May 21, 2016

Week 248 – Sally Free and Easy

I’m not entirely sure where or when I learned this song. Almost certainly not from Cyril Tawney himself, although I did see him two or three times in the early eighties. I think I must have picked the song up from a floorsinger at the Faversham Folk Club. These days you can find the words to pretty much any song with a quick web search, but in those pre-Internet days I just sang the words as I remembered them.

Checking now what the composer himself sang, I see I’ve introduced some minor variations, but nothing to alter the spirit of the song. And in fact I think Cyril Tawney approved of variation, as part of the song’s absorption into the collective consciousness (or folk tradition, if you prefer). You can read about the background to the song here.

As Cyril noted, the song is lyrically, though not melodically, structured like a blues. And possibly this is the closest thing I’ll be posting here to a twelve-bar blues, as I don’t think I have any examples of the real thing in my repertoire.

Sally Free and Easy

May 17, 2016

Week 249 – Whitsun Dance

I first heard this circa 1977, as the conclusion to Shirley and Dolly Collins’ magnificent Anthems in Eden Suite. I’ve always liked the song, but it had not occurred to me to learn it until a year or so ago. With Whitsun approaching, a few weeks back I thought I’d better get on with it. Having been so familiar with the song for so long, I was surprised to find that I had to apply quite some effort to get the words into my head. But here it is, and I’m really glad I made the effort – it really is a good song.

It was written in the late 1960s by Shirley’s then husband, Austin John Marshall, whose comments on the song can be found on the Mainly Norfolk site:

Many of the old ladies who swell the membership lists of Country Dance Societies are 1914/18 war widows, or ladies who have lost fiancés and lovers. Country dancing kept the memory of their young men alive. When Shirley Collins started singing the piece to the tune of The False Bride, the impact was disturbing, for many people in audiences identified with it. Tears were frequent. Now a sharp relevance in contemporary song is one thing but such a pessimistic effect was not what was intended. So when Shirley recorded the song we showed the way the spirit of the generation sacrificed in the mud of France had been caught and brought to life by the new generation born since World War II by concluding with the chorus of the Staines Morris.

 

Dancers at Ilmington, with fiddler Sam Bennett. 1920s? From the Bob and Jean Turner postcard collection.

Dancers at Ilmington, with fiddler Sam Bennett. 1920s? From the Bob and Jean Turner postcard collection.

I suppose there probably weren’t many women’s morris teams in the sixties when Austin John Marshall wrote these words, but by the time I got involved in the folk scene in the late 1970s they were very much in evidence, and I’ve always associated the ladies dancing at Whitsun with morris rather than country dance. There will be many out dancing this Whitsun weekend, so here’s to the Esperance, and  these unknown (to me) women dancing at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1912, and morris teams such as Windsor and Oyster, who started in the 1970s and are still going strong.

Morris dancers at Stratford-upon-Avon, 1912. From the Bob and Jean Turner postcard collection.

Morris dancers at Stratford-upon-Avon, 1912. From the Bob and Jean Turner postcard collection.

 

Windsor Morris

Windsor Morris

 

Oyster Morris

Oyster Morris

 

P.S. I do realise that Whit Sunday was actually two weeks ago, but Bampton still refer to their annual day of dance as Whit Monday, and that’s good enough for me.

Whitsun Dance

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

May 9, 2016

Week 247 – When I was on horseback

More love again this week for Steeleye Span’s 1971 LP  Ten Man Mop or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again, which I consider to be the finest of all their albums. I like the album’s largely acoustic tracks – ‘Four Nights Drunk’, ‘Marrowbones’, ‘Wee Weaver’ and the jigs and reels sets – but good as those are, they only serve to highlight the brilliance of the electric numbers, in particular the magnificent ‘Captain Coulston’ and ‘When I was on horseback’. The brooding, atmospheric arrangement on the latter is quite timeless – not remotely dated – and serves the song really well. Respect to Steeleye also for not being tempted to add verses from other versions – they keep the song as a three-verse fragment (plus repeated first verse) which manages to convey a sense of impending doom, without actually revealing exactly what’s going on.

When I first heard the song I had no idea of the back story. Had the young soldier been ambushed as he entered Cork City? Had he been the casualty of a military engagement? Later, of course, I discovered that this was a member of the ‘Unfortunate Rake’ family of songs (number 2 in Mr Roud’s list), and “the young soldier who never did wrong” had not met his downfall in battle, but was dying of the pox.

Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle, working on behalf of the BBC, recorded the song at a travellers’ encampment in Belfast in 1952, from Mary Doran of Waterford. It was included (as ‘The Dying Soldier’) on A Soldier’s Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8) and presumably that’s where Steeleye found it. I heard that LP back in the late 1970s but I have no recollection of having heard Mary Doran’s version of this song until a couple of years ago. I must have had cloth-ears in the seventies: this time round I was completely blown away by Mary Doran’s performance. This volume of the Topic / Caedmon series doesn’t seem to be available to purchase as a CD, but if you hunt around on the web you should be able to find an MP3 version of ‘The Dying Soldier’ – it’s well worth hunting out.

When I was on horseback

May 1, 2016

Week 246 – House in the Country

I first encountered Ashley Hutchings on the Steeleye Span LP Ten Man Mop. It’s a great record – probably Steeleye’s best – and as it was only the third or fourth folk record I’d heard it had quite an effect on me. And not just the music. I was very taken by the photo of Ashley Hutchings on the sleeve, where he was wearing a collarless “granddad shirt”. Now I’ve never been one to take much notice of fashion, and as a teenager I was almost completely oblivious to it. But seeing that photo – and then, a little while later, Martin Carthy similarly attired on the cover of Crown of Horn – prompted a great fondness for collarless shirts which I retain to this day. Once I got to know the folk scene better, of course, I found that in the late seventies these shirts (along with beards and pewter tankards) were pretty much de rigeur for the male folkie. Less so for much of the intervening decades, but I still like them.

Back cover of Ten Man Mop

Back cover of Ten Man Mop

Over the next few years I listened to numerous albums featuring Ashley Hutchings: Please to see the King, The Prospect Before Us, Son of Morris On, The Compleat Dancing Master, Rattlebone and Ploughjack, Morris On, Amaranth, Liege and Lief (although, having read what a seminal album that was, when I eventually heard it I was left feeling a little disappointed; I still prefer What we did on our holidays). Then, in 1978, came the Albion Band’s Rise up like the Sun. One of my school friends – I think it must have been my best friend, and singing partner, Mike – bought the LP and I may well have first heard it in the Norton Knatchbull School Sixth Form Common Room. At the time, fairly new as I was to folk music, I had still managed to form various not very rational prejudices. And I wasn’t entirely sure about this record. One of my prejudices was against drum kits in folk bands – I preferred the ‘electric folk’ of early Steeleye to the full-on folk-rock sound – and this band line-up included two drummers! (Actually, this prejudice wasn’t totally irrational – I’ve heard far too many bands where an uninspired folk-rock drum beat has completely overpowered the rhythmic subtleties inherent in good dance playing, and squeezed all the life out of the music. And don’t get me started on that dreadfully disappointing Richard Thompson and Phil Pickett record…)

All the same, I wasn’t quite ready for a review of the album by Karl Dallas (possibly in Melody Maker but I think it was some more niche publication, possibly Folk Review) which he used to propound his theory that folk-rock was dead. I’d only just got into folk music via folk-rock – I wasn’t ready for it to end. Looking back, Dallas might have had a point – folk-rock didn’t die, but it was beginning to atrophy.

(As an aside, not really relevant to any of this, but I’ll mention it anyway, I distinctly remember where I read that Karl Dallas review. It was at a sort of folk youth club set up by folk dance enthusiasts Don and Marjorie Lang, at a scout hut or similar, quite near the seafront in Hythe. I can only remember going to a couple of the Sunday afternoon meetings, but the club might have gone on for longer than that – I didn’t live in Hythe, and it must have been coming up to the time when Mike and I took our A levels. At one of the meetings I did attend – the first one I think – I first encountered Adrian Russell, who had been brought in to demonstrate his prowess on the anglo-concertina. We must have kept in touch  after that first meeting, and went onto become firm friends.)

Having initially had mixed feelings about Rise up like the Sun, after a few years I realised that if I stopped pigeonholing the record, and treated it purely on its own merits (i.e. not as folk, not as folk-rock, not as rock – just as music) it was quite clearly a work of genius. The arrangements of tracks like ‘Poor Old Horse’ are quite superb. And although Karl Dallas might not have been able to come to terms with John Tams changing the tune of ‘The Gresford Disaster’, I now consider that track to be one of the greatest ever recorded under the Albion brand. I love Graeme Taylor’s guitar work, and the way the track builds to an emotional climax – then achieves an even greater emotional impact as the volume drops and Tams sings those last few accusatory verses. There are several songs which produce a Pavlovian effect in me, making my eyes water as a certain line is reached. These range from ‘No Man’s Land’ to Michelle Shocked’s  ‘Anchorage’ and Gram Parsons’ ‘Thousand Dollar Wedding’. And one such moment is definitely when John Tams sings

And the owners have sent some lilies, dear God,
To pay for the poor colliers’ lives.

Stupidly, I’m welling up as I type them now.

 

Of all the Albion records, this is the one where Tams had the greatest creative input, and he must take much of the credit for the album’s brilliance. But it was Ashley Hutchings who had the contacts which enabled him to assemble such a stellar cast of backing vocalists, including Richard and Linda Thompson, Maddy Prior, Martin Carthy, Julie Covington and the McGarrigles. On ‘House in the Country’ (you see, I got to the point eventually) Tams duets with Kate McGarrigle, and the result is, of course, sublime.

On the album sleeve this track is credited to M. Stewart, and I assumed it was a modern composition, perhaps by some folk scene singer-songwriter I’d not encountered. But then, during a visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library I think, I came across the song in the 1975 Folk Music Journal, in an article on Scottish travellers’ songs by Peter A. Hall.

The composer was Maggie Stewart, a travelling singer related to the famous Stewarts of Blairgowrie – she was Jeannie Robertson’s aunt, and Stanley Robertson’s “great grand aunt”. A grandson, James Stewart, contributes this information on Mudcat

My GrandMother Maggie Stewart was Born at the Loch O’ the Lee’s outside Banchory in the year of 1902 and died in Aberdeen in the year of 1983 aged 80 years old. she lived in Forfar for years when Hamish Henderson went to Forfar to Record some of the Stewarts and Maggie Stewart was just one of them same family of Folk singers.

Tobar an Dualchais  tells us that Maggie Stewart was

born in Banchory, on Deeside, but spent more time around Alford, Tarland and Aboyne. She travelled Deeside, Donside, Perthshire, Skye, Argyllshire and the Glasgow area with a horse and cart.

There’s a 1979 recording of Stanley Robertson singing this song (with additional verses, not printed in the Journal) at http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/68644/7 and elsewhere on the site you’ll find a discussion about the various songs composed by Maggie Stewart.

Maggie Stewart being recorded by her nephew Stanley Robertson. From 'The Oral and Cultural Traditions of Scottish Travellers a selection of images from the project'. Image copyright the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen.

Maggie Stewart being recorded by her nephew Stanley Robertson. From ‘The Oral and Cultural Traditions of Scottish Travellers a selection of images from the project’. Image copyright the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen.

