Posts tagged ‘Crime & punishment’

May 17, 2020

Week 289 – The Ghost Ship

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I have rather an ambivalent attitude towards Peter Bellamy’s singing. But I can’t deny that hearing his album The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate at the age of 17 or 18 had quite an effect on me. I learned several songs from the LP – certainly ‘The Female Drummer’ and ‘Saint Stephen’. And at a time when my singing style was heavily influenced by those I heard on record (Martin Carthy, Mike Waterson, Tim Hart, Cathal McConnell) I couldn’t help picking up some of Bellamy’s vocal tricks too. I learned this one with the aid of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Singing Island – an important book for me, as it was one of the few books of folk song in my local library.

It was quite a few years later before I heard the song sung by Bellamy’s source, the Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner. That was on the Topic CD Now Is The Time For Fishing, which features recordings made by MacColl and Seeger between 1958 and 1960. It’s a great record, fully deserving of its classic status. But in fact you can get all of the 1958-60 recordings of Sam Larner made by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker on the award-winning Musical Traditions double CD Cruising Round Yarmouth. If you root around on the Musical Traditions website you’ll find a Downloads page, where you can buy a copy for the price of a pint (actually less than the cost of a pint, if you’re used to London and SE England prices – and anyway, all the pubs are shut at the moment).

I’m very clear that I learned this from Peter Bellamy, not Sam Larner. Indeed there are certain points in the song where – although I’ve probably not listened to Bellamy’s recording of the song more than half a dozen times in the last 30 years – I feel I have to consciously restrain myself, to stop myself throwing in a Bellamyesque yelp. But having just listened to my recording alongside that on The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate I think I might finally have arrived at my own way of singing the song.

The Ghost Ship

June 16, 2018

Week 275 – Death of Poor Bill Brown

There were two distinct ‘Death of Bill Brown’ songs put out by the broadside printers, although both would appear to have been based on an incident which took place at Brightside near Sheffield in 1769. You’ll find details on the Yorkshire Garland Group’s page for ‘The Death of Poor Bill Brown’, along with a recording of this song by the fine Yorkshire singer Will Noble. An example of the earlier version of the song is this printing of ‘Bill Brown’ by Harkness of Preston, put out between 1840 and 1866. The version shown below, which is much closer to the version which survived in oral tradition, was printed in London by H.P. Such between 1863 and 1885.

Poor Bill Brown, printed by Such between 1863 and 1885. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Poor Bill Brown, printed by Such between 1863 and 1885. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Like Will Noble I learned this song from the singing of Arthur Howard (1902-1982), although unlike Will I learned it from a record, not in person. Arthur Howard was a sheep farmer from a long line of South Yorkshire sheep farmers. Born at Mount Farm, near Holme, a few miles south-west of Holmfirth, he later lived and worked on a farm at Hazlehead near Penistone. He was a leading light among the singers of the Holme Valley Beagles, as heard on the Leader LP A Fine Hunting Day. This song, which he learned from his father, appears on Arthur Howard’s solo LP, Merry Mountain Child, released on Ian Russell’s Hill and Dale label in 1981. It was later included on the EFDSS CD A Century of Song.

The album cover shown below is pinched from Reinhard Zierke’s Mainly Norfolk site. I see that his copy, like mine, is signed. I seem to remember that in the early eighties Ian Russell advertised signed copies of the LP in the back of English, Dance & Song. I’m guessing that Reinhard ordered his copy from there, as I did.

Merry Mountain Child LP cover - from Mainly Norfolk

Merry Mountain Child LP cover – from Mainly Norfolk

The recording here is unaccompanied. Back in 1994, I recorded it for Magpie Lane’s second album, Speed the Plough. That arrangement had a typically tasteful guitar accompaniment provided by Pete Acty, with a Northumbrian smallpipes part which I wrote (and was rather pleased with) played by Liz Cooke. If you want a physical copy of that CD, I see there’s one for sale on Discogs.com just now. But you’ll find it cheaper to download from whichever tax-avoiding digital platform you hate the least.

One final note, in the verse that begins “I know the man that shot Bill Brown”, the word “clown” (in the line “I know him well and can tell his clown”) should perhaps be spelled “clowen”. I’ve been reliably informed (by a man who knows the great Graham Metcalfe) that this is a Yorkshire dialect word meaning “clothes”. Knowing this, the rest of the verse makes sense.

Death of Poor Bill Brown

February 11, 2016

Week 234 – Johnny Abourne

Photo of Phoebe Smith by Mike Yates, from the EATMT website.

Tune, title, and words of verse 1 (mostly):  from the great Phoebe Smith, via Mike Yates’ recording on the Topic LP The Travelling Songster: An Anthology from Gypsy Singers.

All other words: from  ‘Bothy Songs & Ballads’ by John Ord.

Phoebe Smith’s title, ‘Johnny Abourne’, is a mishearing or corruption of the original Scottish title ‘Jamie Raeburn’.  Similarly, she consistently sang ‘Canada’  rather than the perhaps unfamiliar word ‘Caledonia’.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘Jamie Raeburn’ states that

Jamie Raeburn is reputed to have been a baker in Glasgow before being sentenced for petty theft, although he was allegedly innocent, and then sent out to the colonies as punishment…

In Robert Ford’s ‘Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland: With Many Old and Familiar Melodies’ (1901) he writes the following in relation to the song:

The above was long a popular street song, all over Scotland, and sold readily in penny sheet form. The hero of the verses, in whose mouth the words are put, I recently learned on enquiry, through the columns of the Glasgow Evening Times, was a baker to trade, who was sentenced to banishment for theft, more than sixty years ago. His sweetheart, Catherine Chandlier, thus told the story of his misfortunes: We parted at ten o’clock and Jamie was in the police office at 20 minutes past ten. Going home, he met an acquaintance of his boyhood, who took him in to treat him for auld langsyne. Scarcely had they entered when the detectives appeared and apprehended them. Searched, the stolen property was found. They were tried and banished for life to Botany Bay. Jamie was innocent as the unborn babe, but his heartless companion spoke not a word of his innocence.

You’ll find numerous recordings of the song from Scottish tradition at http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk

I’m always amazed that this version, with it’s wonderful tune, is not more widely sung.

Jamie Raeburn: broadside printed by James Kay, Glasgow. Probable period of publication: 1840-1850. From the National Library of Scotland Word on the Street site.

Jamie Raeburn: broadside printed by James Kay, Glasgow. Probable period of publication: 1840-1850. From the National Library of Scotland Word on the Street site.

Johnny Abourne

January 22, 2016

Week 231 – Georgie

When a singer knows upwards of 250 folk songs, you might reasonably expect his or her repertoire to include certain classic ballads – say, ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’, ‘Banks of Green Willow’, ‘The Unquiet Grave’ and ‘Georgie’. All widely sung on the folk scene, and widely encountered in British and American tradition. Well this time last year, I didn’t have any of those songs in my repertoire. With ‘Banks of Green Willow’ the problem has been – and continues to be – deciding exactly which of the many fine collected versions to learn. I do have a version of   ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’ lined up  to learn – indeed last January I was confidently saying that it would be the next song I learned. It wasn’t, and I’m wary of making any promises about quite when I might knuckle down and get it under my belt. But in the spring I did at least put together a version of ‘Georgie’ and have been singing it often enough since then to begin feeling at home with the song.

I found the melody some twenty years ago when scrolling through the copies of Vaughan Williams’ MSS held in the library named in his honour. In those days, these copies were available only on microfilm, whereas now, of course, you can get them all online. I was looking for songs RVW had collected in Kent – specifically those he noted from Mr and Mrs Truell of Gravesend. This song is the next one in the MS.

There’s a lack of clarity about its provenance. The page is headed “Kent Songs” but the source of the song is given as a Mr Jeffries, at Mitcham Fair (in Surrey). In the VWML index record the Place collected reads “England : Surrey : Mitcham CHECK” so clearly some doubt remains. I suppose Mr Jeffries may have been attending the annual fair, but have hailed from Kent. With no other information recorded about the singer, I guess we will never know.

Typically, Vaughan Williams noted just the tune and one verse – in this case verse 9 (verse 5 in my reconstruction)

He stole neither sheep nor cow
Nor oxen has he any
But he has stolen six of the king’s fat deer
He sold them to Lord Daney (Davey?)

Typically, also, I can’t quite decipher Rafe’s handwriting.

Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.

Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.

I have assembled a set of words from various oral and printed sources:

  • The first two verses – including the placing of the action on “a Whitsun Monday” and the “pretty little boy” line – come from a broadside printed by Armstrong in Liverpool in the 1820s.
  • Most of the other verses come from a Such ballad, from later in the nineteenth century, or the version collected by Henry Hammond from Sergeant Fudge, at East Combe Lydeard in Somerset.
  • The “lawyers, lawyers” verse meanwhile is based on an American version, collected by Vance Randolph from Georgia Dunaway, Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1942.

You’ll find historical background to the ballad on Mudcat and the Mainly Norfolk site. Basically, there are two similar but distinct ballads: the Scottish ‘Geordie’, where the hero’s wife successfully saves him from the gallows, and the English ‘Georgie’ (or ‘Geordie’), where her efforts are in vain. The songs may or may not have been based on actual historical incidents. But, as with Shakespeare, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, the love and grief felt by the female protagonist are real enough.

Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Georgie

September 5, 2015

Week 211 – The Jealous Sailor

There’s a long history of poets and songwriters, from Robbie Burns through W.B. Yeats and Ewan MacColl to Bob Dylan, writing verse inspired by, based on or adapted from traditional songs. In the British folk revival, there have been many attempts to write new songs “in a traditional style”. Often the results are little more than pastiche; or else sound less like a traditional folk song, and more like the kind of nineteenth century broadside ballad which would never have entered the tradition in a million years. Some have succeeded however – Roger Watson and Martin Graebe spring to mind – in creating new songs which retain the structure and form of traditional song, but have a value in their own right. I’d say Richard Thompson also succeeded in doing this, with his ‘Little Beggar Girl’, while Chris Wood’s ‘Hollow Point’ makes no attempt to sound like an old song, but shows how traditional lyrics can be woven into a powerful new composition. And Dylan, to this day, weaves snatches of traditional song lyrics into his compositions.

But to mind, this song, written by Bob Davenport and set to a traditional tune (‘The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite’), comes closest to sounding like a traditional song – and being a really good song in its own right. I learned it from the LP 1977 by Bob Davenport and the Rakes, released on Topic in… oh, you’re ahead of me.

The Jealous Sailor

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

October 17, 2014

Week 165 – Who owns the game?

I first met Mike Yates in April 1984 in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. We both happened to be visiting the library, and were introduced by Malcolm Taylor the Librarian, who knew that I had “discovered” a traditional singer, Charlie Bridger. A week or two later, on St George’s Day, Mike came down to Kent to record Charlie at his home in Stone-in-Oxney. Over lunch at the Ferry Inn, Mike was enthusing about the recordings he had been making in Suffolk, and in particular about this song, which would be the title track of ‘Who owns the game?’, an LP released later in 1984 on Mike’s Home-Made Music label.

This song certainly has a home-made feel to it. Mike recorded it from Fred ‘Pip’ Whiting, of Kenton in Suffolk – actually better known as a fiddle-player than a singer – and it has so far only ever been collected from Fred. Fred learned most of his songs in local pubs; this one he picked up in Burstall Half Moon.

The song raises a perfectly reasonable question. It also charts the lessening severity over times of the punishment meted out to those found guilty of poaching: grandfather – transported; father – two or three months’ oakum picking; singer – fined.

You can hear a 1980 recording of the song made by Carole Pegg in The Victoria, Earl Soham on the British Library website – but only, I’m afraid, if you are affiliated with a UK Further or Higher Education establishment. [Edit 18/10/2014] The LP ‘Who owns the game?’ has unfortunately never seen any kind of digital release, as far as I’m aware. A shame, as it has a lot of good performances of both songs and tunes. The LP Who owns the game? has been released on CD by Veteran, and is well worth hearing both for the songs and the tunes. There will be more songs learned from the record making an appearance in future weeks on this blog.

Who owns the game?

June 28, 2014

Week 149 – The Isle of France

‘The Isle of France’ was collected by H.E.D. Hammond from Joseph Elliott of Todber, Dorset. It concerns a transported convict who is on his way home at the end of his sentence, but is shipwrecked on the island of Mauritius. l’Île de France was the name given to Mauritius until it passed from French to British control in 1810.

I discovered the song while looking for something else in the Hammond MSS, which at the time were available only on microfilm at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, but which are now of course included in the Full English archive.

The Isle of France, from the Hammond Collection, via the EFDSS Full English Archive.

The Isle of France, from the Hammond Collection, via the EFDSS Full English Archive.

Joseph Elliott had a number of songs with not-the-usual tune, which it seems he picked up during his time in Canada:

In about 1850, when he was around 19 years old, he signed on as a fisherman in the Newfoundland cod fishing industry, sailing out from Dartmouth with about 60 other men (mainly men from Dorset).  He was out there for 3 or 4 years, and told the Hammond brothers that that was where he learned his songs.

(thanks to John Shaw via the Musical Traditions site for this information)

 

The song appeared frequently on ballad sheets – check out these versions at Ballads Online.

The Isle of France: broadside ballad printed by H. Such of London between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The Isle of France: broadside ballad printed by H. Such of London between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

I recorded the song with Magpie Lane on our CD The Robber Bird. Below you will find a live recording of us performing it last year at the Red Lion Folk Club in Birmingham.

 

The Isle of France

Magpie Lane:

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Jon Fletcher – guitar
Sophie Thurman – cello
Mat Green – fiddle

Recorded at the Red Lion Folk Club, Birmingham, 6th March 2013.

June 14, 2014

Week 147 – The Sheffield Apprentice

A bit of a classic this: really good story line (young man puts love before riches, is falsely accused, and faces a sticky end) and a fine modal tune. What’s not to like?

I had the tune from Joseph Leaning, via a 1908 cylinder recording made by Percy Grainger at Brigg in Lincolnshire, via the iconic 1970s Leader LP, Unto Brigg Fair.

It is not unusual for songs from the oral tradition to have incomplete or confused sets of words, and to then resort to printed sources to fill in the gaps. But the exact opposite was true in this case – Mr Leaning’s version seemed to me to be just too wordy (maybe he learned the song from a printed broadside, which have a tendency to be prolix). So I’ve used a more concise set of words from Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl’s Singing Island. Those words are credited to William Miller of Stirling, who I think I’m right in saying was Ewan MacColl’s Dad.

 

Sheffield 'prentice - broadside ballad printed by Harkness of Preston, from the Bodleian collection.

Sheffield ‘prentice – broadside ballad printed by Harkness of Preston, from the Bodleian collection.

 

An earlier recording of me singing this song can be found on my 1990 cassette Love, Death and the Cossack.

The Sheffield Apprentice

April 5, 2014

Week 137 – Van Diemen’s Land

Learned from the singing of Walter Pardon, via his debut LP, A Proper Sort. And it’s a particularly fine performance by Walter as well – you can hear the same recording, made in 1974 by Bill Leader and Peter Bellamy, on Farewell, My Own Dear Native Land (The Voice of the People Volume 4).

Van Diemen’s Land, in case anyone is unaware, was the former name for Tasmania. I retain Walter Pardon’s pronunciation of “Die-man” rather than the more usual “Dee-man”. There are actually two related, but distinct, songs which share the title Van Diemen’s Land. Roy Palmer believes that this one – Roud 221, originally Young Henry the Poacher – may have been a sequel to the original Van Diemen’s Land,  Roud 519. Writing in the Folk Music Journal in 1976, Roy argued that both songs were prompted by two major trials of poachers in Warwickshire, in 1829. This followed the enactment of  a new law in 1828 which stated that “if three men were found in a wood, and one of them carried a gun or bludgeon, all were liable to be transported for fourteen years” (FMJ Vol 3 No 2, p161). This ballad in particular, Roy says, appears to have been influenced by the events in Warwickshire.

Young Henry the poacher - ballad sheet printed by H Such between 1863 and 1885; from the Bodleian collection via Ballads Online.

Young Henry the poacher – ballad sheet printed by H Such between 1863 and 1885; from the Bodleian collection via Ballads Online.

I have a very distinct memory of singing this song at “One for Ron”, an event held to celebrate the life of Sussex singer Ron Spicer, a year or so after his death. There was a massive singaround in the afternoon – it must have gone on for around 3 hours, but there were so many singers present that hardly anyone got the chance to sing more than one song. When I got to the chorus of this one, I started to sing it in my normal way

Young men, all now beware
Lest you are drawn into a snare

But I quickly realised that a stronger force was at work in the room. In the far corner sat the mighty Gordon Hall – a big man, with a big voice. Gordon never liked to rush a song, and his way of singing the chorus was more like

Young men, a—-ll now bewa——re [pause]
Lest you are drawn int–o a sna——-re

There was nothing to do but go with the flow, and sing it at Gordon’s pace. Which was, clearly, the right way to sing it!

Van Diemen’s Land