September 17, 2017

Week 269 – Kitty from Ballinamore

Like ‘As I roved out from the County Cavan’, I learned this from the LP Triona, by Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill. Like a lot of other songs in her repertoire, I believe she had this one from her aunt, Neillí Ní Dhomhnaill. It’s a song which doesn’t seem to have been recorded frequently. You can hear Seamus Ennis singing a version on the Musical Traditions CD of late sixties recordings from the King’s Head Folk Club. And there are two recordings from Northern Irish singers – both as ‘Kate from/of Ballinamore’ – on Topic’s ever-expanding Voice of the People series: Geordie Hanna on Volume 6 Tonight I’ll Make You My Bride and Paddy Doran on The Flax in Bloom. Finally, there’s a rather charming 78 rpm recording by Joseph Maguire available to listen to via the ITMA Digital Library (that’s the Irish Traditional Music Archive, and nothing to do with Tommy Handley).

 

Kitty from Ballinamore

September 9, 2017

Week 268 – Treat my daughter kindly

Farmyard scene from my parents' postcard collection

Farmyard scene from my parents’ postcard collection

When I heard the Watersons’ LP For pence and spicy ale in about 1977 ‘Chickens in the Garden’ was one of the songs I learned from it. Along with ‘Country Life’, ‘The Good Old Way’, ‘Bellman’, ‘Swarthfell Rocks’ and the two Wassail songs. In other words, about half the songs on the album. At the time, and for many years afterwards, it seemed so very Yorkshire, I almost couldn’t imagine it having been sung in any other part of the country – a local composition, perhaps. These myths were dispelled when I heard the Veteran cassette Old songs and folk songs from Essex featuring Fred Hamer’s 1967 recordings of a ninety-three year old Harry Green, from Tilty in Essex. Here it was – evidently the same song – but with no mention of Yorkshire whatever.

Harry Green, photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

Harry Green, photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

The same recording of Harry Green was later included on the Veteran CD The Fox & the Hare. And from John Howson’s notes to that CD I learn that

This song, originally entitled The Farmer’s Daughter, or, The Little Chickens in the Garden, was written by American songwriter James Allan Bland (1854-1919) who also wrote Golden Slippers. Sheet music was published by Oliver Ditson & Co in 1883 and the cover states that it was the “Greatest success of the season with 10,000 copies sold in the first week!” Its popularity meant that it easily slipped into the tradition, particularly in America and Canada. It also found its way to these shores and it was published by the Poet’s Box in Dundee and turns up in Jimmy McBride’s collection from Donegal and Neil Lanham’s recordings from Suffolk and Essex. It was also a favourite of Norfolk singer Walter Pardon.

The Farmer's daughter; or, The Little chickens in the garden. From the Library of Congress sheet music collection.

The Farmer’s daughter; or, The Little chickens in the garden. From the Library of Congress sheet music collection.

Harry Green’s version seems to be much closer to James Bland’s original than the North country ‘Chickens in the Garden’. The words of further versions are provided on this Mudcat thread. These include sets of lyrics similar to Harry’s from North Carolina and Arkansas but, intriguingly, the version recorded from Lena Bourne Fish of New Hampshire starts “While traveling down in Yorkshire”, and also has the phrase “so blooming shy” which was such a memorable feature of Mike Waterson’s rendition.

 

Treat my daughter kindly

September 2, 2017

Death in the Ice

As noted in an earlier post, I first heard the song ‘Lord Franklin’ in the late seventies, and was immediately taken with it – and all the more so when I learned the story behind the song. I was therefore pleased to learn that the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich were to stage Death in the ice, a major exhibition about Franklin’s fateful final expedition. I visited the exhibition last week, and am happy to say that my expectations were fully met.

It’s a very well presented exhibition which does a good job of presenting the background to Franklin’s expedition, details of his two ships and their crew, and details – insofar as they can be ascertained – of what befell them. Right at the start of the exhibition two massive video walls show projections of the Arctic landscape – to give you an idea of the environment Franklin and his men encountered (although inside, on a warm August day, the landscape looks beautiful – rather different if you were stuck in it in an Arctic winter, with insufficient food, and clothing which was not up to the job of keeping out the cold). Then we learn that the quest to discover the North West passage was a peculiarly British obsession, but also – thanks to successive expeditions approaching the route both from the Atlantic and from the Pacific in the East – that by 1845 when Franklin set sail, only 900 miles remained to be charted. I was particularly taken with a table-top projection which literally draws the map of North America and Canada, in accordance with the state of Europeans’ knowledge of the region as it developed over time, from John Cabot in 1497, through Frobisher, Cartier, Hudson, Cook (who charted practically the entire East coast), Ross, and many others.

