The title track from the 1963 Topic LP The Roving Journeymen featuring members of the Willett family. On the LP it is sung in slightly different versions by both 84 year old Tom, and his son Chris. Tom’s version was included on volume 20 of The Voice of the People where it is titled ‘The Roaming Journeyman’ – quite rightly, since that’s what both father and son actually sang. What I sing is a bit of an amalgam of the two versions – influenced very largely, I suspect, by the words printed in Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain & Ireland.
I’m always surprised that the Willetts’ songs are not more widely sung on the folk scene. But John Kirkpatrick has recorded this song, and ‘Riding Down to Portsmouth’; while there’s a striking arrangement of ‘The Roving Journeyman’ on the recent CD by the Woodbine & Ivy Band – sung with great gusto by James Raynard (at the time of writing, if you follow that last link, you can in fact listen to the track).
Sometimes when I go to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library I am looking for something in particular. But recently I’ve taken just to browsing through the bound volumes of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Tunes and Folk Words. Somehow it can be quite a thrill to see some classic of the folk revival, as originally notated a hundred years or so ago, in Sharp’s hand. But even better when you come across an unusual variant of a song, or discover a song which you’ve never encountered before.
Such was the case with ‘A Cornish Young Man’, which Sharp noted down on 11th April 1904 from Fred Crossman of Huish Episcopi in Somerset. In the 1950s, Fred’s son – also Fred – was recorded singing a version of the same song by Peter Kennedy. But Mr Crossman Junior had learned it from another singer in the area and, funnily enough, had no recollection of the song having been in his father’s repertoire.
I have added three extra verses at the end of the song, taken from a ballad sheet in the Bodleian’s collection, titled ‘The Outlandish Dream’ (which starts, potentially misleadingly, with the phrase “An Outlandish Knight”).
Of course it is always rash, having found a “new” song in Sharp’s MSS, to assume that no one has been there before you. In particular, that Martin Carthy hasn’t been there before you. Since learning the song I’ve discovered that Martin has recorded ‘A Cornish Young Man’, and it’s on the CD version of Right of Passage – a fact which had escaped my attention since I only have the vinyl version of that album.
The Outlandish Dream – from the Bodleian Library collection
Gosh – a Child Ballad! The first I’ve posted here, I think. I don’t set much store by Child Ballads – by which I mean that, just because a song was on the good professor’s list, I don’t regard it as in any way special, or more noble, or more important than other songs from the tradition.
This one is from George Maynard, learned from his Topic LP Ye Subjects of England. Mind you, I already knew the song, before I heard George sing it, from the Tim Hart & Maddy Prior LP Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1; which – having originally been attracted to traditional music by Steeleye – was one of the very first folk albums I bought. Listened to it again recently, in fact, expecting it to sound rather dated. And was pleasantly surprised to find that I still found it a really good listen, with lots of great songs performed in simple but effective arrangements. Although I’m not able to enjoy Tim Hart’s singing as much as I used to, since I read a Folk Roots article where he confessed that he’d put on that ultra folky voice because he thought his natural (public school educated) voice wouldn’t suit the songs.
To kick off 2012, here’s an Irish love song learned from Shirley Collins’ folk-rock classic No Roses. Shirley learned it from A.L.Lloyd, who had recorded the song on his album The Best of A.L. Lloyd. The sleeve notes to that LP describe it thus:
The pearl of separation song, not so much for its text as for its grand and graceful tune. The words seem like an amiable specimen of poetry made in the 10th century [sic – clearly a typo – should be 18th century I think] by some tattered heir of a bardic tradition. The tune sounds as if it may be at least a century older, composed at a time when the folk harpers and fiddlers were becoming aquainted with Händel and Corelli. The River Bann is in north-eastern Ireland. The song was doubtless brought to England by Ulster labourers. I’ve not seen a printed set of it.