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
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina