Archive for November, 2014

November 30, 2014

Magpie Lane Christmas concerts 2014

As mentioned in this morning’s post, it’s coming up to that time of year when Magpie Lane whip up unbridled enthusiasm up and down the country with their celebrated Christmas shows (it says here).

Clearly I’m biased, but people do seem to have a good time when they come to see us – at any time of the year – and the Christmas shows  are particularly special.  If you like the sort of things I’ve posted here over the last few Christmasses then, frankly, I can’t recommend our Christmas gigs highly enough.

We kick off next Saturday, 6th December, at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, with 4.00 and 7.30 p.m. concerts. For tickets contact
Tim Healey : 01865 249194 (cheque only)
or the Oxford Playhouse box office: 01865 305305 or www.oxfordplayhouse.com/ticketsoxford

This is our favourite venue, but if it’s a bit soon to start winding down for Christmas, or if you’re from a bit further North, why not come along to our first ever Christmas show in Towcester Town Hall, on Sunday 14th December?  Full details and tickets from Eventbrite.

Those are the local gigs, but for those of you living further South, we are very pleased to be returning to: St Dunstans Catholic Church in Woking, Surrey on Sunday 7th – in aid of Woking and Sam Beare Hospices; and Ringwood Folk Club in Hampshire on Tuesday 16th December.

We hope to see you at one or other of these events.

Meanwhile, to get you in the mood, here’s a Magpie Lane Christmas playlist. Some of these recordings have appeared already on this blog, but there are others you may not have heard. In some ways my favourite of these is ‘Babes in the Wood’. It’s a perennial favourite which we’ve sung most years since 1994. It’s not a hi-fi recording, and there’s some loud coughing from someone in the audience who must have been sitting quite close to the microphone ( it was December after all). But what I like about it is that it really captures the feeling of our Holywell gigs – there’s a roomful of people, many of whom come along every single year, and must know some of these songs backwards by now, and it sounds like every last person in the hall is enthusiastically joining in on the chorus.

November 30, 2014

Week 171 – As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care

The rules of the blog say, as soon as we’re into Advent it’s OK to start posting up Christmas material. So to get the ball rolling here’s a recording of Magpie Lane, from one of last year’s Christmas concerts.

I learned this song from the EFDSS Take Six archive – now part of the Full English. It’s from Janet Blunt’s MSS, and she collected it from the indefatigable William Walton of Adderbury, North Oxfordshire. Blunt’s transcriptions of the various carols she had from William Walton – Newton’s Double  is another – are remarkable in that they have 2 or 3 harmony parts as well as the tune, the octogenarian Walton being able to recall the various parts he had sung over the years. The bass vocal / cello line here, and additional vocal harmony line in the chorus, are all as noted from William Walton; the only thing we’ve added is the short instrumental ‘symphony’ between the verses (and one extra verse, from the five originally published in 1785 – see below).

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care, from the Blunt MSS.

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care, from the Blunt MSS.

Unlike some of the other Adderbury carols, we know exactly who wrote this one. ‘As shepherds  watched their fleecy care’ was composed by Joseph Key, an excise officer from Nuneaton in Warwickshire, and first published in Five Anthems, Four Collects, Twenty Psalm Tunes, [etc.]. Book III.  This was actually published in 1785 by his widow, Elizabeth Key, Joesph having died the previous year. There is information about Key and his published works on the website of Warwickshire West Gallery choir Immanuel’s Ground, where it notes that “His wife, no doubt dependant upon the income from his music, and possibly quite capable of taking singing classes herself, continued to publish his music for another six years after his death.”

Sophie, the cellist in Magpie Lane, had actually sung on a recording of this piece while a student. That was on While shepherds watched: Christmas Music from English Parish Churches and Chapels, 1740–1830 by Psalmody with The Parley of Instruments, directed by Peter Holman. The approach on that disc is informed very much by a classical music aesthetic. We treat the song far more like something from the folk tradition.

The recording below was made last December in the reverberant acoustic of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking. There was a good recording of the song from last year’s Holywell Music Room gig too, but the cello is particularly sonorous on this recording – Ian Giles’ bass notes are also captured rather well, I think. Many thanks for fellow Magpie for recording all our Christmas gigs, and sharing the recordings.

We’ll be back in both Oxford and Woking next weekend – followed by Towcester on the 14th and Ringwood Folk Club on 16th Deecmber. Check out all the details at www.magpielane.co.uk

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 7th December 2013.

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

November 23, 2014

Week 170 – William Rufus

One last song learned from the LP Who owns the game? (see Week 165 and Week 166). Mike Yates and John Howson recorded this one from Roy Last of Mendlesham Green.

Roy Last. Photo by John Howson (?) from the EATMT website.

Roy Last. Photo by John Howson (?) from the EATMT website.

It tells, of course, of the death of King William II, aka William Rufus, who succeeded his father William (the Conqueror) in 1087, and was killed whilst on a hunting trip in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100; today the Rufus Stone marks the spot.

Historians are divided as to whether this was simply a hunting accident, or an assassination. Either is entirely plausible. The fact that, immediately afterwards, his brother Henry rushed off to Winchester to seize the treasury, and had himself crowned just days later in London without waiting for either the Archbishop of Canterbury of York to arrive, might support the idea that this was a premeditated killing. But equally it might just be evidence of quick thinking on Henry’s part – you didn’t get far as a member of the Norman, Angevin or Plantagenet royal families if you weren’t prepared to take the bull by the horns, and snatch at every opportunity for self-advancement.

The Rufus Stone in the shade, New Forest - geograph.org.uk; from Wikimedia Commons.

The Rufus Stone in the shade, New Forest – geograph.org.uk; from Wikimedia Commons.

I had always assumed that the song dates from the later nineteenth century (it begins “800 years ago, sir”). In fact I’ve just found it as ‘The Ballad of William Rufus’, seven verses long, in The Romance of the Scarlet Leaf: And Other Poems; with Adaptations from the Provençal Troubadours by Lyndhurst-based versifier Hamilton Aide, published 1865 by Edward Moxon & Co. There is a note to say “This ballad has become popular in the New Forest. Several of the songs that follow have been set to music, and are published”. The songs in question are not traditional or anonymous verses which the author has rescued from obscurity, they are by Aine himself. ‘The Ballad of William Rufus’ was popular enough to be quoted in Two Knapsacks A Novel of Canadian Summer Life by John Campbell (1840-1904). Somehow it must also have made its way to Suffolk. I wonder if Roy Last might have learned it at school?

The song has been rarely collected in tradition. Cecil Sharp got a version from the rather wonderfully monikered  Theophilus George Pritchard at Compton Martin, Somerset in December 1905. And there is a version in Vaughan Williams’ MS, noted in 1954 from New Forest artist Juanita Berlin – here’s a 1956 Pathé film about Juanita and her husband Sven, if you’re interested.

The song’s use in the New Forest – as a spoken prologue to a Mummers’ play – is also mentioned in Chapter 2 of The Fire Kindlers: The Story Of The Purkis Family, a (slightly fanciful) family history written in the late 1930s by  Leslie S. Purkis. The Purkis family, it seems, were historically charcoal burners in the New Forest. And legend has it that it was a member of the family who discovered the dead king’s body, and carried it in his cart to Winchester.

William Rufus

November 16, 2014

Week 169 – I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents

I learned this song from Lucy Broadwood and J A Fuller Maitland’s 1893 collection, English County Songs, where it is printed in the Dorsetshire section: “words and tune from H. Strachey, Esq”. That would be Henry Strachey of Bristol, who is listed in early Journals as a member of the Folk-Song Society. He heard the tune being “whistled by a labourer at Shillingham, Dorsetshire, in 1889” and later took it down “from a collier at Bishop Sutton, Somerset“. Several versions were taken down by early collectors such as Baring-Gould and Clive Carey, and the song appears to have remained popular: it was recorded in the 1970s from singers including Freda Palmer, Harry Upton and Frank Hinchcliffe. Most versions have been found in Southern England, but the song has also been collected in Yorkshire and Scotland – as well as Australia and North America.

In about 1980 I sang this – and came second – in a Worst Song competition at the Gypsy Davey Folk Club, which used to be held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, Oxford. The winning song on that occasion came from the legendary Trevor Vale – I think it was his classic ‘The Squire he rides by…’ and if anyone reading this has any old recordings of Trevor I (and several other people I know) would absolutely love to hear them.

Given the context, I suspect I rather hammed the song up back then. These days I sing it completely straight – if a song’s worth singing, it’s worth taking seriously. Even if it is a load of sentimental odl tripe.

I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents

November 8, 2014

Week 168 – The Fellow Who Played the Trombone

Jimmy Knights. Photo by Keith Summers? from Musical Traditions.

Jimmy Knights. Photo by Keith Summers? from Musical Traditions.

More smutty innuendo from East Anglia.

I think I first heard this sung in the early 1980s by Dave Townsend, although I remember that Ramsbottom, who were going at around the same time, also used to do it. I learned the song, as I assume Dave had done, from the Topic LP Sing, Say and Play – a companion album to The Earl Soham Slog, featuring traditional songs and dance music from Suffolk recorded by Keith Summers.

The singer of this song was Jimmy ‘Holy Jim’ Knights, born in 1880 in the village of Debach, and  recorded by Keith in 1975 at his home in Little Glenham. You can read about Jimmy in Chapter 4 of Sing, Say or Pay, Keith’s survey of East Suffolk Country Music, reprinted on the Musical Traditions website. And you can hear Keith’s recordings on the British Library Sounds website. The songs available include two recordings of ‘The Fellow Who Played the Trombone’, and there are interviews with the singer – then well into his nineties but sounding very much full of life. Go to http://sounds.bl.uk/Search and search for Jimmy (‘Holy Jim’) Knights.

The song itself was apparently written in 1896 by the music hall performer Walter Kino.

The Fellow Who Played the Trombone