Posts tagged ‘comic songs’

February 19, 2016

Week 235 – The Lobster

Percy Ling - photo by Doc Rowe

Percy Ling – photo by Doc Rowe

I received a comment recently on a post from October 2011, from the great granddaughter of the song’s source, the Suffolk singer Percy Ling. That reminded me that I know another of Percy’s songs, learned like ‘Underneath your apron’ from the Topic LP Singing Traditions of a Suffolk Family.

This has the potential to be easily the rudest song on this blog but, Percy being a man of great taste and discernment, he manages to avoid using any offensive words. Which is more than can be said for the seventeenth century version found in Bishop Percy’s Folio (c 1625-40), and quoted in full in this Musical Traditions article by Steve Gardham.

I think it’s also worth noting that Percy Ling provides, in verse 2, one of the great non-rhyming couplets in folk song – one of those cases where the singer seems to go out of their way to avoid an obvious rhyme. And, needless to say, I do exactly the same.

The Lobster


January 15, 2016

Week 230 – Corduroy

Many of the Copper Family’s songs are much loved and widely sung – national treasures, you might say. This is not one of those, but there was a time when I would be called upon to sing it at least once a year. I learned it from the Copper Family 4 LP set A Song for every Season, and from Bob Copper’s book Early to rise. 

The entry for this song on the Copper Family website links to this Mudcat post where the late Malcolm Douglas provides the following background information:

This was a popular song of the mid-19th century; presumably it had its origins in the Music Halls–the tune is very much of that type. There are several broadside copies at the Bodleian Library Broadside Collection:

Suit of Corderoy Printed between 1846 and 1854 by E.M.A. Hodges, (from Pitt’s), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials.

The suit of corduroy Printed between 1860 and 1883 by H. Disley, 57, High-street, St. Giles, London. W.C.

Suit of corduroy Printed by Bebbington, J.O. Oldham-road, Manchester.

Suit of corduroy! Printed and Sold between 1849 and 1862 at Such’s Song Mart, 123, Union Street, Boro’ S.E.

There is also a mostly illegible Glasgow edition, which specifies the tune as that of Four and Nine.

Some of the above are in Standard English, others are written in the “Stage Cockney” of the day. There isn’t a great deal of variation in the texts, though locations and the name of the tailors vary. Evidently, the song made it to the USA as well; there is a songsheet at the “America Singing” Collection:

The Suit of Corduroys H. De Marsan, Publisher, 60 Chatham Street, N. Y. [no date.] Again, much the same, but with the incontinence episode omitted, perhaps for the benefit of tender American sensibilities!

 

Suit of corderoy. Broadside from the Bodleian collection. Printed between 1846 and 1854, by E. Hodges, Printer, (from Pitt's), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials

Suit of corderoy. Broadside from the Bodleian collection. Printed between 1846 and 1854, by E. Hodges, Printer, (from Pitt’s), wholesale toy warehouse, 31 Dudley street [S]even Dials

I have followed John Copper’s lead on the 1970s recording and inserted an additional raspberry into the last line of the song. As John so eloquently put it

Well, hardly worth paying a man for one raspberry

Corduroy

October 17, 2015

Week 217 – It’s A Great Big Shame

It’s a Great Big Shame! - sheet music

It’s a Great Big Shame! – sheet music

A song from the repertoire of Gus Elen (1862-1940), the Coster Comedian. I think I first came across the song in the early 1980s at the Heritage folk club in Oxford, sung by my friend Dick Wolff (who, as I recall, also used to sing ‘If it Wasn’t for the Houses in Between’, another of Elen’s hits – another one in fact written by the prolific George Le Brunn – and one which I’ve often thought of learning). I found the words in a book of Music Hall songs in my local library back home, and have been singing it ever since.

Elen effectively retired in 1914 to concentrate on his passion, fishing. But he was coaxed out of retirement at the age of 70 to be recorded by British Pathe in 1932.  Who have now put their entire archive up on YouTube, meaning that we can watch one of the big names of the golden age of Music Hall performing one of his hits. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

Gus Elen - from the Victoria and Albert collection

Gus Elen – from the Victoria and Albert collection

 

It’s A Great Big Shame

August 28, 2015

Week 210 – So Was I

In which our hero – against the express wishes of his wife – goes on a drunken spree with a pal, spends the night in the cells, is landed with a fine by the magistrate… and is totally unrepentant. It would be worth learning just for the classic final line. But as an added bonus you also get to sing

Old Brown said “Go and boil your head!”

which is not a line I’ve encountered in any other songs.

The song is in Roy Palmer’s A Taste of Ale, and it’s one of the pieces included on the Magpie Lane CD brought out to accompany the book.

It was written by the British stage actor and silent film star Arthur Lennard (1867-1954) published in B. Mocatta & Co’s Second Comic Annual (exact date unknown – late 19th century).

The song has been collected a couple of times in oral tradition – by Fred Hamer in Cornwall, and by Sam Steele from Charlie Giddings in Cambridgshire. In fact you can hear Charlie Giddings singing the song on the Veteran CD Heel and Toe (although I have to confess that this is one item in the Veteran catalogue I don’t own, and have never heard).

I dare say that there were actually many more country entertainers who had this in their repertoires, but it’s not the sort of thing that folk song collectors would have been interested in at one time. Certainly those of Cecil Sharp’s generation would not have given it a second thought. And while I’m glad that collectors such as Mike Yates and John Howson have taken a much more open-minded  approach to their work, I can’t say I really blame Sharp et. al. for ignoring songs like this. After all, even at the time of Sharp’s death, this song was probably no more than 25 years old. So collecting it then would have been comparable to collecting, say, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ today. In Sharp’s pre-war heyday, it might have been more analogous to a modern day collector making a field recording of that X-factor wannabe’s ballad of choice ‘You Raise Me Up’!

 

So Was I

August 6, 2015

Week 207 – Now All You Lads / Lord Rothschild / Old Green River

Three unrelated song fragments, none of which is long enough to deserve an entry of its own.

‘Now All You Lads’ is from the Copper Family. The song has its own Roud number but the first half of the song is normally found as part of Roud 1572, the ‘Brisk Young Bachelor’ family of songs. This is sometimes sung as a slightly comic (if misogynistic) piece, but in other versions is quite dark – that’s certainly the case in what is probably the best known version, Martin Carthy / the Albion Country Band’s ‘I Was a Young Man’. In Rottingdean, however, it served as Jim Copper’s passport to a free pint of beer: the notes on the Copper Family website say

This was the shortest song Jim knew and he had developed a terrific speed in the chorus “Twenty, eighteen, etc.” and thereby frequently qualified for the free pint of beer offered by the landlord of the local inn to the first man to sing a song.

Elsewhere it might also have served as a way of avoiding having to pay in a “Sing, Say or Pay” session. Charlie Bridger from Stone-in-Oxney in Kent sang me an example which he remembered being used for this purpose by one old boy who only knew the one song:

I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it was narrow
I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel it went round

Now All You Lads

 

I learned ‘Lord Rothschild’ from Mike Waterson’s eponymous 1977 LP. Recently I heard a recording of him singing it at Sidmouth, circa 1988. In the intervening years he must either have discovered – or made up – additional verses to the song; having learned his original two verses more or less without trying, I’ve stuck to those.

Lord Rothschild

 

Bob Davenport sang ‘Old Green River’ on the Bob Davenport & The Rakes LP, 1977. Its full title is ‘I’ve Been Floating Down the Old Green River’, and it merits a Wikipedia entry. From where I learn that it was

a 1915 song with words by Bert Kalmar and music by Joe Cooper.

The song is sung from the point of view of a husband who has to explain to his wife why he stayed out until 4:30 in the morning. The tag line in the lyric is:

I had to drink the whole Green River dry
To get back home to you.

The song is a play on words, as Green River was a popular brand of whisky at the time.

The popular vocalist Billy Murray recorded the song for Victor Records in 1915.

And indeed you can listen to that 1915 recording, played on a 1905 Victor Type II Talking machine, on YouTube. There’s quite a lot more to it than the chorus which I learned from Bob Davenport. And the words aren’t the same! Oh well, it’s an aural tradition.

Old Green River

November 8, 2014

Week 168 – The Fellow Who Played the Trombone

Jimmy Knights. Photo by Keith Summers? from Musical Traditions.

Jimmy Knights. Photo by Keith Summers? from Musical Traditions.

More smutty innuendo from East Anglia.

I think I first heard this sung in the early 1980s by Dave Townsend, although I remember that Ramsbottom, who were going at around the same time, also used to do it. I learned the song, as I assume Dave had done, from the Topic LP Sing, Say and Play – a companion album to The Earl Soham Slog, featuring traditional songs and dance music from Suffolk recorded by Keith Summers.

The singer of this song was Jimmy ‘Holy Jim’ Knights, born in 1880 in the village of Debach, and  recorded by Keith in 1975 at his home in Little Glenham. You can read about Jimmy in Chapter 4 of Sing, Say or Pay, Keith’s survey of East Suffolk Country Music, reprinted on the Musical Traditions website. And you can hear Keith’s recordings on the British Library Sounds website. The songs available include two recordings of ‘The Fellow Who Played the Trombone’, and there are interviews with the singer – then well into his nineties but sounding very much full of life. Go to http://sounds.bl.uk/Search and search for Jimmy (‘Holy Jim’) Knights.

The song itself was apparently written in 1896 by the music hall performer Walter Kino.

The Fellow Who Played the Trombone

January 11, 2014

Week 125 – Old Brown’s Daughter

A song from my favourite traditional singer, Walter Pardon, and one which I’ve been neglecting for far too long.

At the Traditional Song Forum Broadside Day at Cecil Sharp House a couple of years ago I was surprised to find that this song (albeit with a completely different tune) is very popular in Newfoundland – indeed is regarded by many Newfies as a local composition. In fact it is a British music hall song written by the George W. Hunt (1839-1904) and sung on the halls by Alfred ‘The Great’ Vance;  this Mudcat thread throws a lot of light on the song’s origins.

Vance's New Song Of Old Brown's Daughter - from the EFDSS Full English archive

Vance’s New Song Of Old Brown’s Daughter – from the EFDSS Full English archive

I remember the suggestion being made that it might be possible to date the song by the use of the word “galvanised” in the third verse, but actually I think that’s a red herring. Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments in the second half of the eighteenth century, and it was in 1771 that he discovered that the muscles of dead frogs could be made to twitch by applying a spark of electrical current. The OED has the word ‘galvanized’ being used in this literal sense as early as 1802 (“The heat is likewise increased in the part which is galvanised.”) and 1820 (“The lungs of the galvanized rabbit had some blotches on their surface”) – both examples from The Medical and Physical Journal; I also rather like Sydney Smith’s “Galvanise a frog, don’t galvanise a tiger”  from 1825.

As for the metaphorical use of the word, the earliest known use seems to be from Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, from 1853 “Her approach always galvanized him to new and spasmodic life”.

The song is almost certainly later than that. Based on the last line – “By jingo next election I will put up as MP” – I’d always thought that it probably dated from the time of the 1884 Representation of the People Act, which gave the vote for the first time to (some of) the rural working class. But I was forgetting that, although Walter Pardon was a rural singer, this song is almost certainly from a more urban milieu. So a better bet would seem to be the Representation of the People Act of 1867. That gave the vote to some urban / industrial working men for the first time, and changes which followed in its wake made it (theoretically) possible for working men to enter Parliament. The first two working class MPs, Thomas Burt and Alexander MacDonald, both miners’ leaders, were elected (for Morpeth and Stafford respectively) in 1874.

In fact, evidence is given on that Mudcat thread mentioned above, that this song predates working men actually being sent to Parliament – there’s a reference to it in Vance’s Last Great Hits in Era Magazine, Sunday December 4th 1870. So at that stage, I suppose, the idea of a working chap becoming an MP was not an impossibility, but still something so unlikely as to be faintly preposterous. That’s the sense I get from the last verse of the song, in any case.

Walter Pardon learned the song – and it’s worth noting that the tune is different not only from the Newfoundland version, but also from that on the printed sheet music – from his uncle, Billy Gee “who, in his turn, learned it from a local man at one of the regular singing sessions following an Agricultural Workers Union meeting in North Walsham, Norfolk some time around the end of the 19th century” (thanks to Jim Carroll, for that, via Mudcat). It was included on – indeed it provided the title for – Walter’s first LP, A Proper Sort. Both that, and his other record on Leader, Our Side of the Baulk, have of course been unavailable for many years. Most of the songs on them have been made available through other collectors’ recordings on CDs on Topic and Rod Stradling’s Musical Traditions label. But ‘Old Brown’s Daughter’ never seems to have made it onto CD. Perhaps Bill Leader and Peter Bellamy were the only people to have recorded Walter singing it.

Old Brown's Daughter - sheet music from the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music

Old Brown’s Daughter – sheet music from the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music

Old Brown’s Daughter

August 10, 2013

Week 103 – Petition Of The Pigs In Kent

“An humble Petition of the Pigs, to restore their ancient Privilege of foraging in the Woods during the Acorn Season”

I recently spent a happy afternoon digitising some of my old vinyl LPs. Among them were three albums by Tundra – the duo of Doug and Sue Hudson – who were superstars on the Kent folk scene in the late seventies and early eighties. Their live performances were always very entertaining, while on record the musical arrangements were enhanced by the presence of various members of Fiddler’s Dram and the Oyster Ceilidh Band.

This song appeared on what I think was their first “proper” LP, A Kentish Garland. Lord knows how they stumbled upon this little gem, hidden away in the November 1809 edition of the Sporting Magazine. Or, to give it its full title, The Sporting Magazine, Or Monthly Calendar of the Transactions of The Turf, The Chase, And every other Diversion Interesting to the Man of Pleasure Enterprize and Spirits.

This piece is included in a section headed

POETRY.

THE HIGH COURT OF DIANA.

and indeed it takes a rare poetic genius to think of rhyming “before ‘em” with “decorum”.

