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

June 19, 2015

Week 200 – The Grand Conversation on Napoleon

At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender… but the legend lived on, of course, and his years of exile on the lonely Isle of St Helena provided further material for those who sought to romanticise the man in verse or song. I think this is a rather fine  – if typically confused – example of such pieces. I first heard it in the late 1970s, on a Strawhead LP lent to me by my friend Simon Oliver. A few years later, on a visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I looked the song up, and copied it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 2 (1906). Vaughan Williams had collected the song in 1904, from Henry Burstow (born 1826) of Horsham in Sussex,. There are several examples of nineteenth century broadside printings to be found at Ballads Online and the Full English but apart from Henry Burstow’s version (one of quite a number of Napoleonic songs in his repertoire) the song was only found twice by the early English collectors in oral tradition – once by Baring-Gould in Devon, and by Vaughan Williams, again, in Norfolk. In more recent times, versions have been recorded in Ireland from Elizabeth Cronin of Cork in the 1950s, and from Tom Costello of Connemara in 1972 (the latter can be heard on Volume 8 of The Voice of the People). Gordon Hall (who of course had a strong connection with, and interest in, Henry Burstow) sang the song on the Veteran CD When The May Is All In Bloom. In the sleevenotes to that CD John Howson notes

As the broadside versions mention Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, this ballad must date from sometime after 1821. Both Harkness of Preston and Such of London published the song in about 1840 but it was probably based on an earlier broadside ballad called The Grand Conversation under the Rose. Perhaps due to the popularity of the Napoleon ballad, they both, some time later published The Grand Conversation on Nelson.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose - broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose – broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

There’s an interesting article on this, and other pro-Napoleon ballads, on the Musical Traditions site –The Grand Conversation: Napoleon and British Popular Balladry, by the always-readable Vic Gammon.



Well there we are then: two hundred consecutive weeks of songs on this blog. When I started I guessed that I knew about 150 songs. A little while ago I revised my estimate up to 200, and now I’m thinking the total might be nearer 250. In fact the number keeps increasing: next week’s song (yet more Napoleon) is a song I’ve only learned in the last few weeks. To those of you who have followed this blog over the years, and made supportive or constructive comments, many many thanks – it has meant a lot to me.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon

June 13, 2015

Week 199 – Lovely Elwina

We are fast approaching the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The final defeat of Napoleon was a defining moment in European history, bringing to an end, as it did, two decades of conflict. And although, as a recent Guardian article pointed out, the majority of the allied forces commanded by Wellington on the 18th June were actually German or from the Low Countries, we’ve always regarded it, of course, as a great British victory. At the time, news of the victory was welcomed in Britain with the ringing of church bells and much rejoicing. In view of which, and their usual keenness to make a few pounds out of any event of local or national significance, it is rather surprising that the broadside press did not issue a great many more ballads and broadsheets celebrating the victory (I am indebted to Pete Wood for pointing this out, first at the 2015 Traditional Song Forum / EFDSS Broadside Day, and now in an article on the ballads of Waterloo in the current issue of English Dance & Song). But having said that, there were quite a few songs where the battle provided either the subject, or the backdrop, and which entered the tradition.

‘Lovely Elwina’ was collected by Vaughan Williams, some 89 years after the battle, from Mr Leary, a native of Hampshire, but then living in Almshouses in Salisbury. Vaughan Williams recorded it as either ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ or ‘Leaving Waterloo’ (I think – I really struggle with his handwriting). I learned the song from Roy Palmer’s book Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, where it is given as ‘Elwina of Waterloo’ – this is the title given to the song in its frequent appearances on broadsides. Roy writes that Mr Leary’s version seems to be unique but in fact now, with the benefit of a further thirty years’ research, not to mention the internet, we can point to one other collected version, from Joseph Alcock of Sibford Gower in Oxfordshire.

The beginning of the song is set in Brussels, on the eve of battle. I always picture a scene from Vanity Fair, although I’m ashamed to say my images come from an old BBC television adaptation, rather than from the book itself, which I’ve never read.  The opening lines of broadside versions run

The Trumpet had sounded the signal for battle,
To the fair ones of Brussels we all bade adieu

But Mr Leary had changed Brussels to Bristol, and I’ve always followed his example.

The ferocious battle itself (total casualties and losses 55 000 according to Wikipedia) features only in the background: our hero is wounded, but it’s not, it would seem, anything too serious, and the song focuses on the young lady he meets, and who by the end of the song is set to become his bride.

I used to sing this song with Chris Wood in the 1980s, and it’s now set to become part of the Magpie Lane repertoire – although typically for Magpie Lane, not in time for the Waterloo bicentennial!


Elwina of Waterloo - ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection. Printed and Sold by J. Pitts, 14, Great St. Andrew Street, 7 Dials.

Elwina of Waterloo – ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection. Printed and Sold by J. Pitts, 14, Great St. Andrew Street, 7 Dials.



The Battle of Waterloo was not only celebrated in song – a number of dance tunes have “Waterloo” in the title. In this arrangement I celebrate the impending nuptials by concluding with a tune from the Welch Family of Bosham (MS dated 1800, but clearly added to in the following years), which I learned from A Sussex Tune Book.

Lovely Elwina / Waterloo

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

June 10, 2015

Just another WordPress blog… Introducing Squeezed Out

Oh dear. I seem to have started another blog. This new one is devoted (mainly) to dance music and other instrumental pieces, played (mainly) on anglo-concertina and one-row melodeon. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then check out squeezedout.wordpress.com

You’ll find a couple of posts there so far.


June 6, 2015

Week 198 – Warlike Seamen

A song of naval derring-do from the Copper Family. My friend Mike and I used to sing this many many years ago. We learned it from the paperback of A Song For Every Season but I think we may also have heard Bob and Ron singing it on Sailormen and Servingmaids (Volume 6 in the Topic/Caedmon series, The Folk Songs of Britain)

Looking at the various versions of the song in the Full English archive it seems that the gist of the story stays fairly constant, but there’s tremendous variation in the details: the ship may start from Liverpool Straits, Spithead or Plymouth Sound; and while the Coppers have the action set on 8th June, other versions have the date as 4th April, 15th September, 4th November, 18th November etc. etc.

A.L. Lloyd provides this background on the song:

The song began its life in the seventeenth century and concerned the little merchant ship Marigold, 70 tons, owned by a Mr Ellis of Bristol, which fought a brisk and successful skirmish with “Turkish” pirates off the coast of Algiers. At the end of the eighteenth century the song was re-jigged to suit the times, and now it dealt with an encounter with the French, fought by a ship variously called the Nottingham and the London (the London was one of the ships involved in the Spithead mutiny, and it poked its bowsprit into several songs of the time, through being in the news). For some reason the ballad has been particularly well liked in East Anglia (Harry Cox has a version called Liverpool Play; Sam Larner called his set The Dolphin).

Notes to the Topic anthology Round Cape Horn: Traditional Songs of Sailors, Ships and the Sea, quoted at https://mainlynorfolk.info/peter.bellamy/songs/warlikeseamen.html


'The Irish Captain' as notated by Francis Collinson.

‘The Irish Captain’ as notated by Francis Collinson.


If you look at the Full English archive you’ll also find a couple of versions of a related song called ‘Lord Exmouth’ (including one, tune only, collected at Wittersham in Kent). The Lord Exmouth in question is this chap who led an Anglo-Dutch fleet against the Barbary states in 1816, and whose successful bombardment of Algiers secured the release of 1200 Christian slaves. There’s an article by Roly Brown on that battle, and the resulting ballad, on the Musical Traditions site.

It would seem that ‘Lord Exmouth’ was not taken up – or at least not preserved – in the oral tradition to the same extent as the more generic tale of a naval skirmish. The only collected set of words starts off with the first verse and chorus of the ‘Lord Exmouth’ broadside shown below, but subsequent verses are very much in the ‘Warlike Seamen’ mould.

The battle of Algiers - ballad sheet printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials, between 1813 and 1838; from Broadside Ballads Online. The battle of Algiers – ballad sheet printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials, between 1813 and 1838; from Broadside Ballads Online.


Warlike Seamen

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

May 30, 2015

Week 197 – Hurricane Wind

In recent years an incredible number of 18th and 19th century musicians’ tunebooks have become available, either in printed form or on the internet. This is excellent news, of course. But, faced with yet another collection, containing dozens or even hundreds of tunes, and clearly not having the time (or patience) to play through them all, spotting tunes which are worth playing can be a bit of a hit and miss affair. So, more often than not, my initial trawl through a new physical or virtual tunebook will involve looking for tunes with interesting or unusual titles: ‘Pup in the Parachute’, ‘Love laughs at Locksmiths’, ‘Pass around the Jorum’, ‘Peas on a Trencher’, ‘The Fly-Flappers’. Frankly, it’s probably as good an approach as any other.

The same applies, to a lesser extent, with song collections, and I’m quite sure that it was the unusual title which first drew my eye to ‘Hurricane Wind’, when browsing through Roy Palmer’s excellent book Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  I think I expected it to be a song about a shipwreck, or some other misadventure at sea. But actually it’s the tale of a lover spurned, and the title comes from a memorable phrase used by the female protagonist (the one doing the spurning):

As she was a walking down the street
Her young sea captain she chanced to meet
She looks at him with a scornful frown
Says ‘What hurricane wind blowed you to town?’


Hurricane Wind, page 1. From Ralph Vaughan Williams' notebook, via the Full English.

Hurricane Wind, page 2. From Ralph Vaughan Williams' notebook, via the Full English.

Hurricane Wind. From Ralph Vaughan Williams’ notebook, via the Full English.

Vaughan Williams collected the song in 1907 from Mr Penfold, landlord of the Plough Inn at Rusper in Sussex (who, incidentally, was also the source of the rather lovely ‘Turtle Dove’ which Sophie sings with Magpie Lane). Mr Penfold’s text was fairly complete – Roy Palmer added just one couplet from a Scottish chapbook,  ‘The Perjured Maid’. However – unusually, as Roy always presented singable versions in his song books – I felt that the song didn’t quite tell the whole story. So, on a trip to VWML, I looked for alternative versions. There weren’t many to be found – at least not in those pre-computerised days – but I located some usable verses collected in 1939 by Alan Lomax and Helen Hartness Flanders from Josiah S. Kennison of Townshend, Virginia, and printed in The New Green Mountain Songster. Hopefully you won’t spot the join.

While the Roud Index lists only one English and one Scottish version, this song has in fact turned up a number of times in the United States. I particularly like the way the original “Nobleman near Exeter” has become “The Rich Man Extra Tire” in this version collected from Miss Laura Harmon, Cade’s Cove, Blount County, Tennessee, in 1928.

Having pieced together my version in the mid 1980s I then neglected the song for many years, but have recently resurrected it, and was able to give it an outing a few weeks ago when I went to see Elizabeth LaPrelle and Anna Roberts-Gevalt at the Musical Traditions club in London.

'Two Old Songs- The Perjured Maid, The Waukrife Mammy' - chapbook printed in Falkirk, c1840. From the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana and Scottish Literature, University of South Carolina.

‘Two Old Songs- The Perjured Maid, The Waukrife Mammy’ – chapbook printed in Falkirk, c1840. From the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana and Scottish Literature, University of South Carolina.

Posting the song here gives me the opportunity, belatedly, to pay tribute to Roy Palmer, who died in February of this year. It would be hard to overestimate the influence Roy’s work had, over the last 45 years, on the repertoire of British folk singers. Certainly my repertoire, and that of Magpie Lane, would be considerably poorer without books such as A Touch on the Times, Songs of the Midlands, The Rambling Soldier and, of course, his RVW collection. We were honoured and thrilled when Magpie Lane were asked in 2000 to record a CD as a companion to Roy’s book A Taste of Ale. I don’t know if Roy later embraced the digital age, but at that time, when he sent me a draft copy of the book for us to start work on, all the musical transcriptions were done by hand, and the text was all typewritten, on a proper old-fashioned typewriter.

In the tributes which poured out following Roy’s death, common themes were praise for his scholarship, for his ability to present folk music and folklore in an accessible way, and that he was a lovely human being and a real gentleman. I only met Roy on a few occasions, but that was certainly my impression. He will be greatly missed.

You will find obituaries of Roy on the Guardian and Morning Star websites.

Roy Palmer. Photograph by Derek Schofield, from the Guardian.

Roy Palmer. Photograph by Derek Schofield, from the Guardian.

Hurricane Wind

May 24, 2015

Week 196 – Polly on the Shore

One of the great English songs, learned from Pop Maynard, a singer whose repertoire contained quite a number of great songs. I first heard the song in the late seventies or early eighties on the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England and learned it from there, with assistance from a slim EFDSS pamphlet, The Life and Songs of George Maynard (a reprint of Ken Stubbs’ article in the  1963 Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society). It must have been around the same time that I heard what I still regard as the folk revival’s finest take on the song, that by Martin Carthy on Prince Heathen.

Of course Pop Maynard wasn’t the only singer with this song in his repertoire. When we played together in the trio Saint Monday, Dave Parry used to sing ‘Bold Carter’, a version collected by Vaughan Williams in Norfolk. ‘Bold Carter’ was included in Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, where the notes say

Under the title of ‘The Valiant Sailor’, this first appeared in 1744 as one of ‘three excellent New Songs’ in ‘The Irish Boy’s GARLAND (EDINBURGH, Printed and Sold in Swan Close, a little below the Cross-Well, North-side of the Street’). Through the long period of oral transmission since then the song has kept remarkably close to the same powerful text, and has usually been found with fine, soaring tunes.


George 'Pop' Maynard (right) outside the pub at Tinsley Green, Sussex, 1936.  Photo from Keith Summers Collection via the Musical Traditions website.

George ‘Pop’ Maynard (right) outside the pub at Tinsley Green, Sussex, 1936. Photo from Keith Summers Collection via the Musical Traditions website.

Polly on the Shore

May 16, 2015

Week 195 – As I roved out from the County Cavan

I learned this beautiful song from the singing of Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, on her 1975 solo album Triona. I picked up a secondhand copy of that LP as a student, in Garon Records, in the Covered Market in Oxford, and I’m eternally grateful that I did – it’s a fantastic record. Chiefly because of the singing, of course, but I’m also very partial to a well-struck harpsichord.

About the song itself, I have little to say. The album sleevenotes don’t give much away, but a bit of rooting about on the net suggests that it’s a version of Roud 4720.

You can hear a related song, ‘As I Went in by Inverness-shire’, sung by the Scottish traveller Sheila Stewart, on the Tobar an Dualchais site. And the phrase “Phoenix Island” crops up in the song of that name on Sam Lee’s most recent album, a song which he learned “from the Delaney Family who live in the less than bucolic Traveller site under the Shepherds Bush A40 flyover”.

O'Reilly From The Co. Cavan; Or, The Phoenix Of Erin's Green Isle - ballad sheet from the Cecil Sharp Manuscript Collection , via the Full English.

O’Reilly From The Co. Cavan; Or, The Phoenix Of Erin’s Green Isle – ballad sheet from the Cecil Sharp Manuscript Collection , via the Full English.

As I roved out from the County Cavan

May 10, 2015

Week 194 – As I roved out

I learned this song from… actually, do I need to finish that sentence? I think anyone of my generation will probably take it for granted that I learned it from the singing of Andy Irvine, on the Planxty album The Well Below the Valley. And they would be absolutely right.

I was introduced to Planxty by my school friend Peter Carlton, who had (and I reckon these facts were often related) an older brother, and more advanced musical tastes than me. He wouldn’t lend me his copy of the record – it was too precious – but he made me a cassette copy. And of course, I thought it was absolutely marvellous. Among much else, I rather liked the fact that there were two, completely unrelated, songs with the same title: Christy Moore’s ‘As I roved out’ was a song from the Sixteen Come Sunday family, while Andy Irvine’s – this one – is sometime referred to as ‘The Deluded Lover’, and was learned from the great Paddy Tunney. While I liked both tracks, Andy’s was definitely my favourite; and it’s fair to say I’ve always been more of a fan of Andy Irvine than Christy Moore.

I recorded an unaccompanied take of this song back in March. And thus, a week or so later, when singing some songs in the kitchen with my friend Nick Passmore (see Week 188), this was fresh in my mind, and it seemed an obvious one to try together. So here you have both versions, one unaccompanied, and one with Nick’s bouzouki.


As I roved out

Andy Turner – vocal
Nick Passmore – bouzouki


As I roved out

Andy Turner – vocal

May 3, 2015

Week 193 – The Spotted Cow

My entrée to folk music, as I have probably mentioned previously on this blog, came via Steeleye Span. Specifically, what initially sparked my interest was seeing them mime to ‘All Around My Hat’ on Top of the Pops. Then my best friend’s Dad lent me his copy of Below the Salt and I was hooked. That LP, of course, starts with ‘Spotted Cow’.

The Steeleye album sleevenotes say “Collected from the singing of Harry Cox of Norfolk” but, having heard Harry’s version (it’s on the Rounder CD What Will Become of England?) I have to say that, if he was their source, they’ve changed the tune more than somewhat. I wonder if they might actually have got the song from the Copper Family (John Copper sings it solo on the Leader A Song For Every Season box set, and I imagine Tim and Maddy might well have heard Bob Copper sing it at a folk club or festival in the sixties).

In any case, the version I sing was learned from Bob Copper’s book A Song For Every Season. I’ve been looking at the song on and off for years, but could never decide what key to sing it in. Actually the jury’s still out on that, but I have at least sorted out a concertina arrangement. Initially I recorded it in Eb, playing my baritone Bb/F box. Then I tried it – using the same fingering – in F on my C/G. Of course it sounds much brighter at the higher pitch and on a more responsive instrument, so that’s the version I’ve decided to post here.

The song seems to have been very popular with country singers, and without that much variation in the words or melody – Janet Blunt, for instance, collected a version in Adderbury, North Oxfordshire, which is very similar to the Coppers’. And, of course, the song was popular with the broadside press. A.L.Lloyd, in his notes for Peter Bellamy’s album The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate has this to say:

It was written for the London pleasure gardens, appearing on a Vauxhall Gardens song-sheet in the 1740s and again at Ranelagh Gardens in the 1760s (with the locale fashionably moved to Scotland so that it concerns a swain named Jamie on the banks of the Tweed). It reappeared as a Regency parlour ballad in Fairburne’s Everlasting Songster. It dropped out of fashionable use by the mid-nineteenth century, but country-folk retained their affection for it right up to the present

The spotted cow - broadside ballad from the Bodleian collection.

The spotted cow – broadside ballad from the Bodleian collection.


The Spotted Cow

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina


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