The term ‘Teddy Bear’ was first coined sometime around November, 1902, when American President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt was hunting in Mississippi. He had failed to shoot
anything, so friends captured a bear, which they tethered to a tree, and invited him to shoot it. Roosevelt’s reply: ‘Spare the bear. I will not shoot a tethered animal,’ soon became common knowledge and later that month Clifford & Rose Michtom of Brooklyn produced a soft bear which they called‘Teddy’. I would suspect that Harkie Nesling’s tune and short text probably date from the period 1902 up to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, a time when Teddy Bears were very much in vogue and millions were sold in Europe and America. At least one other similar piece can be dated to 1907: this is Be My Little Teddy Bear by Vincent Bryan (best known for writing In the Sweet Bye and Bye) and Max Hoffman. Sadly, though, this is not the song that Harkie sings.
It’s the one hundredth week of the blog, so let’s celebrate with a rather lovely little traditional song, with a decidedly lovely guitar accompaniment from the perennially lovable Chris Wood.
I first heard this c1981 at the Heritage Society in Oxford, sung by Andy Cheyne, who had recently appeared on the Oxford scene. Andy immediately became a favourite at the club, as he had a range of really interesting songs with really interesting accompaniments. Mainly, he played acoustic guitar, but also had one of those electric guitars with a small speaker embedded in the body – a few years later Ali Farka Toure was shown playing one on the cover of Folk Roots.
Andy had had this song from Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs’ The English Folksinger, from where I also took the words. Andy recorded the song a decade or so later with Michelle Soinne on an excellent cassette-only release Fish Royal. Meanwhile, when Chris Wood and I started working up material in the summer of 1982, I’m pretty sure this was one of the very first songs to go into our repertoire. It was certainly one of my favourites, and when I came to record an album in 1990, this was always going to be on it. That album, Love, Death and the Cossack, was also cassette-only. And, retro-fans, I do still have a box of them knocking around the loft. But if you’d like a copy, you may prefer to download it from http://andyturner.bandcamp.com
Chris has subsequently recorded the song a couple of times, with the Two Duos Quartet, and with Jean-Francois Vrod. Chris learned it from me, as he has always acknowledged, although I seem to remember he’s changed the accidentals around a little.
Last September I went to Cecil Sharp House to see Nic Jones be presented with his EFDSS Gold Badge and – much later in the proceedings than many of us would have liked – to hear him sing a few songs. This was the first time I had seen Nic perform in over 3o years; for many younger members of the audience it was the first time they’d ever seen him perform. To be honest, we’d have cheered him to the rafters just for being there, but – mirabile dictu – after 30 years away from performing, the moment he started singing it was clear that he hadn’t lost the old magic. Backed, magnificently, by his son Joe on guitar, and Belinda O’Hooley on piano, he began his set with ‘Master Kilby’. A wonderful moment, and I don’t mind admitting that a tear bedimm’d my eye.
And what a wonderful song this is. To quote the late Malcolm Douglas on Mudcat
So far as can be told, Master Kilby has been found once only in tradition; Cecil Sharp noted it from Harry Richards of Curry Rivel in Somerset, in January of 1909. That’s all we know; it doesn’t seem to have been published on broadside sheets.
Benjamin Britten published an “art music” arrangement of it, but you can be pretty sure that anyone who sings it now learned it from Nic Jones’ recording, at one remove or another.
Actually, looking at the records on the Full English site (at http://www.vwml.org/roudnumber/1434) it seems that Sharp first took this song down from Harry Richards on 29th July 1904, then went back and noted the song again – with a slightly fuller set of words – on 6th January 1909. Well, it’s a song that is well worth collecting twice.
I had messed around with it over the years, but never with any real intention of working up a proper arrangement. But just after Christmas I had another go at it, and discovered that if I moved the song down from G to F, it fitted rather nicely on the concertina. At the time I tweeted “I think I’ve just worked out a concertina accompaniment for Master Kilby. Very exciting.”
(to which my son, elsewhere in the house, sent the laconic reply “I heard”)
I made a point of going back to the tune and words as collected from Harry Richards, rather than learning the song from a Nic Jones record. But all the same, it’s only now, six months on, that the song is beginning to feel like part of my repertoire, rather than a Nic Jones cover version.
