An Oxfordshire version of a well-known song – well-known in the folk revival, but also widely sung in oral tradition.
Although this was not included on the first Magpie Lane CD, it was certainly in our repertoire when we played our first concerts in May 1993, and was included on our second album, Speed the Plough. In those days we followed the song with the dance tune ‘Speed the Plough’, aka “The National Anthem of English Country Dance Music”. But we’re a band that likes to move with the times, so in more recent years we’ve taken to playing – as on this this live recording – ‘New Speed the Plough’, from Vic Gammon’s A Sussex Tune Book (N.B. the word “New” in this context is relative – the tune comes from the Welch family MS, dated 1800).
We learned the song from the Oxfordshire section of Lucy Broadwood’s English County Songs. There are four songs in that section, and the source for all of them is given as Mr R. Bennell. It’s not made clear whether Mr Bennell was simply responsible for communicating the songs to Miss Broadwood, or if she collected them directly from his singing . Fortunately Broadwood researcher Irene Shettle has provided the answer – Mr Bennell wrote out the words and tunes and sent them to the collector in a series of letters in November 1891.
Mr Bennell was a professional cornet player, then living in Richmond. The pieces he sent to Broadwood were songs which he remembered from his younger days, having been brought up at Nettlebed in Oxfordshire. Of this song he wrote
I have written the tune of (It was early etc) as I have always heard it sung round about Nettlebed in Oxfordshire where I was brought up. I have herd strangers sing it to the air of Villikins and his Dinah, which melody you are no doubt acquainted with.
I have also written two more, one I may call the Nettlebed Cricket Song as I have never heard a word of the song or a bar of the melody sung in any of my travels. Neither of the songs I have dotted down have the peculiar quaintness and minor tendency of most of our most rural district songs but I could commit several to paper, but the words I could not easily obtain now I am away. I have written the two first and the two last verses of the Leathern Bottle. I can remember no more. There are various difficulties in the way as regards the words of songs; our ancestors in their simplicity were rather coarse even in their sentimental ditties. This for one thing gives rise to a difficulty where as regards the tune there would be none. In answer to your enquiry as to my profession I beg to state that I am a musician and play the cornet for a living in all lines of the business theatrical or otherwise. I object to publicity regarding myself unless consulted. Any remuneration for my little efforts would be thankfully received to cover postage etc. If these songs should give you any satisfaction or be of any help to you in your labours I will furnish you with another or two
In English County Songs Lucy Broadwood gives the Nettlebed tune for this song (under the title ‘Twas Early One Morning’), but prints a set of words “from a gardener’s boy in Berkshire”.
All Jolly Fellows that Follow the Plough / New Speed the Plough
Andy Turner: vocal, one-row melodeon
Ian Giles: vocal, percussion
Mat Green: fiddle
Sophie Thurman: cello
Jon Fletcher: guitar
recorded direct from the mixing desk, Banbury Folk Festival, 14th October 2007