Archive for May, 2014

May 24, 2014

Week 144 – The Nightingales Sing

It feels like I’ve known this song for ever, although in truth it can’t be more than about –  oh – 37 years…

I first heard it performed by Fred and Ray Cantwell on the Topic LP Songs of Seduction. Typically, the version included on that LP had lost more than half its verses; I must have got the missing verses from Peter Kennedy’s book Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland. Kennedy had recorded the Cantwell family at Standlake in Oxfordshire in 1956. I’d always assumed that Fred and Ray were brothers, but looking at the entries for the Kennedy recordings in the British Library Sound Archive catalogue, it seems that there was a brother Ray (75 years old in 1956, and a couple of years older than Fred) and it was these brothers who sang the version of ‘Husbandman and Servingman’ later popularised by the Young Tradition. But the accordion-playing Ray on this song was a much younger man, Fred’s son. There’s a Mudcat thread with a contribution from Fred Cantwell’s granddaughter, where it’s stated that Fred had eight sons. From Mudcat I learn also that Greg Stephens has fond memories of hearing one of these sons, Aubrey, singing this song in a pub in Standlake in the 1960s, while the Roud Index reveals that Gwilym Davies recorded a few songs from John and Aubrey Cantwell in the late seventies. Gwilym tells me that he met John and Aubrey when they were living in Stonehouse in Gloucestershire in the seventies: “we had several lively pub sessions together.  I have some recordings from then, but they are fairly noisy pub sessions”. These recordings are deposited with the British Library but, like those made by Kennedy, not yet digitised and publicly available online.

I’ve always thought of this song as a bit of a hackneyed old number, and it may well have been in the sixties but, to be honest, I can’t recall ever having heard anyone else sing it. Maybe it’s just the tune which is hackneyed, thanks (or rather, no thanks) to the Yetties. In any case, I’ve always really enjoyed singing it. And, although I suppose it’s actually a song of seduction and betrayal, I like to sing it “so sweet and tenderly” as if it were an innocent pastoral love song.

I’m pleased to report that on the Rounder CD reissue of Songs of Seduction we are treated to four verses (the usual third verse being omitted). Annoyingly the sloppily-edited CD notes still show just two verses, with the other three italicised and labelled “Additional verses”. So did Fred only sing four verses, and Kennedy has restored the missing verse from elsewhere? Or did he normally sing five verses, but only four on this occasion? Or did he actually sing all five verses and, even with all the space available on a compact disc, Kennedy / Rounder still decided to edit one out for the record? I’m not the only one to be irritated by all of this. But, like Rod Stradling, I was really pleased when I got hold of this record on CD – especially as, when I first heard it back in the seventies,  it was, apart from the Copper Family, the first time I’d heard field recordings of traditional British singers; listening to the songs again 25 years later reminded me just what an influence hearing the old LP had had on me.

And being able to hear two more verses of this song, at least, was a treat: it’s a fine spirited performance from Mr Cantwell, where he is clearly enjoying himself – after singing the line “Now I’m going to India for seven long year” the singer calls out excitedly “I been there!” (as a soldier, too, one might assume, although that’s pure speculation). And we do also get to hear that he inserts a short whistled refrain between each verse. Indeed the notes contain this rather wonderful sentence

Fred Cantwell said emphatically, as he finished the recording, ‘It ain’t much now, but I used to be able to whistle just exactly like a nightingale when I had my teeth.’

I can’t whistle like a nightingale. But I’ve never been able to resist adding a little whistled coda at the end of the song. Well it worked for Otis Redding…

The Nightingales Sing

May 16, 2014

Week 143 – The Seeds of Love

Famously, the very first folk song that Cecil Sharp collected was from the almost suspiciously aptly named Somerset gardener, John England. This is not John England’s version however, it’s from the great Pop Maynard. The song was included on the Topic LP You Subjects of England.

When Radio 2 launched their Folk Hall of Fame earlier this year, with Cecil Sharp as the first inductee, I was very pleased to find that Magpie Lane’s recording of ‘The Seeds of Love’ (from our Jack-in-the-Green CD) was included on their Cecil Sharp Playlist.

I concocted that arrangement sitting at the piano (an instrument I’ve never actually been able to play) a few days after the birth of my daughter in July 1996. With a new-born baby in the house, I assume I must have had my foot even more firmly on the soft-pedal than usual.

Below you will find a recording of me singing the song solo, and a recording of Magpie Lane performing it in Bampton Church last September.

The Seeds of Love 

Andy Turner – vocal

 

Magpie Lane: Sophie Thurman, Ian Giles, Andy Turner, Jon Fletcher, Mat Green – vocals

Recorded in concert, Bampton Church, Oxfordshire, September 2013 (thanks to Jeff Dando for live sound mixing).

May 10, 2014

Week 142 – As I Walked Out

Bob Copper sings this solo on the Song for Every Season box set, and the song is included in the book of the same name, which is where I learned it. The song has some beautiful lines, but taken as a whole the verses don’t quite hang together. I initially assumed that the words had become corrupt through oral transmission. Then I heard Walter Pardon sing it on the LP A Proper Sort (it’s also on Who’s that at my Bed Window from the Voice of the People set). Both Walter’s tune and his words are more or less identical to Bob’s. Looking now at the many collected versions it appears that tune and words were sung fairly consistently across the North and South of England. And indeed the words are pretty much as printed on countless nineteenth century broadsides – although the place the singer wishes he was in varies from printing to printing: the list includes Dublin, Newcastle, Manchester and Exeter.

The Irish Girl - broadside from the Bodleian Collection.

The Irish Girl – broadside from the Bodleian Collection.

As I Walked Out

May 1, 2014

Week 141 – Good morning lords and ladies

Good morning lords and ladies it is the first day of May

May Day at Ickwell - from http://www.bedfordshire.gov.uk

May Day at Ickwell – from http://www.bedfordshire.gov.uk

The blind song collector Fred Hamer recorded this short piece from the Bedfordshire singer Mrs Margery ‘Mum’ Johnstone, and it is one of several May songs and carols included in Hamer’s excellent little book Garners Gay (one of the others is the ‘Northill May Song’ which I posted here a couple of years ago). I first started dipping into Garners Gay circa 1976, and it was probably not long after that I learned this song.

Hamer’s recording of Mrs Johnstone singing it was included on the EFDSS LP Garners Gay. That’s never been released on CD, but you can hear her singing and talking about Bedfordshire May Day customs in this video from Pete Castle:

(I posted this link two years ago, but it’s worth repeating)

Because of its seasonal nature, and its brevity, this is not a song I’ve ever sung very much in public (although I think we did it once or twice in the early days of Magpie Lane). Strangely, until I came to record it a couple of weeks back, it had never occurred to me to try it with concertina, but actually it seems to work rather well.

Happy May Day one and all.

Good morning lords and ladies 

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina