Thank you Cameron, thank you Farage, thank you Johnson, thank you Murdoch. And while I’m at it, thank you Thatcher, who made it acceptable to put private gain above public good, who destroyed British manufacturing industry and treated its workers with contempt, and who pretended that there’s no such thing as society. Between you, you have produced a political, economic and social crisis from which, right now, I can’t see how we’re going to recover.
And, whether they meant to or not, the Brexiteers have stirred up a dangerous level of racial hatred. They kept saying “take back control” and now every racist halfwit in the country thinks it’s OK to hurl abuse at immigrants (of whatever skin colour) and people with darker skin (wherever they come from). Someone I know was racially abused in the center of Didcot the other day, and told to “go back home”. Such abuse is unacceptable in any situation, but it was ironic in this case, as the person being abused has lived all her life in the UK, and if she were to “go back where she came from” I seem to remember that wouldn’t actually take her any further than Luton.
I’m not much of an activist, but we must all do what we can to stand up against intolerance of every kind.
So take a good look at my face
You know my smile looks out of place
If you look closer it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears
I’ll be all smiles tonight, boys, I’ll be all smiles tonight
If my heart should break tomorrow I’ll be all smiles tonight
It has always seemed to me that this song was inspired by the same sorts of emotions as Smokey’s classic…
Mike Yates recorded the song in 1972 from George ‘Tom’ Newman of Clanfield, near Bampton, in Oxfordshire. I first heard it sung by Lal and Norma Waterson on the LP Green Fields and subsequently learned it from the transcription of Mike Yates’ recording in Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs, edited by Roy Palmer.
Only a few songs recorded from Tom Newman have been made available on record: ‘The Tree in the Wood’ appeared in the seventies on the Topic LP Green Grow the Laurels, and then again – along with ‘Sing Ovy, Sing Ivy’ – on the Musical Traditions CD Up in the North, Down in the South. Meanwhile Tom’s song ‘My Old Hat That I Got On’ (which Magpie Lane recorded on the CD Six for Gold) was included on Volume 13 of The Voice of the People.
This song, however, has unfortunately never been made available. Mike Yates’ recordings can be accessed at the British Library Sound Archive, but are not available to listen to remotely. One day I must make a trip there, and this will certainly be on my list of recordings to check out. In the meantime I have absolutely no idea if the way I sing ‘Fare thee well cold winter’ bears even the slightest resemblance to the way Tom Newman sang it.
George ‘Tom’ Newman was in his 90th year when I met him and, sadly, I only knew him for the last six months of his life. Originally from Faringdon, he was living in a small bungalow in the village of Clanfield, near Bampton. I was told that Tom used to occasionally turn up at the Bampton Whit Monday ceremonies with his one-man band and would proceed to accompany the traditional morris team around the village. John Baldwin, whose  Folk Music Journal article again introduced me to Tom, had described Tom thus: He is an old man now and tends to become very excited when singing; sitting in a chair and pumping the floor with his feet alternately, and similarly his knees with clenched fists.
It must be twenty years ago that I sang this song at a folk club and someone pointed out that the chorus crops up in a Carter Family song. Mike Yates has written that, when he collected ‘Fare thee well cold winter’ he assumed that Tom Newman had picked up the chorus from an old recording – by the Carter Family perhaps, or Kitty Wells. But in fact Cecil Sharp collected a version from Lucy White, of Hambridge in Somerset, which included a “We’ll be all be smiles tonight” chorus.
The chorus comes from an American song written by T. B. Ranson in 1879, which may well have gained popularity in Britain at the time. Lucy White’s version proves that Ranson’s chorus had been added to the older British song by 1903 at least, some decades before it was being recorded by various American performers (there were several recorded versions before the Carter Family recorded their ‘I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight’ – see the Traditional Tune Archive for details). I’m not aware of any connection between Lucy White and Tom Newman, so these two collected versions suggest that the song – with this chorus – must have had some kind of wider currency in Britain in the late nineteenth / early twentieth century.
Fare-thee-well cold winter. 19th century broadside ballad from the Bodleian collection.
Shepherd Haden might be the best known traditional singer from Bampton (see last week’s entry), but both Cecil Sharp and Alfred Williams, who noted down songs from Hayden, also collected songs from his younger neighbour, and Bampton morris man, Charlie Tanner.
You will find biographical details on Charles Tanner (1845-1922), drawn from census and other records, on the Wiltshire Community History website (it was from here that I learned that in 1891 Tanner was living next door to Shadrach Haden / Hayden / Haydon).
On the same site, you’ll find a list of 23 songs collected from Mr Tanner by the Swindon railwayman poet, Alfred Williams. Williams, of course, lacked the skills to notate his singers’ tunes, and unfortunately Sharp only took down the tunes for eight of these songs (see the Full English).
Sharp noted ‘Chain of Gold’ on 7th September 1909. Williams visited Tanner in the following decade, and the words of this song appeared in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard on 11th March 1916.
Versions of this song – a classic example of a sad story set to a jolly tune – seems to have been popular in Oxfordshire: George Butterworth collected versions at Stanton St John, Charlton and Oakley in Oxfordshire, and at Brill just over the border in Buckinghamshire. The words I sing were collated from Tanner’s version, and others printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 4 (1913).
Charlie Tanner – photo by Cecil Sharp, copyright EFDSS
This is the second version of ‘John Barleycorn’ to appear on this blog. I posted a Shropshire version back in Week 61, and there’s also the – largely unrelated – ‘John Barleycorn’s a Hero Bold’. I’ve also recorded a third version – collected from Charlie Hill of Devon in the 1970s – on the Magpie Lane CD A Taste of Ale. That CD can still be purchased from our website (so don’t pay £34 for it from Amazon!), or downloaded from Amazon, iTunes etc. etc. (I notice on Amazon we are described as “Oxfordshire folk supergroup” – not sure we’re quite in the Traveling Wilburys league).
Ian and I sang this version of the song on the first Magpie Lane CD, The Oxford Ramble, back in 1993, and I suppose we’d better revive it for the ‘Songs from Bampton’ session we’re running at the English Country Music Weekend at the end of this month. It’s the best-known version – indeed I’d say it’s one of the best known English folk songs, thanks to the fact that it was included in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and to recordings by Mike Waterson, Martin Carthy, Traffic, Chris Wood… and Martin Carthy again, with Paul Weller of all the unlikely people, on the first Imagined Village album.
Believed to be a photograph of Shepherd Hayden, taken by Cecil Sharp. Copyright EFDSS.
Cecil Sharp noted the song at Bampton in Oxfordshire, on 31st August 1909, from the eighty-three year old Shadrach ‘Shepherd’ Haden.
John Barleycorn, collected by Cecil Sharp from Shepherd Hayden (or Haden); from the Full English.
Another, completely different version of the song, also collected in Bampton, was included in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Steve Roud’s notes to the song say
It was perhaps inevitable that this song would attract the ritual-origins theorists who claimed that it was all to do with corn spirits and resurrection, but it is now generally agreed that such notions were romantic wishful thinking and there is no evidence either for the theories themselves or for this song to be anything other than a clever allegory.
And I’ll go along with that. Long live Occam’s Razor.
And here’s Ian Giles and me singing the song at the very first Magpie Lane gig, Holywell Music Room, May 1993.
I have mentioned previously on this blog that my introduction to folk music came via Steeleye Span’s 1972 LP Below the Salt. It might be an exaggeration to say that I was hooked after one listen, but it wouldn’t be so far from the truth. My best friend Mike lent me his Dad’s copy of the record, and Mike and I were soon singing the songs together in harmony – ‘Spotted Cow’, ‘Rosebud in June’, ‘Gaudete’, ‘John Barleycorn’ and ‘King Henry’. Indeed I’m sure I must have known all of the songs on the album at one time, including Side 1 Track 5, ‘Royal Forester’.
I remember singing that one day in the kitchen at home, and my Dad calling out “Here Jean, have you heard these saucy songs our son is singing?”. At which point it emerged that my Mum, who must have had a sheltered upbringing, was unfamiliar with the word ‘maidenhead’. Well, to be fair, so was I until I started singing folk songs!
One thing I have always admired about the early Steeleye albums was the fact that the record sleeves had notes about the songs. Often brief, cryptic, half-fact half-fantasy notes, but still useful to me as a newcomer to traditional music – at the time I had no idea who Harry Cox, Queen Caroline Hughes or John Strachan were, but I absorbed their names, and recognised them later when I started exploring real traditional singing (although it would be many years before I actually got to hear Queen Caroline Hughes, and the first time I heard John Strachan of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire was his very brief – mainly spoken – contribution to the Songs of Seduction LP)
Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson recorded this song from Strachan in July 1951, and it was included on another of those Topic/Caedmon Folk Songs of Britain albums, The Child Ballads 2. My local library had most of the records in that series, and I think I may have borrowed this one, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Certainly the way I sing ‘Royal Forester’ owes nothing (I’m afraid) to John Strachan, and is very much my recollection of the song as sung by Steeleye. But in fact Steeleye’s version was pretty faithful to the original.
I don’t think this was ever a song I performed in public, and I’d not sung it at all for many years, until maybe 2 or 3 years back. When, thinking of songs I could include here, I had a go at remembering the words. And, after a little bit of scrabbling around in dusty, neglected corners of my brain, found that they all came flooding back.
As it was one of the very first traditional song I learned, it seemed appropriate to post it here to mark 250 weeks of this blog.