Archive for ‘Admin’

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 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 (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, 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

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, 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)

September 29, 2019

Charlie Bridger – Won’t you buy my pretty flowers?

I’ve posted several songs here which I learned from Charlie Bridger, from Stone-in-Oxney in Kent:

I recorded Charlie singing, and talking about both his working life and his involvement with music, back in April 1983. Around last Christmas-time Rod Stradling, editor of Musical Traditions, got in touch to say that he’d like to put these recordings out on a CD. I’d always intended to write up what I knew about Charlie – indeed I’d promised to do so for Keith Summers, the previous editor of Musical Traditions, when it was still a printed magazine. Having failed to publish anything in the intervening years, I’d decided it could wait till my retirement. But this seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. George Frampton, who had never met Charlie, but interviewed his widow Lily, and various other people who knew him, very generously sent me all of his notes, and copies of a number of photos. And I set about pulling together the information, and then writing up booklet notes for the CD.

Charlie Bridger, Won't you Buy my Pretty Flowers?, CD cover.Charlie Bridger, Won’t you buy my pretty flowers? (MTCD377) came out in July. It’s available for £12 from Musical Traditions records. The CD contains 29 tracks – all but 2 of the songs I recorded from Charlie, plus one track of him playing the clarinet. Here’s the tracklist, and you can also read the 28 page booklet on the MT site.

It’s had a couple of really nice reviews. And I’m particularly chuffed by the fact that these reviews were written by two people I admire greatly, song collector Mike Yates and former EFDSS librarian Malcolm Taylor.

I’m mentioning all of this now, because next weekend (5th-6th October) I’ll be at the Tenterden Folk Festival. I’ll be singing a number of the Kentish songs in my repertoire, and on the Sunday afternoon I’m giving a talk about Charlie Bridger. Vic and Tina Smith have kindly agreed to be on hand with their laptop, speaker and projector, so this will be an illustrated presentation; and it will include some recordings of Charlie singing, and clips of him talking – about farmwork, stonebreaking, tanner hops, busking, and the places where country people sang, some 80 or 90 years ago.

Here’s a sample, from the recording I made when I interviewed Charlie and Lily on 2nd July 1988. This is Charlie talking about smoking concerts.


Please note: this excerpt is from a copy of my original cassette recording. The songs included on the CD have all been professionally cleaned up to remove hiss and hum and so forth, so are of a much higher audio quality than this.

December 15, 2018

New Magpie Lane CD – ‘The 25th’

This afternoon and evening I’ll be playing with Magpie Lane at our annual Christmas concerts in the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. 25 years ago, when the first Magpie Lane Christmas gigs took place, I was actually in the audience as my wife was very heavily pregnant (our son Tom was in fact born a few days later on Christmas Day – hence my tune ‘The Christmas Baby’ which appeared on our Wassail CD). But I enjoyed watching that gig, and have never failed to enjoy playing at the Holywell over the succeeding years – in fact it’s one of the highlights of my year.

The first Magpie Lane CD, The Oxford Ramble, was released in April 1993 and the band’s very first public appearance came a couple of weeks later.

And we’ve just released our tenth album, which celebrates not only the band’s twenty-fifth anniversary,  but also those 25 years of Christmas concerts at the Holywell.

Cover of Magpie Lane CD The 25th. Cover illustration by founder member Tom Bower.

Cover of Magpie Lane CD The 25th.
Cover illustration by founder member Tom Bower.

Like Wassail (1995) and Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell (2006) the  new album features songs and tunes suitable for Winter and the Christmas season. Many are carols drawn from English sources – from the West Gallery era, from the notebooks of the early twentieth century collectors, or from the vibrant living carolling tradition of South Yorkshire. As you’ll see below, live versions of several of these carols have featured on this blog over the last few years (but of course these new studio recordings are much better!).

The earliest piece on the album, ‘Angelus ad Virginem’, is from the thirteenth century – and is performed in a way that acknowledges the original links between carolling and dancing. ‘In Winter Time’, on the other hand, composed by guitarist Jon Fletcher’s father, is a starkly beautiful carol which deserves to be ranked alongside the finest examples of twentieth century English carol compositions.

There are also secular songs. Both George Wither’s seventeenth century ‘Christmas Caroll’ and Pete Joshua’s modern ‘I am Christmas Time’ celebrate the good things about Christmas – eating, drinking, and having a good time with friends and family.

The album is available to order now from the Magpie Lane website. Get an order in asap, and we’ll do our best to make sure your copy arrives before Christmas.



  1. Sweet Chiming Bells
    a live version of this featured as 
  2. Newton’s Double
    a live recording of this carol appeared as part of 
  3. Gabriel’s Message
  4. A Christmas Caroll
  5. As Shepherds Watched their Fleecy Care
    for a live recording see Week 171 – As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care
  6. Christmas Carousing / Mummers’ Jig and Reel
  7. Sellwood Molyneux’ Carol
    previously featured here in 
  8. In Winter Time
  9. Angelus ad Virginem / I Saw Three Ships
  10. I am Christmas Time
  11. On a Cold Winter’s Day / Down in yon Forest
    a preliminary sketch of On a Cold Winter’s Day was posted on my Squeezed Out blog:
  12. Hark Hark What News
    for a live version see 
  13. A Christmas Tale / Christmas Day in the Morning
    I posted a solo recording of the first tune on my Squeezed Out blog:
  14. The Trees are all Bare
    our regular Christmas show-closer – check out  for a live recording


Listen to sample tracks

May 25, 2018

Do you really want to subscribe to A Folk Song A Day?

We’re all sick of emails from companies and websites telling us about their new privacy policy, but of course it’s all in a good cause – the GDPR is actually a Good Thing for ordinary internet users.

Anyway, if you’ve received a notification about this blog post, you must have opted to subscribe at some point over the last seven years. I’m very gratified that a good many people have done so. I don’t post many songs these days, but there’s still quite a few I’ve got up my sleeve, and one day they’ll make it up onto this site – and if you’re a subscriber you’ll be instantly notified when they do.

But, as I’m sure you’re aware, you can unsubscribe at any time.

The blog is hosted at which is owned by Auttomatic. They have a Privacy Notice describing the personal data that they collect about the users of WordPress sites. So, if you’re worried, have a read of that.

The only information I can see about subscribers is your email address or WordPress presence, depending on how you subscribed.

That’s all I need to say, I think. Do please carry on with whatever it was you were doing.

Early twentieth century photograph of two men, one with an anglo-concertina, and a woman holding a baby.

Don’t look so worried! Everything’s fine.

April 22, 2018

Welcome the May – again

I forget the exact date, but it must have been about this time, 25 years ago, that The Oxford Ramble, the first Magpie Lane album, was released onto a largely unsuspecting world. And on Sunday 3rd May 1993 we went on stage for the very first time, at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford.

On our website you can read Tim Healey’s account: Magpie Lane – how it all began. And there’s a playlist of videos on YouTube from that very first performance at the Holywell.

Here’s how we began the concert.

One week today, Sunday 29th April at 2.30 p.m., we’ll be back at the Holywell Music Room to play a 25th anniversary concert. Tickets are available from Tickets Oxford or direct from the concert organiser (and the man without Magpie Lane would never existed) Tim Healey. Details on the poster below, and on our website.

Welcome the May concert poster

September 2, 2017

Death in the Ice

As noted in an earlier post, I first heard the song ‘Lord Franklin’ in the late seventies, and was immediately taken with it – and all the more so when I learned the story behind the song. I was therefore pleased to learn that the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich were to stage Death in the ice, a major exhibition about Franklin’s fateful final expedition. I visited the exhibition last week, and am happy to say that my expectations were fully met.

It’s a very well presented exhibition which does a good job of presenting the background to Franklin’s expedition, details of his two ships and their crew, and details – insofar as they can be ascertained – of what befell them. Right at the start of the exhibition two massive video walls show projections of the Arctic landscape – to give you an idea of the environment Franklin and his men encountered (although inside, on a warm August day, the landscape looks beautiful – rather different if you were stuck in it in an Arctic winter, with insufficient food, and clothing which was not up to the job of keeping out the cold). Then we learn that the quest to discover the North West passage was a peculiarly British obsession, but also – thanks to successive expeditions approaching the route both from the Atlantic and from the Pacific in the East – that by 1845 when Franklin set sail, only 900 miles remained to be charted. I was particularly taken with a table-top projection which literally draws the map of North America and Canada, in accordance with the state of Europeans’ knowledge of the region as it developed over time, from John Cabot in 1497, through Frobisher, Cartier, Hudson, Cook (who charted practically the entire East coast), Ross, and many others.

I was rather surprised to find – given the early date of the Franklin expedition – that there exist photographic images of Franklin himself, and several of his crew.

Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) - daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) – daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.


James Reid, Ice Master - daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

James Reid, Ice Master – daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.


Lieutenant Graham Gore, Commander - daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Lieutenant Graham Gore, Commander – daguerrotype by Baird. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

I suppose Franklin’s status as a national hero, and the importance which the British government attached to his expedition, might account for these officers being photographed before setting off to the Arctic. (Franklin himself was already well-known to the British public as an intrepid explorer. He had earned the nickname “The man who ate his boots” when he ran into difficulties on an earlier expedition to the Arctic in 1819-1822. On that occasion some of his men died of starvation, while others were forced to eat lichen, and even tried to get sustenance by eating their own leather boots). It was the same factors, plus the indefatigable efforts of his widow Lady Jane Franklin, which ensured that several expeditions were sent out from 1848 onwards to try to discover the fate of her husband and crew.

Mind you, when Sir John Rae brought back evidence he had gathered from Inuit in the area – that they had encountered some 40 starving and desperate white men, and then, the following spring that they had found around 30 corpses, some showing clear signs of cannibalism – this testimony was deemed unreliable. The mid-nineteenth century British public simply could not bring itself to admit that gallant British seamen would ever come so low as to resort to cannibalism. Indeed Charles Dickens went into print to say as much:

DR. RAE may be considered to have established, by the mute but solemn testimony of the relics he has brought home, that SIR JOHN FRANKLIN and his party are no more. But, there is one passage in his melancholy report, some examination into the probabilities and improbabilities of which, we hope will tend to the consolation of those who take the nearest and dearest interest in the fate of that unfortunate expedition, by leading to the conclusion that there is no reason whatever to believe, that any of its members prolonged their existence by the dreadful expedient of eating the bodies of their dead companions. Quite apart from the very loose and unreliable nature of the Esquimaux representations (on which it would be necessary to receive with great caution, even the commonest and most natural occurrence), we believe we shall show, that close analogy and the mass of experience are decidedly against the reception of any such statement, and that it is in highest degree improbable that such men as the officers and crews of the two lost ships would or could, in any extremity of hunger, alleviate the pains of starvation by this horrible means.

Charles Dickens, The Lost Arctic Voyagers (1854)

If you’re interested, here’s Rae’s own account: The melancholy fate of Sir John Franklin and his party, as disclosed in Dr. Rae”s report; together with the despatches and letters of Captain M’Clure, and other officers employed in the Arctic expeditions (1854).


My wife commented that the museum had made a good exhibition despite not having very much to display. A little harsh, but it’s true there’s not that many artefacts actually from the fateful last journey of the Erebus and Terror. And few of those artefacts can be identified as belonging to a specific member of the crew. However amazingly, rather touchingly, Lieutenant Graham Gore’s battered personal copy of a hymnal – Christian Melodies published in 1836 by Thomas Ward and Co. – does survive, and is on display.

Graham Gore's copy of Christian Melodies. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Graham Gore’s copy of Christian Melodies. Image copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

That hymnal had in fact been discovered in May 1859 by the McClintock Search Expedition – one of the expeditions sent out to discover “the fate of Franklin”. But what makes this exhibition special is the fact that Franklin’s ship Erebus was only discovered in September 2014 – exactly three years ago today – so many of the objects on display here have never been seen in the UK before. I assume it was the discovery and examination of Erebus that prompted the current exhibition. And presumably the exhibition was in a fairly advanced stage of planning when Franklin’s second ship, Terror, was discovered just one year ago, on 3rd September 2016. No doubt as historians and archaeologists explore the evidence provided by this second wreck, we can look forward in future years to seeing more artefacts, and to reading new theories of what might have happened on that dreadful last journey.

In the meantime if, like me, you’re fascinated by the story of Franklin and his gallant men (and women? here’s an interesting development) then Death in the ice is highly recommended. It runs till January. The only thing missing is a rendition of this song:

Lord Franklin


If you’re planning on visiting Greenwich, there’s plenty more of interest. Among the museum’s permanent exhibitions is one on the Britain and the Atlantic, particularly Britain’s role in the slave trade (a subject on which I don’t seem to have any songs in my repertoire. Time to learn ‘The Flying Cloud’ perhaps?), and another on the East India Company (cue thoughts of ‘The East Indiaman’). And you can’t go to Greenwich without seeing the Old Royal Naval College, formerly the Royal Hospital for Seamen – where of course the hero of ‘On Board a Ninety-Eight’ spent his final days. A good day out.

August 25, 2017

Magpie Lane – Three Quarter Time now available

I’m delighted to be able to announce that Three Quarter Time, the long-awaited new Magpie Lane CD, is now released, and available to buy from the band’s website.


  1. The Dancing
  2. Push about the Jorum / The Ploughman / Salt of the Earth
  3. Belfast Mountains
  4. Sovay (a different version from that featured as Week 87 of this blog)
  5. Cheltenham Waltz / Rout of the Blues
  6. Nobody’s Jig / Kentish Cricketers
  7. New Garden Fields (a solo version of this appeared here in Week 208 of the blog)
  8. Dance around the Gallows Tree
  9. Blow ye Winds
  10. The Captain and his Whiskers
  11. Lovely Elwina / Waterloo (a solo version of which appeared here as Week 199)
  12. Lord Bateman (a different version from that which appeared here in Week 26)
  13. One More Dance and Then / Not a Natural Dancer / Spirit of the Dance

The CD features a number of special guests including Jackie Oates, John Spiers, Paul Sartin & Colin Fletcher.

See for further details.

And here are three sample tracks to try out before you buy.


Initial reaction to the album has been universally positive:

Order your copy now from

(and if you’re at Towersey this weekend, yes there will be copies on sale at the Festival record stall)

April 30, 2017

Welcome the May! Part 2

Ah, the merry month of May. This is another of those “here’s some I prepared earlier” blog posts, with songs celebrating the coming of May, or just where the action takes place in May.

I’ll be singing some of these at an event in Canterbury on 13th May. This is part of TRYST, an exhibition organised by my artist friend Cathy Ward (I featured some of her fantastic hairscapes in Week 264 – Dowie Dens of Yarrow). It takes place at Conquest House, one of the oldest buildings in Canterbury. Cathy and I have known each other literally all our lives and, having gone in very different directions in our teens, when we met again 15 or 20 years ago, found that we still had an awful lot in common – and that we both shared a love for English traditions.

You’ll have seen corn dollies made by Cathy if you’ve watched Nick Abrahams’ video for Shirley Collins recent re-recording of ‘Death and the Lady’. Nick will also be taking part in the TRYST exhibition.

I’ll be singing, playing some tunes, and also showcasing some of the images from my parents’ collection of old postcards of morris dancers, maypoles, musicians, hop-picking and more – scanning the whole collection could take me years, but you can see several hundred already scanned at

Tryst poster


So, to get to the music. Let’s start with a couple of dance tunes to get us in the mood.

Month of May / Spirit of the Dance (from my Squeezed Out blog)


Whitstable May Day 1984 - Robin Hood and Maid Marian dance in front of the Jack-in-the-Green

Whitstable May Day 1984 – Robin Hood and Maid Marian dance in front of the Jack-in-the-Green


Now some songs to welcome in the May. Here are a couple collected in Bedfordshire by Fred Hamer, and one from North Oxfordshire:

Northill May Song

Week 36 – Northill May Song


Good morning lords and ladies 


Swalcliffe May Day Carol

Week 88 – Swalcliffe May Day Carol


Great Chart May Day, Kent, early 1900s.

Great Chart May Day, Kent, early 1900s.


There are countless folk songs where a young man man walks / rides / roves / roams out on a May morning. Almost inevitably a romantic / sexual encounter ensues. Sometimes both parties are happy with the arrangement, and all ends well. As, for example, in these:

Queen of the May 

Week 37 – Queen of the May


The Spotted Cow


But often things do not turn out so happily. Sometimes the young man has his wicked way with her, then leaves her in the lurch. As in:

The little ball of yarn


The Nightingales Sing


Sometimes, the woman refuses to have anything to do with him, and leaves the young man lamenting:

The Woodman’s Daughter

Week 89 – The Woodman’s Daughter


Or is far too clever for him:

Stroll Away the Morning Dew

Week 39 – Stroll Away the Morning Dew


Sometimes, it’s not entirely clear from the song exactly what’s gone on, but it is clear that things have not ended well:

As I roamed out


In other songs, the action is set in the “merry month of May” but any thoughts of merriment are soon dispelled by the dark story line. The classic example has to be

Barbara Ellen

Week 93 – Barbara Ellen

but see also

George Collins

Week 38 – George Collins


Polly on the Shore


Bridal, from Gathering in the May by Catheryne Ward and Eric Wright.

Bridal, from Gathering in the May by Catheryne Ward and Eric Wright.

And, finally, a song which starts so promisingly

As I walked out one morn in May
The birds sing and the lambs did play

But, in the starkest tale of all, a wealthy young woman meets with Death himself. And as Terry Pratchett fans will be very much aware THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY THIS CAN END.


Death and the Lady

Week 92 – Death and the Lady

April 23, 2017

Welcome the May! Part 1

Magpie Lane will be playing a May Eve concert in Oxford next Sunday afternoon:

Sunday 30th April – Holywell May Eve concert

Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford OX1 3BN

2.30 – 4.30

Promoted in association with

Tickets from
or ring Tim Healey on 01865 249194

Welcome the May poster

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 MayJack’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.

You can sample some tracks from the new record at – I hope you like them.

I will of course let you know as soon as we have copies of the CD, and how you can get hold of one. Or, indeed, several.