Posts tagged ‘Bedfordshire’

May 1, 2014

Week 141 – Good morning lords and ladies

Good morning lords and ladies it is the first day of May

May Day at Ickwell - from Ickwell May Day - A Brief History

May Day at Ickwell – from Ickwell May Day – A Brief HistoryThe blind song collector Fred Hamer recorded this short piece from the Bedfordshire singer Mrs Margery ‘Mum’ Johnstone, and it is one of several May songs and carols included in Hamer’s excellent little book Garners Gay (one of the others is the ‘Northill May Song’ which I posted here a couple of years ago). I first started dipping into Garners Gay circa 1976, and it was probably not long after that I learned this song.

Hamer’s recording of Mrs Johnstone singing it was included on the EFDSS LP Garners Gay. That’s never been released on CD, but you can hear her singing and talking about Bedfordshire May Day customs in this video from Pete Castle:

(I posted this link two years ago, but it’s worth repeating)

Because of its seasonal nature, and its brevity, this is not a song I’ve ever sung very much in public (although I think we did it once or twice in the early days of Magpie Lane). Strangely, until I came to record it a couple of weeks back, it had never occurred to me to try it with concertina, but actually it seems to work rather well.

Happy May Day one and all.

Good morning lords and ladies 

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

November 18, 2012

Week 65 – My Son John

This is the song I had meant to post last week, but when I came to upload it I found I had forgotten to press the Record button. Glad to say that this week I seem to  have overcome my technical deficiencies.

I learned the song over 30 years ago from Fred Hamer’s book Garner’s Gay. It’s one of several pieces which Hamer recorded from Bedfordshire singer David Parrott. Of the song, Hamer wrote

David’s brother produced evidence to show that this song was sung by an ancestor of the Parrott family who had served at Waterloo. Apparently he was in the habit of singing the song as reunions of veteran soldiers at the Corn Exchange in Bedford, and he invites us to imagine that this is the conversation that takes place when a father takes his son, wounded at Trafalgar, before a naval surgeon, who tries to swindle him out of his disablement pension by claiming it was his own fault.

Of the singer

In 1924 the Bedfordshire Times published a series of articles examining the repertoire of songs sung by the pseudonymous author’s mother. It took me two years of diligent search to find the author’s name, and by the time I found them both he and his mother had died. However his brother, David, was still alive and he could remember the tunes of most of the songs.

My Son John

May 7, 2012

Week 37 – Queen of the May

Julia Margaret Cameron, 'For I'm to be Queen of the May, Mother'; The May Queen, 1875. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

Julia Margaret Cameron, ‘For I’m to be Queen of the May, Mother’; The May Queen, 1875. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

This was the first song I learned from a book of folk songs, rather than from a recording of Steeleye Span or the Watersons. This meant that I had to take my own decisions about how to sing it, without having someone else’s arrangement in my head (having said that, I don’t suppose I sang it in anything like my own voice but, as with everything else in those days, as a curious amalgam of wannabe Tim Hart, Mike Waterson and Martin Carthy at his most idiosyncratic).

I learned it, like last week’s song, from Fred Hamer’s book Garners Gay. Hamer recorded the song from Bedfordshire singer Harry Scott. Some recordings of Harry Scott have been made available, on the EFDSS cassette The Leaves of Life, but at present if you want to hear his ‘Queen of the May’ I think you’ll need to visit the British Library Sound Archive – which so far, I haven’t.

Looking out of the window on this May Bank Holiday, I think the young lady in the song might well have said “I’m not going with you, because you’ll get my dress horribly muddy”; or perhaps just stayed at home in the dry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Queen of the May

April 30, 2012

Week 36 – Northill May Song

Learned many years ago from Fred Hamer’s lovely little book, Garners Gay. Fred collected it from “Chris Marsom and others” – Mr Marsom had by that time emigrated to Canada, but Fred met him on a visit to his native Northill, Bedfordshire. Fred’s notes say

The Day Song is much too long for inclusion here and the Night Song has the same tune. It was used by Vaughan Williams as the tune for No. 638 of the English Hymnal, but he gave it the name of “Southill” because it was sent to him by a Southill man. Chris Marsom who sang this to me had many tales to tell of the reception the Mayers had from some of the ladies who were strangers to the village and became apprehensive at the approach of a body of men to their cottage after midnight on May Eve.

You can hear Vaughan Williams’ setting of the tune (one of many traditional tunes which he slipped in to the English Hymnal) at cyberhymnal.org

text: ‘Jerusalem My Happy Home’
tune: ‘Southill’, tra­di­tion­al arranged Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Eng­lish Hymn­al (Lon­don: Ox­ford Un­i­ver­si­ty Press, 1906), num­ber 638 (MI­DIscore)

There’s more information on May Day customs in and around Northill – and some nice old photos – on the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service website.

Young men going maying including the bride and Moggers and Moggies

Young men going maying including the bride and Moggers and Moggies.
From “Old Village Customs in Northill” page at http://www.bedfordshire.gov.uk

On 1st May several customs were observed. Children would go garlanding, a garland being, typically, a wooden hoop over which a white cloth was stretched. A looser piece of cloth was fastened at the top which was used to cover the finished garland. Two dolls were fastened in the middle, one large and one small. Ribbons were sewn around the front edge and the rest of the space was filled with flowers. The dolls were supposed to represent the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. The children would stop at each house and ask for money to view the garland.

Another custom, prevalent throughout the county if not the country, was maying. It was done regularly until the outbreak of the First World War and, sporadically, afterwards. Young men would go around at night with may bushes singing May carols. In the morning a may bush was attached to the school flag pole, another would decorate the inn sign at the Crown and others rested against doors, designed to fall in when they were opened. Those maying included a Lord and a Lady, the latter the smallest of the young men with a veil and bonnet. The party also included Moggers or Moggies, a man and a woman with black faces, ragged clothes and carrying besom brushes.

And finally – before we get to the song itself (which is very short) here’s a link to a recently posted May Day video from Pete Castle. Pete lived in Bedfordshire in the seventies and eighties, and he met and recorded Mrs Marjorie “Mum” Johnstone who had sung a couple of May songs for Fred Hamer some 20 years earlier. The video has “Mum” singing the two songs, and talking about her involvement in May Day customs as a young girl.

Northill May Song