Posts tagged ‘anglo-concertina’

December 28, 2020

Week 302 – King Herod and the Cock

We’re only a few days into the 12 days of Christmas, and the Kings supposedly arrive at the end of that period, so I’m a little premature in posting this carol.

It’s not a song that has ever really been part of my repertoire in any meaningful sense, but it’s very short, and at some point over the last 45 years I seem to have absorbed the words. I first heard it on the Watersons’ Frost and Fire, subsequently finding the words in the Oxford Book of Carols. We recorded it with Magpie Lane back in 1995, on our Wassail album. Tom Bower sang the carol, and arranged it – an arrangement which included Paul Sartin’s oboe on the instrumental.

In this form, it has been collected only once – Cecil Sharp took it down from the 85 year old Mrs Ellen Plumb at Armscote in Warwickshire in April 1911.

King Herod And The Cock, collected from Ellen Plumb, Armscote, 1911.

King Herod And The Cock, collected from Ellen Plumb, Armscote, 1911.

However the same story crops up in ‘King Pharim’, and it was originally part of a much longer song – a Child ballad no less – called ‘The Carnal and the Crane’. Here’s Sharp’s notes on the song from his English Folk Carols, published in 1911.

The words in the text are given exactly as Mrs. Plumb sang them. I have collected no variants. The tune is a form of the well known ” Dives and Lazarus” air (see “Come all you worthy Christian Men,” Folk-Songs from Somerset, No. 88).
Mrs. Plumb’s lines, although they tell a complete story, are but a fragment of a very much longer carol, consisting of thirty stanzas, called “The Carnal and the Crane,” printed in Sandys’s Christmas Carols, Husk’s Songs 0f the Nativity, and elsewhere. For traditional versions with tunes, see Miss Broadwood’s English Traditional Songs and Carols, and The Folk-Song Society’s Journal (I, 183 and IV, 22 with notes).
In this latter carol the Crane instructs the Carnal (i.e. the Crow) in the facts of the Nativity, of the truth of which the two miracles of the Cock and the Miraculous Harvest are cited as evidence.
I am unable to offer any explanation of the meaning of the word “senses,” which occurs in the last two stanzas of the text. In the printed copies it is given as “fences” – evidently a confusion has somewhere arisen between the letter “s,” in its old fashioned form, and “f.” “Thrustened ” = “crowed”; it is evidently a derivative of t he Mid. Eng. thrusch which meant a chirper or twitterer.
The origin of the carol, and of the legends associated with it, is exhaustively analysed in Child’s Ballads, to which the reader is referred. The conversion of King Herod to a belief in the power of the new-born Christ in the way narrated in the text is an early legend, and one that is widely distributed, traces of it being found in the Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe. It is not, I believe, mentioned in any of the Apocryphal Gospels, although the second miracle in the carol, the Miraculous Harvest, can be traced to that source.

The story of a roasted cock getting up and crowing was originally associated with St. Stephen. In the Journal of the Folk Song Society Vol. 4, No. 14, discussing ‘The Carnal and the Crane’ in the article Carols from Herefordshire, Lucy Broadwood refers to

the legend of the conversion of King Herod to the belief that Christ is born, by means of St. Stephen, who causes a roasted cock to rise in the dish and cry “Christus natus est!”

If you look at the VWML Digital Archive you’ll see that James Madison Carpenter also collected a Scottish version of Roud 306, although to my uninformed eyes there’s actually precious little to link the two verses of ‘Lood crew the cock’ with this carol.

 

King Herod and the Cock

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

December 20, 2020

Week 301 – Nowell, Nowell

A carol with strong connections to Cornwall. The version of ‘The First Nowell’ sung at carol services up and down the country for the last century or more is based on that printed by William Sandys in his Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833). Sandys commented

The carols contained in the Second Part, with the exception of the last four, are selected from upwards of one hundred obtained in different parts of the West of Cornwall, many of which, including those now published, are still in use. Some few of them are printed occasionally in the country, and also in London, Birmingham, and other places, as broadside carols; others have appeared, with some variation, in Mr. Gilbert’s collection, having been derived from similar sources; but a large portion, including some of the most curious, have, I believe, never been printed before.

This is one of those which had appeared – in a slightly different form – in Davies Gilbert’s 1822 publication Some Ancient Christmas Carols. Gilbert, from Helston in Conwall, had the carol from a manuscript prepared around 1816, and now with the Archives and Cornish Studies Service in Truro, A Book of Carols collected for Davies Gilbert Esq. M.P. and F.R.S. by John Hutchens.

Cecil Sharp only collected the song twice, both times in Cornwall, and on consecutive days. He noted this version from Mr Bartle Symons of Camborne on 10th May 1913. Mr Symons said he had learned it when he was a boy from a Mr Spargo. David Sutcliffe’s excellent new website Cecil Sharp’s People identifies this as most probably

Thomas Spargo, born 1811, a stonemason who married a widow Sally Bartle in the 1830s. She brought 3 boys and a girl to the marriage (by her first husband William Bartle). Although Sally died in 1862 and Thomas Spargo remarried, he continued to live near to the Bartle/Symons family. He did not die till 1888 and the link between the two families must have been maintained perhaps at Christmas time in the singing of this carol.

 

Nowell Nowell, as collected by Cecil Sharp from Bartle Symons

Nowell Nowell, as collected by Cecil Sharp from Bartle Symons

Sharp published the song, slightly amended, in the 1914 Journal of the Folk-Song Society. The American collector James Madison Carpenter had Mr Symon’s words in his collection, but he appears to have typed them out from the Journal. However he did encounter the carol several times on his visits to Cornwall, and you can hear cylinder and disc recordings made by Carpenter on the VWML site – for instance this recording of an unnamed singer from the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Had yesterday’s Magpie Lane concerts taken place yesterday, this carol would almost certainly have been in the programme (we left it out last year, so it was due for a comeback). We recorded it on our 2006 CD, Knock at the Knocker, Ring at the Bell, and it’s been a regular part of our Christmas repertoire ever since. Having stood next to Ian Giles for so many years, I thought I probably wouldn’t have too much trouble learning the words, and this proved to be the case. But although I sing it in the same key as Ian, I found that I couldn’t sing it and play my normal concertina part. So I’ve switched to a different concertina, with different fingering, and that seemed to make things easier. It also helped to make this a bit less of a pale imitation of the Magpie Lane version. To distinguish it further, I decided to retain the 6/8 rhythm as noted by Sharp. This felt really awkward to start with – and, to be honest, I still prefer it in three-time – but I eventually settled into the new time signature. Just to cement the rhythm in my head, I prefaced the song with ‘The Rose’, one of many splendid morris tunes from the Oxfordshire Fieldtown tradition. Think of it as a Christmas rose.

The Rose / Nowell, Nowell

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

November 16, 2020

Week 299 – The Good Old Way

Long ago, in a previous age (last February to be precise), I posted a recording of ‘Country Life’, which was Side 1 Track 1 on the Watersons’ magnificent 1975 LP For pence and spicy ale. And now, here’s the final track on side 2.

Like hundreds of others up and down the country, we sang these two almost to death back in the late 1970s /early 1980s. Except “sang them to death” isn’t the right expression – they’re such good songs that they bear repeated singing, and I love them now, as I did back then.

Of the two, this had the greatest impact on my musical tastes and interests. I had already heard Wassails and some other seasonal songs, but this was my first introduction to folk hymnody, and it opened the door to further discoveries – including West Gallery, Shape Note, and the carolling traditions of places such as Padstow and South Yorkshire. I’m not a believer, but I have a love of all types of vernacular sacred music-making. I love the passion in the words, and in the singing of the songs, especially when sung as part of a community – whether that community be a congregation of Old Regular Baptists, the inhabitants of a Cornish fishing port, or a modern West Gallery choir consisting principally of people with slightly off-centre musical tastes who just enjoy a good sing (as an aside, I’m also a big fan of oratorios by Bach and Handel, Fauré’s Requiem and Rachmaninov’s Vespers).

