Week 305 – The Prentice Boy

In 1995 Dave Townsend invited Ian Giles and me to sing on a new Mellstock Band record, Songs of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. We recorded our contributions over two sunny days at the Saydisc recording studios – namely David Wilkins’ house at Littleton-on-Severn. I may be wrong, but my memory is that all the singers and musicians were put up in the house; we ate breakfast and lunch together; and then in the evening we’d go down to the village pub for dinner and a few pints of Smiles’ bitter. A very enjoyable experience all round. The recordings themselves were largely stress-free and, though I say it myself, I was in particularly good voice at the time – although not in such good voice as the wonderful Julie Murphy, who Ian and I were encountering for the first time, and whose singing just blew us away.

True to form, Dave Townsend had come up with some interesting material. Ian got to sing a lovely version of ‘The Foggy Dew’ which we immediately pinched for ourselves, and which was subsequently turned into a Greatest Hit for Magpie Lane. I sang, and was able to add to my own repertoire, ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ and ‘The Light of the Moon’, plus ‘The Prentice Boy’. I never considered actually learning this one, as I already sang a version of Roud 263 (‘The Wexford Murder’ which I’ve been singing since the early 80s, but which I’ve yet to record satisfactorily for this blog). However, for the sake of completeness, I thought I’d include it here.

The song was collected by Henry Hammond from Joseph Elliott of Todber in Dorset, with some additional words here as noted by Thomas Hardy himself. The tune, it strikes me, is a modal version of ‘Highland Mary’.

Saydisc stopped producing new records some years ago, but I’m pleased to say that much of their catalogue, including this one, is still available both digitally and on CD. The record is listed on Spotify, but only a few of the tracks are available to play (maybe you need to take out a subscription, which is something I have absolutely no intention of doing). So here it is from YouTube. Now, the only other time I’ve featured a YouTube recording on this blog – and ranted a bit about how it really shouldn’t be there without the copyright-holder’s permission –  the track became unavailable within a few days. Such is my power! So if you want to listen to this song, you’d better do it quickly. Even better – and I say this without any financial interest whatsoever – treat yourself to the CD.

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