The first folk record of any description that I heard was Below the Salt by Steeleye Span. The next were probably All Around My Hat and Ten Man Mop by Steeleye Span, and Folk Songs of Olde England Volume 1 by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, who were of course members of – yes you’ve guessed it – Steeleye Span. I did then start to branch out a little, with LPs by the Watersons, Planxty, the Chieftains, and even, within twelve months of my conversion to full-blown folkiness, the Copper Family. But it would be hard to deny that Steeleye, and Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, had a massive influence on my developing musical tastes. As a seventeen year old I suspect my singing voice was a rather curious and unlovely amalgam of Mike Waterson (inimitable, and therefore definitely not someone a Kentish schoolboy should have tried to imitate), Tim Hart (who I later discovered had adopted a fake yokel singing style because he thought his own voice was too posh for folk songs) and Martin Carthy at his most mannered. I have, I hope, moved on.
This song is the first track on the aforementioned Folk Songs of Olde England Volume 1. There are several songs from that record which have entered my repertoire over the years – ‘A Wager’, ‘Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy’, ‘Babes in the Wood’ – but funnily enough I don’t think I ever learned any of them directly from the LP. According to Reinhard Zierke’s Mainly Norfolk site the sleeve notes say
This Cumberland sung is an amalgamation of three versions collected by Geoff Woods of Leeds between 1945-1967. It is believed to have been written by Willian Graham, “the Cumberland poacher”. The word “lish” is Cumberland dialect for active or brisk, and “buy-a-broom” is a tinker.
Clearly Reinhard has a different version of the record to me – my 1976 Mooncreast reissue has no notes about the songs at all.
I wrote out the words on an early visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. I wasn’t very scrupulous about noting my sources in those days, and looking at the Roud Index I can’t say for sure where I got the words from. The only likely contender there is Frank Warriner’s Cumberland collection, but in my memory it was from a more modern printed source. I guess Steve Roud hasn’t had time to index every book in the VWML…
I was pleased to find that there was an extra verse – the one which ends “She said: My gay young fellow you shall play my little drum”, which is the kind of line you wouldn’t want to leave out.
The Lish Young Buy-a-Broom