May 24, 2020

Three songs from the Bridge

Just over a year ago I found myself in Newcastle for a few days. Arriving on a Monday evening, I took the opportunity to go to the Bridge folk club, which I’d last visited when I was a student at Newcastle Poly back in 1983/84. The club used to be in the basement back then, now it had moved to an upstairs room. And none of the array of 1980s residents that I remembered was there: Ray Fisher and Colin Ross have sadly passed on, although apparently Johnny Handle still looks in occasionally. But Jim Mageean was there, and a number of other good singers, and actually I have to say I felt far more welcome than I ever did back in the day.

It was a singers’ night, and I got to sing three songs. Which you can now watch or listen to, should you have the inclination, as there’s a chap sat in the front row who records all of the performances, some of which subsequently get uploaded to the club’s YouTube channel.

So here they are. All three songs have featured in previous blog posts, if you’d like more information about the songs.

see Week 1 – Riding Down to Portsmouth

 

see Week 52 – The Crockery Ware

 

see

May 17, 2020

Week 289 – The Ghost Ship

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I have rather an ambivalent attitude towards Peter Bellamy’s singing. But I can’t deny that hearing his album The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate at the age of 17 or 18 had quite an effect on me. I learned several songs from the LP – certainly ‘The Female Drummer’ and ‘Saint Stephen’. And at a time when my singing style was heavily influenced by those I heard on record (Martin Carthy, Mike Waterson, Tim Hart, Cathal McConnell) I couldn’t help picking up some of Bellamy’s vocal tricks too. I learned this one with the aid of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Singing Island – an important book for me, as it was one of the few books of folk song in my local library.

It was quite a few years later before I heard the song sung by Bellamy’s source, the Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner. That was on the Topic CD Now Is The Time For Fishing, which features recordings made by MacColl and Seeger between 1958 and 1960. It’s a great record, fully deserving of its classic status. But in fact you can get all of the 1958-60 recordings of Sam Larner made by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker on the award-winning Musical Traditions double CD Cruising Round Yarmouth. If you root around on the Musical Traditions website you’ll find a Downloads page, where you can buy a copy for the price of a pint (actually less than the cost of a pint, if you’re used to London and SE England prices – and anyway, all the pubs are shut at the moment).

I’m very clear that I learned this from Peter Bellamy, not Sam Larner. Indeed there are certain points in the song where – although I’ve probably not listened to Bellamy’s recording of the song more than half a dozen times in the last 30 years – I feel I have to consciously restrain myself, to stop myself throwing in a Bellamyesque yelp. But having just listened to my recording alongside that on The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate I think I might finally have arrived at my own way of singing the song.

The Ghost Ship

April 18, 2020

Week 288 – Our Captain Cried

This blog started less than 9 years ago, but the wealth of resources that has become available in that time to folk singers and researchers is quite staggering. The EFDSS Archive Catalogue aka Full English was launched in 2013 and continues to grow both in terms of the number of collections included, and the number of records with some kind of media attached. New collections added over the course of the last couple of years include the James Madison Carpenter collection, which has sound recordings made at a time when hardly anyone else in England was making them – and which was previously inaccessible to anyone not able to go on a research trip to Washington DC – and Ken Stubbs’ 1960s recordings from Southern England. Meanwhile, more and more catalogue records now include an image, for instance a scan of the relevant page from an old Folk Song Society Journal. The catalogue record for this song is a case in point.

The one regret I have – and in truth it could easily be remedied – is that I no longer need to go up to London on a regular basis to visit the library. In the old days I’d find an excuse to go about once a year, often coinciding with a Library Lecture, or some other event at the House. Sometimes I’d be looking for something specific: songs from Kent or Oxfordshire, or folk carols. But latterly I’d let serendipity be my friend and just flip through the pages of a bound volume of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Tunes. If I saw something that piqued my interest, I’d copy the tune into a manuscript book, or take a photocopy, then look up the words in the relevant volume of Sharps’ Folk Words. Sometimes there was no entry – Sharp had only noted the first verse – or the words were incomplete, so then I’d consult the catalogue and find other versions. And then, naturally, one thing would often lead to another.

This approach yielded such songs as , , , and the version of ‘Rout of the Blues’ that Sophie Thurman sings on Three Quarter Time. It was actually that song which led me to ‘Our Captain Cried’. I knew ‘Rout’, of course, from the Dransfields’ LP of the same name, but had never really considered that the song might have been found in the oral tradition. Having found a couple of versions collected by Sharp, I then looked for other versions, and found one from Mr Henry Hills of Lodsworth, in an old Journal. It’s one of a considerable number of Sussex songs contained in ‘Songs from the Collection of W. P. Merrick’, Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1901), pp. 66-138. I quickly decided that Mr Hill’s ‘The Blues’ wasn’t very interesting, but a few pages further on I found this – and if nothing else, I’m sure I was drawn in by the fact that the song is written out in 4/4 but with frequent shifts into 5/4. You could actually bar it in 13/4, which is not a time signature you expect to find too often in the English tradition (although, as Martin Carthy has been known to say, English folk songs are all basically one beat to the bar).

Our Captain Cried, from JFSS Vol 1 No3; from the VWML Archive Catalogue

Our Captain Cried, from JFSS Vol 1 No3; from the VWML Archive Catalogue

The tune, you’ll quickly realise, is a member of the ‘Monk’s Gate’ / ‘Who would true valour see’ family of tunes – Vaughan Williams having based that hymn tune on one he collected (as ‘Our Captain Calls’) from Mrs Harriet Verrall, 20-odd miles away from Henry Hill’s home in Lodsworth.

For another similar version – very nicely sung by George Sansome, and with a wonderful anglo-concertina accompaniment by Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne – check out the CD Wheels Of The World by Granny’s Attic.

Our Captain Cried

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

March 8, 2020

Maintenance work completed – all audio recordings should be playable again

As mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, this blog suffered from the increased security measures introduced by Google Chrome version 80 – the changes meant that almost none of the audio recordings were playable.

After a bit of deliberation, I moved all of the files (easy) and then set about updating all of the links (easy, but really time-consuming). I believe that I’ve completed that task now, and the recordings should be playable, whatever browser you use/

While updating these links on the blog, I’ve also tried to fix any other problems, particularly embedded images which were no longer displaying. In some cases this was simply because the source website had moved, or reorganised all of its content – it’s worth remembering that when this blog started in 2011, we were still excited by the results of the EFDSS’ Take Six project, and the Full English was still some years away. And the Bodleian broadside ballads collection has also moved to a much bigger, better site, Broadside Ballads Online (of which more anon). Meanwhile, the Copper Family website has had a makeover – it’s a very attractive site now, but the detailed information about the family’s songs, and songs collected by Bob Copper, is no longer part of the site. Never mind – in an all-too-frequent demonstration of its worth – the Internet Archive Wayback Machine comes to the rescue, by preserving snapshots of the old site at https://web.archive.org/web/20050715075735/http://www.thecopperfamily.com. Incidentally, if you find that useful, you may want to install the Wayback Machine Chrome extension.

In other cases missing images were being pulled in from a non-secure http site. Sometimes just changing http to https fixed this. But that only works if the site has a secure https address. And plenty of perfectly decent websites, looked after by enthusiasts (like me) rather than corporate bodies, don’t need and don’t want to pay for a security certificate. As a result I found, for example, that Chrome refuses to display the wonderful harvest home photos from http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk/AssortedHarvestSupperPhotographs.html (so you’ll just have to follow the link to look at those).

And yet it does display embedded images from the Bodleian’s Broadside Ballads Online site, http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. Curiously that site doesn’t seem to have an https address. That’s odd for a University site. And it’s also odd that Chrome still displays embedded images from this non-secure site. Maybe Google just thinks “oh the Bodleian – that’s bound to be OK”, which would be a perfectly reasonable bit of programming.

 

Anyway, if you do find any audio files that don’t play – or indeed any broken links on the site – please leave a comment on the relevant page, so I’m alerted and can try to fix it. Thank you!

 

February 25, 2020

Attention Google Chrome users

Update 8th March: see https://afolksongaweek.wordpress.com/2020/03/08/maintenance-work-completed-all-audio-recordings-should-be-playable-again/

If you are visiting this blog using the latest version of Google Chrome (version 80) then I’m afraid you’ll find that you can no longer play any of the embedded recordings.

That’s because Google have brought in added security controls which – unless you change your browser settings – prevent you from playing media files embedded from another website, if that other website is not a secure https site. At the moment the audio files displayed here actually reside on the Magpie Lane website, http://magpielane.co.uk. We’ve never thought it worthwhile to pay the extra cost to make our site https, as (unusually these days) we don’t use cookies, or collect any information from our website visitors. Our ‘Shop’ pages take you off to Paypal, which of course is a secure site, and our mailing list sign-up is handled by Mailchimp, again a secure site.

I actually knew this change was coming – and actually it’s a good thing for internet users – but unfortunately, because the Magpie Lane site doesn’t use cookies, I hadn’t cottoned onto the fact that it was going to make this site useless for a lot of visitors. Silly me.

I’m looking into the options for the audio files here. Whatever option I take, it’s going to involve editing the embed code on over 300 blog posts, so won’t be a quick process.

In the meantime, you can of course use Firefox or MS Edge to visit this site – the recordings should still play in those browsers.

And I think I may have found a way of addressing the issue. The audio below should play, even in the latest version of Chrome.

Country Life

(originally posted in Week 287 – Country Life)

February 8, 2020

Week 287 – Country Life

Side 1, Track 1 on the Watersons’ classic LP For pence and spicy ale. Released in 1975, I must have first heard it the following year when I bought an already secondhand copy from my schoolfriend Peter Carlton. Pete had bought it from another classmate, Richard Marks. I’m not sure what had prompted Richard to buy it – possibly John Peel had played some tracks from it on his Radio 1 show? Anyway, I was immediately hooked. It fitted in perfectly with my existing love of unaccompanied harmony singing, and my burgeoning interest in folk carols, songs of ceremony, seasonal songs etc. It also provided my singing partner Mike and I with another source of folk songs to rip off and add to our repertoire. At one time or another we must have sung half the songs on that album: ‘Bellman’. ‘Swarthfell Rocks’, ‘Malpas Wassail’, ‘Chickens in the garden’, the mighty ‘Good Old Way’ and, of course, ‘Country Life’ (and I was also prompted to learn ‘King Pharim’ as a result of hearing the Watersons sing it).

According to the liner notes on For pence and spicy ale the Watersons got the song from Mick Taylor, a sheepdog trainer of Hawes in Wensleydale. There’s a related, but different song, which shares the same Roud number, sung by Walter Pardon amongst others. As you’d expect, you can find more details, and links to follow up on the Mainly Norfolk website.

We were far from the only people on the folk scene to learn this song. If you’ve been to any kind of folk club or singing session over the last 45 years it would be very surprising if you hadn’t found yourself joining in the chorus of ‘Country Life’ at some point. Our only complaint was that the song was too short. So Mike remedied that by making up an extra verse.

It’s been a long time since Mike and I regularly sang together, and it’s not often I think to sing this song. The last time I sang it in public, I think, was at the 2016 Teignmouth Folk Festival, when Magpie Lane were on the same bill as local harmony trio The Claque, and we finished the show with a very pleasing massed rendition of ‘Country Life’ (well, very pleasing for us!). Not having a vocal harmony group to hand when I came to record this for the blog, I decided to make do with a simple concertina accompaniment.

Country Life

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

February 1, 2020

Week 286 – The Blacksmith Courted Me

I first heard ‘The Blacksmith’ via the starkly beautiful arrangement on Steeleye Span’s second album Please to see the King. That must have been the autumn of 1976. Over the next couple of years I heard several other versions: Steeleye Mark I’s rather less impressive arrangement on Hark the village wait; Andy Irvine’s reading of the song on Planxty; Shirley and Dolly Collins’ interpretation of the Phoebe Smith version, as part of their magnificent Anthems in Eden suite; and Barry Dransfield’s wonderful extemporisations on the Dransfield album The Fiddler’s Dream (as an aside, if you don’t know that record check it out now – possibly the best folk-rock album ever).

Steeleye and Planxty both did the version collected by Vaughan Williams in Herefordshire, as printed in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. That’s not a version I’ve ever sung in public, but it would have been hard not to have absorbed it in my formative years as a singer, and I posted it here back in 2015 as Week 214 – The Blacksmith.

In early 1979, thanks to Ashford public library and inter-library borrowing, I managed to get my hands on the 1963 Topic LP The Roving Journeymen featuring Tom Willett and his sons Chris and Ben. That record had a big influence on me. Over the next few years I learned over half of the songs on the album: ‘Riding Down to Portsmouth’‘The Roving Journeyman’‘The Rambling Sailor’‘My Dog and I’‘The Old Miser’‘The Game of All Fours’ and last, but certainly not least, ‘Lord Bateman’. I also really admired Tom Willett’s performance of ‘The Blacksmith Courted Me’ but somehow I never learned it. Partly, perhaps, because I viewed it as a song best sung by a woman; partly because Tom’s words were not quite, as you might say, ‘oven-ready’. Well last autumn I decided the time for procrastination was long past, and set about assembling a set of words to sing.

Tom Willett's version of 'The Blacksmith' as noted by Ken Stubbs in 1960, page 1

Tom Willett's version of 'The Blacksmith' as noted by Ken Stubbs in 1960, page 2

Tom Willett’s version of ‘The Blacksmith’ as noted by Ken Stubbs in 1960

 

I brought in lines from other versions to fill out Tom Willett’s three-line verses. Then I swapped a couple of lines around so that “clever” rhymed with “ever” and “beauty” rhymed with “duty”. And then I agonised for ages over the last couple of verses. I was determined to bring in “Oh witness have I none, save God Almighty” which, along with the “Strange news” lines earlier in the song I think of as one of the absolute glories of English traditional song lyrics. But I was equally determined not to omit Tom’s defiant last line

I shall never die for love, young man, believe me

In the end I added a whole extra verse, and turned the final stanza into a 6-line verse. And I think it works rather well. I am certainly enjoying singing the song, and when I make a visit to the Lewes Saturday Folk Club in April I think it’s pretty much certain that this will be on my setlist.

You can find recordings of Tom Willett singing this song in various places now. The Topic album The Roving Journeymen is available for download. There’s a Musical Traditions 2 CD set, Adieu to Old England, and a 2 CD release on Forest Tracks, A-Swinging Down The Lane, which (because Paul Marsh and Rod Stradling basically had the same brilliant idea at pretty much the same time) contains almost exactly the same recordings, made by Ken Stubbs in the early 1960s. Of the two I’d say the Forest Tracks album is marginally the better – apart from anything else the CD booklet contains the only photograph of Tom Willett you are ever likely to encounter. I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for listening to field recordings of traditional singers, but if you do, A-Swinging Down The Lane is an essential purchase.

If you just want to dip your toes in the water, or if money is tight, you’ll now find Ken Stubbs’ field recordings available via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library archive catalogue.

Catalogue record https://www.vwml.org/record/RoudFS/S393817 includes the pages from Stubbs’ notebook shown above, and his 1960 recording of Tim Willett singing ‘The Blacksmith’.

There’s much more in this collection, given my particular interest in songs from Kent and the South of England, that I really must explore. Often recorded in noisy pubs, often mere fragments of a song or tune, but fascinating none the less – try this recording of an unidentified singer delivering just one verse (almost!) of ‘Hopping down in Kent’; if nothing else, you certainly get a sense of atmosphere.

The Blacksmith Courted Me

December 26, 2019

On the Feast of Stephen

Happy St Stephen’s Day, everyone. Here’s a trio of songs showing three different aspects of the day.

Saint Stephen

A song about the man himself, detailing the death of the first Christian martyr. Or, as I used to put it, a song about a man who gets stoned on Boxing Day.

Here’s the version on the Magpie Lane album Wassail.

For more information, and an alternative arrangement, see https://afolksongaweek.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/week-121-saint-stephen-rejoice-and-be-merry/

The Wren Boys’ Song

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze

In Ireland the custom – widespread throughout the British Isles – of hunting and then processing with a wren on 26th December was carried out by the Wren Boys.

St Stephen's Day, Wren Boys : Three wren boys in road, Athea, Co. Limerick. Image copyright University College Dublin, National University of Ireland, Dublin.

St Stephen’s Day, Wren Boys : Three wren boys in road, Athea, Co. Limerick. Image copyright University College Dublin, National University of Ireland, Dublin.

Here’s Ian Giles leading a typical Wren Boys’ Song he learned from Tony Barrand.
From Magpie Lane, Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell. Further information.

Boxing Day

Finally, here’s an account of goings on among London tradesmen in the 1820s. For more information, see https://afolksongaweek.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/week-227-boxing-day/

 

December 24, 2019

Another Festival of Nine Carols and No Lessons

Three years ago I put together and here’s another one. This time, rather than presenting songs which have already been posted to the blog, I’ve prepared a Spotify playlist of tracks I’ve been involved with, both as a member of Magpie Lane and as guest vocalist with the Mellstock Band. I’ve actually sung on three Mellstock CDs but only the first, Under The Greenwood Tree, appears to be on Spotify. You can still buy that album at Amazon (so hopefully also via retailers who do pay their taxes). Any of the Magpie Lane CDs featured here are available from the band website.

 

 

Here are brief details of the nine carols, and the instrumental intro and outro.

  1. Magpie Lane
    Magpie Lane, from The Oxford Ramble.
    Noted down by John Baptist Malchair in December 1789: ‘I heard a Man whistle this Tune in Magpey Lane Oxon Dbr. 22 1789. came home and noted it down directly’
    More information
  2. Arise and Hail the Joyful Day
    The Mellstock Band and Choir, from Under The Greenwood Tree
  3. Gabriel’s Message
    Magpie Lane, from The 25th.
    Lead vocal: Sophie Thurman
    More information
  4. As Shepherds watched their fleecy care
    Magpie Lane, from The 25th.
    Lead vocal: Andy Turner
    More information, plus a live recording
  5. Nowell Nowell
    Magpie Lane, from Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell.
    Lead vocal: Ian Giles
    Bagpipes: Giles Lewin
    More information
  6. Arise and Hail the Sacred Day
    The Mellstock Band and Choir, from Under The Greenwood Tree
    Vocals: Andy Turner and Keith Dandridge
  7. Lo the eastern Sages Rise
    Magpie Lane, from Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell.
    More information, plus a live recording
  8. In Winter Time
    Magpie Lane, from The 25th.
    Vocal: Jon Fletcher
    More information
  9. The Boar’s Head Carol
    Magpie Lane, from The Oxford Ramble.
    Lead vocal: Tom Bower
    More information, plus a live recording, and all sorts of other stuff
  10. Rejoice this Glorious Day is Come
    The Mellstock Band and Choir, from Under The Greenwood Tree
  11. Winter / Christmas Day in the Mornin’
    Magpie Lane, from Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell.
    Bagpipes: Giles Lewin
    More information
December 14, 2019

Week 285 – Shepherds Rejoice

In my previous post, I recounted how a bunch of us used to go out “wassailing” round the more salubrious parts of Ashford, and the distinctly well-heeled area between Saltwood and Sandling Station. As Mike, my chief partner-in-crime, commented last week

Big houses with appreciative, generous occupants. I remember gluhwein and mince pies, and even having the impression on subsequent years that some of our hosts had been expecting us and even looking forward to our arrival.

That’s exactly how I remember it too. It probably helped that we were collecting for charity rather than to line our own pockets. But also, compared to the usual brief, tuneless renditions of ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ which even then were becoming standard fare, we were a pretty good deal. We were mostly singing carols the people had never heard before. We sang them loudly, in harmony, and we sang them all the way through. Mind you that wasn’t always an advantage. I remember one poor gent, who invariably greeted us kindly, patiently waiting while we ground our way through all three verses of our favourite, ‘Shepherds Arise’, and then told us “Well I always enjoy your singing, but I have to say I thought that was dull as ditchwater!”. We were somewhat taken aback by this, but tried to repair matters by singing something rather livelier as an encore.

Other incidents that have stuck in the memory include the youngish man – drunk, or perhaps stoned – who came to the door in his dressing gown and informed us that he was the most entertaining guy we’d meet all night. And the dog with its head in a bucket, who its female owner (a magistrate as I recall) had in consequence taken to calling “Bucket”. Also, some years later (long after your time, Mike) we went singing round Faversham and were invited in by an Irish guy who worked as a buyer for Sainsburys, and had just been given a case of Jamesons – which he proceeded to dispense to us in very generous measures.

And then, of course, there was the house where we were presented with a copy of The Sacred Harp. From October 1979 Mike and I were regulars at the Heritage Society, the Oxford University folk club. We soon became friends with Dick Wolff, a mining engineer who was taking a Theology degree in preparation for becoming a United Reformed Church minister, and Dougal Lee, who I guess was doing English Lit, but whose chief ambition (subsequently realised) was to become an actor. One Monday night after we’d been chucked out of the Bakers’ Arms in Jericho, we went back to Dick’s house in Leckford Road, and there he produced a copy of The Sacred Harp. Now I was aware of Sacred Harp hymns from recordings by the Watersons and the Young Tradition, and from having seen Crows sing ‘Northfield’. But I’d never seen the book before, with its funny shapes, and literally hundreds of songs in four-part harmony just waiting to be sung. Well, we sung them: ‘Russia’, ‘Wondrous Love’, ‘Idumea’, ‘Morning Trumpet’, ‘Northfield’… eventually stopping at 1 o’clock in the morning, when Dick’s neighbours started banging on the walls. We were hooked, and sang together regularly after that (we never had a proper band name, but tended to refer to ourselves either as The Paralytics, or Three Agnostics and a Christian).

That Christmas, Mike and I introduced a couple of Sacred Harp numbers into our wassailing repertoire. So having been invited in to one house, and given sherry and mince pies, we must have sung one of those pieces, and explained where the song came from. Whereupon the man of the house said that he travelled regularly to the States on business and would see if he could find us a copy. One year later, back we went, and were delighted to find that he had been as good as his word, and we were now the owners of a 1968 facsimile of The Sacred Harp, 3rd edition, of 1859.

‘Shepherds Rejoice’ is number 288 in that edition, and it’s presented – as many pieces were in the early editions – in just three parts. The music is attributed to L.P. Breedlove, 1850. That’s Leonard P. Breedlove (1803-1864 according to this source). The song was first published in 1855 in McCurry’s The Social Harp. It’s number 152 in the modern Sacred Harp, where it’s gained an alto part having been “Rearranged by B.S.Aitken, 1908” but lost one of the four original verses. Well, strictly speaking it’s lost two of the original six verses – you’ll see what I mean if you visit https://hymnary.org/text/shepherds_rejoice_lift_up_your_eyes. The words were written by the great English hymnodist, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and originally published as ‘The Nativity of Christ’ in Horae Lyricae, 1706.

You can hear a four-part rendition of the piece as it appears in the modern Sacred Harp at https://soundcloud.com/keillor-weatherman-mose/shepherds-rejoice-cmd-152-sacred-harp

I don’t know if the tune was originally a folk tune, harmonised by Breedlove, or if he just wrote a tune which sounded very much like something that could have come from the tradition. Either way, I’ve always felt that this would go rather nicely with 5-string banjo and fiddle. But failing that, I now realise an anglo-concertina is a perfectly acceptable substitute!

Shepherds rejoice

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina