Archive for January, 2014

January 25, 2014

Week 127 – Gentlemen of High Renown

A hunting song from the Copper Family repertoire. I must have been singing this since about October 1976. That’s when my friend Mike was given the single LP taken from A Song for Every Season. We taped it, then over a couple of Sunday afternoons, went through the entire album, writing down the words of each song line by line. I’d learn the tune and Mike took the bass. Hey presto! repertoire more than doubled in size almost overnight!

There are a couple of verses in this song where you might think that it’s going to take the fox’s side. But if that’s what you were hoping, you’re in for a disappointment – in the last verse Bold Reynard begs for mercy, but is denied in no uncertain terms.

Gentlemen of High Renown

January 25, 2014

Radio 2’s Cecil Sharp Collection

I must admit I don’t usually take very much notice of the Radio 2 Folk Awards. It’s nice to see one’s friends winning a gong, of course, and there’s a certain pleasure to be had in dissing the once-famous-singer-songwriters-with-a-tenuous-connection-to-the-UK-folk-scene who generally seem to get the Lifetime Achievement Awards (although honourable exceptions in the list of people who have won that award include Malcolm Taylor, Bill Leader and Ian Campbell).

Anyway this year, Radio 2 makes its first induction into its Folk Awards Hall of Fame. I would have expected, and been quite happy for, the first inductee to be a performer like Shirley Collins, or Martin Carthy or, indeed, the entire Waterson-Carthy clan. But I’m actually even more pleased to say that, ninety years after his death, the first inductee is none other than dear old Cecil Sharp. And they are treating this as an opportunity to promote the EFDSS’s Full English archive, and to encourage people to explore that collection, sing the songs Sharp collected, and contribute recordings of them to the Folk Show website.

In particular they’re looking for renditions of ‘The Seeds of Love’, ‘Claudy Banks’ and ‘Barbara Allen’ (as well as three of William Kimber’s exquisite morris tunes).  I was rather chuffed to find that one of the versions of ‘Seeds of Love’ included in their Cecil Sharp Playlist on Spotify is Magpie Lane’s recording of the song, from our CD Jack-in-the-Green (although the pedant in me objected “that version wasn’t collected by Cecil Sharp”).

Of course I know, and have already posted here, any number of songs collected by Cecil Sharp – see Of those three songs specifically mentioned, so far the only one I’ve recorded is ‘Barbara Ellen’, which I posted here last June: Week 93 – Barbara Ellen. I’ve now uploaded the same file to Soundcloud, so I can tweet the link to #R2CecilSharp.

Any of you singers out there, why don’t you do the same?

January 19, 2014

Week 126 – Fare Thee Well, My Dearest Dear

I first heard this song on the album Amaranth. This was the 1970s reissue of Shirley and Dolly Collins’ Anthems in Eden suite, where the suite itself was paired with new recordings featuring what one might loosely describe as the Albion Dance Band. The arrangement on this track was greatly enhanced by the presence of a sackbut quartet (for 10 points:  which other Albion track from the early seventies featured four sackbuts?). I actually learned the song from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs where I found that, as taken down by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall in 1904, the song had a rather more unpredictable rhythm than when rendered by Ashley and the boys. I think I was always aware that I hadn’t quite learned it “right”. Checking back now with the book  I can see that my interpretation of the tune owes at least as much to the way Shirley sings it, as to the way it was collected from Mrs Verrall.

I remember hearing Tony Rose sing this song on Radio 2’s folk show Folkweave back in the late seventies or early eighties. He said that, as a young singer, he had gained a reputation for being very knowledgeable about the songs he sang. Little did people realise, he confided, that all he was doing was regurgitating the notes from the back of the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. So imagine his horror when he turned to the back of the book and found that, inexplicably, the editors had failed to provide any notes for this song. With its republication as Classic English Folk Songs, this error has of course been redressed. Malcolm Douglas’ notes to the new book tell us that

  • this appears to be one of those songs which have only been collected from a single traditional source (the Roud Index has ‘Over the Mountain’, collected by Gardiner in Hampshire, sharing the same Roud number, but comparing the three verses of that song, I’m not convinced)
  • it is descended from a late seventeenth century broadside, ‘The Two Faithful Lovers’
  • the tune prescribed for the words on one seventeenth century broadside at least was ‘Franklin is Fled Away’, from which Harriett Verrall’s tune appears to be descended – see (and indeed, listen) for yourself at

Incidentally, I can only find Mrs Verrall’s tune and first verse in the Full English archive, although six verses are given by RVW in the 1906 Journal of the Folk-Song Society.

Fare thee well my dearest dear, noted by Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall, Horsham, Sussex, 22 Dec 1904; image copyright EFDSS.

Fare thee well my dearest dear, noted by Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall, Horsham, Sussex, 22 Dec 1904; image copyright EFDSS.

The two faithful lovers. Broadside printed in London, between 1663 and 1674, from the Douce Ballads. Image copyright the Bodleian Library.

