There’ll be a lot of Magpie Lane Maytime favourites, including Dave Webber’s May Song, the Swalcliffe May Day Carol, Martin Graebe’s Jack-in-the-Green, and tunes such as The First of May, Jack’s Alive and Round about the Maypole. When the band first started we always used to do concerts at Maytime, and are very pleased that Tim Healey has given us the opportunity to revive the tradition.
In other news, we’re about to send off a series of 0s and 1s, and in return, in a few weeks’ time, we’ll be receiving 40 boxes of shiny silver discs – yes, the long-awaited new album, Three Quarter Time is very nearly here.
Well it is one week till Easter, and where I’m sitting, the morn is indeed very bright and clear. In stark contrast to the weather 4 years ago, when I first posted the Copper Family’s A Week Before Easter.
In the absence of any new posts recently, here’s a Spring / Easter ‘playlist’ for you.
Percy Manning (1870-1917), “the man who collected Oxfordshire”, was a Victorian antiquary, archaeologist and folklorist. 2017 is the centenary of his death, and to commemorate this, the morris historian Mike Heaney (formerly of the Bodleian Library, and founder member of Eynsham Morris) is coordinating a series of lectures, exhibitions and workshops taking place at locations including the Bodleian, the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Bate Collection. Full details of all of these events can be found on the Folk in Oxford website.
Among Percy Manning’s many interests was folk song and folk dance. In 1899 he persuaded the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers, who had not been out dancing for several years, to revive the tradition. The occasion was a concert held at the Oxford Corn Exchange – now the Old Fire Station – at which the Morris dances alternated with folk songs, performed by various classically trained singers.
And on Friday 24th March Magpie Lane, together with the present Headington Quarry side, will be recreating that concert. Not with classically trained singers, with polite pianoforte accompaniment, but in our own style, with our own arrangements. Only one song in the programme (‘Twas early One Morning’ aka ‘All Jolly Fellows That Follow The Plough’) has previously featured in our repertoire, so this is an opportunity to hear a bunch of songs we’ve never performed before in public.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that in 1899, not an awful lot of folk song collecting had yet been carried out in England. The Folk-Song Society was only founded in 1898, with its first Journal being published in 1899. All of the songs performed at Manning’s event came either from
William Chappell’s Popular music of the olden time (1859) – Volume 1 and Volume 2 available in full on the Internet Archive.
(The newspaper report of the concert gives the source of ‘Gossip Joan’ and ‘The Country Lass’ as D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge Melancholy, but D’Urfey’s versions of those songs include verses which would never have been performed in public in polite society in 1899, so we’re pretty sure Miss Taphouse must have sung the cleaned up versions which appear in Chappell. Our fans will no doubt be reassured to learn that we shall be reinstating the rude humour of D-Urfey’s original verses in our arrangement.)
For anyone interested in morris dancing, and the history of the morris, this event is a must. Had it not been for Manning’s concert, it is extremely unlikely that Headington Quarry would have been out dancing at Christmas 1899, when they bumped into Cecil Sharp – a meeting which is commonly held to have sparked the 20th century morris dance revival.
So it’s a recreation of a historically important event, as well as (we hope) a thoroughly good evening’s entertainment.
Just a note that I’m doing some work on the blog over the next few weeks, so if some things stop working that will be me, not quite getting it right…
The work has been prompted – nay, forced on me – by Dropbox’s decision to discontinue their Public Folder feature. The MP3 files embedded in each week’s blog post are all stored in a Dropbox Public Folder. And, unless I do something about it, all of those audio files will stop working after March 15th this year. In fact, I’ve paid for a bit of extra web space, have copied the MP3 files to it, and yesterday started editing all of the existing links on the blog. It’s not difficult – just a tedious copy and paste job – but it will take me a while: I have to fix 274 links in all.
When I’ve done that, I’ll have a look at fixing some of the broken images, which are quite common on the early blog posts. Mostly they’re broken because, since I started this blog in August 2011, the EFDSS Take Six Archive became the Full English, while the Bodleian’s Broadside archive is now Broadside Ballads Online. Those moves led to new URLs, so images being pulled in from the old sites no longer display. And then of course there are other sites which have been reorganised, and some, I suspect, that have just disappeared. Anyway I’m going to try to restore as much as I can.
