When my friend Mike and I started plundering A Song for Every Season “Spencer the Rover” grabbed our attention very early, and remained a firm favourite. It never occurred to me that I might want to learn another version; to be honest, it never really occurred to me that there might be any other versions. But then I came across this gloriously crooked tune, collected by Vaughan Williams in Kent. I knew (from Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Vaughan Williams) that the composer had noted at least one song from a Mr and Mrs Truell of Gravesend in December 1904. And on a visit to the library at Cecil Sharp House I looked through Vaughan Williams’ manuscripts (then, as now, held on gloriously user-unfriendly microfilm) to see if the couple had given him any other songs. Indeed they had and with some interesting tunes among them. But none so interesting as this one. At first I think I viewed it as a curiosity which I was unlikely to want to sing. But then I tried it on the concertina, and found that it cried out for some pretty interesting chords – which actually seemed to make the song more singable.
All too often, Vaughan Williams wrote down the words of a single verse, or even no words at all. For once, with this song, that suited me – it meant I didn’t have to try to learn a new set of words, but could stick with the Copper Family verses we all know and love.
This recording was made in 2005 for possible inclusion on the Anglo International CD set, but not used; with November 5th approaching, it seemed a shame to waste it.
Spencer the Rover
Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
recorded by Dave Eynstone at The Den, Abingdon, 2005