The two faithful lovers. Broadside printed in London, between 1663 and 1674, from the Douce Ballads. Image copyright the Bodleian Library.

Fare Thee Well, My Dearest Dear

Andy Turner: vocals, G/D  anglo-concertina

January 11, 2014

Week 125 – Old Brown’s Daughter

A song from my favourite traditional singer, Walter Pardon, and one which I’ve been neglecting for far too long.

At the Traditional Song Forum Broadside Day at Cecil Sharp House a couple of years ago I was surprised to find that this song (albeit with a completely different tune) is very popular in Newfoundland – indeed is regarded by many Newfies as a local composition. In fact it is a British music hall song written by the George W. Hunt (1839-1904) and sung on the halls by Alfred ‘The Great’ Vance;  this Mudcat thread throws a lot of light on the song’s origins.

Vance's New Song Of Old Brown's Daughter - from the EFDSS Full English archive

Vance’s New Song Of Old Brown’s Daughter – from the EFDSS Full English archive

I remember the suggestion being made that it might be possible to date the song by the use of the word “galvanised” in the third verse, but actually I think that’s a red herring. Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments in the second half of the eighteenth century, and it was in 1771 that he discovered that the muscles of dead frogs could be made to twitch by applying a spark of electrical current. The OED has the word ‘galvanized’ being used in this literal sense as early as 1802 (“The heat is likewise increased in the part which is galvanised.”) and 1820 (“The lungs of the galvanized rabbit had some blotches on their surface”) – both examples from The Medical and Physical Journal; I also rather like Sydney Smith’s “Galvanise a frog, don’t galvanise a tiger”  from 1825.

As for the metaphorical use of the word, the earliest known use seems to be from Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, from 1853 “Her approach always galvanized him to new and spasmodic life”.

The song is almost certainly later than that. Based on the last line – “By jingo next election I will put up as MP” – I’d always thought that it probably dated from the time of the 1884 Representation of the People Act, which gave the vote for the first time to (some of) the rural working class. But I was forgetting that, although Walter Pardon was a rural singer, this song is almost certainly from a more urban milieu. So a better bet would seem to be the Representation of the People Act of 1867. That gave the vote to some urban / industrial working men for the first time, and changes which followed in its wake made it (theoretically) possible for working men to enter Parliament. The first two working class MPs, Thomas Burt and Alexander MacDonald, both miners’ leaders, were elected (for Morpeth and Stafford respectively) in 1874.

In fact, evidence is given on that Mudcat thread mentioned above, that this song predates working men actually being sent to Parliament – there’s a reference to it in Vance’s Last Great Hits in Era Magazine, Sunday December 4th 1870. So at that stage, I suppose, the idea of a working chap becoming an MP was not an impossibility, but still something so unlikely as to be faintly preposterous. That’s the sense I get from the last verse of the song, in any case.

Walter Pardon learned the song – and it’s worth noting that the tune is different not only from the Newfoundland version, but also from that on the printed sheet music – from his uncle, Billy Gee “who, in his turn, learned it from a local man at one of the regular singing sessions following an Agricultural Workers Union meeting in North Walsham, Norfolk some time around the end of the 19th century” (thanks to Jim Carroll, for that, via Mudcat). It was included on – indeed it provided the title for – Walter’s first LP, A Proper Sort. Both that, and his other record on Leader, Our Side of the Baulk, have of course been unavailable for many years. Most of the songs on them have been made available through other collectors’ recordings on CDs on Topic and Rod Stradling’s Musical Traditions label. But ‘Old Brown’s Daughter’ never seems to have made it onto CD. Perhaps Bill Leader and Peter Bellamy were the only people to have recorded Walter singing it.

Old Brown's Daughter - sheet music from the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music

Old Brown’s Daughter – sheet music from the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music

Old Brown’s Daughter

January 5, 2014

Week 124 – Down by the Seaside

To welcome in 2014, here’s one of my favourites, and almost certainly the only traditional song I know to mention a pair of opera glasses.

I can no longer remember whether I first heard ‘Down by the Seaside’ sung by Shirley Collins on her album Adieu to Old England, or from Shirley’s source, George Maynard, via the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England. I suspect that I heard both of those records at around the same time, having borrowed them from my local public library in Kent, in the late 1970s. It would have been a few years later that I worked out the concertina accompaniment. It must have been one of the first accompaniments that I learned to play, but I’ve not consciously changed it in the intervening 30-odd years. You can check out a 1990 recording of the song on my album Love Death and the Cossack.

This turns out to be one of those songs which have only ever been collected from one traditional singer – although Mike Yates has apparently unearthed a printed source, in the shape of a “chapbook printed c.1820 by J Fraser of Stirling as The Sailor’s Loss” (from the notes to the Musical Traditions CD, Just Another Saturday Night).

Down by the Seaside

Andy Turner: vocals, G/D  anglo-concertina