March 1, 2015

Week 184 – Painting the Town

Bing Lyle. Photo from the Brighton Acoustic Session blog.

Bing Lyle. Photo from the Brighton Acoustic Session blog.

I don’t sing very many modern songs in public, but occasionally I come across a song and know immediately that I want to learn it. That was the case with ‘Between the Wars’ and it was the case with this one too. It was written by Bing Lyle, and I first heard him sing the song at Wingham Folk Club, near Canterbury, circa 1986.

I’d known Bing a bit for some years – he would occasionally turn up at Oyster Morris / Band events and turn in a crowd-pleasing performance of, say, ‘I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande’, or ‘Little Red Rooster’. I got to know him better in the mid-1980s, when we both found ourselves living in Faversham for a few years. Having heard him sing this at Wingham, and decided that I wanted to learn the song, I then had to wait some years before I heard it again. He moved away to Brighton, then I moved to Oxford, and although our paths would cross from time to time, it seemed to be in situations where Bing was singing more traditional material (we were both involved, for instance, with The Keys of Canterbury, Pete Castle’s first Kent-themed compilation). In the nineties, however, Bing teamed up with fiddle-player Ben Paley, and they recorded the CD We are melting. Which, among a number of other good songs written by Bing, included ‘Painting the Town’.

I have unconsciously changed the tune a bit over the years. And consciously changed one of the lines. In the last verse, the original lyrics say “a million to one, it’s not you”. I learned the song round about the time the National Lottery was launched, in which the odds of winning were famously calculated to be around 14 million to one. So the odds of achieving happiness on “the big wheel of happiness” were correspondingly lengthened.

You’ll search the Internet in vain, I’m afraid, for a Bing Lyle web page. There’s not even a photo of him on the website of the Sussex Pistols, the Brighton-based dance band he plays with. However, I was pleased to find this 2011 video of him singing ‘Painting the Town’ at the (sadly now defunct) Royal Oak folk club in Lewes.

Painting the Town

Andy Turner – vocal, C-G anglo-concertina

February 22, 2015

Week 183 – Poor Wayfaring Stranger

When I sing songs like this, or ‘Idumea’, it is purely for the power and beauty of the tune, and the words as poetry; not because I have a belief in any kind of life hereafter. However, at the end of a week in which we buried my mother, this seems an appropriate song to post.

I first heard it sung by Cathy Lesurf, with the Oyster (Ceilidh) Band in the early 1980s. Subsequently I’ve heard powerful recordings by singers including Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant and Norma Waterson. But the version which really made me want to learn the song was the one which Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins recorded in October 1959 from the Arkansas singer Almeda Riddle. Their recording was included on the CD Southern Journey Volume 4: Brethren, We Meet Again – Southern White Spirituals. I then found the words and audio for a fuller four-verse version, recorded from Almeda a few months earlier in August in 1959 by John Quincy Wolf, Jr., on the website of the John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection.

Almeda Riddle at her home, 1959, photographed by Alan Lomax.

Almeda Riddle at her home, 1959, photographed by Alan Lomax.

All the versions I had heard previously were resolutely in the minor key. One thing I like about Granny Riddle’s version is that it is essentially in the major key, but with plenty of flattened and – better still – ambiguous notes. These tonal ambiguities are very much a part of the singer’s vocal style, and the power of the performance overall, but I have found it difficult to reproduce them without it sounding like I’m trying to do an impression of an Arkansas grandmother. So I’ve tried to sing the song in a way that captures the spirit of Almeda Riddle’s version, while staying true to the way I normally sing. Not sure how successful I’ve been in this, but it’s too good a song not to sing.

Incidentally, I recently stumbled across this fine solo performance of the song by Bill Monroe which, it strikes me, is in very much the same vein as Almeda Riddle’s.

And here’s one of several Sacred Harp performances you can find on the web.

The history of the song is covered on this Mudcat thread: http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=23495 . It seems that the words at least date back to the mid-nineteenth century.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

February 15, 2015

Week 182 – Wait till the clouds roll by

Valentine’s Day is over… but here’s a sentimental love song which would have been perfect had I been organised enough to get it posted yesterday. I learned this song over thirty years ago from Charlie Bridger of Stone-in-Oxney in Kent. Around the same time Pete Coe was singing the song around the clubs, in a version learned from the Old Time singer and banjo-player Uncle Dave Macon. The song was in fact very popular in America. When published by New York publishers Thomas B. Harms & Company in 1881 it became the company’s first big hit. In an 1884 newspaper interview, in response to the question “What was the most successful song ever written during your existence?” the publisher’s reply was “Oh, Wait Till the Clouds Roll By had by far the greatest sale. We sold over 75,000 copies in a single month. It was the easy, jingly music did it, and the sentimental words”.

Wait Till the Clouds Roll By, published by T.B. Harms & Co., 819 Broadway, New York, 1881. From the Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection.

The published version states “words by J T Wood, music by H J Fulmer” and for many years I took this at face value. Indeed, in my Musical Traditions review of The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History I took the author Dan Worrall to task for stating that the song had been written by an Irish singer and concertina player called Tom Maguire. In fact it turned out that Dan had done his research and I hadn’t, and he has put together all the information he has on Tom Maguire in a short paper on his website: Tom Maguire, a forgotten late nineteenth century Irish vocalist, comedian, concertinist, and songwriter. Much of the information in this post comes from that source – thanks Dan.

“J T Wood” and “H J Fulmer” were actually fictitious pseudonyms of the American musical arranger Charles Pratt. He used the same pseudonyms to claim authorship for ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’, which of course was – at the very least – not an entirely original composition (check out the wonderful minor key version sung by Cecilia Costello on the recent Musical Traditions CD Old Fashioned Songs). When facing prosecution for “creating an obstruction” outside a London Theatre in 1907, Tom Maguire claimed authorship of this and other songs under oath. Whether Pratt had bought the publishing rights from Maguire, or simply stolen the song, is not known. Either way, by the early twentieth century poor Tom Maguire, now blind and nearly deaf, was destitute and reduced to singing and playing his concertina on the streets, and hawking books containing words of the songs he had written earlier in life.

I’m not sure whether Charlie Bridger learned the song orally or from a printed source. Either is equally likely – he had a large store of song books, News Chronicle Song Book and the like. Given that he was born in 1913, he’s not likely to have learned it from an individual ballad sheet, but ‘Wait till the clouds roll by’ featured on a number of such sheets – see the Full English and the Bodleian’s Broadside Ballads Online.

Wait till the clouds roll by,  published by H.J. Wehman, New York, 1881. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Wait till the clouds roll by, published by H.J. Wehman, New York, 1881. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The song also inspired a reply-song, and a number of parodies, for instance Put Me Some Jam-Roll By, Jenny. Little Thomas’s New Banjo Song (Mohawk Minstrels). Popular Parody on “Wait Till the Clouds Roll By” and Wait till the clouds roll by, Billy! (in support of William Gladstone’s stance on Home Rule).

As well as being a singer, Charlie Bridger was a keen brass and wind band player. He played tenor horn in Woodchurch and Cranbrook bands, and also played clarinet. When I first recorded him in April 1983 he played me one tune on clarinet, a version of the ‘Jenny Lind Polka’ with an extra part tacked on the end. I’ve been playing that version of the tune almost as long as I’ve been singing the song. A few years ago, having decided to put the tune and song together, I was delighted to find that, slowed down, the last two bars of ‘Jenny Lind’ were pretty much identical to the last two bars of the song – clearly they were destined to be played together.

Woodchurch Band, late nineteenth century. From a copy of the photo provided to me by Charlie Bridger. His father (Charles) and grandfather (Tom) are both in this photo.

Woodchurch Band, late nineteenth century. From a copy of the photo provided to me by Charlie Bridger. His father (Charles) and grandfather (Tom) are both in this photo.

Jenny Lind / Wait till the clouds roll by

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

February 7, 2015

Week 181 – Hard Times of Old England

Another song from the Copper Family repertoire, and one which seems never to have been collected elsewhere. This is included on the recent Fellside release Bob and Ron Copper: Traditional Songs from Rottingdean, a CD reissue of a limited edition EFDSS LP which featured recordings made by Peter Kennedy, and which first came out in 1962.  Unusually – given that one tends to think of Bob Copper as the “lead singer” in the family from the 1960s onwards – there are no solos by Bob on this album, but three by his cousin Ron, including ‘Hard Times of Old England’ (in contrast, there are no solos by Ron on the 1971 box set A Song for Every Season).

Listening to that recording made me realise that, while I might soon have moved on from the Mike Batt-produced Steeleye Span arrangement of the song (it’s on their All Around My Hat LP, and features an arrangement which is very much in the same mould as the title track), the way I sing the song betrays the fact that I originally learned the song from Steeleye, and not from Ron Copper.

Brother Tradesmen. noted from Jim Copper, by Francis Collinson,1949. From the Full English Archive.

Brother Tradesmen. noted from Jim Copper, by Francis Collinson,1949. From the Full English Archive.

 

Hard Times of Old England

January 31, 2015

Week 180 – The Lass of Swansea Town

Just after Christmas I was in the car, singing the ‘Gower Wassail’. When I finished, without thinking, I found myself launching into this one, which I’d not sung for a very long time. The link of course is that both were collected from the “Gower Nightingale”, Phil Tanner. But just as I first heard his Wassail song performed by Steeleye and the Watersons, I first encountered this one on Mike Waterson’s eponymous 1977 LP. I actually learned the song from Roy Palmer’s book The Rambling Soldier. Roy takes three of Phil Tanner’s four verses, and completes the story with additional verses from a late nineteenth century Harkness broadside.

There are many broadside printings of the song listed in Steve Roud’s Index, but few from the oral tradition – besides this one from Wales, there’s just a handful of examples, from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Canada. You can hear brief recordings of a couple of Canadian versions on the website MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada here and here (they look like blank pages at first, but scroll to the bottom and you’ll find a transcription, sheet music and audio). The song’s setting is by no means fixed to Swansea – indeed many of the printed examples allow the singer to substitute the place name of their choice, such as this one from Lucy Broadwood’s collection.

The Lass Of ---- Town. From the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

The Lass Of —- Town. From the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

The Lass of Swansea Town

January 25, 2015

Week 179 – O Good Ale

It is of good ale to you I’ll sing And to good ale I’ll always cling, I like my mug filled to the brim And I’ll drink all you’d like to bring, O, good ale, thou art my darling, Thou art my joy both night and morning.

A rather wonderful event took place yesterday at Cecil Sharp House – Ten Thousand Times Adieu, the Bob Copper Centenary Event, aka Bobstock. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and in the event was delighted to be able to take part, deputising for Tony Engle in a one-off reunion of the seminal quartet Oak (last previous performance, 1972!). Here’s a hot-off-the-press review of the event on the Guardian website. At the end of the night, all the invited performers got up on stage to join three generations of the Copper Family in singing ‘Thousands or More’ and ‘Oh Good Ale’. Blasting out those two songs, standing just behind John Copper (I suspect our relative heights may mean there will be no photographic evidence of my presence on stage at that point!) and next to Maddy Prior (who must take a lot of the blame for getting me hooked on traditional music as a teenager) is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