I was rather surprised to find – given the early date of the Franklin expedition – that there exist photographic images of Franklin himself, and several of his crew.

Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) - daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) – daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

 

James Reid, Ice Master - daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

James Reid, Ice Master – daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

 

Lieutenant Graham Gore, Commander - daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Lieutenant Graham Gore, Commander – daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

I suppose Franklin’s status as a national hero, and the importance which the British government attached to his expedition, might account for these officers being photographed before setting off to the Arctic. (Franklin himself was already well-known to the British public as an intrepid explorer. He had earned the nickname “The man who ate his boots” when he ran into difficulties on an earlier expedition to the Arctic in 1819-1822. On that occasion some of his men died of starvation, while others were forced to eat lichen, and even tried to get sustenance by eating their own leather boots). It was the same factors, plus the indefatigable efforts of his widow Lady Jane Franklin, which ensured that several expeditions were sent out from 1848 onwards to try to discover the fate of her husband and crew.

Mind you, when Sir John Rae brought back evidence he had gathered from Inuit in the area – that they had encountered some 40 starving and desperate white men, and then, the following spring that they had found around 30 corpses, some showing clear signs of cannibalism – this testimony was deemed unreliable. The mid-nineteenth century British public simply could not bring itself to admit that gallant British seamen would ever come so low as to resort to cannibalism. Indeed Charles Dickens went into print to say as much:

DR. RAE may be considered to have established, by the mute but solemn testimony of the relics he has brought home, that SIR JOHN FRANKLIN and his party are no more. But, there is one passage in his melancholy report, some examination into the probabilities and improbabilities of which, we hope will tend to the consolation of those who take the nearest and dearest interest in the fate of that unfortunate expedition, by leading to the conclusion that there is no reason whatever to believe, that any of its members prolonged their existence by the dreadful expedient of eating the bodies of their dead companions. Quite apart from the very loose and unreliable nature of the Esquimaux representations (on which it would be necessary to receive with great caution, even the commonest and most natural occurrence), we believe we shall show, that close analogy and the mass of experience are decidedly against the reception of any such statement, and that it is in highest degree improbable that such men as the officers and crews of the two lost ships would or could, in any extremity of hunger, alleviate the pains of starvation by this horrible means.

Charles Dickens, The Lost Arctic Voyagers (1854)

If you’re interested, here’s Rae’s own account: The melancholy fate of Sir John Franklin and his party, as disclosed in Dr. Rae”s report; together with the despatches and letters of Captain M’Clure, and other officers employed in the Arctic expeditions (1854).

 

My wife commented that the museum had made a good exhibition despite not having very much to display. A little harsh, but it’s true there’s not that many artefacts actually from the fateful last journey of the Erebus and Terror. And few of those artefacts can be identified as belonging to a specific member of the crew. However amazingly, rather touchingly, Lieutenant Graham Gore’s battered personal copy of a hymnal – Christian Melodies published in 1836 by Thomas Ward and Co. – does survive, and is on display.

Graham Gore's copy of Christian Melodies. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Graham Gore’s copy of Christian Melodies. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

That hymnal had in fact been discovered in May 1859 by the McClintock Search Expedition – one of the expeditions sent out to discover “the fate of Franklin”. But what makes this exhibition special is the fact that Franklin’s ship Erebus was only discovered in September 2014 – exactly three years ago today – so many of the objects on display here have never been seen in the UK before. I assume it was the discovery and examination of Erebus that prompted the current exhibition. And presumably the exhibition was in a fairly advanced stage of planning when Franklin’s second ship, Terror, was discovered just one year ago, on 3rd September 2016. No doubt as historians and archaeologists explore the evidence provided by this second wreck, we can look forward in future years to seeing more artefacts, and to reading new theories of what might have happened on that dreadful last journey.

In the meantime if, like me, you’re fascinated by the story of Franklin and his gallant men (and women? here’s an interesting development) then Death in the ice is highly recommended. It runs till January. The only thing missing is a rendition of this song:

Lord Franklin

 

If you’re planning on visiting Greenwich, there’s plenty more of interest. Among the museum’s permanent exhibitions is one on the Britain and the Atlantic, particularly Britain’s role in the slave trade (a subject on which I don’t seem to have any songs in my repertoire. Time to learn ‘The Flying Cloud’ perhaps?), and another on the East India Company (cue thoughts of ‘The East Indiaman’). And you can’t go to Greenwich without seeing the Old Royal Naval College, formerly the Royal Hospital for Seamen – where of course the hero of ‘On Board a Ninety-Eight’ spent his final days. A good day out.

August 25, 2017

Magpie Lane – Three Quarter Time now available

I’m delighted to be able to announce that Three Quarter Time, the long-awaited new Magpie Lane CD, is now released, and available to buy from the band’s website.

Tracklist

  1. The Dancing
  2. Push about the Jorum / The Ploughman / Salt of the Earth
  3. Belfast Mountains
  4. Sovay (a different version from that featured as Week 87 of this blog)
  5. Cheltenham Waltz / Rout of the Blues
  6. Nobody’s Jig / Kentish Cricketers
  7. New Garden Fields (a solo version of this appeared here in Week 208 of the blog)
  8. Dance around the Gallows Tree
  9. Blow ye Winds
  10. The Captain and his Whiskers
  11. Lovely Elwina / Waterloo (a solo version of which appeared here as Week 199)
  12. Lord Bateman (a different version from that which appeared here in Week 26)
  13. One More Dance and Then / Not a Natural Dancer / Spirit of the Dance

The CD features a number of special guests including Jackie Oates, John Spiers, Paul Sartin & Colin Fletcher.

See http://magpielane.co.uk/ml_3quartertime.htm for further details.

And here are three sample tracks to try out before you buy.

 

Initial reaction to the album has been universally positive:

Order your copy now from http://magpielane.co.uk/ml_shop.htm

(and if you’re at Towersey this weekend, yes there will be copies on sale at the Festival record stall)

April 30, 2017

Welcome the May! Part 2

Ah, the merry month of May. This is another of those “here’s some I prepared earlier” blog posts, with songs celebrating the coming of May, or just where the action takes place in May.

I’ll be singing some of these at an event in Canterbury on 13th May. This is part of TRYST, an exhibition organised by my artist friend Cathy Ward (I featured some of her fantastic hairscapes in Week 264 – Dowie Dens of Yarrow). It takes place at Conquest House, one of the oldest buildings in Canterbury. Cathy and I have known each other literally all our lives and, having gone in very different directions in our teens, when we met again 15 or 20 years ago, found that we still had an awful lot in common – and that we both shared a love for English traditions.

You’ll have seen corn dollies made by Cathy if you’ve watched Nick Abrahams’ video for Shirley Collins recent re-recording of ‘Death and the Lady’. Nick will also be taking part in the TRYST exhibition.

I’ll be singing, playing some tunes, and also showcasing some of the images from my parents’ collection of old postcards of morris dancers, maypoles, musicians, hop-picking and more – scanning the whole collection could take me years, but you can see several hundred already scanned at http://bit.ly/turnerpostcards.

Tryst poster

 

So, to get to the music. Let’s start with a couple of dance tunes to get us in the mood.

Month of May / Spirit of the Dance (from my Squeezed Out blog)

 

Whitstable May Day 1984 - Robin Hood and Maid Marian dance in front of the Jack-in-the-Green

Whitstable May Day 1984 – Robin Hood and Maid Marian dance in front of the Jack-in-the-Green

 

Now some songs to welcome in the May. Here are a couple collected in Bedfordshire by Fred Hamer, and one from North Oxfordshire:

Northill May Song

Week 36 – Northill May Song

 

Good morning lords and ladies 

 

Swalcliffe May Day Carol

Week 88 – Swalcliffe May Day Carol

 

Great Chart May Day, Kent, early 1900s.

Great Chart May Day, Kent, early 1900s.

 

There are countless folk songs where a young man man walks / rides / roves / roams out on a May morning. Almost inevitably a romantic / sexual encounter ensues. Sometimes both parties are happy with the arrangement, and all ends well. As, for example, in these:

Queen of the May 

Week 37 – Queen of the May

 

The Spotted Cow

 

But often things do not turn out so happily. Sometimes the young man has his wicked way with her, then leaves her in the lurch. As in:

The little ball of yarn

 

The Nightingales Sing

 

Sometimes, the woman refuses to have anything to do with him, and leaves the young man lamenting:

The Woodman’s Daughter

Week 89 – The Woodman’s Daughter

 

Or is far too clever for him:

Stroll Away the Morning Dew

Week 39 – Stroll Away the Morning Dew

 

Sometimes, it’s not entirely clear from the song exactly what’s gone on, but it is clear that things have not ended well:

As I roamed out

 

In other songs, the action is set in the “merry month of May” but any thoughts of merriment are soon dispelled by the dark story line. The classic example has to be

Barbara Ellen

Week 93 – Barbara Ellen

but see also

George Collins

Week 38 – George Collins

 

Polly on the Shore

 

Bridal, from Gathering in the May by Catheryne Ward and Eric Wright.

