Only the second song I’ve posted so far from my favourite traditional singer, Walter Pardon – but this was his favourite song.
I first saw Walter sing in 1980, at the first Downs Festival of Traditional Singing, held that year in Newbury. I’d already heard the two LPs of Walter’s songs which were then available on the Leader label, A Proper Sort and Our Side of the Baulk, and it was clear from those recordings that he was a very fine singer. But what really appealed to me when I saw him was the unshowy way in which he sang his songs. In particular, I remember a singaround with everyone sitting in a circle, and each singing a song in turn. When it was Walter’s turn he stood up, launched straight into his song without any preamble, and sat down almost before the last note had died away. A quiet, private, unassuming man (from what I can tell – I never knew him), he demonstrated that you could sing in an undemonstrative way, without any overt display of emotion, and yet put a song across in a totally effective and engaging way.
I saw him twice more, I think. Once at a Library lecture in Cecil Sharp House when, having battled with the Friday night traffic coming up from Kent, we actually only got to see him sing a handful of songs – but one of those was ’The Rambling Blade’, and I distinctly remember him saying this was his favourite song. And then Carol and I went to see him at the Herga folk club in the summer of 1988 (I remember the date because it was just a couple of weeks after we’d got married). Our car was in danger of breaking down, I seem to remember, but I’m really glad we made the trip and got to hear him singing over the course of a full evening.
This song, of course, turns up in many guises – ‘Newlyn Town’, ‘The Flash Lad’, ‘Adieu, Adieu’ etc. etc. But there’s a particularly fine period feel to Walter’s version, with its references to “Ned Fielding” (the novelist Henry Fielding founded the Bow Street Runners in 1749, and his blind younger half-brother John is credited with turning them into London’s first effective police force).
This song appears on the Leader LP A Proper Sort (long unavailable of course, like everything else from the Leader / Trailer catalogue) and was also included on the excellent Topic CD A World Without Horses.
The Rambling Blade