Archive for August, 2013

August 26, 2013

Week 105 – Nancy of Yarmouth

“A particular favourite”, as the broadsides used to say.

I learned this from Suffolk singer Fred Ling, on the LP Sailor Men and Serving Maids (Volume 6 in the Topic/Caedmon series The Folk Songs of Britain). His fine performance  was recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1953 at the famous  Blaxhall Ship. Listening back to that recording now, I seem to have changed the tune a bit in the 30-odd years that I’ve been singing the song. Still, if you’ve got a problem with that sort of thing, you’d probably be best off not listening to folk music.

'Nancy Of Yarmouth' from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the EFDSS Full English site.

‘Nancy Of Yarmouth’ from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the EFDSS Full English site.

Nancy of Yarmouth

August 18, 2013

Week 104 – Banks of Sweet Dundee

Banks of Sweet Dundee - broadside from the National Library of Scotland

Banks of Sweet Dundee – broadside from the National Library of Scotland “Word on the Street” collection.

This post completes the second year of A Folk Song A Week. Never having counted how many songs I actually know, it’s hard to say how many more I have to post, but I reckon I can keep going for another year or so.

This one – a piece of  “sublime doggerel” according to Frank Kidson – I learned very early in my career as a singer of folk songs, from Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl’s The Singing Island. The source of the song is given as “William Miller, Stirling” –  MacColl’s father, I believe.

It was once a very popular song in England, Scotland and beyond – look at all the recorded versions in the Roud Index.

Banks of Sweet Dundee

August 10, 2013

Week 103 – Petition Of The Pigs In Kent

“An humble Petition of the Pigs, to restore their ancient Privilege of foraging in the Woods during the Acorn Season”

I recently spent a happy afternoon digitising some of my old vinyl LPs. Among them were three albums by Tundra – the duo of Doug and Sue Hudson – who were superstars on the Kent folk scene in the late seventies and early eighties. Their live performances were always very entertaining, while on record the musical arrangements were enhanced by the presence of various members of Fiddler’s Dram and the Oyster Ceilidh Band.

This song appeared on what I think was their first “proper” LP, A Kentish Garland. Lord knows how they stumbled upon this little gem, hidden away in the November 1809 edition of the Sporting Magazine. Or, to give it its full title, The Sporting Magazine, Or Monthly Calendar of the Transactions of The Turf, The Chase, And every other Diversion Interesting to the Man of Pleasure Enterprize and Spirits.

This piece is included in a section headed



and indeed it takes a rare poetic genius to think of rhyming “before ‘em” with “decorum”.

The pigs’ complaint is occasioned by the ending of the ancient custom of Pannage as a result of the spread of Enclosure in the County. It is unclear whether the author is, beneath his satire, genuinely complaining about the ending of Pannage, or parodying the complaints of those protesting against Enclosure.

Many of Tundra’s songs were taken from broadsides and other printed sources, which gave the words but no tunes. Sometimes these words would be fitted to a traditional tune, but I assume that in many cases Doug and/or Sue composed a suitable tune – I imagine that was the case with this song.

I’d not sung the song for many years, but listening to the LP again after a similarly lengthy interval, I remembered how much I used to enjoy singing it; and was pleased to find that it only took a couple of run-throughs for the words to come back to me.

I’ll end by quoting from the original album sleevenotes

Porcine plaisanterie at its peak! It may seem trivial to you or me but foraging for acorns in the woods was a basic pleasure of life for pigs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Imagine their disgruntlement at the removal of this their ancient right. The question is – who originally wrote the song? Was it Shakespeare, or – Bacon?

Petition Of The Pigs In Kent

August 4, 2013

Week 102 – Adieu to Old England

I first heard this on the 1974 Shirley Collins LP of the same name. Then a little later I heard it sung by John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris on Among the Many Attractions at the Show Will Be a Really High Class Band. I learned this version in the early 1980s from Caroline Jackson-Houlston; it was part of our repertoire in the harmony duo Flash Company.

The song comes from Sabine Baring-Gould’s Folk Songs of the West Country, where it says it was “Taken down from William Friend, 1889”. Elsewhere Baring-Gould claimed to have found the song “repeatedly” in the West Country, and you can see his collected versions on the EFDSS Full English site, along with versions taken down by Sharp, Gardiner, Hammond and Lucy Broadwood – all in the West Country. But that might just reflect the geographical bias of the collectors – Norfolk’s Harry Cox had the song in his repertoire, and it has also been collected in Bedfordshire, Scotland and North America.

I’d never looked into the song’s background before starting this blog post, but I was sure there would be umpteen broadside versions – the song very much has the air of one that originated with the broadside press. However the notes to the EFDSS publication Still Growing state “No known broadside versions”, and a decade on from that book’s publication I can’t find any online. However Baring-Gould’s English Minstrelsie (1896) contains an eighteenth century printed version – here are some extracts from the book’s song notes:

A song from “Vocal Music, or, The Songster’s Companion,” circ. 1778, vol. iv. This begins-

“Ye frolicsome sparks of the game,
Ye misers both wretched and old,
Come listen to Billy, my name,
Who once had his hat full of gold.”

The chorus to this is —

“Then why should we quarrel for riches,
Or any such glittering toys ?
A light heart and a thin pair of breeches,
Go through the world, brave boys ! “

But this chorus belongs to a much earlier song that is in “Perseus and Andromeda” which was acted at Drury Lane in 1728.

There is a song I have come upon repeatedly, for the last ten years, as a folk-ballad in the West of England, that goes over the same ground as the song in “Vocal Music,” but has more verses, and the chorus, “Adieu to Old England, adieu,” in place of that from “Perseus and Andromeda,”

In ” Vocal Music ” the chorus to ” Ye frolicksome sparks,” is a mere repetition of the last two lines of each verse. I have therefore adopted the chorus of the folk-song as now sung. The folk-chorus, “Adieu to Old England, adieu,” will perhaps be more acceptable than that which insists on a “Thin pair of breeches,” and the folk-melody of the chorus is also good, and better than a mere repetition.

Proving, if nothing else, that it wasn’t just songs from the oral tradition which the good Reverend felt compelled to mess around with when publishing them!

The song’s lyrics do not make clear why the narrator is bidding farewell to his native land. Has he committed a crime, and now awaits transportation? Or has, he like the character in Limbo, simply spent all his money on riotous living, and is now fleeing abroad? Answers on a postcard, please.

'Adieu to old England adieu' from the Baring-Gould manuscript archive, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

‘Adieu to old England adieu’ from the Baring-Gould manuscript archive, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

Adieu to Old England

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina