In recent years an incredible number of 18th and 19th century musicians’ tunebooks have become available, either in printed form or on the internet. This is excellent news, of course. But, faced with yet another collection, containing dozens or even hundreds of tunes, and clearly not having the time (or patience) to play through them all, spotting tunes which are worth playing can be a bit of a hit and miss affair. So, more often than not, my initial trawl through a new physical or virtual tunebook will involve looking for tunes with interesting or unusual titles: ‘Pup in the Parachute’, ‘Love laughs at Locksmiths’, ‘Pass around the Jorum’, ‘Peas on a Trencher’, ‘The Fly-Flappers’. Frankly, it’s probably as good an approach as any other.
The same applies, to a lesser extent, with song collections, and I’m quite sure that it was the unusual title which first drew my eye to ‘Hurricane Wind’, when browsing through Roy Palmer’s excellent book Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I think I expected it to be a song about a shipwreck, or some other misadventure at sea. But actually it’s the tale of a lover spurned, and the title comes from a memorable phrase used by the female protagonist (the one doing the spurning):
As she was a walking down the street
Her young sea captain she chanced to meet
She looks at him with a scornful frown
Says ‘What hurricane wind blowed you to town?’
Vaughan Williams collected the song in 1907 from Mr Penfold, landlord of the Plough Inn at Rusper in Sussex (who, incidentally, was also the source of the rather lovely ‘Turtle Dove’ which Sophie sings with Magpie Lane). Mr Penfold’s text was fairly complete – Roy Palmer added just one couplet from a Scottish chapbook, ‘The Perjured Maid’. However – unusually, as Roy always presented singable versions in his song books – I felt that the song didn’t quite tell the whole story. So, on a trip to VWML, I looked for alternative versions. There weren’t many to be found – at least not in those pre-computerised days – but I located some usable verses collected in 1939 by Alan Lomax and Helen Hartness Flanders from Josiah S. Kennison of Townshend, Virginia, and printed in The New Green Mountain Songster. Hopefully you won’t spot the join.
While the Roud Index lists only one English and one Scottish version, this song has in fact turned up a number of times in the United States. I particularly like the way the original “Nobleman near Exeter” has become “The Rich Man Extra Tire” in this version collected from Miss Laura Harmon, Cade’s Cove, Blount County, Tennessee, in 1928.
Having pieced together my version in the mid 1980s I then neglected the song for many years, but have recently resurrected it, and was able to give it an outing a few weeks ago when I went to see Elizabeth LaPrelle and Anna Roberts-Gevalt at the Musical Traditions club in London.
Posting the song here gives me the opportunity, belatedly, to pay tribute to Roy Palmer, who died in February of this year. It would be hard to overestimate the influence Roy’s work had, over the last 45 years, on the repertoire of British folk singers. Certainly my repertoire, and that of Magpie Lane, would be considerably poorer without books such as A Touch on the Times, Songs of the Midlands, The Rambling Soldier and, of course, his RVW collection. We were honoured and thrilled when Magpie Lane were asked in 2000 to record a CD as a companion to Roy’s book A Taste of Ale. I don’t know if Roy later embraced the digital age, but at that time, when he sent me a draft copy of the book for us to start work on, all the musical transcriptions were done by hand, and the text was all typewritten, on a proper old-fashioned typewriter.
In the tributes which poured out following Roy’s death, common themes were praise for his scholarship, for his ability to present folk music and folklore in an accessible way, and that he was a lovely human being and a real gentleman. I only met Roy on a few occasions, but that was certainly my impression. He will be greatly missed.
Roy Palmer. Photograph by Derek Schofield, from the Guardian.