If you do find a page where the audio doesn’t work, or images are missing, or links are broken, do a leave a comment so I know to have a look.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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…
Beginning to feel a lot like Christmas? Well no, not really. But we’re well into Advent now, so expect to see Christmas carols and seasonal songs popping up on this blog over the next few weeks. And it seems an appropriate time to alert you to this year’s Magpie Lane Christmas shows.
We kick off the season on Saturday 12th December with our annual concerts at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. As ever we’ll be doing afternoon and evening concerts – but please note that the afternoon concert is slightly earlier than usual, starting at 3.30. For tickets contact the Oxford Playhouse box office: 01865 305305 or www.oxfordplayhouse.com/ticketsoxford
Then on Tuesday 15th we will be making our first appearance at Cecil Sharp House in London, at Sharp’s Folk Club. The Folk Club meets in the cellar bar – we think it’s likely to be pretty packed, so get there early.
And finally, on Thursday 17th, we return to Towcester, to launch the first in a series of events organised by Sophie and Phil Thurman under the banner “Jenkinson’s Folly Presents…” at the Towcester Mill Brewery. The evening starts at 7.30 with a couple of guest spots. Then we’ll be doing two sets. And then from around 10.20 there will be a folk session for all to join in. Tickets from www.wegottickets.com/event/340283
Another one from John Kirkpatrick. This was on his 1984 solo LP, Three In A Row: The English Melodeon, which featured mainly self-composed tunes played on one- and two-row melodeons, and three-row button accordion. And which is probably the record I would pull out if I ever had to demonstrate why John is not only my favourite anglo player, but also my favourite melodeon player.
There are two songs on the album: a lovely version of ‘A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square’, and this fine love song. If you saw John performing this at the time, you may remember that the accordion accompaniment featured his unique “hammering on” style. Not able to match that, I sing it unaccompanied.
Oh dear. I seem to have started another blog. This new one is devoted (mainly) to dance music and other instrumental pieces, played (mainly) on anglo-concertina and one-row melodeon. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then check out squeezedout.wordpress.com
We kick off next Saturday, 6th December, at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, with 4.00 and 7.30 p.m. concerts. For tickets contact
Tim Healey : 01865 249194 (cheque only)
or the Oxford Playhouse box office: 01865 305305 or www.oxfordplayhouse.com/ticketsoxford
This is our favourite venue, but if it’s a bit soon to start winding down for Christmas, or if you’re from a bit further North, why not come along to our first ever Christmas show in Towcester Town Hall, on Sunday 14th December? Full details and tickets from Eventbrite.
Those are the local gigs, but for those of you living further South, we are very pleased to be returning to: St Dunstans Catholic Church in Woking, Surrey on Sunday 7th – in aid of Woking and Sam Beare Hospices; and Ringwood Folk Club in Hampshire on Tuesday 16th December.
We hope to see you at one or other of these events.
Meanwhile, to get you in the mood, here’s a Magpie Lane Christmas playlist. Some of these recordings have appeared already on this blog, but there are others you may not have heard. In some ways my favourite of these is ‘Babes in the Wood’. It’s a perennial favourite which we’ve sung most years since 1994. It’s not a hi-fi recording, and there’s some loud coughing from someone in the audience who must have been sitting quite close to the microphone ( it was December after all). But what I like about it is that it really captures the feeling of our Holywell gigs – there’s a roomful of people, many of whom come along every single year, and must know some of these songs backwards by now, and it sounds like every last person in the hall is enthusiastically joining in on the chorus.
Last week’s post concluded three years of this blog. Three years in which, somewhat to my surprise, I have managed to post a song every single week (and some weeks two, or even three songs). And there will be another one along very shortly.
When I started I thought I probably had enough songs for about three years, and it seems that was not too far off, but still something of an underestimate. I’m not sure I have another year’s worth, but I reckon I could probably keep going till Easter. What I think will actually happen is that I’ll keep up the weekly posts till the end of the year, then review the situation. I won’t have run out of songs by then, but I may start to post less regularly.
There are quite a few pieces that I haven’t yet recorded because ideally I want to sing them with someone else accompanying me. Right at the start of this project I wrote that I was hoping to feature some collaborations, and I’ve not done nearly enough of that. Largely that’s just pressure of time – some weeks it’s hard enough to find time to record myself singing unaccompanied, never mind arranging to meet up with someone else to do some recording. But it’s also – let’s be honest – laziness. So time to give myself a kick in the pants and get on with it. I have several ideas up my sleeve, and hope to bring some at least to fruition before too long. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, thanks to all my regular readers / listeners for your continued support; Week 157 will be along very soon.