The pigs’ complaint is occasioned by the ending of the ancient custom of Pannage as a result of the spread of Enclosure in the County. It is unclear whether the author is, beneath his satire, genuinely complaining about the ending of Pannage, or parodying the complaints of those protesting against Enclosure.

Many of Tundra’s songs were taken from broadsides and other printed sources, which gave the words but no tunes. Sometimes these words would be fitted to a traditional tune, but I assume that in many cases Doug and/or Sue composed a suitable tune – I imagine that was the case with this song.

I’d not sung the song for many years, but listening to the LP again after a similarly lengthy interval, I remembered how much I used to enjoy singing it; and was pleased to find that it only took a couple of run-throughs for the words to come back to me.

I’ll end by quoting from the original album sleevenotes

Porcine plaisanterie at its peak! It may seem trivial to you or me but foraging for acorns in the woods was a basic pleasure of life for pigs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Imagine their disgruntlement at the removal of this their ancient right. The question is – who originally wrote the song? Was it Shakespeare, or – Bacon?

Petition Of The Pigs In Kent

September 30, 2012

Week 58 – There Was Four-and-Twenty Strangers / The Irish hop-pole puller

Monument to the hop-pickers who died in the tragedy, Hadlow Churchyard, from http://tonbridgecollectables.com

Monument to the hop-pickers who died in the tragedy, Hadlow Churchyard, from http://tonbridgecollectables.com

Two contrasting songs connected with hop-picking.

I learned ‘There Was Four-and-Twenty Strangers’ from Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s Travellers’ songs from England and Scotland, where it is given as ‘The Hop-Pickers’ Tragedy’. They recorded the song from the traveller Nelson Ridley, in a municipal caravan-site at Harlow New Town, Essex.

Their notes say

The event described here occurred on 20th October 1853, when a horse-drawn brake carrying a party of hop-pickers plunged over Hartlake Bridge into the River Medway. The memorial in Hadlow graveyard says that thirty people, including several Travellers, were drowned.

They also say that the singer, Nelson Ridley, was born in Wineham, Kent, and travelled mainly in Kent and Surrey. At least, I think it says “Wineham” – I can’t actually read my handwriting – but if so, that would mean he was born in West Sussex. Not having the book to hand, I can’t check.

It would seem that the story has survived in folk memory, amongst travellers at least, and the song has been recorded from a number of travellers with Kentish connections – you can hear versions by Jasper Smith and Ambrose Cooper at http://www.bbc.co.uk/kent/voices/hartlake/song.shtml

(hint: these sound files are in Real Audio format – but if you don’t want Real Player taking over your computer, download the free Real Alternative which plays them just as well)

That BBC Kent site appears to have been prompted by a memorial service held at St Mary’s Church, Hadlow on the 19th October 2003 – the 150th anniversary of the accident.

There is a very full account of the tragedy at http://tonbridgecollectables.com/page23.php

By contrast, ‘The Irish hop-pole puller’ is a comic piece which I learned from George Spicer (born in Liitle Chart, just outside my home town of Ashford, Kent). As I recall, he had it from Pop Maynard, who had indeed worked as hop-pole puller. You can hear Pop singing it on the British Library website– although he dissolves in a coughing fit before he can get to the conclusion. Hunton, mentioned in the song, is between Maidstone and Paddock Wood, very much in a hop-growing area. I’ve never been to Hunton, however from what I can see on the web, “The Bull” was in East Street, but is no longer a pub.

I have a feeling that my friend Adrian will tell me I sing this all wrong (he has done so in the past!). But since he freely admits he never finds time to visit this blog, I might just get away with it.

There Was Four-and-Twenty Strangers

The Irish hop-pole puller

August 19, 2012

Week 52 – The Crockery Ware

Here is my 52nd weekly post – completing the first year of the blog =coinciding with the week in which I reach the grand old age of 52. It’s almost as if I’d planned it all (I didn’t).

I learned this song from Roy Palmer’s Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs. It was recorded in 1976 by Mike Yates, from Fred Cottenham, at Chiddingstone in Kent. Mike mistakenly gave the singer’s name as “Fred Cottingham”, and this was repeated both in Roy’s book, and when the recording was included on the Veteran Tapes cassette The Horkey Load Volume 1. However Fred’s surname was definitely Cottenham: you can read about his life, and his singing father “Needle” Cottenham, in an article by George Frampton for Musical Traditions – Fred Cottenham: The ‘Crockery Ware’ Man.

The “crockery ware” referred to in this song, incidentally, is the chamber pot, aka the gazunder.

The Crockery Ware - ballad in the Bodleian Library collection

The Crockery Ware – ballad in the Bodleian Library collection


The Crockery Ware