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.
Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina