The memory is a bit fuzzy at the edges, but I have a very clear recollection of the first time I heard ‘The Nutting Girl’. The occasion was the annual House Music competition at my school, and I reckon it would have been in the Spring of 1975. I was in Burra House, and no doubt would have played some part in the competition. Maybe this was the year I played ‘Stranger on the Shore’ on the trumpet. Whatever I did, I’m sure it was instantly forgettable – unless, of course, it was so bad that the audience found they couldn’t forget it, no matter how hard they tried.
Barrett were commonly reckoned the House to beat in the three cultural competitions: Drama, Debating and Music. They had at least three really good piano players: Dave Finch, who was in my year, and Terry Creissen and Barnaby Vafidis, who were a year or two older. On this occasion, Terry Creissen came on stage with Tim Bull (later a dancer with Mr Jorrocks Morris, and melodeon-player with the dance band Florida) and, if memory serves, Terry’s older brother Gary, and Matthew Vafidis, older brother of the aforementioned Barnaby. They had with them a big book of songs by Beethoven, but what they sang – unaccompanied – was ‘The Nutting Girl’.
Now I can’t claim that I had some sort of Damascene conversion (that came, if my chronology is right, some 8 or 9 months later, after seeing Steeleye Span on Top of the Pops). But the memory of having heard this song sung on the school stage has stayed with me.
I subsequently discovered that the boys were dancing with Headcorn Morris. And I think it’s a fair bet that they had learned this song from the performance by John Kirkpatrick on Morris On. It would be another 2 or 3 years before I heard that album, by which time I had already heard a field recording of ‘The Nutting Girl’ being sung by Cyril Poacher in the famous Blaxhall Ship. This was in a recording made by Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax in 1954, and included on the LP Songs of Seduction, which was the first record I borrowed on joining my local public library’s record department. It’s very much a live recording, with plenty of audience participation and, naturally, calls from the “Chairman” Wicketts Richardson for “order please”.
I was delighted to find a few years ago that Peter Kennedy had also filmed a singing session in the Ship, and even more pleased when the film was included on the double DVD set Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow: A Century of Folk Customs and Ancient Rural Games. In fact I’ve just discovered that you can watch the 17 minute film on the East Anglian Film Archive website.
I’ve heard it said that Cyril had another pint before each new take of this song, which is why there is, as it were, a certain lack of continuity between the takes. In fact, in the notes to the Musical Traditions CD Plenty of Thyme Rod Stradling puts the number of takes as nineteen – in which case, it’s not surprising if Cyril seems slightly the worse for wear by the end; in fact it’s a wonder he was still standing at all!
Those notes also tell us that Cyril learned the song from his maternal grandfather, William ‘Cronie’ Ling:
My grandfather Cronie Ling would put me on his knee and sing The Nutting Girl – that was the first song I heard, and he used to let me smoke his pipe too.
From the photo below it would appear that not only the song, but also the pipe-smoking habit stayed with him.
The Nutting Girl