Bridal, from Gathering in the May by Catheryne Ward and Eric Wright.

And, finally, a song which starts so promisingly

As I walked out one morn in May
The birds sing and the lambs did play

But, in the starkest tale of all, a wealthy young woman meets with Death himself. And as Terry Pratchett fans will be very much aware THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY THIS CAN END.

 

Death and the Lady

Week 92 – Death and the Lady

April 23, 2017

Week 267 – The Grey Funnel Line

I have two Cyril Tawney songs in my repertoire. I posted ‘Sally Free and Easy’ almost a year ago; now here’s the other one.

Written in 1959, it was the last song Cyril Tawney wrote before leaving the Royal Navy. You’ll find his own account of its composition at https://mainlynorfolk.info/cyril.tawney/songs/thegreyfunnelline.html.

I learned it from the Silly Sisters LP, which I must have got not long after it came out. Actually I say I learned it – it’s one of those songs where at any given time in the last 40 years I could probably have sung about 95% of the song, but never properly nailed it until now. And I have to say it was worth making the effort to learn it properly – it’s a really good song.

On this recording, the accompaniment is provided (unwittingly) by Ian Kearey playing an epinette de Vosges with two pencils (HB, as I recall). I sampled this from an old Oyster Band LP, looped it, pitch-shifted it slightly, and played around with it a bit more in Audacity, Nero Wave Editor and Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. And hey presto! here it is.

The Grey Funnel Line

April 23, 2017

Welcome the May! Part 1

Magpie Lane will be playing a May Eve concert in Oxford next Sunday afternoon:

Sunday 30th April – Holywell May Eve concert

Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford OX1 3BN

2.30 – 4.30

Promoted in association with www.maymorning.co.uk

Tickets from https://www.ticketsoxford.com/whats-on/all-shows/welcome-the-may/4734
or ring Tim Healey on 01865 249194

Welcome the May poster

There’ll be a lot of Magpie Lane Maytime favourites, including Dave Webber’s May Song, the Swalcliffe May Day Carol, Martin Graebe’s Jack-in-the-Green, and tunes such as The First of MayJack’s Alive and Round about the Maypole.  When the band first started we always used to do concerts at Maytime, and are very pleased that Tim Healey has given us the opportunity to revive the tradition.

 

In other news, we’re about to send off a series of 0s and 1s, and in return, in a few weeks’ time, we’ll be receiving 40 boxes of shiny silver discs – yes, the long-awaited new album, Three Quarter Time is very nearly here.

You can sample some tracks from the new record at https://soundcloud.com/magpielane/sets/three-quarter-time – I hope you like them.

I will of course let you know as soon as we have copies of the CD, and how you can get hold of one. Or, indeed, several.

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April 13, 2017

Week 266 – Dwelling In Beulah Land

Swan Arcade recorded this song on their 1986 album Diving for Pearls, and it’s an outstanding example of their exuberant, no-holds-barred approach to harmony singing. I got the words from Hymnary.org (other online hymnals are available) from where I learn that it was written in 1911 by the prolific American hymn-writer Charles Austin Miles (1868-1946). I don’t know where Swan Arcade learned it from, but there are various recordings you can find online, including one by the Sons Of The Pioneers, with Roy Rogers on vocals. It’s OK, but not a patch on the Swan Arcade version.

I worked out some time ago that this would sound great on a C/G anglo – but that I couldn’t actually sing it comfortably in C. So when I asked Bampton Morris Fool Rob Fidler if I might borrow his Bb/F instrument, recording this song was uppermost in my mind. I must confess I still haven’t learned the words properly, but I thought I’d better get it recorded sooner rather than later – one of these days Rob is going to ask for his concertina back!

Dwelling In Beulah Land

Andy Turner – vocal, Bb/F anglo-concertina

April 9, 2017

The week before Easter, the morn bright and clear

Well it is one week till Easter, and where I’m sitting, the morn is indeed very bright and clear. In stark contrast to the weather 4 years ago, when I first posted the Copper Family’s A Week Before Easter.

In the absence of any new posts recently, here’s a Spring / Easter ‘playlist’ for you.

Easter carols and religious songs

Week 33 – The Leaves of Life

 

Week 189 – The Holly Bears a Berry

 

Week 139 – There is a Fountain of Christ’s Blood

 

Easter customs

Week 84 – Pace Egging Song

Hector is slain by St George - Midgley Pace Eggers in Todmorden, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, on Good Friday 1965. Photographer: Brian Shuel. http://www.collectionspicturelibrary.co.uk

Hector is slain by St George – Midgley Pace Eggers in Todmorden, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, on Good Friday 1965. Photographer: Brian Shuel. From http://www.collectionspicturelibrary.co.uk

 

Tip Top Polka (Bacup Britannia Coconut Dancers tune, from my Squeezed Out blog)

 

Spring

Week 243 – When Spring Comes In

 

Week 134 – The Birds in the Spring

 

Week 34 – The Banks of Sweet Mossen

 

March 11, 2017

Percy Manning Centenary Concert

Percy Manning. Image copyright Bodleian Library.

Percy Manning. Image copyright Bodleian Library.

Percy Manning (1870-1917), “the man who collected Oxfordshire”, was a Victorian antiquary, archaeologist and folklorist. 2017 is the centenary of his death, and to commemorate this, the morris historian Mike Heaney (formerly of the Bodleian Library, and founder member of Eynsham Morris) is coordinating a series of lectures, exhibitions and workshops taking place at locations including the Bodleian, the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Bate Collection. Full details of all of these events can be found on the Folk in Oxford website.

Among Percy Manning’s many interests was folk song and folk dance. In 1899 he persuaded the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers, who had not been out dancing for several years, to revive the tradition. The occasion was a concert held at the Oxford Corn Exchange – now the Old Fire Station – at which the Morris dances alternated with folk songs, performed by various classically trained singers.

We know exactly what songs and dances were performed, thanks to a report in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 18th March 1899. Here’s a copy of the report from Jackson’s Oxford Journal.

And on Friday 24th March Magpie Lane, together with the present Headington Quarry side, will be recreating that concert. Not with classically trained singers, with polite pianoforte accompaniment, but in our own style, with our own arrangements. Only one song in the programme (‘Twas early One Morning’ aka ‘All Jolly Fellows That Follow The Plough’) has previously featured in our repertoire, so this is an opportunity to hear a bunch of songs we’ve never performed before in public.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that in 1899, not an awful lot of folk song collecting had yet been carried out in England. The Folk-Song Society was only founded in 1898, with its first Journal being published in 1899. All of the songs performed at Manning’s event came either from

  • English County Songs (1893) edited by Lucy Broadwood and J.A. Fuller Maitland (and lazily or misogynistically credited only to Fuller Maitland in the Jackson’s Oxford Journal report)
  • William Chappell’s Popular music of the olden time (1859) – Volume 1 and Volume 2 available in full on the Internet Archive.
    (The newspaper report of the concert gives the source of ‘Gossip Joan’ and ‘The Country Lass’ as D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy, but D’Urfey’s versions of those songs include verses which would never have been performed in public in polite society in 1899, so we’re pretty sure Miss Taphouse must have sung the cleaned up versions which appear in Chappell. Our fans will no doubt be reassured to learn that we shall be reinstating the rude humour of D-Urfey’s original verses in our arrangement.)

For anyone interested in morris dancing, and the history of the morris, this event is a must. Had it not been for Manning’s concert, it is extremely unlikely that Headington Quarry would have been out dancing at Christmas 1899, when they bumped into Cecil Sharp – a meeting which is commonly held to have sparked the 20th century morris dance revival.

So it’s a recreation of a historically important event, as well as (we hope) a thoroughly good evening’s entertainment.

Percy Manning centenary 1917-2017

Percy Manning Centenary Concert

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers and Magpie Lane

St Andrew’s Church, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UG

Friday 24th March 8 p.m.

Tickets from https://fao.yapsody.com/event/index/59194/percy-manning-centenary-concert

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. Mark Cox playing the fiddle. Photograph Henry Taunt, 1899.

Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. Mark Cox playing the fiddle. Photograph Henry Taunt, 1899. see viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk/search/detail.aspx?uid…