Posts tagged ‘Charlie Bridger’

January 29, 2016

Week 232 – The Veteran

Charlie Bridger wrote out the words of this song, and sang it for me, when I first met him in April 1983. It took me another 25 years or so to get round to learning the song, and I have to confess that, having learned it, it’s not been something I’ve returned to very often. But I think perhaps I should sing it more.

The Veteran - as written out by Charlie Bridger

 

The Copper Family have a version, with a different melody to Charlie’s. It’s included in Bob’s book A Song for every Season, but not on the box-set, or on any subsequent releases. I recently asked on Facebook if anyone in the family sang the song, but the answer was “We don’t like it much… neither did Bob…”.

Well, it is a bit of a miserable old song, a bit of early Victorian sentimentality (the Roud Index has numerous songster and broadside listings, of which the earliest appears to be Bayly, Songs & Ballads Grave & Gay, 1844). But I think there’s a certain dignity in the song. It’s no Lear, but the song’s theme of an old man, alone, forgotten, friendless and with no one with whom to share his last days, has certainly not lost its relevance.

 

The Veteran - broadside ballad published at Taylor's Song Mart, 93, Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, London, between 1859 and 1899. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The Veteran – broadside ballad published at Taylor’s Song Mart, 93, Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, London, between 1859 and 1899. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The Veteran

February 15, 2015

Week 182 – Wait till the clouds roll by

Valentine’s Day is over… but here’s a sentimental love song which would have been perfect had I been organised enough to get it posted yesterday. I learned this song over thirty years ago from Charlie Bridger of Stone-in-Oxney in Kent. Around the same time Pete Coe was singing the song around the clubs, in a version learned from the Old Time singer and banjo-player Uncle Dave Macon. The song was in fact very popular in America. When published by New York publishers Thomas B. Harms & Company in 1881 it became the company’s first big hit. In an 1884 newspaper interview, in response to the question “What was the most successful song ever written during your existence?” the publisher’s reply was “Oh, Wait Till the Clouds Roll By had by far the greatest sale. We sold over 75,000 copies in a single month. It was the easy, jingly music did it, and the sentimental words”.

Wait Till the Clouds Roll By, published by T.B. Harms & Co., 819 Broadway, New York, 1881. From the Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection.

The published version states “words by J T Wood, music by H J Fulmer” and for many years I took this at face value. Indeed, in my Musical Traditions review of The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History I took the author Dan Worrall to task for stating that the song had been written by an Irish singer and concertina player called Tom Maguire. In fact it turned out that Dan had done his research and I hadn’t, and he has put together all the information he has on Tom Maguire in a short paper on his website: Tom Maguire, a forgotten late nineteenth century Irish vocalist, comedian, concertinist, and songwriter. Much of the information in this post comes from that source – thanks Dan.

“J T Wood” and “H J Fulmer” were actually fictitious pseudonyms of the American musical arranger Charles Pratt. He used the same pseudonyms to claim authorship for ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’, which of course was – at the very least – not an entirely original composition (check out the wonderful minor key version sung by Cecilia Costello on the recent Musical Traditions CD Old Fashioned Songs). When facing prosecution for “creating an obstruction” outside a London Theatre in 1907, Tom Maguire claimed authorship of this and other songs under oath. Whether Pratt had bought the publishing rights from Maguire, or simply stolen the song, is not known. Either way, by the early twentieth century poor Tom Maguire, now blind and nearly deaf, was destitute and reduced to singing and playing his concertina on the streets, and hawking books containing words of the songs he had written earlier in life.

I’m not sure whether Charlie Bridger learned the song orally or from a printed source. Either is equally likely – he had a large store of song books, News Chronicle Song Book and the like. Given that he was born in 1913, he’s not likely to have learned it from an individual ballad sheet, but ‘Wait till the clouds roll by’ featured on a number of such sheets – see the Full English and the Bodleian’s Broadside Ballads Online.

Wait till the clouds roll by,  published by H.J. Wehman, New York, 1881. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Wait till the clouds roll by, published by H.J. Wehman, New York, 1881. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The song also inspired a reply-song, and a number of parodies, for instance Put Me Some Jam-Roll By, Jenny. Little Thomas’s New Banjo Song (Mohawk Minstrels). Popular Parody on “Wait Till the Clouds Roll By” and Wait till the clouds roll by, Billy! (in support of William Gladstone’s stance on Home Rule).

As well as being a singer, Charlie Bridger was a keen brass and wind band player. He played tenor horn in Woodchurch and Cranbrook bands, and also played clarinet. When I first recorded him in April 1983 he played me one tune on clarinet, a version of the ‘Jenny Lind Polka’ with an extra part tacked on the end. I’ve been playing that version of the tune almost as long as I’ve been singing the song. A few years ago, having decided to put the tune and song together, I was delighted to find that, slowed down, the last two bars of ‘Jenny Lind’ were pretty much identical to the last two bars of the song – clearly they were destined to be played together.

Woodchurch Band, late nineteenth century. From a copy of the photo provided to me by Charlie Bridger. His father (Charles) and grandfather (Tom) are both in this photo.

Woodchurch Band, late nineteenth century. From a copy of the photo provided to me by Charlie Bridger. His father (Charles) and grandfather (Tom) are both in this photo.

Jenny Lind / Wait till the clouds roll by

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

October 27, 2013

Week 114 – The Jolly Waggoner

I learned this song from Charlie Bridger of Stone-in-Oxney in Kent. Interestingly Charlie (born 1913) had learned the song at School – almost certainly from English Folk-Songs For Schools: Collected And Arranged By S. Baring Gould, M.A.  & Cecil J. Sharp, B.A. published by Curwen in 1907.

Before singing me the song Charlie said

You want to hear the ‘Jolly Waggoner’s song’ then? Well, I learnt that at school actually and I come across – well, I found a book with it in the other night… ‘The Jolly Waggoner’ – “this was collected and arranged by S. Baring Gould and Cecil Sharp”. You heard of old Cecil Sharp I expect.

Then, having sung it

I learnt that at school actually. I couldn’t remember the last verse.

I asked “Did they teach you it out of a book like that? A folk-song book?” to which Charlie replied “I expect so – a thing like that, yeah”.

The Jolly Waggoner, No. 34 in English Folk-Songs For Schools by Sabine Baring Gould and Cecil Sharp, from www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/

The Jolly Waggoner, No. 34 in English Folk-Songs For Schools by Sabine Baring Gould and Cecil Sharp, from http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/

Baring-Gould collected a number of versions of the song in the West Country.  This tune, although in Baring-Gould’s MSS, would appear to have been collected by his collaborator H. Fleetwood Sheppard in 1890, from James Parsons of Lewdown in Devon,

Baring-Gould notes

This version  is the common broadside by Catnach, Fortey, Such etc.

The Jolly Waggoner, from Baring-Gould's MSS, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

The Jolly Waggoner, from Baring-Gould’s MSS, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

The Jolly Waggoner

September 29, 2013

Week 110 – The Gipsy’s Warning

Here’s another song I learned from Charlie Bridger of Stone-in-Oxney in Kent. According to the Roud Index, it has not often been collected in England (as opposed to North America), but I can’t help feeling that is more a reflection on the prejudices of the early twentieth century collectors than of the song’s popularity. This seems just the sort of melodramatic little number that would have been hugely popular with country singers.

We know that the song was in the vast repertoire of Henry Burstow; more recently it has been recorded from Bob Hart and Fred Jordan. Indeed this was possibly the first song Fred Jordan ever sang in public: he sang it, aged six, in a competition held in Ludlow Town Hall, and won a prize of £1 (a considerable sum in the late 1920s). Fred learned the song, like many others in his repertoire, from his mother. You can hear Fred singing the song (as a man, not a six-year old) on the Veteran CD A Shropshire Lad.

You’ll find copies of the words on broadsides from the Bodleian’s collection, while you can see an example of the song published as sheet music on the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection site. That example was published in Brooklyn in 1864. However the song must have been published by 1860 at the latest, if we are to believe the 1860 publication date of ‘Do Not Heed Her Warning. Reply to the Gipsies Warning’. I’d like to think that song sank without trace – like most answer songs it’s not a patch on the original (the exception to this rule is of course ‘It wasn’t God who made Honky Tonk angels’).

The Gipsy's Warning - from the Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection.

The Gipsy’s Warning – from the Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection.

The Gipsy’s Warning

March 16, 2013

Week 82 – The Birds upon the Tree

Here’s another song from Charlie Bridger, from Stone-in-Oxney in Kent. This is perhaps the song for which he has become best known – it was the title track of a compilation of Mike Yates field recordings on the Musical Traditions label, and the song was recorded by Jon Boden as part of his A Folk Song A Day project.

Charlie himself learned the song from an old boy called Nip Bailey. Here’s an extract from my interview with Charlie on 15th April 1983:

Andy:    Nip Bailey was it?

Charlie: Yeah, old Nip.

Andy:    Was he the one that worked in the oasts?

Charlie: That’s right, he was the old hop-drier. He couldn’t see very well; I used to go and level his hops for him, ’cause he couldn’t …the old driers they had a chalk mark – red charcoal mark – round the roundel, you know, so if they had so many bags of hops, or so many pokes of hops, they knew that should come up to that certain mark, see, and he couldn’t see that old mark… [?] was dark, I remember an old storm lantern hanging up for a light in there. And I used to help the old boy with his hop-drying, of a night.

Andy:    Was that Woodchurch?

Charlie: No that was Kenardington …on the corner; not the square ones, the single one right on the corner. High House Farm. There’s tomatoes and that they grow there now …an old man named Benny Coveney had that then; old bachelor.

[that oast,  should you be interested, appears to be this one as shown on Google Street View]

Adrian Russell:  Was he well known locally as a singer?

Charlie: No, he was known for singing ‘The Birds upon the trees’, that was all. He used to like a sing-song though, you know. Oh no, he was only known in Woodchurch really for his song ‘The Birds upon the trees’, that’s what they always used to associate him with, for his singing. My old grandfather used to say “Come on Nip”; he used to get his cornet out, my old grandfather; old Nip used to sing, and he used to play. In the pub, this was. Have you got ‘The Birds upon the trees’ taped, have you?

Andy:    No, no.

Charlie: Oh, you don’t know the tune then do you?



Birds upon the tree by W. C. Robey, published New York: Hitchcock's Music Store, 1882. From the Library of Congress Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music collection.

Birds upon the tree by W. C. Robey, published New York: Hitchcock’s Music Store, 1882. From the Library of Congress Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music collection.

The song was actually written by the American lyricist and composer W.C. Robey, and first published in New York in 1882. The sheet music can be viewed on the Library of Congress Music for the Nation website – you’ll see that the oral tradition has introduced changes both to the words and the melody.


The Roud Index lists only two other collected versions: one recorded in the 1950s from  Tom Brodie in Cumberland, which can be heard on a Veteran CD Pass the Jug Round ; and the other, intriguingly, collected by Percy Grainger from the great Joseph Taylor.







In the extract above, Charlie talks about his grandfather getting his cornet out to accompany this song: in fact Charlie’s father (also Charles) and his grandfather (Tom) both played in the Woodchurch Band, and Charlie himself joined the band when just a boy. There is a photo of the band from the early 1920s, when Charlie was maybe 9 or 10, with him sitting cross-legged in the front, holding a clarinet. The photo shown here is obviously earlier, but both Charlie’s father and grandfather are included in the group.

Woodchurch Band: from a copy of the photo provided to me by Charlie Bridger. Charlie's father (Charles) and grandfather (Tom) are both in this photo.

Woodchurch Band: from a copy of the photo provided to me by Charlie Bridger. Charlie’s father (Charles) and grandfather (Tom) are both in this photo.

Charlie played with a number of wind and brass bands during his life. When I met him in 1983 he was a member of the Cranbrook Band – playing tenor horn, I believe –  and he continued to perform with them until well into his seventies.

Clearly this was an important part of his life; and as a boy it was one way in which he was exposed to, and started to learn, the old songs. Charlie and his Dad would walk over the fields from Kenardington to Woodchurch for band practices (a couple of miles or so); then after the practice there would be  a trip to the pub with, often, a sing-song. Indeed the music-making didn’t necessarily stop there – another song Charlie sang me, ‘Won’t you buy my pretty flowers’, used to be sung by “old Frank Samson”

He used to play in the old Woodchurch Band, he used to play tenor horn, and he used to play that on the way home through the fields…


The Birds upon the Tree

The Birds Upon The Tree - words written out by Charlie Bridger 1983

The Birds Upon The Tree – words written out by Charlie Bridger 1983

March 9, 2013

Week 81 – Three Maidens a-Milking Did Go

It is very nearly exactly 30 years since I first met Charlie Bridger, a fine singer from Stone-in-Oxney in Kent, and it’s high time some of his songs appeared on this blog. As reported in an earlier entry my interest in locally-collected songs was first piqued by finding a version of ‘Blow away the morning dew’ from Warehorne in Maud Karpeles’ The Crystal Spring when I was eighteen. Over the next few years I got to hear travellers with a Kentish connection like the Willett Family, as well as singers recorded by Mike Yates such as Jack Goodban from St Margarets-at-Cliffe and George Spicer, who was born and raised in Kent, and had learned many of his songs in the county. At some point I paid a visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and consulted their list of traditional singers from Kent – although in those pre-computerised days, there weren’t actually many names on it (nowhere near as many as you’d find on a comparable list today).

However I did make copies of the songs Cecil Sharp collected from singers such as James Beale, James Barling and Clarke Lonkhurst in the Warehorne area on a rare visit to Kent in 1908 and I added some of those to my repertoire. I also knew that Peter Kennedy had collected songs from another Beale – Albert Beale – at Kenardington (next door to Warehorne) in 1953. Having left University I was working for a year in the public library in my home town of Ashford, and decided to take this opportunity to see if I could find out more about those singers – and maybe even find some more who were still active.

The Beales seemed to be a good place to start, so one lunchtime I popped into the Reference Library to look at the Electoral Roll for Kenardington. Kenardington is not exactly a great metropolis, so this did not take long, and I soon had the address for a Mr C. Beale who lived in the village. I wrote to Mr Beale explaining my interest and duly received an invitation to come over one Sunday afternoon for a cup of tea. Mr Beale it turned out was Charles Beale, son of the Albert Beale who Kennedy had recorded in the 50s, and grandson of Sharp’s informant James Beale. On this and subsequent visits he was able to tell me quite a lot about his father’s life and music.

Of course I was hoping that singing the old songs had carried on down the generations, but sadly that proved not to be the case. So I asked Mr Beale if he knew of anyone else of his generation who might still be singing. With very little hesitation he suggested Charlie Bridger who, he was pretty sure, was still living at Stone-in-Oxney about four miles away. The two men were of roughly the same age (about 70 at that time) and many years ago had gone to School together.

So, back to the Reference Library, this time to look at the Electoral Roll for Stone-in-Oxney – which, once again, did not take me very long. A letter was dispatched to Mr Bridger and on the very day he received it he rang me from the call-box in the village (his house didn’t have a phone), clearly excited at the prospect of singing his songs to someone who might value them, and arranging for me to pay him a visit.

Charlie lived with his wife Lily, and they were never less than hospitable when I called on them. Not having gone collecting before I had been somewhat apprehensive that turning up with a big tape recorder might seem a bit pushy, but in fact Charlie really wanted his songs to be collected. He’d written out the words of several of his songs, in that elaborate copperplate used by people of his generation. And as soon as I heard him sing I knew that he was quite some singer. ‘Three Maidens’ was one of those and, I’m pretty sure, the first he sang for me.

A few weeks later I went back, armed with the best recording device I owned – which unfortunately was not saying a lot – and accompanied by my friend Adrian Russell, whose family had for several generations lived in the nearby village of Woodchurch, and with which Charlie also had connections. Charlie set us up with glasses of Guinness and proceeded to sing 29 songs over the course of the evening. Inexperienced though I was, I knew that I should be recording everything – and was genuinely interested in what Charlie had to say about his life and songs – but Charlie was very assertive and occasionally I felt I had to comply with his demands that I should stop the recorder (“you’re wasting tape!” he insisted). Hopefully what I missed was just small talk, like Charlie asking us if we wanted another beer; at all events I pretty much filled up three sides of a couple of C90 cassettes.

Charlie was very much a performer – he loved an audience and was in his element when we organised music and song sessions at his local, the Crown. Sadly, after a lifetime of manual work, Charlie’s health was not of the best, and this prevented him becoming known to a wider audience. John Heydon invited him to the 1985 National Folk Music Festival at Sutton Bonington, but Charlie was not well enough to make the long journey and spend the weekend away from home. He kept singing locally however, and made a very brief appearance at the English Country Music Weekend at Frittenden in the summer of 1986, a couple of years before his death.

Fortunately for posterity at least, his songs were not preserved solely on my somewhat ropey recordings. In the Spring of 1984 I was at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, and Malcolm Taylor introduced me to the collector Mike Yates. Mike came down to Kent shortly afterwards and recorded half a dozen songs from Charlie. These recordings are today available on CDs on the Veteran and Musical Traditions labels.

There will be more on Charlie in future posts on this blog; in the meantime you can read more at http://folkopedia.efdss.org/Charlie_Bridger

Charlie Bridger, at a session in The Crown, Stone-in-Oxney, Kent. c.1985

Charlie Bridger, at a session in The Crown, Stone-in-Oxney, Kent. c.1985 (Photo: Andy Turner)

As for this song:

I learnt that off an old man, old Billy King. I gave him a pint of beer. And you got it for nothing – fourpence, that was a lot of money then. He taught me the ‘Folkestone Murder’ too. Where did he live? Well, he originally came from Woodchurch. A Woodchurch man. Don’t think there’s any Kings there now. He was only a little old short bloke.

Charlie’s wife Lily pointed out that, as a young man, Charlie mixed with men a lot older than he was – partly perhaps because he played, along with his father, in the Woodchurch Band which would have contained men of all generations; but also, perhaps, because he enjoyed their songs and was keen to learn them. Charlie was almost exactly the same age as Bob Copper, who wrote of the old songs being viewed as old-fashioned and unfashionable by his contemporaries in the pre-war years. Bob and his cousin Ron valued their family songs and they vowed to keep them alive; Charlie, I suspect, shared a similar outlook.

Three maidens a-milking did go

Three Maidens a-Milking did go (page 1) as written out by Charlie Bridger
Three Maidens a-Milking did go (page 2) as written out by Charlie Bridger