Posts tagged ‘Broken-down gentlemen’

November 16, 2014

Week 169 – I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents

I learned this song from Lucy Broadwood and J A Fuller Maitland’s 1893 collection, English County Songs, where it is printed in the Dorsetshire section: “words and tune from H. Strachey, Esq”. That would be Henry Strachey of Bristol, who is listed in early Journals as a member of the Folk-Song Society. He heard the tune being “whistled by a labourer at Shillingham, Dorsetshire, in 1889” and later took it down “from a collier at Bishop Sutton, Somerset“. Several versions were taken down by early collectors such as Baring-Gould and Clive Carey, and the song appears to have remained popular: it was recorded in the 1970s from singers including Freda Palmer, Harry Upton and Frank Hinchcliffe. Most versions have been found in Southern England, but the song has also been collected in Yorkshire and Scotland – as well as Australia and North America.

In about 1980 I sang this – and came second – in a Worst Song competition at the Gypsy Davey Folk Club, which used to be held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, Oxford. The winning song on that occasion came from the legendary Trevor Vale – I think it was his classic ‘The Squire he rides by…’ and if anyone reading this has any old recordings of Trevor I (and several other people I know) would absolutely love to hear them.

Given the context, I suspect I rather hammed the song up back then. These days I sing it completely straight – if a song’s worth singing, it’s worth taking seriously. Even if it is a load of sentimental odl tripe.

I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents

February 22, 2014

Week 131 – Epsom Races

George Attrill, from the Copper Family website (in the book Songs and Southern Breezes the photo from which this is taken is listed as

George Attrill, from the Copper Family website (in the book Songs and Southern Breezes the photo from which this is taken is listed as “by courtesy of George Garland, Petworth”).

This song was collected by Bob Copper in the 1950s, and it was included in his book  Songs and Southern Breezes. Bob had the song from George Attrill, road-mender of Fittleworth in Sussex.

George was a completely natural and unaffected singer. He stood there in his shirt-sleeves and braces, shoulders squared and head tilted slightly back, and sang out loud and bold. His words were clear and a strong West Sussex accent made all his songs a joy to hear.

You can hear Bob’s recording of George Attrill singing ‘Epsom Races’ (under the title of ‘The Broken-Down Gentleman’) on You Never Heard So Sweet, one of the more recent additions to Topic’s Voice of the People series. The song seems to have been widely collected in Southern England, but also further North – Frank Kidson had a version from his faithful correspondent Charles Lolley from Leeds, while Percy Grainger recorded a version (‘When I Was Young in My Youthful Ways’) in Lincolnshire, from the great Joseph Taylor. Surprisingly, there don’t seem to be any broadside versions listed under this Roud number – but I’m sure it must have appeared on a printed ballad sheet though; it seems to have very much the same sort of period feel as ‘Limbo’.

The tune at the end is one of my own, and the only one, as far as I recall, which I’ve consciously written as a morris tune. I wrote it in 1983 or 84 during my brief sojourn in Newcastle on Tyne. The title ‘Pigs and Whistles’, however, had been hanging around in the recesses of my mind for some while, having come across the phrase in my Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, with the definition “wrack and ruin”. The OED has two meanings: “fragments, pieces; odds and ends, trivial things”, with “to go to pigs and whistles” defined as “to fall into ruin or disrepair” (Now rare). The examples of the phrase in use are all Scottish, but range from 1794 to 2001. It’s a morris tune which noone has ever danced to. So if any sides out there are in need of a new tune for a corner dance with slows, please help yourself.

Epsom Races / Pigs and Whistles

Andy Turner: vocals, C/G anglo-concertina

August 4, 2013

Week 102 – Adieu to Old England

I first heard this on the 1974 Shirley Collins LP of the same name. Then a little later I heard it sung by John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris on Among the Many Attractions at the Show Will Be a Really High Class Band. I learned this version in the early 1980s from Caroline Jackson-Houlston; it was part of our repertoire in the harmony duo Flash Company.

The song comes from Sabine Baring-Gould’s Folk Songs of the West Country, where it says it was “Taken down from William Friend, 1889”. Elsewhere Baring-Gould claimed to have found the song “repeatedly” in the West Country, and you can see his collected versions on the EFDSS Full English site, along with versions taken down by Sharp, Gardiner, Hammond and Lucy Broadwood – all in the West Country. But that might just reflect the geographical bias of the collectors – Norfolk’s Harry Cox had the song in his repertoire, and it has also been collected in Bedfordshire, Scotland and North America.

I’d never looked into the song’s background before starting this blog post, but I was sure there would be umpteen broadside versions – the song very much has the air of one that originated with the broadside press. However the notes to the EFDSS publication Still Growing state “No known broadside versions”, and a decade on from that book’s publication I can’t find any online. However Baring-Gould’s English Minstrelsie (1896) contains an eighteenth century printed version – here are some extracts from the book’s song notes:

A song from “Vocal Music, or, The Songster’s Companion,” circ. 1778, vol. iv. This begins-

“Ye frolicsome sparks of the game,
Ye misers both wretched and old,
Come listen to Billy, my name,
Who once had his hat full of gold.”

The chorus to this is —

“Then why should we quarrel for riches,
Or any such glittering toys ?
A light heart and a thin pair of breeches,
Go through the world, brave boys ! “

But this chorus belongs to a much earlier song that is in “Perseus and Andromeda” which was acted at Drury Lane in 1728.

There is a song I have come upon repeatedly, for the last ten years, as a folk-ballad in the West of England, that goes over the same ground as the song in “Vocal Music,” but has more verses, and the chorus, “Adieu to Old England, adieu,” in place of that from “Perseus and Andromeda,”

In ” Vocal Music ” the chorus to ” Ye frolicksome sparks,” is a mere repetition of the last two lines of each verse. I have therefore adopted the chorus of the folk-song as now sung. The folk-chorus, “Adieu to Old England, adieu,” will perhaps be more acceptable than that which insists on a “Thin pair of breeches,” and the folk-melody of the chorus is also good, and better than a mere repetition.

Proving, if nothing else, that it wasn’t just songs from the oral tradition which the good Reverend felt compelled to mess around with when publishing them!

The song’s lyrics do not make clear why the narrator is bidding farewell to his native land. Has he committed a crime, and now awaits transportation? Or has, he like the character in Limbo, simply spent all his money on riotous living, and is now fleeing abroad? Answers on a postcard, please.

'Adieu to old England adieu' from the Baring-Gould manuscript archive, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

‘Adieu to old England adieu’ from the Baring-Gould manuscript archive, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

Adieu to Old England

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

February 11, 2012

Week 25 – Limbo

The Rake's complaint in Limbo - ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection

The Rake’s complaint in Limbo – ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection

I first heard this song performed by the Oyster Ceilidh Band in the late seventies. They subsequently recorded it on the LP Jack’s Alive. I learned the words from Frank Purslow’s book Marrowbones; where I also found that, although the Oysters played it in 6/8, it had originally been notated in 3/4.

The song has been found only rarely in oral tradition. The version in Marrowbones was collected in 1908 by George Gardiner, from James Brooman, of Upper Faringdon in Hampshire, and can now be seen via the EFDSS Take Six archive.

It is always stated that the title of the song comes from the nickname for a debtor’s prison, such as the Marshalsea Prison where Charles Dickens’ father was imprisoned. I thought I’d try to find some evidence for this usage, so I looked at the Online Slang Dictionary – which tells us only that “limbo” has been used to refer to marijuana. The OED, meanwhile, has various definitions for “limbo”:

A region supposed to exist on the border of Hell as the abode of the just who died before Christ’s coming, and of unbaptized infants

A South African name for a kind of coarse calico

A dance in which the dancer bends backwards and passes under a horizontal bar raised only a few inches off the ground.

Initially I thought all of these seemed irrelevant to the song; but actually, thinking about Dickens’ descriptions of debtors’ prison, it occurred to me that the first definition was probably the origin of our modern expression “in limbo”, and could easily have been used to refer to the interminable wait [for something to turn up] of those imprisoned for debt.

And then I came across this passage from Biblical references in Shakespeare’s plays by Naseeb Shaheen, via Google Books

“Limbo” is the religious term used to denote the underworld abode of just souls not entitled to go to heaven because of having died before Christ (limbus oatrum), or because they lacked baptism (limbus infantum). The teaching is based on Church tradition rather than on Scripture. The word is used in that sense in Titus Andronicus 3.1.149, and All’s Well That Ends Well 5.3.261. But in Shakespeare’s day, “limbo” was also the cant term for London’s debtors’ prisons. Used in the latter sense, to be in limbo would mean to be in prison. Limbo Patrum is used in that sense in Henry VIII 5.3.64.

Clearly this usage of the word continued for at least another two centuries after Shakespeare’s time – the ballad sheet shown here dates from the early nineteenth century, while our song was noted down in the early twentieth century. From Wikipedia I learn that “The Debtors’ Act of 1869 abolished imprisonment for debt, although debtors who had the means to pay their debt, but did not do so, could still be incarcerated for up to six weeks.”


Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina