Archive for August, 2016

August 12, 2016

Week 260 – Jolly Good Song

So, ladies and gentlemen, here is my two hundred and sixtieth consecutive weekly post. Which means that A Folk Song A Week is five years old.

When I started the blog, I guesstimated that I knew about 150 songs. Obviously that turned out to be a significant understatement – the last time I did a reckoning, I counted up about another fifty songs that I know, plus more that I don’t know yet, but really must get around to learning some time. Given time, I hope to post all of those here. However, after five years, I’m going to cut myself some slack. This is certainly not the end of the blog, but I will no longer be maintaining a strict weekly publishing schedule. That’s not to say there won’t be a post next week, or the week after – but don’t count on it. So, if you want to be sure of never missing a post, do subscribe using the tools on the right.

I have to say, starting up this blog was one of the best decisions I ever made. I started it at a time when I really wasn’t doing enough singing – this way, I thought, I’ll be forced to sing at least once a week. Also, a couple of years previously, I had had a medical problem with my throat, which prevented me from singing for the best part of a year. I was (am) afraid that the problem might return, and I wanted to document my repertoire while I could. Primarily for my own benefit, but also for my children, and for posterity – whether or not posterity was remotely interested.

Obviously, I can’t speak for posterity, but it has been exceedingly gratifying to receive many positive comments – here, on Facebook, and just bumping into people at gigs, sessions and elsewhere. So thank you, everyone who has had nice things to say. I started the blog for myself, but it’s still very satisfying to know that other people appreciate it.

So, what have I learned? Well, not very many new songs, I’m afraid. I’m sure there were others, but the ones that spring to mind are ‘Georgie, ‘The Bonny Bunch of Roses O’, ‘Ye Boys o’ Callieburn’ and ‘Jack Williams’. But then there have been other songs which I’d half known for years, but which this blog prompted me to learn properly; for instance ‘All things are quite silent’, ‘Master Kilby’ and ‘House in the Country’. And then there have been a great many songs which I used to sing, had somehow allowed to fall into neglect, and then – reviving them to post here – was delighted to find were really far too good not to sing: ‘Do Me Ama’ and John Kirkpatrick’s ‘Dust to Dust’ for example. Oh, and I’ve also gained a greater facility at knocking up simple concertina accompaniments – something I’ve tended to agonise over in the past – when the need arises: by way of example, see ‘Here’s Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy’, ‘Warlike Seamen‘, ‘Saint Stephen’ and ‘The Somerset Wassail’.

And I’ve learned so much writing up the weekly blog entries. Even where I thought I knew quite a bit about the song already, a bit of digging around on my bookshelves and on the web has invariably produced further information. There’s such a wealth of information online now for anyone with an interest in these old songs, and the sources continue to multiply. When I began, we were still marvelling at the EFDSS Take Six resource. But that turned out just to be whetting our appetite for the riches which the Full English archive would offer. The Bodleian, too, has expanded and improved its Broadside Ballad site. And then there’s sites like Tobar an Dualchais, Gloucestershire Traditions and, one I found just recently, The music of Sally Sloane.  My heartfelt thanks to all the people involved in building and updating these sites. And to everyone whose contributions to Mudcat I have plundered over the last five years, especially to the late Malcolm Douglas, who I never knew, but whose name I am always pleased to see cropping up on a thread about a song’s origins.

And a massive thank you to Reinhard Zierke, whose Mainly Norfolk site is normally my first port of call when researching a song (if only because it always provides me with a Roud number and a link to the Full English), and whose comments here have been unfailingly constructive and helpful. Reinhard – you’re a gent.

As for this song, for a long while I’ve had it stored up to use as The Last Song On The Blog. Well, this isn’t actually the Last Post, but it seemed like a suitable time to post it here. Bob Copper sings it on Turn o’ the Year, disc 4 of the Leader A Song for Every Season box set; although I learned it from my mate Adrian Russell, on one of the sing-songs we used to have driving between country pubs in Kent. Being polite, Bob Copper sings “give the old bounder some beer”. Adrian, I’m pretty sure, always used to sing “give the old bugger some beer”, which I imagine is closer to what Bob and his father’s Rottingdean companions actually sang between songs in the Black Horse.

At the end of a song, quite often the company in general would sing,

A jolly good song and jolly well sung,
Jolly good company, everyone;
If you can beat it you’re welcome to try,
But always remember the singer is dry.

Give the old bounder some beer —
He’s had some, he’s had some.
Then give the old bounder some more.

Half a pint of Burton won’t hurt’n, I’m certain,
O, half a pint of Burton won’t hurt’n, I’m sure.

s – u – p

(notes to Bob and Ron Copper English Shepherd and Farming Songs, Folk Legacy Records)

Three men discuss various local issues over a pint of beer and a cigarette at the Wynnstay Arms in Ruabon, Denbighshire, Wales. From the Ministry of Information Second World War Collection, Imperial War Museum. © IWM (D 18478)

Three men discuss various local issues over a pint of beer and a cigarette at the Wynnstay Arms in Ruabon, Denbighshire, Wales. From the Ministry of Information Second World War Collection, Imperial War Museum. © IWM (D 18478)

 

Clearly, it was not only in Sussex that this refrain was used in such a way. On Mudcat, Robin Turner (no relation, as far as I know) recalls

As a lad in the late 1940s and early 50s, I was taken to many concerts of the Ullswater Pack, in pubs such as the White Lion Patterdale, and the Travellers rest at Glenridding…

Many of the tunes I still recall, and I particularly recall the enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience participation at these concerts. After each singer, the MC for the evening would lead everybody in a short chorus of appreciation of the singer, which went:
“Its a Jolly good song, and its jolly well sung, Jolly good company every-one, And he who can beat it is welcome to try, But always remember the Singer is Dry!” followed by a common roar “Sup, yer Bloodhounds, Sup!”

 

And the same usage is described in this article in The Glasgow Herald, 18 September 1915

Old, old songs belonging to the early Victorian age were given by soldiers who had great emotion and broke down sometimes in the middle of a verse. There were funny men dressed in the Mother Twankey style or in burlesque uniforms who were greeted with veils of laughter by their comrades. An Australian giant played some clever card tricks, and another Australian recited Kipling’s “Gunga Din” with splendid fire. And between every “turn” the soldiers in the fiels roared out a chorus:—

“Jolly good song,
Jolly well sung,
If you can think of a better you’re welcome to try,
But don’t forget the singer is dry,
Give the poor beggar some beer!”

 

Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, where they pride themselves on plain speaking, this recording of the Holme Valley Beagles suggests that there’s no messing around with “bounder” or “beggar”. Here the refrain is

Sup, you bugger, sup!

And so say all of us.

 

Happy old man drinking glass of beer, 1937.

Happy old man drinking glass of beer, 1937.

 

Oh, there’s one last thank you before I go: to Jon Boden, whose A Folk Song A Day provided the original inspiration for this blog, and several others besides. Look what you started, Jon…

Jolly Good Song

August 5, 2016

Week 259 – Young Banker

I learned this song from the Watersons’ 1981 LP Green Fields and for pretty much all of the intervening 35 years it has been one of my default songs to fall back on, when I need a chorus song in a singaround or pub session.

Bert Lloyd – Topic’s go-to man for sleeve notes back in the seventies and early eighties – states in the notes for this song that it was

noted by Frank Kidson from Mrs Kate Thompson of Knaresborough.

The booklet notes for the Carthy Chronicles, which features a different Watersons recording of the song, expand on this:

Young Banker has words collected from a maidservant from the Isle of Axholme near Doncaster, set to a tune which Frank Kidson collected from Kate Thompson of Knaresborough

The Full English, of course, has the tune which Frank Kidson collected from Mrs Thompson in Knaresborough; while the words (with a slightly different tune), which were noted down by Alfred Atkinson from an unnamed singer in the Isle of Axholme – in North Lincolnshire, between Doncaster and Scunthorpe – in 1904, can be found in the 1905 Journal of the Folk-Song Society.

Other versions have been collected in Lincolnshire (by Percy Grainger), Gloucestershire (Alfred Williams and Cecil Sharp), Somerset (Sharp), and Herefordshire (Ella Leather).

I learned the song to sing with Caroline Jackson-Houlston, and it was she who typed out the words for me, almost certainly from the JFSS. Whereas the Watersons (following the collected version) have the last line of the chorus as “For my young banker I will go there”, Caroline changed this to “For my young banker I will go bare”. This seemed to make more sense in context and, she thought, was almost certainly how the line had originally been written. But in fact the broadside version (titled ‘A new song called The banking boy’) which you can see on the Bodleian’s Broadside site, also has that line as “For the young banker I will go there”.

 A new song called The banking boy - 19th century ballad sheet from Broadside Ballads Online.

A new song called The banking boy – 19th century ballad sheet from Broadside Ballads Online.

The young banker in this song, incidentally, is not a high-flying, cocaine-snorting, economy-destroying financial whizzkid, but “a man who made embankments, stone walls and such” (A.L.Lloyd), or perhaps “A labourer who makes or repairs the banks of waterways; spec. one who digs drains, ditches, or canals” (OED).

 

Young Banker