The finale at Bobstock - thanks to Ronald Ellis for the photo

The finale at Bobstock – thanks to Ronald Ellis for the photo

So here’s my rendition of ‘Good Ale’. I must admit it’s a song I’d almost forgotten that I knew, until a couple of weeks back, when I saw that the Coppers had sung it when Harveys Brewery in Lewes started brewing their Copper Ale. Although I hadn’t sung it in years, I found that I remembered most of the verses, and a quick scan of the good book soon reminded me of the rest. In latter years, when I saw Bob singing this with the family, he was always rather apologetic (understandably enough) about the “two black eyes” verse, and I’ve improvised an alternative, less misogynistic rhyme for “if my wife did me despise”. Misogynist lyrics notwithstanding, this was a song Bob was very fond of. It was one of his grandfather “Brasser” Copper’s songs. “Brasser” was landlord of the Black Horse in Rottingdean and would apparently say to new employees “Now you can drink as much beer as you like… but you can only drink singing beer and not fighting beer” (see Ale Tales: a social history of brewing in Lewes and across East Sussex p31). This division of beer into “singing beer” and “fighting beer” was one which Bob inherited. I remember reading an interview with Bob where he said that, although the Coppers drank plenty, they always drank singing beer, not fighting beer. I thought that quotation came from an interview conducted by Vic Smith in either Musical Traditions or Traditional Music but I’ve re-read a couple – one in print and one online – and can’t find it. Maybe it was in Folk Roots or Southern Rag.  In any case, here it is from an interview on Australian national radio

if we used to go out with the local pub to a darts match or something like that, on the way back we’d drink plenty of beer, but we always drank singing beer, not fighting beer, that’s a very important distinction. It doesn’t matter how much singing beer you have, but you don’t want any fighting beer.

And to end on a related quotation, here is Bob interviewed by Vic Smith in 1984, and printed in Musical Traditions No 3, Summer 1984

he was a very sort of worthy member of the family for drinking ale. It’s a tradition we’ve kept up just as eagerly and well, I think, as the singing. And he used to say, y’know, about beer, “Well cocky. A pint o’beer is enough for any man. Two’s too much and three ain’t half a-blooming-nough!”

Good ale thou art my darling, published by H. Such between 1863 and 1885; from Broadside Ballads Online.

Good ale thou art my darling, published by H. Such between 1863 and 1885; from Broadside Ballads Online.

O Good Ale

January 17, 2015

Week 178 – Cupid’s Garden

Another one from the Copper Family. The song has a distinct eighteenth century flavour. In fact “Cupid’s Garden” is a corruption of Cuper’s Gardens, these being pleasure gardens on the south bank of the Thames:

Cuper’s Gardens were 17–18th century pleasure gardens (aka a tea garden) on the south side of the River Thames in Lambeth, London, looking over to Somerset House near where Waterloo Bridge is located (centered on what is now the north end of Waterloo Road).

In 1643, Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel bought three acres of land which he leased to his gardener Abraham Boydell Cuper. The gardens opened in the 1680s and were named after the original proprietor. They were also known as Cupid’s Gardens. In 1686, seven acres of adjoining land was bought from the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, and added to the gardens. A long landing stage in the river known as Cuper’s Bridge acted as a popular entrance for the gardens.

In 1736, an orchestra was included among the attractions. It also became known for its firework displays. However, it lost its license in 1753 due to the loose morals of its visitors.

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuper%27s_Gardens

Bearing this in mind there is presumably a significance in these lines

And one was lovely Nancy so beautiful and fair
The other was a virgin and did the laurels wear

Since it is emphasised that “the other was a virgin” I think we can assume that lovely Nancy was not – and was known not to be; more than that, that she was, shall we say, a lady of easy virtue.

You can see a recreation of London pleasure gardens if you visit the Museum of London, near the Barbican – see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/explore-online/pocket-histories/what-were-vauxhall-pleasure-gardens/

The song appears to have been widely sung, although apart from one solitary Yorkshire version, all the examples in the Full English archive come from Southern English counties – Essex, Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Middlesex, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. This may be more a reflection of the Southern bias of early twentieth century collectors, rather than any indication of the geographical spread of the song.

Unsurprisingly, there are numerous printed versions at Broadside Ballads Online, while the ballad sheet shown below is from the collection of Frank Kidson, the Yorkshire folk song collector.

The Lovers' Meeting - broadside ballad  from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

The Lovers’ Meeting – broadside ballad from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

Cupid’s Garden

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

January 9, 2015

Week 177 – The trees they do grow high

Tuesday 6th January 2015 was the centenary of the birth of Bob Copper. This anniversary was marked with an article in the Daily Telegraph, while the Sussex brewers Harveys began brewing ‘Copper Ale’ in his honour. And later this month, there’s a day-long celebration of Bob’s life at Cecil Sharp House, in which I’m very pleased to say I will be participating (not least because I’ll be able to pick up a few bottles of the Harveys ale).

As the Telegraph article said, Bob Copper “is rightly hailed as one of the key figures in 20th-century English folk music”. He made a lasting impression on me with his singing, his books, and his stories of country life in days gone by, and the central role which music-making played – for his family and others. He was also a thoroughly nice bloke and decent human being. He always seemed to be good-humoured, always generous in his encouragement and support of other singers.

Back in 1991 or thereabouts, I played the Lewes Saturday Folk Club and Nellie’s at Tonbridge on consecutive nights. After the Lewes gig I was put up by Bob’s next-door neighbour George Wagstaff (another really nice man, sadly no longer with us). George knew that I would want to meet Bob, so he invited him round for a big cooked breakfast. Suitably fortified, straight after breakfast Bob (then in his late seventies) was setting off with John Copper and Jon Dudley on what I think was an annual walking tour of Sussex.

Bob Copper - photo copyright Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine

Bob Copper – photo copyright Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine

I learned this song from Bob’s singing on the Veteran CD When the May is all in Bloom.  It’s not from the family repertoire; rather, Bob learned the song from Seamus Ennis when they were both working as song collectors for the BBC in the 1950s.

 

The trees they do grow high

January 3, 2015

Week 176 – The Somerset Wassail

By no means the only Wassail song to have been collected in Somerset, once included in the Oxford Book of Carols this became for evermore The Somerset Wassail (cf. the Gloucestershire Wassail  and the Sussex Carol). The notes in the book say that the song was noted by Cecil Sharp “about twenty years ago” (September 1903 in fact) from the Drayton Wassailers in Somerset. Actually he collected several other versions in the county where the words included either the verse about a farmer who didn’t know how to look after his cow (more cider is the answer!) and/or the verse about the “Girt Dog of Langport”.

Wassail Song, noted by Cecil Sharp from Miss Quick, Drayton, Somerset. From the Full English archive.

Wassail Song, noted by Cecil Sharp from Miss Quick, Drayton, Somerset. From the Full English archive.

Again, according to the notes in the Oxford Book of Carols  “Sharp thought that the great dog of Langport was a reference to the Danes whose invasion of Langport is not yet forgotten in that town”. I’m not sure I’d give that theory much credence. According to Mudcat

In fact, this Danish raid may be mere legend, as it seems that the Vikings never penetrated that far into the West Country. Their attempted invasion began on Christmas Day 877, when Guthrum’s surprise attack on Chippenham drove Alfred into the marshes of west Somerset. Alfred set up a base at Athelney (the Island of the Nobles) a few miles west of Langport, and immediately began organising his counter-attack. In 878 he defeated Guthrum at Edington (the Anglo Saxon Chronicle identifies the Edington near the Westbury White Horse, although there is a theory that it was the Edington by the Polden Hills near Glastonbury). It was the resulting treaty between Alfred and Guthrum which divided England into the Anglo Saxon kingdom and the Danelaw.

I think the only Danish attack on the West Country was by the force which arrived at the mouth of the Parrett and was wiped out at Cannington. If they had got any further, they would have come up against Alfred himself at Athelney.

That same Mudcat page puts forwards – and debunks – a number of theories. Bear in mind when considering them that King Alfred was an actual historical character, unlike another King whose name begins with A, and who is supposed to have associations with this part of the country. Drayton is only 15 miles from Glastonbury Tor, and the danger of infection by romantic New Age twaddle is consequently very high.

We recorded this on the Magpie Lane album Wassail and the song pops back into our Christmas repertoire every two or three years. We sang it again this Christmas, but I foolishly neglected to get a recording. So, rather than wait another twelve months, here it is with a hastily-concocted concertina part.

The Somerset Wassail

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

December 28, 2014

Week 175 – The Trees are All Bare

The trees all are bare not a leaf to be seen
And the meadows their beauty have lost.
Now winter has come and ’tis cold for man and beast,
And the streams they are,
And the streams they are all fast bound down with frost.

One of my favourite seasonal songs, from the repertoire of the Copper Family – they call it simply ‘Christmas Song’. Bob Copper sings it solo on the 4 LP set A Song for Every Season  but I learned it from Bob’s book of the same name. Having learned it from the printed page, and found a way of fitting the words comfortably to the tune, whenever I listen to any of the Coppers singing the song,  I always find their word fit on some lines incredibly awkward.

According to the late Malcolm Douglas the song was

Originally a poem written by Thomas Brerewood of Horton, Cheshire (d. 1748); part, I think, of a set of four called ‘The Seasons’. A setting by ‘Mr Lockhart’ appears in Joseph Ritson, A Select Collection of English Songs: With Their Original Airs: and a Historical Essay on the Origin and Progress of National Song. London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 3nd edn, 1813, vol III p 153: http://books.google.com/books?id=u-UVAAAAYAAJ

The words are in volume I, page 232 (song LIV), titled ‘Winter': http://books.google.com/books?id=6a4iAAAAMAAJ

The text appears as ‘Winter’ in The Universal Songster. London: Jones and Co., III, 1834, 163-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=jGQLAAAAYAAJ

At Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads as The Timid Hare

Lockhart’s tune doesn’t appear to be related to the one used by the Coppers or by George Townsend.

I have updated the links above to the Bodleian Broadside site, which has been been revamped since Malcolm wrote that. Here is ‘The Timid Hare’ from a broadside published between 1858 and 1861 by “John Bebbington, Printer, 31, Oldham Road, Manchester. Sold by J. Beaumont, 176, York Street, Leeds”.

The Timid Hare: mid-nineteenth century broadside from the Bodleian collection.

The Timid Hare: mid-nineteenth century broadside from the Bodleian collection.

All the versions in the Roud Index are from Sussex or Surrey. Although some have different verses to the Coppers none, as far as I can see, retains the second verse from the original poem, which begins “While the peasant inactive stands shivering with cold”. The people who kept this song alive presumably knew that “peasants” rarely had the chance to be inactive (and had more sense than to be so on a freezing cold day).

This song has been the closing number at our Magpie Lane Christmas concerts (well, the one before the totally spontaneous encore, at any rate) since I first played one in December 1994. It was on our CD Wassail recorded and released the following year (and due to be re-released next year, with luck, having been unavailable for some time). And I never tire of it. Below you’ll find two recordings from Christmas 1993. It seemed appropriate to include the recording from the Holywell in Oxford, as that is where the band has played almost every year since 1993; but there’s also one from Woking, where we were joined by former member Marguerite Hutchinson on vocals and Northumbrian pipes.

On behalf of the band, enjoy the rest of Christmas and have, as the song says, a joyful New Year.

Now Christmas is come and our song is almost done
For we soon shall have the turn of the year.
So fill up your glasses and let your health go round,
For I wish you all,
For I wish you all a joyful New Year.

 

The Trees are All Bare

Magpie Lane recorded at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 14th December 2013.
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Jon Fletcher – bouzouki, vocal
Sophie Thurman – cello, vocal
Mat Green – fiddle

Magpie Lane recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 7th December 2013.
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Marguerite Hutchinson – Northumbrian small pipes, vocal
Jon Fletcher – bouzouki, vocal
Sophie Thurman – cello, vocal
Mat Green – fiddle

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