If forced to name my favourite John Kirkpatrick album, I would probably plump for Shreds and Patches, his 1977 LP with Sue Harris. But The Rose of Britain’s Isle, their first duo album, would also be high up on the list. Incomprehensibly, neither of those records – nor indeed any of their 1970s output for Topic – has ever been re-released on CD. But you can get them as downloads, and I strongly suggest you do that if you’ve never heard them or if, like me, you’ve worn out your original vinyl copies.
‘Up in the North’ – a cautionary tale for any young men with commitment issues – is track 2 on The Rose of Britain’s Isle and that’s where I first heard it. I learned the words a few years later on a trip to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, from a transcription by John Baldwin in the 1969 Folk Music Journal. By that time I had already heard Mike Yates’ 1972 recording of the song being sung by Freda Palmer of Witney on the Topic LP When Sheepshearing’s Done. I have to confess though that, when learning the song, John and Sue’s interpretation undoubtedly influenced me more than Freda Palmer’s original.
You can hear Freda Palmer singing the song on – indeed it’s effectively the title track of – the Musical Traditions double CD Up in the North, Down in the South. Mike Yates’ notes say
Up in the North, or, No Sign of a Marriage as it is called in the Southern Uplands of the United States, appeared on several early 19th century broadsides and chapbooks, although it has seldom been encountered by collectors in England. The Hammond brothers noted a fine Dorset version, Down in the West Country, in 1907, while Alfred Williams found it sometime before 1914 at Brize Norton, only a few miles from Mrs Palmer’s home. In Scotland and North America it has been more popular and most of Roud’s 34 entries refer to these countries—however, Freda’s is the only sound recording of the song ever made in these islands.
For a few years, this was my party piece. It was the opening track on my cassette album Love, Death and the Cossack, and I also sang it as a solo piece at early Magpie Lane concerts – there’s video evidence of that, from our first ever concert, in 1993; although now that I come to look for this on YouTube it would appear that I’ve not yet digitised and uploaded it. Having sung the song a lot, I seem to have neglected it for the last 20 years or so. But at Christmas I decided it really was time that I revived the song. I notice that it lasted 4’20” on my 1990 recording, and 4’27” on this one, so it seems I’ve not changed it a great deal in the intervening quarter century – slowing down a little as I get older, but that’s no bad thing when it comes to folk songs and tunes.
Up in the North
Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina