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.
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
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.