Archive for August, 2014

August 30, 2014

Week 158 – Ye Boys o’ Callieburn

Earlier this year I attended a singing weekend in and around Stroud, as the guest of Rod and Danny Stradling. One of many good things about the weekend was that I got to meet Pete Shepheard and Arthur Watson, two fine Scottish singers with a store of good songs, and good stories to tell about them. Pete sang this in the Stradling’s kitchen, after hours on the Friday night, then again at the final session on Sunday lunchtime. I was immediately taken with the song, but didn’t at first consider learning it, as it was just so very Scottish. I still think that to really do the song justice you need to have a Scots accent, to be able to roll your Rs, and to pronounce words like “burn” with two syllables (“burran”). But with the song still going round my head days later, I found the words on the internet and decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did, because I just love singing this song (all the same, if you want to hear a really good performance of this song, check out the recording by Shepheard, Spiers & Watson on their CD They Smiled as We Cam In, Springthyme SPRCD 1042).

Pete Shepheard’s notes say

When I was involved in organising the early TMSA festivals in Blairgowrie we set out to bring together traditional singers and musicians from all parts of Scotland. The Mitchell Family of Campbeltown in Kintyre (father, mother, daughter and son-in-law) were invited to the 1968 festival on the recommendation of Hamish Henderson who had come across Campbeltown butcher and amateur folksong collector Willie Mitchell in 1956 during a lecture tour in Argyll organised by the WEA. The Mitchells’ singing of several Kintyre songs provided a most memorable highlight of that gathering in 1968 – two songs in particular – Nancy’s Whisky and the local Kintyre emigration song Ye Boys o Callieburn (Roud 6932) that he had collected from Mr Reid, the farmer at Callieburn. Willie Scott was also a guest that same year and, after a wonderful informal Saturday afternoon ceilidh in the Sun Lounge of the Angus Hotel and with the texts from Willie Mitchell, he quickly took both songs into his repertoire.

The small farming community of Callieburn is in the hills a few miles north of Campbeltown and the song tells of emigration from an area that suffered hardship in the 1830s and 1840s – especially during the ‘hungry 40s’ when the West Highlands had a famine almost as severe as Ireland’s.

 

Among the riches to be found on the Tobar an Dualchais website, are several recordings of this song, including a 1979 recording made by Hamish Henderson of Agnes Mitchell  from Callieburn.

I love the homespun nature of these verses – it really is “a song of our own composing”, and you can well believe that it was put together by a local man on the eve of emigrating. And what a wrench that must have been. The chances of ever seeing one’s friends or family again would have been negligible, hence the importance attached to the hope that “maybe yet we’ll meet in Zion”.

The picture below was painted by William McTaggart (1835–1910), who had a house in Machrihanish, and painted a number of views of the area, as well as a series depicting emigration.

William McTaggart - The Sailing of the Emigrant Ship; National Galleries of Scotland.

William McTaggart – The Sailing of the Emigrant Ship; National Galleries of Scotland.

 

And here is a more modern view (but, one hopes, largely unchanged since McTaggart’s day) of the beach at Machrihanish: “Machrihanish, bright and bonnie, It’s o’er thy beach the waves are rolling”.

Machrihanish Beach; from Wikimedia Commons.

Machrihanish Beach; from Wikimedia Commons.

Ye Boys o’ Callieburn

August 23, 2014

Week 157 – Old John Braddalum / Leaning on a Lamp-post

Well here we go, Year 4 of the blog starts here… with two songs which are completely unrelated, except for the fact that I sing them both in C, with anglo-concertina accompaniment.

I believe ‘Old John Braddalum’ comes from the Sussex singer Bob Blake, although I never heard him singing it. I learned it from my friend Adrian Russell, who got to see Bob Blake, Bob Lewis, George Spicer and quite a number of Sussex singers at festivals and other events in the seventies, just slightly before I was interested in folk, or had the means to get to such happenings. At my request, Adrian sent me the words of the song so I could learn it to sing it to my eldest child Joe, when he was first born. I used to sing it to him unaccompanied, but very soon worked out an anglo accompaniment. It’s one of several accompaniments that I play on the C/G anglo where I contrive to insert an Eb chord, whether the song needs it or not.

The Roud Index lists Bob Blake’s song as one of only five versions listed under Roud number 1857. These include one collected from Bampton morris man Francis Shergold – although his (in common, I suspect, with the other versions listed) is a counting song. It has a chorus “With a rum tum taddle um, old John Braddleum, Jolly country folks we be”, but I think that’s where the similarity ends. It strikes me that the version I sing is in fact a version of Roud 469, ‘The Foolish Boy’ / ‘The Swapping Song’, a much more frequently collected song.

In live performance I tend to follow ‘Old John Braddalum’ with George Formby’s ‘Leaning on a Lamp-post’ (written by Noel Gay), and do so here. I worked out the accompaniment about thirty years ago, from the printed sheet music. As I had no idea at the time what sus and dim chords were, I worked them out from the ukulele tabs – once I’d discovered how a ukulele was tuned! I no longer have a copy of the sheet music, so I’ve no idea how far the chords I play now have strayed from the original. I do know, having actually heard George Formby singing it all the way through, that while I may have got the chords right, I’ve got the timing and the rhythm for the introduction completely wrong . I would say “oh well, that’s the oral tradition”, except of course I (mis)learned it from print. Still, I like it this way. Hope you do too.

Old John Braddalum / Leaning on a Lamp-post

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

August 22, 2014

Three years and counting

Last week’s post concluded three years of this blog. Three years in which, somewhat to my surprise, I have managed to post a song every single week (and some weeks two, or even three songs). And there will be another one along very shortly.

When I started I thought I probably had enough songs for about three years, and it seems that was not too far off, but still something of an underestimate. I’m not sure I have another year’s worth, but I reckon I could probably keep going till Easter. What I think will actually happen is that I’ll keep up the weekly posts till the end of the year, then review the situation. I won’t have run out of songs by then, but I may start to post less regularly.

There are quite a few pieces that I haven’t yet recorded because ideally I want to sing them with someone else accompanying me. Right at the start of this project I wrote that I was hoping to feature some collaborations, and I’ve not done nearly enough of that. Largely that’s just pressure of time – some weeks it’s hard enough to find time to record myself singing unaccompanied, never mind arranging to meet up with someone else to do some recording. But it’s also – let’s be honest – laziness. So time to give myself a kick in the pants and get on with it. I have several ideas up my sleeve, and hope to bring some at least to fruition before too long. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, thanks to all my regular readers / listeners for your continued support; Week 157 will be along very soon.

Andy

August 16, 2014

Week 156 – The Gentleman Soldier

I learned this song many years ago from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs – but only did so as a result of having heard it performed by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick on the LP Byker Hill.  The version in the Penguin book was collected by Anne Gilchrist in 1907 from Thomas Coomber of Blackham in Sussex. Miss Gilchrist’s notes say “Sung in camp” – Mr Coomber had apparently been in the local militia.

The sentry box - ballad printed by H. Such of London, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The sentry box – ballad printed by H. Such of London, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The Gentleman Soldier

August 9, 2014

Week 155 – The Bald-Headed End of the Broom

This song was recorded in 1954 by Sean O’Boyle and Seamus Ennis from Mrs. Martha Gillen, Co. Antrim. I remember Dave Townsend singing it at the Heritage Folk Club in Oxford, in the early 1980s, and learned it soon afterwards from Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain & Ireland.

It’s originally an American song, recorded by the likes of old-time singer and banjo-player Grandpa Jones – you can hear his version on the Internet Archive. This Mudcat thread cites examples of the song in print going back to the 1870s, as well as an 1885 appearance in the wonderfully-named Marchant’s Gargling Oil Songster. Further details are provided, meanwhile, in The Alabama Folk Lyric edited by Ray Broadus Browne, along with a couple of versions recorded from oral tradition in Alabama.

Mrs Gillen’s version however is, I suspect, the only one to refer to the old saying “A mole in the arm’s worth two in the leg”, which is probably the line which first attracted me to the song.

All the other versions in the Roud Index are from North America – apart from one recorded by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie from Walter Pardon in 1989, and one fragment  recorded from an unknown singer by John Howson at The Railway Tavern, Finningham, Suffolk, which you can hear on the British Library website.

 

I have, I think, always followed the song with a tune which I also learned from Dave Townsend. It was printed, as ‘Sussex Polka’, in his First collection of English country dance tunes. Dave learned it from Vic Gammon, and it would appear to be a slightly misremembered (by Dave and/or me) version of ‘What a Beau My Granny Was’.

 

The Bald-Headed End of the Broom / What a Beau My Granny Was

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

August 3, 2014

Week 154 – Allan MacLean

Here’s one which I’ve recently revived after a long gap. I learned it originally (under the title ‘The Minister’s Son’) from Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s book Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland. They had recorded the song in 1963 from Charlotte Higgins – you can hear a slightly earlier recording made by Hamish Henderson on the excellent Tobar an Dualchais site (search hint when using that site: if you want to search by Roud number, use the Classification field in Advanced Search and prefix the number with “R” e.g to find other versions of this song search for “R2511”). For reasons which I no longer recall, I chose not to sing Charlotte Higgins’ tune, but instead used Harry Cox’s tune for ‘Blackberry Fold’ (or at least, Harry Cox’s tune as learned from Peter Bellamy’s rendition of it on The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate). It seems to fit pretty well – at any rate it’s flexible enough to accommodate the lines which simply have too many syllables to fit.

The song concerns a student who is expelled from his College following a sexual liaison initiated at a party. Of course, Universities and Colleges still take a very strict line on this kind of thing. As a result, noone in higher education today would ever contemplate getting involved with sex and drinking and that kind of thing. That’s what my children tell me anyway…

 

Allan MacLean