Peter Hall’s introduction to this song in the Journal says

Another indication of a flourishing tradition is the addition of new material into the repertoire. The most obvious, although not the only way this may take place is by the composition of original songs. Maggie Stewart, formerly living in Aberdeen and now in Montrose, has written a number of fine pieces as well as being an important contributor of traditional material. The song given here illustrates the dilemma of tinkers who wished to become integrated into society and yet at the same time not to discard any of their own character and custom. The Second World War was an important era for the travelling community, when the expanded bureaucratic machine pushed tinkers into the mainstream of society, requiring them to fight and to be listed and counted.

(Actually, Stanley Robertson suggests the song related to the period following the First World War, rather than the Second). Hall continues

In one of the best papers on the tinker’s life style Farnham Rehfisch deals with the institution of marriage:

“During the two wars quite a number of Tinkers were taken into the Armed Forces. It was very much easier for wives to collect family allowances and other government-granted aid if they were able to show documents proving a legal marriage to a serviceman. This was often essential since many of those who were in charge of the distribution of such benefits were very much prejudiced against members of the group and went to great lengths to avoid satisfying their just claims.”

Society is still ambiguous about accepting tinkers into its midst and the mutual tension embodied in the relationship is well caught in the next song.

House in the Country

April 29, 2016

Week 245 – Dido, Bendigo

Learned from Mike Waterson, on The Watersons’ eponymous 1966 LP (the red one).

As A.L.Lloyd pointed out in his sleevenotes “the name of the sporting duke may vary, the list of hounds stays much the same”. Although, in the three broadside versions which you can find on Broadside Ballads Online, the second hound’s name is not Bendigo but Spendigo, or Spandigo.

The Sportsman's Companion - including 'Dido, a favourite hunting song'. Printed by Pitts of Seven Dials, London, between 1819 and 1844. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The Sportsman’s Companion – including ‘Dido, a favourite hunting song’. Printed by Pitts of Seven Dials, London, between 1819 and 1844. From Broadside Ballads Online.

There was a time when I used to sing this quite a lot at Oyster Morris music sessions. But up until a few weeks ago, when I decided to revive the song for this blog, I probably hadn’t sung it for twenty years or more. And I have to confess that it took me a while to remember which fox went for its cover and which for the river, and what their respective fates were. In fact, as a result of a simple mishearing of what Mike Waterson was singing, I think I must always have reordered the sequence of events. The Watersons’ third verse – according to this transcription at least – runs

Well the next fox being old and his trials fast a-dawning,
He’s made straight away for the river.
Well the fox he has jumped in but an hound jumped after him:
It was Traveller who straited him forever.

Actually the line on the Yorkshire Garland site seems to make more sense

It was Traveller a-striding in for ever.

and listening again to the Watersons version, I think what Mike sang was

It was Traveller who strided him for ever.

Either way, I’ve always sung

It was Traveller destroyed his life forever.

After which, of course, there was no possibility of said fox running across the plain in the next verse. Hence my reordering of the verses.

Dido, Bendigo

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April 24, 2016

Week 244 – Fare thee well dearest Nancy

I learned this from the singing of Fi and Jo Fraser on the Old Swan Band’s second LP, Old Swan Brand.  Although the release date given on the sleeve of that record is 1978, my recollection is that it didn’t actually come out until much later, around 1980 or 1981. I bought my copy at the Bracknell  Folk Festival in, I’m fairly sure, 1982. It was a secondhand copy. A signed, secondhand copy. Which always rather amused me: presumably someone saw the band, and enjoyed their music so much that they not only bought a copy of the record, but got the band to sign it; only to find, when they got it home, that it really wasn’t what they were expecting. Actually, that’s quite feasible, as the signatures on the cover are those of the Swan Band circa 1981 (including Richard Valentine, and “the invisible Paul Burgess”), and the band had a rather different sound by then – much fuller with the addition of the piano and. dare I say it, rather more polished. Also, it’s possible that the purchaser liked the tunes, but couldn’t stand all that singing…

Anyway, I was pleased to give the record a home, and I was particularly taken with this song. I imagine that the record originally had, or was intended to have, a booklet or insert giving details of the provenance of all the songs and tunes. My secondhand copy had none, and neither did the second copy which I inherited from my Mum last year. So maybe this was cut as a result of Free Reed’s financial problems at the time. Whatever the reason, the lack of an insert meant I had no information about where Jo and Fi got this song from (and I’ve never got round to asking either of them).

This was one of the songs I used to sing with Chris Wood in the 1980s, and I remember Chris saying that he thought they’d probably learned it from Mick Hanly’s A Kiss In The Morning Early. That’s one of those classic 1970s LPs which, for some reason, I’m pretty sure I never heard. Poking around on Mudcat and elsewhere, it seems that most of the songs on that album came from Colm O Lochlainn’s book More Irish Street Ballads. But Hanly seems to have used a different tune to the one found in O Lochlainn, and indeed O Lochlainn’s verses may well have been collated from various sources, such as printed broadsides.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter – it’s just a great song. So thanks Jo and Fi.

The sailor's adieu. Broadside printed by  J Pitts of Seven Dials, between 1819 and 1844. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The sailor’s adieu. Broadside printed by J Pitts of Seven Dials, between 1819 and 1844. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Fare thee well dearest Nancy

April 16, 2016

Week 243 – When Spring Comes In

It has felt truly Spring-like this week, which prompted me to record this song for the blog. The song seemed rather less appropriate when I woke up today to find it was a cold, grey, wet morning – apparently it had been snowing earlier – but I decided not to let that put me off and, indeed, like many a dark and a cloudy morning, it has turned out to be an OK sort of afternoon.

My friend Mike and I used to sing this together having learned it circa 1979 from Bob Copper’s book A Song for every Season – at that point we’d not actually heard the Coppers singing it. In later years this is a song which I’d often sing on a night out with my friend (and occasional commenter on this blog) Adrian. Unfortunately nights out and sing-songs with Adrian happen all too rarely these days, but this is a song which I can’t really envisage not being sung in harmony. So, with the help of Audacity, Dropbox and an iPad, here’s me singing with a bunch of doppelgangers (quintuplegangers?). With a bit more time, this could have been quite a lot more polished. But I didn’t have more time and, besides, I don’t think it suffers too much from the slightly ramshackle feel (or the fact that I was making up most of the harmonies as I went along).

You can hear Bob and Ron Copper singing this on the Topic CD Come Write Me Down: Early Recordings of the Copper Family of Rottingdean. It was also included on the 1995 CD Coppersongs 2: The Living Tradition of the Copper Family, sung by Bob, John, Lynne and Jon Dudley And there’s a 1971 recording of Bob, John and Lynne singing it at the Lewes Folk Club on the British Library website.

When Spring Comes In

Andy Turner – vocals

April 9, 2016

Week 242 – Long Looked For Come At Last

I learned this from Caroline Jackson-Houlston. She and I used to sing it together – performing as Flash Company – in the early 1980s, and it’s one of several songs from that period which she and I both retain in our individual repertoires. Mind you, Caroline has always made quite clear what her reaction would be, if a suitor buggered off for a year then came back claiming “you’re the one I really want” – and it wouldn’t be to drag him off to church.

I still have Caroline’s typed copy of the words. Unusually, they don’t give her source, but looking at the Full English it must be this version from the 85 year old William Winter, collected at Andover by H. Balfour Gardiner, and which forms the basis of the version printed in Frank Purslow’s The Wanton Seed.

'Abroad as I was a-walking' from the Gardiner MSS, via the Full English

‘Abroad as I was a-walking’ from the Gardiner MSS, via the Full English

Long Looked For Come At Last

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

April 1, 2016

Week 241 – Do Me Ama

One of the good things about maintaining this blog is that it’s made me remember songs which I used to sing thirty or even forty years ago, and which I have neglected – often unfairly – for twenty or thirty years, or maybe even longer.

This is one such. I first heard it in the late 1970s on the 1967 LP Byker Hill by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick. Martin’s sleevenotes to the LP say

It is, incidentally, the only song I have ever learned on one hearing only (without the aid of tape-recorder or pencil and paper).

He doesn’t say who he got it from, but I should think there’s a strong likelihood that it was Bert Lloyd.

I can’t claim to have learned the song at one hearing, but I think I did just absorb the words back in the seventies, rather than having to write them down and learn them. I sang it around the house at the time, then forgot about it until a few weeks ago – at which point, again, I was able to recall the words without recourse to printed (or online) versions. Having revived the song, I’m now planning not to forget about it again.

Do Me Ama

March 25, 2016

Week 240 – Sleep on beloved

I first sang this at a West Gallery workshop at the Sidmouth Festival, circa 1995, led by Gordon Ashman. I then learned it from the 1997 collection West Gallery Harmony, which Gordon edited with his wife Isabella. Gordon was clearly very fond of the hymn, as it’s stretching things really to call it a West Gallery piece. The words were written by the English novelist and poet Sarah Doudney. First published as a poem in 1871, the words were then set to music by Ira D. Sankey (of Sankey & Moody fame) and included in his Sacred Songs and Solos (first published in 1873).

Sankey - Sacred Songs and Solos

Sankey – Sacred Songs and Solos

Such was the popularity of Sacred Songs and Solos that it grew progressively in size, from a mere 24 pages in 1873, until by 1903 it contained 1200 songs. When you see them on the printed page – well, when I see them on the page, at any rate – most Sankey & Moody hymns appear to be dreadful nineteenth century sentimental slush, with page after page of hymns with exclamation marks in the title: ‘Closer, Lord to Thee!’, ‘Then shall my Heart keep Singing!’, ‘I am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus!’, ‘Resting in the Everlasting Arms!’, ‘Ring the Bells of Heaven!’. But they were immensely popular at the time, at least in part, I’m sure, because so many of them provided the opportunity for a jolly good sing. The expanded editions included many popular pieces not written by Sankey or Moody – ‘Bringing in the Sheaves’ and ‘Nearer, my God to thee’, for example – but I’m sure the book contains many other lesser-known belters. And fortunately some people on the folk scene – notably members of the Waterson:Carthy/Swan Arcade/Blue Murder/Coope Boyes & Simpson axis – are able to sort the wheat from the chaff: the 1200 pieces include such gems as ‘Will there be any Stars in my Crown’, ‘Only Remembered’, and ‘Deliverance will come’.

The book, and the songs it contained, were not only popular in America and Britain, it appears. Here’s Martin Carthy, from the sleevenotes to the first Waterson:Carthy album, via this song’s entry on the Mainly Norfolk website:

In the 1960s, the Incredible String Band renamed a song called I Bid You Goodnight which they learned from Jody Stecher’s recordings of the great Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence and his family, the Pinder family, and the song became, for some folkies, one of those great standards. A year or two ago John Howson visited Staithes to record the Fisherman’s Choir, and was accompanied by Maggie Hunt who, at the same time, was interviewing the individuals involved. During conversations, a Mr Willie Wright sang a snatch of the Sankey hymn Sleep On Beloved which he described as a lowering down song at funerals, and which was clearly the same song as I Bid You Goodnight but in an earlier form, and when Norma heard it, she went to see Willie, who kindly proved her with the other verses. When we sang the song to Jody Stecher, he was enormously pleased, not least because its function as a funeral song in the Bahamian fishing community was identical to that in its North Yorkshire counterpart.

You can hear Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family singing ‘I Bid You Goodnight’ on YouTube (as well as numerous other versions, by everyone from The Grateful Dead to The Dixie Hummingbirds).

Sankey - The Christian's Goodnight

Sankey – The Christian’s Goodnight

Sleep on beloved

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

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