Postwar folk song commentators and activists such as A.L. Lloyd seized on industrial folk song – ‘Blackleg Miner’, ‘Four Loom Weaver’, ‘Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife’ and the like – as the product of a proletariat engaged in class struggle. Their Marxist beliefs would, I suppose, have predisposed them against expecting to find similar material coming out of the rural working class, and this was probably just as well – I can think of very few examples of traditional country songs raging against the social order. (Even in poaching songs, while there are often complaints about the “hard-hearted judges”, it is the gamekeepers – the agents of the landowning classes, rather than the landowners themselves – who are usually perceived as the enemy).
This song, judging by the number of times it has been collected in England and beyond, seems to have been hugely popular. Not only does it not challenge the status quo, but invites us to join in blessing the noble gentleman who – most improbably – bestows “fifty five good acres” on the hardworking labouring man. Although actually traditional singers do seem to have toned down somewhat the obsequious nature of the song as found in printed broadsides, such as Good Lord Fauconbridge’s generous gift, printed by J. Pitts of London, between 1819 and 1844, of which this is the final verse.
No tongue was able in full to express
In depth of their joy and true thankfulness
Then many a courtsey and bow to the ground
Such noblemen there are few to be found
This particular version was collected by Cecil Sharp at Hamstreet in Kent, in September 1908. Not being an authority on Sharp’s handwriting, I’d be hard-pressed to say if he meant to record the singer’s name as Clarke Lankhurst or Lonkhurst (or even Larkhurst). In fact it was almost certainly Clarke Lonkhurst, who the local Kelly’s Directory lists as landlord of the Duke’s Head at Hamstreet. George Frampton, who has researched all of the singers Sharp encountered on this collecting trip, has established that Mr Lonkhurst also worked as a carrier, and was a keen sportsman – playing football and cricket, and a member of the Mid-Kent Stag Hunt. He has also found – just to add even more confusion to the matter of his surname – that in the 1901 Census he is listed as Clarke Longhurst, age 37, born at Dunkirk near Faversham. There are Longhursts from Romney Marsh in my family tree, on my mother’s side, so it’s just possible that this singer is a distant relation of mine.
“I have been using your Embrocation for Capped Elbew with great benefit. — Clarke Lonkhurst, Duke’s Head Hotel, Hamstreet, Ashford, Kent, July 29th, 1908.” ]
Clarke Lonkhurst only sang four verses of this song; I followed my usual practice of completing the words by borrowing verses from the Copper Family version. Had I held on a little, I would have come across a pretty complete set of words collected in 1942 by Francis Collinson from Harry Barling of South Willesborough, Ashford, Kent. This Mr Barling was most likely the same Harry Barling who is listed in the 1901 Census as a Carrier General, living at Aldington, born at Ruckinge; and in the 1881 Census as living at the “Good Intent”, Aldington Frith – i.e. from very much the same part of the world, and a similar age, as Clarke Lonkhurst. The singers’ tunes are almost identical except that Harry Barling’s is in 4/4 and Clarke Lonkhurst’s in 6/8.
Including a song collected by Cecil Sharp gives me the opportunity to mention the EFDSS’s Full English archive, launched a couple of weeks ago. I’ve not, unfortunately, had very much time to explore the site as yet, but it is without doubt an incredible resource – both for researchers, and for those on the look-out for new versions of old songs.
It builds on the Take Six archive, which presented digital images of the collections of Collinson, Butterworth, Blunt, Hammond, Gardiner and Gilchrist. Now we also have access to the work of relatively little-known collectors such as Harry Albino and Frank Sidgwick through to the big names: Lucy Broadwood, Ralph Vaughan Williams and, of course, Cecil James Sharp. The whole thing has been thoroughly and professionally catalogued and indexed, and even looks quite cool – whatever has happened to the DEAFASS we used to love to malign in the past!
As you’ll see, each record has a permament URL, to make it easy to refer others to a specific record. And there are some nice little features, like the ability to refer to a simple URL to point to all the versions of a particular Roud number e.g. this song would be www.vwml.org/roudnumber/19 – just substitute the Roud number of your choice.