the rescue, by preserving snapshots of the old site at https://web.archive.org/web/20050715075735/http://www.thecopperfamily.com. Incidentally, if you find that useful, you may want to install the Wayback Machine Chrome extension.

In other cases missing images were being pulled in from a non-secure http site. Sometimes just changing http to https fixed this. But that only works if the site has a secure https address. And plenty of perfectly decent websites, looked after by enthusiasts (like me) rather than corporate bodies, don’t need and don’t want to pay for a security certificate. As a result I found, for example, that Chrome refuses to display the wonderful harvest home photos from http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk/AssortedHarvestSupperPhotographs.html (so you’ll just have to follow the link to look at those).

And yet it does display embedded images from the Bodleian’s Broadside Ballads Online site, http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. Curiously that site doesn’t seem to have an https address. That’s odd for a University site. And it’s also odd that Chrome still displays embedded images from this non-secure site. Maybe Google just thinks “oh the Bodleian – that’s bound to be OK”, which would be a perfectly reasonable bit of programming.

 

Anyway, if you do find any audio files that don’t play – or indeed any broken links on the site – please leave a comment on the relevant page, so I’m alerted and can try to fix it. Thank you!