Archive for April, 2013

April 29, 2013

Week 88 – Swalcliffe May Day Carol

The first Magpie Lane album, The Oxford Ramble, was released just over 20 years ago, and we played our very first concert, in the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, on 3rd May – May Bank Holiday Monday – 1993. We will be returning to the Holywell tomorrow for a 20th anniversary concert, where we will be joined by former members of the band, and a number of special guests. Twenty years ago this was the final song of the night, and it is giving away no secrets, I suspect, if I say that this song will also feature in our concert tomorrow.

I learned the song from Forty Long Miles: twenty-three English folk songs from the collection of Janet Heatley Blunt, edited by Tony Foxworthy and published by Galliard / EFDSS in 1976.

Swalcliffe (pronounced sway-cliff) is a village near Banbury in North Oxfordshire. The words of the carol were noted by Miss Annie Norris around 1840 from the singing of a group of children in the village. The words were passed onto the collector – and Adderbury resident – Janet Blunt in 1908, and she finally collected a tune for the song from Mrs Woolgrove of Swalcliffe, and Mrs Lynes of Sibford, at Sibford fete, July 1921 (this information, and much more about music-making in Adderbury, can be found in Michael Pickering’s book Village Song and Culture).

You can now find Miss Blunt’s notes on the Take Six archive – see below.

May Day Song from the Janet Heatley Blunt collection, via the EFDSS Full English archive

May Day Song from the Janet Heatley Blunt collection, via the EFDSS Full English archive

Man is but a man, his life’s but a span
He is much like a flower
He’s here today and he’s gone tomorrow
So he’s all gone down in an hour

Twenty years ago when I sang those words they really struck home, as I knew that my Dad was dying of cancer. What I didn’t realise was that he would indeed be “gone tomorrow” – he died the very next day. He never got to see Magpie Lane, but he did hear The Oxford Ramble – on cassette – just before he died. Apparently he liked the second side best, because he said it had more of me on it. That comment is so typical of both my parents!

So here’s to my Dad, and all the friends and good times I’ve had these last twenty years with Magpie Lane.

The video below is neither hi-fi nor hi-res, but it’s what we’ve got. If you’re coming to see us tomorrow night, I hope you enjoy it as much as we intend to.

Swalcliffe May Day Carol

Magpie Lane

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Ian Giles: vocal, big bass drum
Tom Bower: vocal, side drum
Jo Acty: vocal
Pete Acty: mandola
Mat Green: fiddle
Chris Leslie: fiddle
Isobel Dams: cello

Filmed by Nicola Field, 3rd May 1993.

April 21, 2013

Week 87 – Sovay

I learned this – along with quite a number of other songs – from Maud Karpeles’ collection The Crystal Spring. Cecil Sharp noted the song in September 1903 from Louie Hooper and Lucy White, at Hambridge in Somerset. It was included in Sharps’ Folk Songs from Somerset where it is notated in alternating bars of 2/4 and 3/4. I sing it pretty much in 6/4 – but what’s the odd extra beat between friends?

The line “when he spied his watch hanging by her clothes” always brings to my mind an image of the two lovers walking in a garden (actually it’s my Mum’s back-garden) where a load of washing is hanging out on the line. And there’s his watch, pegged up between one of her nighties and a pair of bloomers…


April 14, 2013

Week 86 – The Life of a Man

I learned this song from the Sussex Singer Harry Upton, via the limited edition 1978 Topic LP Why Can’t It Always Be Saturday?

Harry’s tune was somewhat different to that usually sung on the folk scene and, inadvertently, I seem to have bent it a bit further. Consequently, having started to sing this at folk clubs in the early nineties, I soon gave up – when it got to the chorus everyone seemed to weigh in with the tune or harmony they knew, and it tended to clash rather horribly with what I was singing. After that I didn’t sing the song at all for many years, but revived it one year ago, to perform in very particular circumstances. Several readers of this blog will know what those circumstances were, and will understand when I say that I have never derived less enjoyment from singing a song.

The Life of a Man

April 7, 2013

Week 85 – The Old Miser

Another song learned from the Willett Family LP, The Roving Journeymen, where it is sung by Chris Willett. The song was also included on Farewell, My Own Dear Native Land,  Volume 4 in Topic’s Voice of the People series.

I previously recorded this song for the compilation of Kentish material, Apples, Cherries, Hops and Women, one of three (to date) masterminded by Pete Castle.

I don’t exactly rush the song, but I’ve just listened to Chris Willett singing the song and was struck by how much slower he takes it – over six and a half minutes, compared with my insubstantial three minutes 54 seconds.

The Old Miser