Posts tagged ‘A.L.Lloyd’

November 21, 2015

Week 222 – Lord Franklin

'They forged the last links with their lives': Sir John Franklin's men dying by their boat during the North-West Passage expedition. 1895 painting by William Thomas Smith. Copyright National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

‘They forged the last links with their lives’: Sir John Franklin’s men dying by their boat during the North-West Passage expedition. 1895 painting by William Thomas Smith. Copyright National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Another song introduced to the folk revival by A.L.Lloyd. Lloyd claimed to have learned the song in November 1937 on his famous whaling trip (although, like much else about his early life, the exact circumstances surrounding that trip – such as what his role was on board – seem to be a little vague). Dave Arthur, in his excellent biography, Bert, writes on page 89

Another song he submitted to Sing (August/September 1957) was a version of ‘Lord Franklin’ collected, so he said, from Edward Harper, a whale-factory blacksmith from Port Stanley in the Falklands.

Later, on page 192, he comments on songs such as ‘Lord Franklin’ and ‘Farewell to Tarwathie’, which Lloyd claimed to have collected in 1937, but which he kept to himself until twenty years later. Why, Dave Arthur asks, was there no mention of them in The Singing Englishman (1944) where he specifically says says that the whaling ship workers didn’t have their own repertoire, but sang the same songs as in factories ashore?

If Bert did indeed collect them he was remarkably fortuitous. If not, he was remarkably talented. Either way they are fine songs and deserve their popularity.

Amen to that last sentence.

In fact songs about Lord Franklin have been collected in oral tradition, in Canada, Scotland, and Ireland – there’s a version in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People which shares some verses with the Bert Lloyd version. And needless to say there were numerous broadside printings – see the Bodleian’s Broadside Ballads Online site, for example.

Lady Franklin's lament for her husband, from Broadside Ballads Online.

Lady Franklin’s lament for her husband, from Broadside Ballads Online.

I first heard this song on the Pentangle LP Cruel Sister, where the arrangement featured a rather tasteful electric guitar solo from John Renbourn, and Bert Jansch playing chords on the concertina (was this the only sighting of Jansch playing the instrument, I wonder?). At the time I had never heard of Lord John Franklin or his ill-fated Arctic expedition of 1845, but this song captured my imagination, as it has many others’. In the 1980s I read Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, in which they suggest that lead poisoning, from the lead used to seal tinned foods in those days, was a significant contributory factor to the deaths of all of Franklin’s crew members (although, obviously, getting stuck in the ice in the first place was the greatest contributory factor!). That argument is supported by an article in the journal Arctic in 1997, The final days of the Franklin expedition : new skeletal evidence.  However I seem to remember that in a question on QI a few years back, about the eccentric behaviour of members of the Franklin expedition in their final days, “lead poisoning” was the wrong answer, and in fact it was an opportunity for panel-members to play their “Nobody Knows” cards. I wasn’t sure if I’d made this up, but this Guardian article from 2014 reports that “New research suggests that ice, not contaminated food, killed Sir John Franklin and his crew in 1845”. I love the fact that “the fate of Franklin and his gallant crew” is still exercising scientists as well as folk singers.

The mummified remains of John Hartnell, a 25-year-old member of the Franklin Expedition who died on January 4, 1846 and was buried at Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic.  Image copyright University of Alberta.

The mummified remains of John Hartnell, a 25-year-old member of the Franklin Expedition who died on January 4, 1846 and was buried at Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic. Image copyright University of Alberta.

Lord Franklin

November 15, 2015

Week 221 – The Recruited Collier

Surely one of the gems of the post-war British folk revival. It brilliantly captures the desolation and despair of the young woman whose lover has enlisted and is off, to meet who knows what fate, to war.  And I love some of the phrases the song uses: “he ran for the golden guinea” and, my favourite, “a brigadier, or a grenadier, he says they’re sure to make him”, which neatly conveys the fact that the young recruit really has no idea what he’s signed up for.

I think I first heard this sung by Caroline Jackson-Houlston at one or other of the Oxford folk clubs in the early 1980s. Although it must also have been around the same time that I heard it on Dick Gaughan’s 1978 album Gaughan, and I think I probably wrote the words down from that LP. At the time I assumed it was an anonymous product of “the folk tradition”, from the Durham or Northumberland coalfields (indeed Gaughan’s liner notes say “This is actually from the NE of England”). It was only comparatively recently that I discovered that, like a number of folk club standards introduced to the revival by A.L.Lloyd (check out Reynardine and The Weaver and the Factory Maid for other examples), the song as presently sung probably owes as much to Bert Lloyd as it does to the tradition.

Lloyd printed the song in his 1952 collection Come All Ye Bold Miners. About which Roy Palmer wrote this:

It is clear that Lloyd’s editorial approach was not merely to reproduce the material sent to him. Sometimes the changes made were small… but others were far-reaching. On ‘Jimmy’s Enlisted (or the Recruited Collier)’ Lloyd laconically notes: ‘Text from J.H. Huxtable, of Workington. A version of this ballad appears in R. Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808).’ In fact, the original is entitled simply ‘Jenny’s Complaint’, and features not a miner who enlists but a ploughman.

Roy Palmer, A. L. Lloyd and Industrial Song, in Ian Russell, ed., Singer, Song and Scholar, Sheffield Academic Press, 1986, pp.135-7 (quoted by Malcolm Douglas on this Mudcat thread).

Jenny's Complaint, from Robert Anderson's Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Jenny's Complaint, from Robert Anderson's Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Jenny’s Complaint, from Robert Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland Dialect (1808), from the Internet Archive.

Robert Anderson’s Ballads in the Cumberland dialect can be seen at the Internet Archive. Anderson (1770-1833) was a working class poet from Carlisle, a number of whose compositions (like those of Burns in Scotland) were taken up by “the folk”, and are known to have been sung into the twentieth century. Exactly what Mr Huxtable sang, and to what tune (Lloyd fitted his words to a new tune, possibly of his own devising) we shall probably never know. I’ve just finished reading Dave Arthur’s biography Bert, and it’s clear that, brilliant man though he was in so many ways, Lloyd was actually a bit of a fantasist. He put about, or at least acquiesced in accepting, various completely erroneous stories about his family background, and his own early life; and he was, for personal or political reasons, frequently less than transparent about the sources of the songs he published and popularised, and about the extent to which he had reworked some of those songs.

Now a lot of people won’t give a monkey’s about this, but the historian in me thinks it is important to try to disentangle the truth. Besides, if we lazily portray these songs as wholly “traditional”, we can have no complaint when lazy journalists and lazy editors present those same songs as evidence of what “the ordinary people” were thinking at a given point in history. Whereas they possibly tell us rather more about what British communists were thinking in the 1950s…

Of course, none of this in any way diminishes the beauty or power of the song. In fact, it just goes to show how good Bert Lloyd was at taking an old song, and turning it into something more singable, more resonant for a modern audience. All things being well, there’ll be another example along next week.

The Recruited Collier