Archive for November, 2015

November 29, 2015

Week 223 – The Mail Coach Guard

I’ve had a cold this week, so have not been able to record a new song for the blog (and, unusually, I’d used up all the recordings in my store). So here’s one I prepared earlier – 15 years ago, to be exact.

It’s a track from our CD A Taste of Ale, recorded to accompany Roy Palmer’s book of the same name. As far as I can see, all Roy’s book has to say about the song is that the words are anonymous, nineteenth century. Presumably his source was this ballad from the Bodleian collection, printed in Manchester in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The mail coach guard, from Broadside Ballads Online.

The mail coach guard, from Broadside Ballads Online.

The tune was composed by Roy’s wife, Pat. Although it’s an inconsequential little song, I have to say I rather like our arrangement, and was very pleased with the tune I came up with for the instrumental breaks.

Last week I referred to Pentangle’s ‘Lord Franklin’ possibly being the only known instance of Bert Jansch playing concertina. Well this is almost certainly the only recording in existence of me playing the autoharp.

Incidentally, I’m linking to a YouTube video below. It’s one of those videos where there’s nothing to watch, just a still image accompanying the audio stream. I noticed just recently that all of the Magpie Lane albums for Beautiful Jo have been uploaded to YouTube by “The Orchard Enterprises”. According to Wikipedia they are  “a music, film, and video distribution, marketing, and sales company and top-ranked Multi-Channel Network that works with independent artists, labels, and other content providers to distribute content to hundreds of digital and mobile outlets around the world, as well as physical retailers in North America and Europe”.

Now I’m not sure how I feel about this. Our albums have been on Spotify for some while now – I think this coincided with, or was a consequence of, Beautiful Jo’s catalogue being put on digital platforms such as iTunes, eMusic and Amazon. Record companies and artists get an infinitesimal payment for each Spotify play. But at least there is some payment. Having the albums free on YouTube really does seem to be just giving it away.

I’m not averse to making my music freely available, if I choose to do so myself (this blog being an obvious example!). You can listen to my album Love Death and the Cossack for nothing over on Bandcamp. And the same goes for the three Geckoes albums. But we chose to put them online. And you have the option of paying me / us if you want  to download the albums as high-quality audio files.

Some years ago, I was contacted by a bloke who had put half a dozen of our songs on YouTube, with accompanying montages of images. He was looking for our retrospective blessing. Clearly he was a fan, and he had the best of motives, but I’m afraid I couldn’t bring myself to send him any kind of a reply. As someone whose day job involves a certain amount of work around avoiding copyright infringements, I was flabbergasted by the number of separate copyrights these video and audio mash-ups must have violated. But no point complaining, I thought, it’s just the way the world is going. Little did I know just how right that would turn out to be.

Still, if you would like a physical copy of A Taste of Ale, or indeed any of our albums, do come and see us at one of our gigs this Christmas, and buy a copy!

 

 

The Mail Coach Guard

Magpie Lane, from the album A Taste of Ale (BEJOCD-32, Beautiful Jo, 1999)

Andy Turner – vocal, autoharp
Di Whitehead – cello
Benji Kirkpatrick – guitar
Mat Green – fiddle

(apologies to Tom Bower who I thought played flute on this track – lost in the mix, perhaps?)

November 21, 2015

Week 222 – Lord Franklin

'They forged the last links with their lives': Sir John Franklin's men dying by their boat during the North-West Passage expedition. 1895 painting by William Thomas Smith. Copyright National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

‘They forged the last links with their lives’: Sir John Franklin’s men dying by their boat during the North-West Passage expedition. 1895 painting by William Thomas Smith. Copyright National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Another song introduced to the folk revival by A.L.Lloyd. Lloyd claimed to have learned the song in November 1937 on his famous whaling trip (although, like much else about his early life, the exact circumstances surrounding that trip – such as what his role was on board – seem to be a little vague). Dave Arthur, in his excellent biography, Bert, writes on page 89

Another song he submitted to Sing (August/September 1957) was a version of ‘Lord Franklin’ collected, so he said, from Edward Harper, a whale-factory blacksmith from Port Stanley in the Falklands.

Later, on page 192, he comments on songs such as ‘Lord Franklin’ and ‘Farewell to Tarwathie’, which Lloyd claimed to have collected in 1937, but which he kept to himself until twenty years later. Why, Dave Arthur asks, was there no mention of them in The Singing Englishman (1944) where he specifically says says that the whaling ship workers didn’t have their own repertoire, but sang the same songs as in factories ashore?

If Bert did indeed collect them he was remarkably fortuitous. If not, he was remarkably talented. Either way they are fine songs and deserve their popularity.

Amen to that last sentence.

In fact songs about Lord Franklin have been collected in oral tradition, in Canada, Scotland, and Ireland – there’s a version in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People which shares some verses with the Bert Lloyd version. And needless to say there were numerous broadside printings – see the Bodleian’s Broadside Ballads Online site, for example.

Lady Franklin's lament for her husband, from Broadside Ballads Online.

Lady Franklin’s lament for her husband, from Broadside Ballads Online.

I first heard this song on the Pentangle LP Cruel Sister, where the arrangement featured a rather tasteful electric guitar solo from John Renbourn, and Bert Jansch playing chords on the concertina (was this the only sighting of Jansch playing the instrument, I wonder?). At the time I had never heard of Lord John Franklin or his ill-fated Arctic expedition of 1845, but this song captured my imagination, as it has many others’. In the 1980s I read Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, in which they suggest that lead poisoning, from the lead used to seal tinned foods in those days, was a significant contributory factor to the deaths of all of Franklin’s crew members (although, obviously, getting stuck in the ice in the first place was the greatest contributory factor!). That argument is supported by an article in the journal Arctic in 1997, The final days of the Franklin expedition : new skeletal evidence.  However I seem to remember that in a question on QI a few years back, about the eccentric behaviour of members of the Franklin expedition in their final days, “lead poisoning” was the wrong answer, and in fact it was an opportunity for panel-members to play their “Nobody Knows” cards. I wasn’t sure if I’d made this up, but this Guardian article from 2014 reports that “New research suggests that ice, not contaminated food, killed Sir John Franklin and his crew in 1845”. I love the fact that “the fate of Franklin and his gallant crew” is still exercising scientists as well as folk singers.

The mummified remains of John Hartnell, a 25-year-old member of the Franklin Expedition who died on January 4, 1846 and was buried at Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic.  Image copyright University of Alberta.

The mummified remains of John Hartnell, a 25-year-old member of the Franklin Expedition who died on January 4, 1846 and was buried at Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic. Image copyright University of Alberta.

Lord Franklin

November 15, 2015

Week 221 – The Recruited Collier

Surely one of the gems of the post-war British folk revival. It brilliantly captures the desolation and despair of the young woman whose lover has enlisted and is off, to meet who knows what fate, to war.  And I love some of the phrases the song uses: “he ran for the golden guinea” and, my favourite, “a brigadier, or a grenadier, he says they’re sure to make him”, which neatly conveys the fact that the young recruit really has no idea what he’s signed up for.

I think I first heard this sung by Caroline Jackson-Houlston at one or other of the Oxford folk clubs in the early 1980s. Although it must also have been around the same time that I heard it on Dick Gaughan’s 1978 album Gaughan, and I think I probably wrote the words down from that LP. At the time I assumed it was an anonymous product of “the folk tradition”, from the Durham or Northumberland coalfields (indeed Gaughan’s liner notes say “This is actually from the NE of England”). It was only comparatively recently that I discovered that, like a number of folk club standards introduced to the revival by A.L.Lloyd (check out Reynardine and The Weaver and the Factory Maid for other examples), the song as presently sung probably owes as much to Bert Lloyd as it does to the tradition.

Lloyd printed the song in his 1952 collection Come All Ye Bold Miners. About which Roy Palmer wrote this:

It is clear that Lloyd’s editorial approach was not merely to reproduce the material sent to him. Sometimes the changes made were small… but others were far-reaching. On ‘Jimmy’s Enlisted (or the Recruited Collier)’ Lloyd laconically notes: ‘Text from J.H. Huxtable, of Workington. A version of this ballad appears in R. Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808).’ In fact, the original is entitled simply ‘Jenny’s Complaint’, and features not a miner who enlists but a ploughman.

Roy Palmer, A. L. Lloyd and Industrial Song, in Ian Russell, ed., Singer, Song and Scholar, Sheffield Academic Press, 1986, pp.135-7 (quoted by Malcolm Douglas on this Mudcat thread).

Jenny's Complaint, from Robert Anderson's Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Jenny's Complaint, from Robert Anderson's Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Jenny’s Complaint, from Robert Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Robert Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland dialect can be seen at the Internet Archive. Anderson (1770-1833) was a working class poet from Carlisle, a number of whose compositions (like those of Burns in Scotland) were taken up by “the folk”, and are known to have been sung into the twentieth century. Exactly what Mr Huxtable sang, and to what tune (Lloyd fitted his words to a new tune, possibly of his own devising) we shall probably never know. I’ve just finished reading Dave Arthur’s biography Bert, and it’s clear that, brilliant man though he was in so many ways, Lloyd was actually a bit of a fantasist. He put about, or at least acquiesced in accepting, various completely erroneous stories about his family background, and his own early life; and he was, for personal or political reasons, frequently less than transparent about the sources of the songs he published and popularised, and about the extent to which he had reworked some of those songs.

Now a lot of people won’t give a monkey’s about this, but the historian in me thinks it is important to try to disentangle the truth. Besides, if we lazily portray these songs as wholly “traditional”, we can have no complaint when lazy journalists and lazy editors present those same songs as evidence of what “the ordinary people” were thinking at a given point in history. Whereas they possibly tell us rather more about what British communists were thinking in the 1950s…

Of course, none of this in any way diminishes the beauty or power of the song. In fact, it just goes to show how good Bert Lloyd was at taking an old song, and turning it into something more singable, more resonant for a modern audience. All things being well, there’ll be another example along next week.

The Recruited Collier

November 8, 2015

Week 220 – The Man He Killed

This is not the song I had intended to post this week. Indeed, I had never heard it before last Saturday night. But it formed part of Billy Bragg’s set at the EFDSS 80th Birthday Bash for Shirley Collins, and it struck me as exactly right for Remembrance Sunday.

So I got the words from the Poetry Foundation website and, although I won’t claim that I’ve quite learned them by heart yet, I think this may well be a song which finds a permanent place in my repertoire.

‘The Man He Killed’ was written by Thomas Hardy in 1902, at the time of the Boer War, and first published in his 1909 collection Time’s Laughingstocks and Other Verses. Billy Bragg set the words to the tune of the traditional song, ‘The Snows they melt the soonest’, and performed it at various events – including on the Left Field Stage at Glastonbury – in 2014, commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War.

A British soldier giving a wounded German prisoner some water to drink, near La Boisselle, during the Battle of the Somme, 3 July 1916. Photographed by the Daily Mirror’s photographer Ernest Brooks.

A British soldier giving a wounded German prisoner some water to drink, near La Boisselle, during the Battle of the Somme, 3 July 1916. Photographed by the Daily Mirror’s photographer Ernest Brooks.

 

A wounded German soldier lighting a cigarette for a wounded British soldier at a British field hospital during the Battle of Épehy, near the end of the First World War (1918). Photo: Lt. Thomas K. Aitken, British Army photographer/Imperial War Museums.

A wounded German soldier lighting a cigarette for a wounded British soldier at a British field hospital during the Battle of Épehy, near the end of the First World War (1918). Photo: Lt. Thomas K. Aitken, British Army photographer/Imperial War Museums.

British soldiers helping wounded German prisoners on the Western Front.

British soldiers helping wounded German prisoners on the Western Front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

German soldiers dressing a wounded British soldier's wounds

German soldiers dressing a wounded British soldier’s wounds

 

The fraternising of troops in Belgium on Christmas Day 1914. Group of German soldiers with two Englishmen, one in great coat and one in rear wearing balaclava cap. Photo by R W Turner, from the Imperial War Museum.

“The fraternising of troops in Belgium on Christmas Day 1914. Group of German soldiers with two Englishmen” – can you tell which of these men is fighting in which army? Photo by R W Turner, from the Imperial War Museum.

 

The Man He Killed

November 1, 2015

Week 219 – Maid of Australia

When I was 16 or 17 I signed up to the record-lending section of my local public library. The first two discs I borrowed were an early music recording of songs from the Carmina Burana, and the Topic/Caedmon LP Songs of Seduction. Now the Folk Songs of Britain series, of which this was part, has been heavily criticised for the way its editors, Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy, chopped out verses from songs, or had bits of one song sung by several different singers. (The CD reissue of Songs of Seduction did restore most of the originally-deleted verses, but some reviewers still found plenty to complain about – complaints which could be summed up as objecting to Kennedy’s rather high-handed and proprietorial attitude towards the songs and their singers). But back in 1961 when the LP was first released, I guess the editors had limited time available on each disc, and they wanted to present, to those unused to listening to British traditional singers, as wide a range of songs and as wide a range of singers as possible. In that they succeeded. Some 15 years later, I was just the kind of listener the records had been aimed at: I had developed (via Steeleye, the Watersons, the Chieftains etc.) a great love of folk music, but so far the only traditional singers I had heard were the Copper Family. Suddenly, I was presented with some of the greats of traditional song – Harry Cox, Thomas Moran, Jeannie Robertson, Davie Stewart, George Spicer… And (I was a teenage boy, remember) they were all singing about sex. What’s not to like?

One of the songs included on the LP – in a reasonably complete form, as I recall – was Harry Cox’s ‘Maid of Australia’. So I was familiar with the song from the LP, then learned the words from Peter Kennedy’s book Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland, also borrowed from the public library. (Incidentally, after years of borrowing that book from various libraries, I finally bought a copy the other week – one of a number of books Steve Roud was selling off at the EFDSS Folk Song Conference, in a desperate effort to reduce the size of his personal library before moving house).

It’s one of those songs which, for no apparent reason, seems to have been a favourite in East Anglia, and hardly ever encountered elsewhere in Britain – besides Harry Cox, it has been recorded from Walter Pardon and Sam Larner, while Vaughan Williams took down a version from Mr Crist in King’s Lynn, and John Howson recorded a version in 1993 from Tom Smith at Thorpe Merieux in Suffolk. Just to prove it’s not a solely East Anglian preserve, however, here’s the version Sabine Baring-Gould noted from George Doidge at Chillaton in Devon: http://www.vwml.org/record/SBG/1/3/228.

And, needless to say, the song appeared on at least one broadside ballad sheet.

The maids of Australia, printed between 1863 and 1885 by H. Such. From the Bodleian collection.

The maids of Australia, printed between 1863 and 1885 by H. Such. From the Bodleian collection.

The song itself is, of course, the most fantastic male sexual fantasy. The narrator is out for a walk by the Hawkesborough River. He sits down to rest for a bit, when who should he spy but a young native woman – a young woman intent on having a dip in the river, it would seem as, without further ado, she takes off all her clothes. Realising that she is being watched, she blushes, but her embarrassment is shortlived: she quickly recovers her composure and makes it clear that she feels no reason to be ashamed of her naked body.

For the young man on the bank, things just seem to get better and better.

Well she dived in the water without fear or dread
And her beautiful limbs she exceedingly spread

– well, there’s a sight for a young man

Her hair hung in ringlets, the colour it was black
Sir, said she, you will see how I float on my back…

Oh my – I think I might need to go and have a lie-down.

Well she can’t swim for ever, of course. After a while she begins to get tired. Ever the gentleman, he helps her out. But – accidentally, of course – his foot slips, and down they fall together. And, in possibly the finest pun in English traditional song, “then I entered the bush of Australia”.

They frolic together for a while – “in the highest of glee”, naturally. But all men are bastards, so he ups and leaves her, and nine months later (all folk song characters being unfeasibly fecund) she finds herself a single mother.

I did for a while sing a rewrite of the last verse, in which I attempted to draw attention to the colonialist, patriarchal attitudes implicit in the song. But it was just as clumsy as that makes it sound, so I reverted to Harry Cox’s original. At least that way the audience can join in with the last line.

Maid of Australia