Bert Lloyd’s sleevenotes for For pence and spicy ale say

Unlike John Wesley, who preferred the tunes of imported elite composers such as Handel, Giordani and their lesser fellows, the “gospel trumpeters” went in for folky tunes like Amazing Grace and The Good Old Way. John Cennick (1718-55), who broke away from the Wesleys, was the founder of folky hymnody with his Sacred Hymns (Bristol 1743), which had an enormous effect on the wildfire revivals in Britain and America. The Good Old Way is said to have been a favourite hymn of the wild evangelist John Adam Grenade (1775-1806). In America it acquired a “Hallelujah” chorus and in that form came back to England and was printed in the Ranters’ Hymns and Spiritual Songs (c. 1820). Our version was collected by John Clague from a marble-mason on the Isle of Wight, John Cubbon. It appears in the Folk Song Journal (No. 30), and serves to remind us what grand tunes have been lost to our hymnbooks through the tyranny of Ancient & Modern.

The “Isle of Wight” is a typo – Dr John Clague actually noted the song in the Isle of Man, circa 1829. When printed in the 1926 Journal of the Folk-Song Society, in an  article by Anne Gilchrist and Lucy Broadwood, it was part of a series of articles on Manx traditions which appeared in the Journal between 1924 and 1926. Looking at that article for the first time, I see that the Watersons (probably unconsciously) altered the tune somewhat, in particular omitting a sharpened sixth in the first line. Well, I’m not going to change the way I sing it, after more than 40 years.

If you don’t have access to the Journal of the Folk-Song Society through JSTOR, you’ll find the same tune, with a piano arrangement by W.H.Gill, in Manx National Songs with English Words, Selected from the MS. Collection of The Deemster Gill, Dr J. Clague, & W.H.Gill (Boosey & Co. 1896), and here it is:

The Good Old Way arranged by W.H.Gill

The Watersons also made the entirely sensible decision to cut two of the five verses. You can find all seven verses at Hymnary.org. American Shape Note versions, such as those in Southern Harmony or the Sacred Harp, are set to an entirely different tune and, as A.L.Lloyd pointed out, have a different chorus:

And I’ll sing hallelujah,
And glory be to God on high;
And I’ll sing hallelujah,
There’s glory beaming from the sky.

Of course it’s wonderful, today, to have access to these different sets of words at the click of a mouse button. Back in the seventies when we learned this song we had to write the words out from listening to the LP. And we didn’t always make a very good job of it. We could never make sense of the first lines of the second verse: “Our conflict’s here, the Great Davy / Shall not prevent our victory”.  Who was this Great Davy – another name for Old Nick perhaps? Of course, when I finally saw the words in print, it all made perfect sense: “Our conflict’s here, though great they be…”.

But my singing partner Mike, who had a good ear for this sort of thing, made a good job of transcribing the Watersons’ harmonies. Here’s my copy, marked “GOMENWUDU PRODUCTIONS” at the top – Gomenwudu (obscure Old English word for a harp) was, thanks to Mike’s Dad, the name of our harmony group. And at the bottom, I’ve just noticed, “PRINTED BY L. BOWLER, KARL MARX RULES OK Etc”. Lucas Bowler, the class Leftist, was another schoolfriend, and he must have got Mike’s original sheet of manuscript paper copied. He had been the first boy at school to have a Casio calculator – his Dad worked in marketing or sales, and had got it as a freebie. Clearly Luke’s Dad also had access to a photocopier – at a time when our secondary school teachers were still having to turn out purple smudgy copies on a Banda machine!

The Good Old Way - four part harmony arrangement

The Good Old Way – four part harmony arrangement transcribed by Mike Eaton c1976

I am well aware that the proper way to sing this song is in glorious vocal harmony, but at the outset of this blog I said that I wouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good; so here it is sung by me alone, with a concertina arrangement.

The Good Old Way

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

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

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 sang 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

December 8, 2019

Week 284 – Down in Yon Forest

I was an enthusiastic singer long before I discovered folk music. At primary school I looked forward eagerly to the weekly broadcast of Singing Together, and I very much enjoyed hymn singing in the school hall (‘He who would true valour see’ and ‘When a knight won his spurs’ were particular favourites). At secondary school I sang in the choir as treble, alto and then tenor, and especially enjoyed the Christmas carol service. Our repertoire was drawn largely from Carols for Choirs, but the school also owned a set of The Oxford Book of Carols, and we’d sometimes perform songs from that – I was particularly taken with ‘Es ist ein Ros entsprungen’ and I’ve a feeling we once sang ‘A Gallery Carol’.

By December 1976 my obsession with folk music was a year old. In the intervening year I had listened to whatever English, Irish and Scottish folk LPs I could get my hands on. These included Steeleye’s Please to see the King, For pence and spicy ale and Frost and Fire by the Watersons, and the single LP selection drawn from the Copper Family A Song for every season box set. Thus I was very much aware of the existence of seasonal songs, wassails and folk carols. And because of this, I viewed the pages of The Oxford Book of Carols in a completely new light. Here were Wassail songs (including the ‘Somerset Wassail’ which would be recorded the following year by the Albion Dance Band. Here were ‘King Herod and the cock’ and ’Down in yon forest’, which I’d heard on Frost and Fire. And here was the Watersons’ ‘King Pharim’– with details of where and when it had been collected and, in the footnotes, the full text as originally noted down from the travelling Goby family. Moreover, I now realised that some quite well-known carols – the ‘Sussex Carol’ for instance – actually had their origins in the folk tradition. Subsequently the book provided easy access to the words of ‘Saint Stephen’ and the ‘Boar’s Head Carol’ which I’d heard on record and wanted to learn.

That year my friend Mike and I went out “wassailing” (no mere carol-singers we!). It’s a long time ago of course, but I imagine our repertoire that first year was probably something like this

and, always my favourite

  • ‘Shepherds Arise’

In subsequent years our numbers grew. I have a vague recollection that on one occasion there was quite a gang of people we knew from school, but our friends Alison and Gill were key members of the wassailing party then, and for several years to come. The girls used to complain that ‘Down in yon forest’ should be sung sensitively, while Mike and I were belting out the harmonies with the same lack of refinement we brought to the other, more forthright carols. They were probably right – and I’m quite sure I’d get a hard stare from Sophie if I sang the refrain in an inappropriately boisterous manner these days at our Magpie Lane Christmas shows.

We’ve actually recorded the song twice now with Magpie Lane. The first time on Wassail, where it was sung by Joanne Acty, with Pete Acty on guitar, Di Whitehead playing one of Tom Bower’s wonderfully evocative minor key cello parts (that album is chock full of them), and Tom himself on harmonium. There was talk of having a bowed psaltery too, but thankfully wiser counsels prevailed.

None of these people being in the band any more, we revisited the song on our most recent release, The 25th. This time it’s sung by Sophie Thurman, with Jon Fletcher on guitar, and Jon, Ian and myself providing harmonies.

Until this year I’d never thought of trying the song on my own, with a concertina accompaniment. Well it seems to work pretty well, although I had to concentrate really hard on enunciating the initial L in “I love my Lord Jesus” – in early attempts to record the song I seemed to be slurring “I love” as if I were drunk (I wasn’t, probably just concentrating too hard on getting the accompaniment right).

So, what of the song? I hear you ask. Well, when A.L.Lloyd recorded it in 1956 the sleevenotes, by Kenneth A. Goldstein, said

It its earliest known form, the ballad appeared in a 15th century manuscript into which it had probably been copied from the singing of contemporary carol singers. The first version reported from tradition was taken down from the singing of a young boy in North Staffordshire, England, before 1862
(see Notes and Queries, third series, II, 103).

Anne Gilchrist (in JFSS, IV, pp. 52-56) interpreted this ballad in terms of the Holy Grail legend. Christ’s blood was collected in the Grail by Joseph of Arimathea, and was borne to Avalon for safe- keeping and sanctification. The hall in the forest is the castle of the Grail, the bleeding knight is Jesus, the hound licking the blood may be Joseph (or possibly the Church), and the thorn mentioned in the last stanza is the Thorn of Glastonbury which blossoms once a year (on old Christmas Day) in honour of Jesus’ birth.

Quoted at https://mainlynorfolk.info/lloyd/songs/downinyonforest.html

Other theories are available, and I won’t trouble you with them here.

Malcom Douglas had this to say at Folkinfo.org:

Anne Gilchrist quoted the 16th century text along with that from Notes and Queries in the Journal, together with a very detailed discussion of the imagery, linking the song with the Troubadour tradition and suggesting connections with the Grail myth and Mithraic  tradition. This was backed up by G. R. S. Mead. This tentative analysis has tended, subsequently, to be assumed as received wisdom; but should probably be treated with great caution.

 

What we do know is that the song was collected in 1908 by Ivor Gatty and Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr J. Hall of Castleton, Derbyshire. See the VWML archive for copies of this, and other versions noted by the early folk song collectors.

Down In Yon Forest, as noted by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1908

Down In Yon Forest, as noted by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1908

Peter Kennedy recorded a brief rendition of ‘Down in Yon Forest’ from Mr Hall’s daughter Elizabeth in May 1957 – you can hear her talking about this and other Castleton carols on the British Library Sounds website.

Today the carol has been reintroduced to the Castleton carol-singing tradition. There’s a recording of it, with Fay Sexton taking the  solo lines, on the double CD The Theme, the Song, the Joy: A Feast of Village Carols.

 

Finally, to return to The Oxford Book of Carols. I liked that book so much, and found it so useful, that I asked our music teacher Mr Fehr if I might borrow the copy I’d been using at the school carol service. He was a kindly soul, always supportive of boys’ musical enthusiasms, even those (rock music, and to a lesser extent folk music) in which he personally found no merit. So of course he said I could borrow the book. And I suspect he might have done so even if he’d been fully aware that a couple of years later I would leave school without the slightest intention of returning my cherished red-bound copy of The Oxford Book of Carols, first published 1928, twenty-third impression 1956. It’s still a cherished possession – after all, much as I admire the New Oxford Book of Carols, there are plenty of interesting items, this one included, which were left out of the new version. So RIP James Fehr, you were a gent.

 

Down in Yon Forest

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

December 24, 2018

Week 278 – Stannington

Regular visitors to this blog will probably be aware of my fondness for the carolling tradition that continues to this day in the villages around Sheffield. A few weekends ago I made my first ever visit to a Sheffield carolling session – the Sunday lunchtime sing at the Royal Hotel in Dungworth. The pub was (literally) full to overflowing, the singing was lusty and joyful, and it felt so good to be able to join in old favourites like ‘Hark Hark What News’, ‘Jacob’s Well’ and ‘Diadem’ in their proper surroundings. So, my first visit, but definitely not my last.

I’d previously heard this piece on the double CD The Theme, The Song, The Joy, which I reviewed for last year’s Folk Music Journal. The album contains recordings made over the years at the biennial Festival of Village Carols organised by Ian Russell, including a 2014 recording of ‘Stannington’ sung by carollers from the Royal Hotel, with Manny Grimsley taking the solo. To be honest the song hadn’t made much impression on me, but the day after going to Dungworth I found it was lodged in my head. So I dug out the words, worked out the chords, took it down a tone and worked out the chords again, and decided I’d try to get a decent recording made in time for Christmas. Give it another year and I might be more on top of it, but this is a blog, not a CD – spontaneity rather than perfection is the name of the game.

Stannington being sung at the Royal Hotel, Dungworth.

Stannington being sung at the Royal Hotel, Dungworth.

I’m indebted to Dave Eyre for providing some background information on this song, via a comment left on Jon Boden’s A Folk Song a Day entry for December 21st 2010

Ian Russell writes in the book which accompanied the Dungworth CD [i.e. Hark, Hark! What News]:

Central to the tradition since the 1950’s usually as a solo. Written by the late Mina Dyson (born Gee – 1890 – also wrote “Bradfield” in 1971). Tune (c. 1945) originally set to anniversary hymn “God Send You Many Days as Sweet as This” by Edward Lockton. Word “Sing All Ye People” written for Christmas 1952.

I’d like to add that this was always sung by a man called Wilf Daff and Brian Shuel has two photographs of his doing just that, one in front of the dartboard and one next to the organ with David Smith playing He was a remarkable tenor singer and when people joined in at the last verse – often at a cry of “altogether” – his voice soared over the crowd. Truly memorable.

When Wilf stopped coming the song was taken over by Billy Mills who was one of the singers who came from the Lodge Moor area when David Smith began playing.

Happy Christmas one and all! Here’s to hope, and joy, and peace.

Stannington

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

November 11, 2018

Week 277 – The First Time

In my late teens, when I started going to dances, the band of choice was the Oyster Ceilidh Band, and invariably at some point in the evening there would be a song spot featuring various members of the band – Fiddler’s Dram, John Jones and Cathy Lesurf, or Beggars Description. The latter was a duo consisting of the band’s bassist, Ian Kearey, and Alison Salter (now Alison Fenner). Their repertoire included Blues and other stuff that these days would be called Americana, alongside some British folk. The song which left the most lasting impression was ‘The First Time’, which they sang unaccompanied in harmony. It was written by Debbie Cook – like all of the Oysters, a regular at Duke’s Folk, the excellent Sunday night folk club which met at the Duke of Cumberland in Whitstable. Debbie was best known for penning ‘Day Trip to Bangor’ which featured on the first Fiddler’s Dram LP in 1978 and then, a year later, was reimagined by Dingle’s Records and became an unlikely number 3 chart hit. She later became a scriptwriter for The Archers and Eastenders, amongst other things.

This song always struck me as both moving, and very singable. Some years later (late 80s I’d guess) I got Ian Kearey to write out the words for me, and when Carol and I started singing together we added this to our repertoire. I hope the tune is right. I’ve not heard anyone else sing the song for about 40 years, but this is how I remember it.

Every year as Remembrance Day approaches, I’ve thought “we must record that song for the blog”. This year, of all years, I decided it just had to be done. So here’s a recording made on 11th of the 11th 2018, one hundred years on from the signing of the Armistice which brought an end to “the war to end wars”.

Pour ma bien aimee - postcard sent from the front by my Grandad Bert Elkins to his sister Daisy

Pour ma bien aimee – postcard sent from the front by my Grandad Bert Elkins to his sister Daisy

The tune at the end is ‘The Battle of the Somme’ a 9/8 pipe march – a Retreat March – by Pipe Major William Laurie (1881-1916) who fought at, and died at, the Somme. For more, and a score of the march (with lots of those really complicated bagpipe decorations) see http://cornemusique.free.fr/ukbattleofsomme.php. There’s a lovely rendition of the piece on Scottish smallpipes on Vicki Swan’s blog The Smallpiper Podcast. And another on YouTube – played on melodeon – by the inimitable Martin Ellison.

 

Dedicated to my Grandad, Albert Victor Elkins, the only person I really knew who served in the Great War. He was 18 when it all began, and he somehow managed to survive all four years of the war. I loved my Grandad dearly, but unfortunately by the time I was old enough to ask him sensible questions about the War, he was no longer in a state to answer them. But it must have been his wartime experiences that led him to ask, whenever I came home from University, “do they give you a decent billet?”

Albert Victor Elkins

Albert Victor Elkins

Bert Elkins (back, right, with no moustache) and unknown comrades

Bert Elkins (back, right, with no moustache) and unknown comrades

And to my great-uncle Thomas Morris “Johnnie” Turner who died aged 21 at Ypres in 1917. He’s not so much, as Eric Bogle put it “just a picture without even a name” as a picture with a name and nothing else. To my shame I don’t even know what relation he was to my paternal Great-grandfather – also Thomas Morris Turner – or how come he served in the Liverpool Scottish Regiment.

Thomas Morris

Thomas Morris “Johnnie” Turner, killed at Ypres 1917

And to the millions of others who died, or were maimed, or who were mentally scarred, or who lost loved ones, in this war and the many others that came after it.

The First Time / Battle of the Somme

Carol Turner – vocal
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina (‘The First Time’), G/D anglo-concertina, one-row melodeon in D (‘Battle of the Somme’)

December 28, 2017

Week 271 – The Gloucestershire Wassail

Here is to Fillpail and to his left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year

I first came across this Wassail song in the Oxford Book of Carols in the 1970s – although, unlike the ‘Somerset Wassail’ it never actually became part of my repertoire. With a slightly different set of words the song was part of the Magpie Lane Christmas set from the very beginning, and we recorded it – with a different singer leading each verse – on our 1995 CD Wassail.

For this recording I’ve gone back to the version in the Oxford Book of Carols. The notes with the song tell us that the tune was collected by Vaughan Williams “from an old person in Gloucestershire”. Actually, it turns out that Vaughan Williams took it down in the inn at Pembridge in Herefordshire, in July or August 1909, from a singer whose name he did not record, but who presumably was a native of Gloucestershire.

The words printed in the book were collated from other versions collected by Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams in Gloucestershire – from William Bayliss of Buckland and Isaac Bennett of Little Sodbury – as well as nineteenth century printed sources. Magpie Lane’s words are closer to those originally collected by RVW at the inn in Pembridge.

You can find several other Wassail songs collected in Gloucestershire on Gwilym Davies’ GlosTrad site; and can read much more about this song, and the tradition which it accompanied, on the Gloucestershire Christmas website.

Tetbury Wassailers in about 1930. Photo by James Madison Carpenter, copyright the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. From http://www.gloschristmas.com

Tetbury Wassailers in about 1930. Photo by James Madison Carpenter, copyright the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. From http://www.gloschristmas.com

 

Waes Hael!

 

The Gloucestershire Wassail

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

 

December 21, 2017

Week 270 – As I sat on a sunny bank

Last night we had a really joyous carols and tunes session at the Bell Inn, Adderbury, North Oxfordshire. It’s a fantastic pub at any time (disclosure: I play in a band with Sandy, the landlady – but I challenge anyone to visit the pub and fail to be impressed). Last night, with about two thirds of the Christminster Singers, plus various friends and friends of friends, we really raised the roof with a selection of rousing carols from Dorset, Yorkshire – and Oxfordshire. It was particularly pleasing to be able to sing a few of the carols collected in Adderbury around a hundred years ago by Janet Blunt – ‘Adderbury Church’, ‘High let us swell’ and ‘Newton’s Double’ (which featured here four Christmasses ago). But here’s one we didn’t sing…

Janet Blunt collected several versions of ‘As I sat on a sunny bank’ / ‘I saw three ships’ in Adderbury. All used some variation on the well-known tune – apart from Sam Newman (a native of Wiltshire) who sang it to the tune of ‘Buffalo Girls’. This one was noted down from Clara Gillam, the parlour maid at Blunt’s home Halle Place, aka Adderbury Manor, and I learned it from the Blunt MSS via the Full English website.

The earliest known appearance of the carol in print was in 1666. According to the New Oxford Book of Carols the story is based  on

the Mediterranean journeyings of the supposed relics of the magi, the ‘Three Kings of Cologne’, the splendour of whose final voyage has remained vivid in European folk memory. The Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great and discoverer of the True Cross, carried them to Constantinople in the fourth century, from where they were later taken by St Eusthathius to Milan. In 1162 the skulls were gifted to Cologne Cathedral by Friedrich Barbarossa, and Bishop Renaldus brought them there, to rest in the jewelled caskets in which they remain to this day.

The notes in the book also refer to this version of the carol in Baring-Gould’s manuscript collection, which was noted from a boatman on the River Humber by the artist Lewis Davis, and preserves the link with Cologne:

I axed ’em what they’d got on board
They said they’d got three crawns [skulls]
I axed ’em where they was taken to
They said they was ganging to Coln upon Rhine
I axed ’em where they came frae
They said they came frae Bethlehem

As I Sat On A Sunny Bank, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

As I Sat On A Sunny Bank, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

I follow the song with ‘Christmas Day In The Mornin’’ a tune from Bruce & Stokoe’s Northumbrian Minstrelsy of 1882, where it is associated with the words

Dame get up and bake your pies,
Bake your pies, bake your pies;
Dame get up and bake your pies,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

 

As I sat on a sunny bank / Christmas Day in the Mornin’

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina, one-row melodeon in C