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

April 25, 2015

Week 192 – ‘Twas on one April Morning

A quintessentially English rural song. It’s ubiquitous on the folk scene (to which it was introduced by Cyril Tawney and Tony Rose) but only ever collected twice in the tradition – once in Somerset and once in Devon. I believe I first heard this on an early 1980s LP by the group Salmontails. I don’t remember much about them, except they were a trio whose line-up featured Northumbrian pipes, and I’m pretty sure I once saw them at the Gypsy Davey folk club, which used to be held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, Oxford. I can’t remember who lent me their LP, but I’d guess it must have been Caroline Jackson-Houlston.

A little while later I heard the version on the Old Swan Band’s second LP, Old Swan Brand, and John Jones also used to sing the song at Oyster Band / Oyster Morris sessions. The first time I ever tried playing a concertina accompaniment would have been playing along in a session with John’s singing and melodeon. I won’t say I learned the song by osmosis, but when I decided to fix the words in my mind, most of them were already in there. As the 80s went by and John’s Oyster Band work meant that he was out with the morris less often, I would lead this in sessions. Normally with the irrepressible Mark Jopling providing bass harmonies. Indeed I remember that at the end of Sidmouth 1986, when the torchlight procession had wound down to the seafront, and the torches had been extinguished in the sea, Mark, Mary, Carol and I sang this on the beach before heading back to the camp site (where, I suspect, we sat in a small, cold Oyster Morris marquee, drinking whatever was left of the Shepherd Neame that had been brought down to keep us going for the week).

I’ve only ever sung this in sessions, where people are joining in rather than listening, which probably explains the lack of finesse in my concertina accompaniment. I still sing it in G, although I’m not sure I can really hack it at that pitch any more. F would probably be better for me these days, but F is most definitely not a session key – so it’s one where I just have to gird up my loins, belt it out and hope for the best.

‘Twas on one April Morning

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

April 19, 2015

Week 191 – I wish that the wars were all over

I learned this song in the early 1980s from Caroline Jackson-Houlston, with whom I used to sing it. The song was collected by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, from Sam Fone, a Dartmoor miner from Mary Tavy, Devon, in 1893. I always had it in my mind that Caroline had got the song from The English Folksinger by Sam Richards and Trish Stubbs, but actually the words we sang are not those given in the book, so I think perhaps Caroline had at least some of the verses from Baring-Gould’s Garland of Country Song (1895), where the opening line is “In the meadow one morning when pearly with dew”. Fone, on the other hand, appears to have sung “It was down in the meadows where violets are blue / I saw pretty Polly a-milking her cow”.

'I would that the wars' as sung by Sam Fone to Sabine Baring-Gould; from the EFDSS Full English archive,

‘I would that the wars’ as sung by Sam Fone to Sabine Baring-Gould; from the EFDSS Full English archive.


The notes in that book say “It is not untypical of a certain class of song from the time of the American Wars of Independence”. Which could perhaps be read as “we think it sounds like a song from that period but have no evidence to back this theory up”. However a contribution by Mick Pearce to this Mudcat thread points out that the song can be found in A Sailor’s songbag : an American rebel in an English prison, 1777-1779 so clearly the song was in circulation at that time (the book, edited by George Carey, presents songs from a MS assembled by an American prisoner of war – possibly named Timothy Connor – held by the British in Forton Prison). Roy Palmer, in his book The Rambling Soldier, comments that

The reference to Flanders may indicate the Seven Years’ War or the campaign of 1793. John Wardroper reports that the legend, ‘Oh, I wish that the wars were all over’, appeared on popular prints in England in the early 1780s, during the American War, showing a ragged family amid a scene of ruin (Kings, Lords and Wicked Libellers, John Murray, 1973, p.85).

Given the evidence of the song being sung in the 1770s, the Flanders Campaign of 1793 is too late, so the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) seems like a better bet.

'I wish the wars were all over. A favourite song' . Printed and sold by J Davenport, No. 6, Little Catherine- street, Strand, London, between 1799 and 1800. From Broadside Ballads Online. ‘I wish the wars were all over. A favourite song’ . Printed and sold by J Davenport, No. 6, Little Catherine- street, Strand, London, between 1799 and 1800. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Actually, like the slightly later ‘The Banks of the Nile’, the sentiments expressed in the song are timeless. Unfortunately, the intervening 200-odd years give no cause for optimism in wishing that the wars will ever be over.

I wish that the wars were all over

April 11, 2015

Week 190 – O Once I was a Shepherd Boy

Ilsley remote amid the Berkshire Downs,
Claims three distinctions o’er her sister towns,
Far famed for sheep and wool, tho’ not for spinners,
For sportsmen, doctors, publicans and sinners.

This rhyme, apparently dating back to the seventeenth century, relates to East Ilsley – formerly known also as Market Ilsley or Chipping Ilsley – a village which you’ll see signposted just off the A34 as you drive North towards Oxford from Newbury. The rhyme was quoted in a 1924 History of the County of Berkshire, where the authors append the comment “The village still maintains its reputation with regard to sportsmen and publicans”.

The history continues

Though the training of racehorses is still one of the principal occupations of the inhabitants, East Ilsley is chiefly noted for its sheep fair, which is one of the largest in England. Almeric de St. Amand, lord of the manor in the reigns of Henry III and Edward I, set up a market here on Tuesdays, which he claimed under a charter of Henry III. It was said to be injurious to the king’s market at Wallingford. (fn. 7) Sir Francis Moore in his digest of his title to the manor, compiled in the reign of James I, states ‘that the Tuesday market for corn was discontinued, but that a sheep market was held every Wednesday from Hocktide to St. James’ tide, and a yearly fair at the Feast of the Assumption.’ Sir Francis obtained a charter confirming his right to a market for corn and grain and all other merchandise, and ‘to take such toll as the Borough of Reading doth,’ also a grant of piccage and stallage and a court of pie-powder with all the fines, forfeitures and amerciaments thereof. Under the charter it was forbidden to have sales at Cuckhamsley, where they had previously been held, under pain of the king’s displeasure, the new site for the market being an inclosed square which has since been planted and is now known as the Warren. The markets are held by arrangement once or twice a month on Wednesdays from January to September. They increased rapidly until the middle of the 18th century, no less than 80,000 sheep being penned in one day and 55,000 sold, the yearly average amounting to 400,000.(fn. 8) In addition to the markets there are numerous fairs, the two largest being on 1 August and 26 August, while those at Easter, Whitsuntide, in September, October and at Hallowtide (on Wednesday after 12 November) draw dealers and graziers from all parts of the county. There is also a hiring fare in October. The wool fair has increased in importance and has been much encouraged by the annual presentation of two silver cups given by the Marquess of Downshire and other landowners to be competed for by the wool staplers and farmers. At one of the agricultural meetings formerly held at Ilsley the chairman wore a coat made from fleeces shorn in the morning, made into cloth at Newbury, and fashioned into a coat before the evening.

‘Parishes: East Ilsley’, in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4, ed. William Page and P H Ditchfield (London, 1924), pp. 24-31  via British History Online.


David Nash Ford’s Royal Berkshire History Website tells us that

The last proper fair was held in 1934, but it was semi-revived as a village fete in 1975. A plaque in the centre of the village records this. Being famous for its sheep farming, it is not surprising that Berkshire was one of the many counties to have developed its own breed of sheep: the Berkshire Nott Wether. Sadly, it is now extinct, but the Hampshire Down is a direct descendant.


There are some wonderfully evocative photos of a late nineteenth century sheep fair at Ilsley taken by the photographer Henry Taunt, which you can view on the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Sheep fair at East Ilsley, Berkshire - late 19th century photograph by Henry Taunt, from the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Sheep fair at East Ilsley, Berkshire – late 19th century photograph by Henry Taunt, from the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Group portrait at West Ilsley, Berkshire. A group portrait of the nine oldest inhabitants of the village, four men and five women, one in a wicker bathchair.  Photographer: Henry Taunt.  Date Taken: 1860 - 1922 From the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Group portrait at West Ilsley, Berkshire. A group portrait of the nine oldest inhabitants of the village, four men and five women, one in a wicker bathchair. Photographer: Henry Taunt. Date Taken: 1860 – 1922 From the English Heritage ViewFinder site.


This song was collected by Cecil Sharp from Shadrack “Shepherd” Hayden (or Haden) at Bampton in Oxfordshire, on 6th September 1909.  Shepherd Hayden had been born at Lyford, Berkshire in 1826, and he shepherded at Hatford near Faringdon before moving to Bampton in 1891. I don’t know if he ever did any shepherding on the Downs near Ilsley, but no doubt he met men who had, and learned this song (surely a local composition?) from one of them. Alfred Williams also noted down three verses of the song from Shepherd Hayden, under the title ‘On Compton Downs’, and noted “An old shepherd song, local to the Berkshire Downs between Wantage and Streatley, and one of the very few that were obviously written by rustics”.

Actually the Roud Index shows that Hayden’s is not the only version to have been collected – there’s also one clearly related fragment (where the location is given as Marlborough) collected by George Gardiner in Hampshire.

I learned the song  from the copies of Sharp’s notebooks in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library – now of course all available online – and we recorded it on the Magpie Lane CD Six for Gold in 2002. This is a live recording taken direct from the mixing desk at the Banbury Folk Festival in October 2007.


O Once I was a Shepherd Boy

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Banbury Folk Festival, October 14th 2007.

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Sophie Thurman – cello
Jon Fletcher – guitar
Mat Green – fiddle

April 3, 2015

Week 189 – The Holly Bears a Berry

A carol, so it’s often sung at Christmas. However with three of the four verses dealing with Christ’s death and resurrection, it’s surely more of an Easter carol – A.L.Lloyd, in his sleevenotes to the Watersons’ Frost and Fire describes it as “Another spring carol, proper to the period between Passiontide and Easter” and that’s good enough for me. I first heard the song on that 1965 Watersons LP; I probably learned it from there too, although I may have got the words from the Oxford Book of Carols, where it appears under the title of the ‘Sans Day Carol’. It’s also known as the ‘St. Day Carol’, having been taken down from an old man, Mr Thomas Beard,  at St Day in the parish of Gwennap, in Cornwall. The Oxford Book of Carols tells us that “St. Day or St. They was a Breton saint whose cult was widely spread in Armorican Cornwall”.

Sheet Music for the St Day Carol, from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 123 - via

Sheet Music for the St Day Carol, from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 123 – via

The Holly Bears a Berry

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

March 26, 2015

Week 188 – Down where the drunkards roll

In the 1970s I spent hours in record shops, flicking through the racks – rarely buying, just reading the backs of the album sleeves. Thus I was aware of Richard Thompson – ex-member of Fairport, played in the Albion Country Band but left before they recorded Battle of the Field – long before I had ever heard his music. I think the first time I heard him on record would have been on Morris On, or possibly Liege and Lief – in either case several years after those records were originally released. The first time I heard him centre stage was the Richard and Linda Thompson album Hokey Pokey. They had a copy of that in the local record library. It stood out because of its eye-catching cover, but also grabbed my attention because I knew of several of the supporting musicians (Aly Bain, John Kirkpatrick, Simon Nicol) from other records. That record gets a bit of a bad press from some critics, mainly because of the inclusion of several rather lightweight songs, like ‘Smiffy’s Glass Eye’ and ‘Georgie on a Spree’. OK, those tracks might not appear in a Richard Thompson Top 20, but they’re perfectly good songs. I have always had, and still have, quite a soft spot for the album. And it certainly isn’t without a few RT gems: ‘Never Again’, ‘A Heart Needs a Home’ and the dark self-loathing of ‘I’ll Regret It All in the Morning’. (Incidentally the library’s copy jumped in a couple of places on the title track; when I bought myself a clean copy from a stall in Ashford market it took some while to get used to hearing the line “It’s the best that they ever did sell”, which previously I’d always heard as “It’s the bell”).

If asked to name my favourite Richard and Linda Thompson album I might mention Shoot out the lights but would probably plump for the austere beauty of Pour down like silver. But actually that’s mere posturing. Deep down everyone knows that their greatest album was the first, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. That’s one of those records where it’s not just a case of saying “there’s not a dud track on it”; every song is a Thompson classic: ‘The Great Valerio’, ‘Withered and died’, ‘Has he got a friend for me?’, the title track and, of course, this song, which – understandably – has become a folk club standard. I don’t think I have anything to say about the song itself, except to note in passing that, for a man who doesn’t drink, Richard Thompson has written a lot of good songs about drunks.

This recording was made a couple of weeks ago when we went to stay with our very good friends Nick and Liz Passmore in Powys. I took the opportunity of Nick’s multi-instrumental talents to record a few songs for the blog, and these will be dropped in at strategic intervals over the next few months (one, in fact, has been earmarked as appropriate to mark the end of the fourth year of this blog). I don’t think Nick and I had ever played any of these songs together before, but we’d known them for 35 years or more – i.e. for at least as long as we’ve known each other.

You may have seen Nick dancing with the Shropshire Bedlams. He featured on (indeed he played one of my compositions on) the Fflach squeezebox compilation Megin. In the late 80s / early 90s he was a member of what I think was the final line-up of Crows, and also played alongside Chris Wood, Chris Taylor and me in the dance band Polkabilly. And if you were around in the Canterbury area in the 1970s you would have known him as one of the mainstays of Duke’s Folk, the renowned folk club run by Dixie Fletcher at the Duke of Cumberland in Whitstable. That club was a veritable hotbed of talent, including among its regulars Fiddler’s Dram, and the members of the Oyster Ceilidh Band. In those days Nick mainly played guitar, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, whistle and flute. Since then he has added anglo-concertina, melodeon and fiddle to the list (and quite probably several others) while with Polkabilly he’d also play a bit of piano, if the venue had one. When we played the Dance House in Cricklade, while we played the final waltz the piano was actually lifted off the stage by several strong men, to make sure the Town Hall caretaker didn’t realise it had ever been lifted onto the stage in the first place… Fortunately Nick was playing one of his other instruments at the time.

With Nick Passmore - session at the Whitby Festival 1989.  (The elbow on the right of the shot belongs to Northumbrian fiddle-player Willy Taylor).

With Nick Passmore – session at the Whitby Festival 1989. (The elbow on the right of the shot belongs to Northumbrian fiddle-player Willy Taylor).

Down where the drunkards roll

Andy Turner – vocal
Nick Passmore – guitar

March 20, 2015

Week 187 – Brown To Blue

A slight departure, this, from my normal repertoire. But I sing it unaccompanied, so it must be a folk song – right?

The song was originally recorded in 1963 by George Jones, but I learned it from Elvis Costello’s country record Almost Blue.  From the Elvis Costello Wiki I learn that the song was written by George Jones, Virginia Franks and Johnny Mathis. That’s Johnny “Country” Mathis, not Johnny “When a Child Is Born” Mathis, in case you’re wondering.

I’ve always been taken by the line “The judge pronounced the words the way you wanted him to do”. I suppose that would be with a strong Texas accent.

LP sleeve - George Jones

LP sleeve – George Jones “Trouble In Mind” (1965)

Brown To Blue


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