Archive for October, 2014

October 31, 2014

Week 167 – The Small Birds Whistle

Thanks to its inclusion on various Peel and Kershaw sessions, Martin Carthy’s reconstruction of this Child Ballad is known well beyond the confines of the folk world. John Peel reckoned that every time Martin recorded a new session, the song had acquired a few extra verses. Well, there are plenty to choose from, even before you start making up brand new ones. There are in fact whole chunks of the Carthy story which are missing from my version. In particular, when the King goes out hunting, nothing of note seems to happen, and he comes home safely two verses later.

I was inspired to learn the song after hearing Jasper Smith’s four verses fragment on the Topic LP The Travelling Songster (that recording was also included on Voice of the People Volume 11, My Father’s the King of the Gypsies). On a trip to the Vaughan Williams memorial Library I assembled enough verses to make a coherent whole, thanks in part to the seven Scottish, American and Canadian variants in Bronson’s Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads but mainly making use of the version printed in Frank Purslow’s book The Constant Lovers. That version of the song came from Albert Doe, of Bartley in Hampshire, collected by George Gardiner on 17th December 1908. Frank Purslow’s notes say that Albert Doe was “apparently a good singer with a very fine repertoire, some, if not all, of Irish origin. The tune of this version in any case betrays its country of origin, as it is a variant – a good one – of a tune much associated with texts of Irish origin, such as The Croppy Boy, The Isle of France, Sweet William, The Wild and Wicked Youth and several others”. Jasper Smith’s song is set to a variant of the same tune, while on The Travelling Songster Phoebe Smith uses an almost identical tune for ‘Sweet William’ – indeed, I think the way I sing the tune probably owes more to Phoebe than Jasper Smith.

The song itself dates back to the seventeenth century. The earliest copy in the Bodleian was “Printed for Eliz. Andrews in little St. Bartholomews court in West-smithfield” (in London) between 1664 and 1666. And while we know that all folk songs and ballads must have been written by someone, this is one where we’re pretty sure who that someone was: ‘The famous Flower of Serving-Man. Or, The Lady turn’d Serving-Man’ was entered in the Stationers’ Register on July 14, 1656, by noted (and prolific) ballad-writer Laurence Price.  If your public library provides access to the Oxford DNB, you can read Roy Palmer’s biographical entry on Price at www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22759.

The famous flower of serving-men. Or The lady turn'd serving. Printed for Eliz. Andrews in little St. Bartholomews court in West-smithfield, between 1664 and 1666. From the Bodleian collection.

The famous flower of serving-men. Or The lady turn’d serving. Printed for Eliz. Andrews in little St. Bartholomews court in West-smithfield, between 1664 and 1666. From the Bodleian collection.

The Small Birds Whistle

October 26, 2014

Week 166 – Poison Beer

Fred Whiting. Photo by John Howson.

Fred Whiting. Photo by John Howson.

Like last week’s song ‘Who Owns the Game?’ this was recorded by Mike Yates and John Howson from the Suffolk singer Fred Whiting, and I learned it from the LP Who Owns the Game? – which, contrary to what I initially wrote last week, is available on CD from Veteran. And once again, Fred Whiting seems to be the only known source for the song.

According to Sing, Say or Pay! Keith Summers’ survey of East Suffolk Country Music (Musical Traditions Article MT027), Fred had the song from Cropther Harvey from Redlingfield:

It’s amazing, you know, what some of those old boys could drink too.  I was playing in Rishangles Swan once and there was an old boy called Swaler Parrott and nearly every five minutes he’d bang on the bar and shout “I’ll have another skep”.  Five minutes later “I’ll have another skep” (pint), and he must have had 18 pints that night, and do you know he walked home as straight as a crow in a rain storn.

Old Cropther Harvey from Redlingfield – nearly all his songs were about beer-drinking, and that’s where I learnt that song Poison Beer from.  My dad used to knock about with him – they were both shepherds and both sang beer songs – “If you want to get rid of yer beer, I’ve got plenty of room down here”.

Beyond that, I know nothing about the song. But presumably it dates from the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Temperance movement was in full swing.

 

 

 

 

 

Poison Beer

October 17, 2014

Week 165 – Who owns the game?

I first met Mike Yates in April 1984 in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. We both happened to be visiting the library, and were introduced by Malcolm Taylor the Librarian, who knew that I had “discovered” a traditional singer, Charlie Bridger. A week or two later, on St George’s Day, Mike came down to Kent to record Charlie at his home in Stone-in-Oxney. Over lunch at the Ferry Inn, Mike was enthusing about the recordings he had been making in Suffolk, and in particular about this song, which would be the title track of ‘Who owns the game?’, an LP released later in 1984 on Mike’s Home-Made Music label.

This song certainly has a home-made feel to it. Mike recorded it from Fred ‘Pip’ Whiting, of Kenton in Suffolk – actually better known as a fiddle-player than a singer – and it has so far only ever been collected from Fred. Fred learned most of his songs in local pubs; this one he picked up in Burstall Half Moon.

The song raises a perfectly reasonable question. It also charts the lessening severity over times of the punishment meted out to those found guilty of poaching: grandfather – transported; father – two or three months’ oakum picking; singer – fined.

You can hear a 1980 recording of the song made by Carole Pegg in The Victoria, Earl Soham on the British Library website – but only, I’m afraid, if you are affiliated with a UK Further or Higher Education establishment. [Edit 18/10/2014] The LP ‘Who owns the game?’ has unfortunately never seen any kind of digital release, as far as I’m aware. A shame, as it has a lot of good performances of both songs and tunes. The LP Who owns the game? has been released on CD by Veteran, and is well worth hearing both for the songs and the tunes. There will be more songs learned from the record making an appearance in future weeks on this blog.

Who owns the game?

October 11, 2014

Week 164 – Carter’s Health / Mistress’s Health

Two more Sussex healths learned from Lucy Broadwood’s English County Songs. Miss Broadwood didn’t have to travel far to collect these songs: the singer, John Burberry, was a retired gamekeeper, who had worked on the Broadwood family estates at Lyne in Sussex.

About the ‘Carter’s Health’ Lucy Broadwood wrote:

“Hey” and “Ree” are right and left respectively; “Who with a hey and ree the beasts command” (Micro-Cynicon, 1599). “Hoo” or “Ho” is the same as “Woa” – stop; “So when they once fall in love there is no Ho in them till they have their love” (Cobbler of Canturburie, 1608). “Gee” is of course “Go on.” “Gio” used in this sense is quoted in Dialogus Creaturarum, 1480.  In the “Chorus” part, the four names are sung by four of the singers in order, all joining in at “But the bobtailed mare.” 

A carter is, of course, “One who drives a cart” (OED). A wagon is probably not the same as a cart, but I really like this harvest-time photograph from East Sussex County Libraries’ Historical Photos collection on Flickr. A collection well worth checking out if you like old photos like this.

Hay wagon c.1890  Part of the George Woods collection. Image scanned from the photographer's original glass plate negative, located at Hastings Library. From East Sussex County Council Libraries Historical Photos collection on Flickr. Copyright East Sussex County Council.

Hay wagon c.1890 Part of the George Woods collection. Image scanned from the photographer’s original glass plate negative, located at Hastings Library. From East Sussex County Council Libraries Historical Photos collection on Flickr. Copyright East Sussex County Council.

The notes on the ‘Mistress’s Health’ say:

When sung at harvest homes and the like, the singers, at the words “O is she so?” &c., carry candles up to the mistress as if to investigate her claim to be “the fairest of twenty.”

We recorded these with Magpie Lane (as separate items) on our second album Speed the Plough. Then a few years ago we found that if we took one health down a bit, and the other up a bit, they worked pretty well together.  At our 20th birthday concert at the Holywell Music Room last year, we had at least twenty people on stage singing this, including Jackie Oates, Chris Leslie, John Spiers, Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick, Hilary James and Simon Mayor. That was really special (actually it was even better at the run-through in the afternoon – the acoustics in the Holywell are really good, but they’re even better without an audience to soak up any of the sound!). I’d like to share that with you, but have never managed to get my hands on the recordings. Grrr. Anyway, here’s a live recording of the normal five-person band line-up, made last autumn in Bampton Church.

Incidentally, we have some gigs coming up over the next few weeks: Leafield, Oxon (Friday 24th October), Lichfield Festival of Folk (Saturday 25th October), Oxford Folk Club (Friday 14th November). Then in December we’ll be doing our Christmas shows as usual. Further details at http://magpielane.co.uk/ml_news.htm

Carter’s Health / Mistress’s Health

Magpie Lane

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

Recorded Saturday 21st September 2013, St Mary’s Church, Bampton, Oxfordshire.

October 4, 2014

Week 163 – Mistress’ Healths

Two healths from Sussex. I learned the first one from Shirley Collins’ album Adieu to Old England (where it is followed by Lumps of Plum Pudding played on anglo-concertina by the inimitable John Watcham). A L Lloyd’s notes to the LP say

Harvest-homes were ceremonial suppers, given by the farmer to the harvest labourers when the crop was gathered. The custom has been widespread all over Europe, at least since the Middle Ages, maybe longer. It’s an occasion for big eating and drinking and plenty of music; but very ceremonious, and an important feature was the singing of elaborate compliments in the form of toasts. At the harvest-homes in England, right up to the present century, the queenly qualities of the farmer’s wife were commonly extolled (“anything for another mug of ale” was a comment reported by a 19th century observer). This toast, doubtless referring to Elizabeth I, was traditionally applied to the farmer’s wife in many parts of Southern England. The Cuckfield baker Samuel Willett noted it from harvest hands and passed it on to Lucy Broadwood.

Lucy Broadwood printed the song in her English County Songs. A health which starts with very similar lyrics turns up in North Yorkshire, as a ‘Bridal Song’ sung by Jack Beeforth (1891-1974):

Here’s the bride’s good health we’ll now begin
In spite of the Turk and the Spanish king.
And as for the bridegroom we’ll not let it pass
We’ll have their drink in a flowing glass.

So see, see, see that you drink it all
See, see, see that you let none fall
For if you do you shall have two
And so shall the rest of the company too.

This is included in Volume 2 of David Hillery’s PhD thesis Vernacular song from a North Yorkshire hill farm : culture, contexts and comparisons. I have to confess I’ve only discovered this work whilst Googling this morning, but it looks to be an interesting read.

“Harvest Home” – illustration from Chambers’ Book of Days

The second song here is one of several healths and toasts included on Vic Gammon’s double-LP set The Tale of Ale. It was collected from Henry Hills of Lodsworth in Sussex and included in the very first volume of the Journal of the Folk-Song Society in 1901, in an article by the collector W P Merrick. For more on Henry Hills and folk traditions in Lodsworth, see the ‘Lodsworth Folk Songs and Carols’ section in Notes for a History of Lodsworth by Wilfrid Lamb M.A. who was Vicar of Lodsworth 1955-1961. There are some nice photographs of harvest suppers from that era, from Bodiam in East Sussex, at www.bygonebodiam.co.uk.

Harvest supper, possibly 1952, New House Oast, Bodiam. From http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk

Harvest supper, possibly 1952, New House Oast, Bodiam. From http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk

Mistress’ Health (Our Mistress’ Health we’ll now begin)

Mistress’ Health (Now Harvest is over)