Archive for May, 2015

May 30, 2015

Week 197 – Hurricane Wind

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?’


Hurricane Wind, page 1. From Ralph Vaughan Williams' notebook, via the Full English.

Hurricane Wind, page 2. From Ralph Vaughan Williams' notebook, via the Full English.

Hurricane Wind. From Ralph Vaughan Williams’ notebook, via the Full English.

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.

'Two Old Songs- The Perjured Maid, The Waukrife Mammy' - chapbook printed in Falkirk, c1840. From the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana and Scottish Literature, University of South Carolina.

‘Two Old Songs- The Perjured Maid, The Waukrife Mammy’ – chapbook printed in Falkirk, c1840. From the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana and Scottish Literature, University of South Carolina.

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.

You will find obituaries of Roy on the Guardian and Morning Star websites.

Roy Palmer. Photograph by Derek Schofield, from the Guardian.

Roy Palmer. Photograph by Derek Schofield, from the Guardian.

Hurricane Wind

May 24, 2015

Week 196 – Polly on the Shore

One of the great English songs, learned from Pop Maynard, a singer whose repertoire contained quite a number of great songs. I first heard the song in the late seventies or early eighties on the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England and learned it from there, with assistance from a slim EFDSS pamphlet, The Life and Songs of George Maynard (a reprint of Ken Stubbs’ article in the  1963 Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society). It must have been around the same time that I heard what I still regard as the folk revival’s finest take on the song, that by Martin Carthy on Prince Heathen.

Of course Pop Maynard wasn’t the only singer with this song in his repertoire. When we played together in the trio Saint Monday, Dave Parry used to sing ‘Bold Carter’, a version collected by Vaughan Williams in Norfolk. ‘Bold Carter’ was included in Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, where the notes say

Under the title of ‘The Valiant Sailor’, this first appeared in 1744 as one of ‘three excellent New Songs’ in ‘The Irish Boy’s GARLAND (EDINBURGH, Printed and Sold in Swan Close, a little below the Cross-Well, North-side of the Street’). Through the long period of oral transmission since then the song has kept remarkably close to the same powerful text, and has usually been found with fine, soaring tunes.


George 'Pop' Maynard (right) outside the pub at Tinsley Green, Sussex, 1936.  Photo from Keith Summers Collection via the Musical Traditions website.

George ‘Pop’ Maynard (right) outside the pub at Tinsley Green, Sussex, 1936. Photo from Keith Summers Collection via the Musical Traditions website.

Polly on the Shore

May 16, 2015

Week 195 – As I roved out from the County Cavan

I learned this beautiful song from the singing of Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, on her 1975 solo album Triona. I picked up a secondhand copy of that LP as a student, in Garon Records, in the Covered Market in Oxford, and I’m eternally grateful that I did – it’s a fantastic record. Chiefly because of the singing, of course, but I’m also very partial to a well-struck harpsichord.

About the song itself, I have little to say. The album sleevenotes don’t give much away, but a bit of rooting about on the net suggests that it’s a version of Roud 4720.

You can hear a related song, ‘As I Went in by Inverness-shire’, sung by the Scottish traveller Sheila Stewart, on the Tobar an Dualchais site. And the phrase “Phoenix Island” crops up in the song of that name on Sam Lee’s most recent album, a song which he learned “from the Delaney Family who live in the less than bucolic Traveller site under the Shepherds Bush A40 flyover”.

O'Reilly From The Co. Cavan; Or, The Phoenix Of Erin's Green Isle - ballad sheet from the Cecil Sharp Manuscript Collection , via the Full English.

O’Reilly From The Co. Cavan; Or, The Phoenix Of Erin’s Green Isle – ballad sheet from the Cecil Sharp Manuscript Collection , via the Full English.

As I roved out from the County Cavan

May 10, 2015

Week 194 – As I roved out

I learned this song from… actually, do I need to finish that sentence? I think anyone of my generation will probably take it for granted that I learned it from the singing of Andy Irvine, on the Planxty album The Well Below the Valley. And they would be absolutely right.

I was introduced to Planxty by my school friend Peter Carlton, who had (and I reckon these facts were often related) an older brother, and more advanced musical tastes than me. He wouldn’t lend me his copy of the record – it was too precious – but he made me a cassette copy. And of course, I thought it was absolutely marvellous. Among much else, I rather liked the fact that there were two, completely unrelated, songs with the same title: Christy Moore’s ‘As I roved out’ was a song from the Sixteen Come Sunday family, while Andy Irvine’s – this one – is sometime referred to as ‘The Deluded Lover’, and was learned from the great Paddy Tunney. While I liked both tracks, Andy’s was definitely my favourite; and it’s fair to say I’ve always been more of a fan of Andy Irvine than Christy Moore.

I recorded an unaccompanied take of this song back in March. And thus, a week or so later, when singing some songs in the kitchen with my friend Nick Passmore (see Week 188), this was fresh in my mind, and it seemed an obvious one to try together. So here you have both versions, one unaccompanied, and one with Nick’s bouzouki.


As I roved out

Andy Turner – vocal
Nick Passmore – bouzouki


As I roved out

Andy Turner – vocal

May 3, 2015

Week 193 – The Spotted Cow

My entrée to folk music, as I have probably mentioned previously on this blog, came via Steeleye Span. Specifically, what initially sparked my interest was seeing them mime to ‘All Around My Hat’ on Top of the Pops. Then my best friend’s Dad lent me his copy of Below the Salt and I was hooked. That LP, of course, starts with ‘Spotted Cow’.

The Steeleye album sleevenotes say “Collected from the singing of Harry Cox of Norfolk” but, having heard Harry’s version (it’s on the Rounder CD What Will Become of England?) I have to say that, if he was their source, they’ve changed the tune more than somewhat. I wonder if they might actually have got the song from the Copper Family (John Copper sings it solo on the Leader A Song For Every Season box set, and I imagine Tim and Maddy might well have heard Bob Copper sing it at a folk club or festival in the sixties).

In any case, the version I sing was learned from Bob Copper’s book A Song For Every Season. I’ve been looking at the song on and off for years, but could never decide what key to sing it in. Actually the jury’s still out on that, but I have at least sorted out a concertina arrangement. Initially I recorded it in Eb, playing my baritone Bb/F box. Then I tried it – using the same fingering – in F on my C/G. Of course it sounds much brighter at the higher pitch and on a more responsive instrument, so that’s the version I’ve decided to post here.

The song seems to have been very popular with country singers, and without that much variation in the words or melody – Janet Blunt, for instance, collected a version in Adderbury, North Oxfordshire, which is very similar to the Coppers’. And, of course, the song was popular with the broadside press. A.L.Lloyd, in his notes for Peter Bellamy’s album The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate has this to say:

It was written for the London pleasure gardens, appearing on a Vauxhall Gardens song-sheet in the 1740s and again at Ranelagh Gardens in the 1760s (with the locale fashionably moved to Scotland so that it concerns a swain named Jamie on the banks of the Tweed). It reappeared as a Regency parlour ballad in Fairburne’s Everlasting Songster. It dropped out of fashionable use by the mid-nineteenth century, but country-folk retained their affection for it right up to the present

The spotted cow - broadside ballad from the Bodleian collection.

The spotted cow – broadside ballad from the Bodleian collection.


The Spotted Cow

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina