Posts tagged ‘America’

April 13, 2017

Week 266 – Dwelling In Beulah Land

Swan Arcade recorded this song on their 1986 album Diving for Pearls, and it’s an outstanding example of their exuberant, no-holds-barred approach to harmony singing. I got the words from Hymnary.org (other online hymnals are available) from where I learn that it was written in 1911 by the prolific American hymn-writer Charles Austin Miles (1868-1946). I don’t know where Swan Arcade learned it from, but there are various recordings you can find online, including one by the Sons Of The Pioneers, with Roy Rogers on vocals. It’s OK, but not a patch on the Swan Arcade version.

I worked out some time ago that this would sound great on a C/G anglo – but that I couldn’t actually sing it comfortably in C. So when I asked Bampton Morris Fool Rob Fidler if I might borrow his Bb/F instrument, recording this song was uppermost in my mind. I must confess I still haven’t learned the words properly, but I thought I’d better get it recorded sooner rather than later – one of these days Rob is going to ask for his concertina back!

Dwelling In Beulah Land

Andy Turner – vocal, Bb/F anglo-concertina

July 29, 2016

Week 258 – Working on the new railroad

I learned this from the singing of Jim Mageean. Jim was a guest at the Heritage Society in Oxford circa 1981, and he was pretty much a permanent fixture at Sidmouth around that time. I thought that this might have been one of the very few songs I’d simply absorbed from hearing it sung. But actually I find that, in my big lever arch folder of folk words and tunes, I have the words neatly typed out, almost certainly on Caroline Jackson-Houlston’s typewriter; so I suppose I must have asked Caroline to look out the words for me on one of her regular visits to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

The typed words, in common with pretty much every version I can see online, have the refrain as “And I’ve been all around this world”. I’m sure I’ve always sung “And I’ve been all over this world”. I think that’s how Jim Mageean sang it; if not, it’s how I thought  he sang it.

 

Working on the new railroad

October 24, 2015

Week 218 – Roll Jordan Roll

In the summer of 1980 my friend Adrian Russell put together a harmony quintet, performing under the name of Bright Sparkles in the Churchyard. The group consisted of Adrian, myself, Gill Harrison, Alison Tebbs and Tim Bull. The following year Richard Wren was drafted in as bass, to replace Tim, who was unavailable. We performed exclusively American religious music, including at least a couple of Sacred Harp numbers, and several from the camp meeting repertoire. Songs I particularly remember are the stomping ‘Hard Times’ (“Ain’t it hard times, tribulation, Ain’t it hard times, I’m going to live with God”) and the gloriously repetitive ‘I’m a witness for my Lord’. The group’s name came from this song, which in fact was not one we ever sang.

I’m not entirely sure we sang ‘Roll Jordan Roll’ as a group piece, but I certainly learned it from Adrian around this time. He found it in a Fisk Jubilee Singers’ Song Book – possibly this one.

'Roll. Jordan, Roll' from 'Jubilee songs: as sung by the Jubilee singers, of Fisk University, (Nashville, Tenn.) under the auspices of the American Missionary Association'. From the Internet Archive.

‘Roll. Jordan, Roll’ from ‘Jubilee songs: as sung by the Jubilee singers, of Fisk University, (Nashville, Tenn.) under the auspices of the American Missionary Association’. From the Internet Archive.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were a well-known vocal ensemble in the late nineteenth century, and they are still going strong today. They were formed in 1871 to raise money for Fisk University, which had been founded after the Civil War to provide higher education for freed slaves. The Singers sang spirituals, as well as some Stephen Foster numbers, and they toured not only the States but in Britain and Europe.

1899 Fisk Negro Spirituals Songbook. Song no. 7 Roll Jordan Roll (Women's Jazz Archive collection, Swansea Metropolitan University).

1899 Fisk Negro Spirituals Songbook. Song no. 7 Roll Jordan Roll (Women’s Jazz Archive collection, Swansea Metropolitan University).

You can hear a 1927 recording of them singing this very piece on the Internet Archive.

Fisk Jubilee Singers - photograph from Special Collections, Fisk University Library, Nashville, Tennessee.

Fisk Jubilee Singers – photograph from Special Collections, Fisk University Library, Nashville, Tennessee.

Roll Jordan Roll

March 20, 2015

Week 187 – Brown To Blue

A slight departure, this, from my normal repertoire. But I sing it unaccompanied, so it must be a folk song – right?

The song was originally recorded in 1963 by George Jones, but I learned it from Elvis Costello’s country record Almost Blue.  From the Elvis Costello Wiki I learn that the song was written by George Jones, Virginia Franks and Johnny Mathis. That’s Johnny “Country” Mathis, not Johnny “When a Child Is Born” Mathis, in case you’re wondering.

I’ve always been taken by the line “The judge pronounced the words the way you wanted him to do”. I suppose that would be with a strong Texas accent.

LP sleeve - George Jones

LP sleeve – George Jones “Trouble In Mind” (1965)

Brown To Blue

February 22, 2015

Week 183 – Poor Wayfaring Stranger

When I sing songs like this, or ‘Idumea’, it is purely for the power and beauty of the tune, and the words as poetry; not because I have a belief in any kind of life hereafter. However, at the end of a week in which we buried my mother, this seems an appropriate song to post.

I first heard it sung by Cathy Lesurf, with the Oyster (Ceilidh) Band in the early 1980s. Subsequently I’ve heard powerful recordings by singers including Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant and Norma Waterson. But the version which really made me want to learn the song was the one which Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins recorded in October 1959 from the Arkansas singer Almeda Riddle. Their recording was included on the CD Southern Journey Volume 4: Brethren, We Meet Again – Southern White Spirituals. I then found the words and audio for a fuller four-verse version, recorded from Almeda a few months earlier in August in 1959 by John Quincy Wolf, Jr., on the website of the John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection.

Almeda Riddle at her home, 1959, photographed by Alan Lomax.

Almeda Riddle at her home, 1959, photographed by Alan Lomax.

All the versions I had heard previously were resolutely in the minor key. One thing I like about Granny Riddle’s version is that it is essentially in the major key, but with plenty of flattened and – better still – ambiguous notes. These tonal ambiguities are very much a part of the singer’s vocal style, and the power of the performance overall, but I have found it difficult to reproduce them without it sounding like I’m trying to do an impression of an Arkansas grandmother. So I’ve tried to sing the song in a way that captures the spirit of Almeda Riddle’s version, while staying true to the way I normally sing. Not sure how successful I’ve been in this, but it’s too good a song not to sing.

Incidentally, I recently stumbled across this fine solo performance of the song by Bill Monroe which, it strikes me, is in very much the same vein as Almeda Riddle’s.

And here’s one of several Sacred Harp performances you can find on the web.

The history of the song is covered on this Mudcat thread: http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=23495 . It seems that the words at least date back to the mid-nineteenth century.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

April 12, 2014

Week 138 – Idumea

And am I born to die?
To lay this body down!
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?

My mate Bob, a man of many and varied musical enthusiasms, recently contacted me with the following:

I was knocked sideways by the unexpected sound of Shirley Collins’ voice on a recent Freak Zone, Stuart Maconie’s late night celebration of the exotic, esoteric and the little heard end of the popular music spectrum. And yes, much of it is little heard for very good reason.

She was singing a Methodist hymn called Idumea on an album called Black Ships Ate the Sky by an experimental music group called Current 93, the creative vehicle of a man called David Tibet since the 80’s.

[…]

Black Ships Ate the Sky features several versions of Idumea, each with a different vocalist but Collins’ version is the pick…  It is clearly not the voice of a young woman but she holds the tune effortlessly and, more importantly, delivers a huge emotional hit. In this regard, I was reminded of the first time I heard the aged Johnny Cash singing Hurt.

I’ve had a listen to most of the album on Spotify, and I have to confess that Bob was spot on when he predicted that much of it would not be to my taste. But I can well understand how David Tibet (or indeed anyone) would be very taken with this powerful hymn.

I have a facsimile of an 1860 printing of The Sacred Harp where the source of the words is given as the Methodist Hymn Book p231. More modern editions of The Sacred Harp credit the author of the words, the great English non-conformist poet and hymn-writer Charles Wesley. You will find the full words as printed in The Sacred Harp at http://fasola.org/indexes/1991/?p=47b  but Wesley wrote more than four verses – you can see a further two four-line verses under Hymn LIX in Wesley’s Hymns for Children, 1763 (Hymns for Children! with an opening line “And am I born to die” – they didn’t pussyfoot around with children in those days!) while the version printed in the Wesleyan Hymn Book of 1779 has six eight-line stanzas.

And Am I Born to Die? Hymn 41 in the Wesleyan Hymn Book. From the Internet Archive.

And Am I Born to Die? Hymn 41 in the Wesleyan Hymn Book. From the Internet Archive.

And Am I Born to Die? Hymn 41 in the Wesleyan Hymn Book. From the Internet Archive.

The composer of the tune is given as Ananias Davisson, 1816 (Although it’s possible he just harmonised a traditional tune – and it’s worth pointing out that in the nineteenth hymn books the arrangement of this song, as with many others, has only three harmony parts: the alto was added in the twentieth century). The index of composers at http://fasola.org/indexes/1991/?v=composer suggests that this is the only Ananias Davisson composition in The Sacred Harp, although there are others, no doubt, in the Kentucky Harmony, which he compiled.

Idumea, from The Sacred Harp.

Idumea, from The Sacred Harp.

I think I first heard Idumea  on the Watersons’ LP Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy, then a little later on the Young Tradition’s Galleries Revisited. Unlike the Watersons, the YT sing the proper harmonies (i.e. those in the book), but they don’t get the rhythm quite right. These days, of course, you can find countless versions of Idumea on the web. Here it is in its natural habitat, recorded by Alan Lomax in 1982 at Holly Springs, Georgia.

Note how many of the participants are clearly suffering somewhat in the sweltering Georgia heat, but the man in the suit and tie in the front row seems impervious to everything but the singing.

Elsewhere on YouTube, there’s a less impressive vocal performance, but with the added benefit of Lego:

(Thanks to Adrian Russell for alerting me to that one)

Clearly there are many ways this song can be interpreted. Here’s Cordelia’s Dad, live at Sidmouth in 2010:

That won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Some might even think it sacrilegious, or disrespectful, or gimmicky. But that would be a mistake: lead vocalist Tim Eriksen and bassist Cath Oss are vastly knowledgeable about this music, and have been immersed in Shape Note singing for years. If you have the Cold Mountain soundtrack, you’ll have heard Tim singing Idumea solo, to his own fiddle accompaniment. And if you’ve seen the film (and frankly, if not, why not?) you will surely remember the way Idumea is used early in the film as a wonderfully effective musical backdrop to the scenes of post-battle devastation at Petersburg. Tim Eriksen coordinated the Sacred Harp singing on that film, and insisted that the recording should be made at a real Sacred Harp singing, at the Liberty Baptist Church in Alabama.

I believe it is the recording from Cold Mountain that has been used once again to provide a moving accompaniment to images of Native Americans on this final YouTube video:

Did I say final YouTube video? Let’s have one more performance full of emotion before you get to hear me sing Idumea.

 

Idumea

http://magpielane.co.uk/andyturner/afsaw/Idumea.mp3%5D