Posts tagged ‘Death’

March 25, 2016

Week 240 – Sleep on beloved

I first sang this at a West Gallery workshop at the Sidmouth Festival, circa 1995, led by Gordon Ashman. I then learned it from the 1997 collection West Gallery Harmony, which Gordon edited with his wife Isabella. Gordon was clearly very fond of the hymn, as it’s stretching things really to call it a West Gallery piece. The words were written by the English novelist and poet Sarah Doudney. First published as a poem in 1871, the words were then set to music by Ira D. Sankey (of Sankey & Moody fame) and included in his Sacred Songs and Solos (first published in 1873).

Sankey - Sacred Songs and Solos

Sankey – Sacred Songs and Solos

Such was the popularity of Sacred Songs and Solos that it grew progressively in size, from a mere 24 pages in 1873, until by 1903 it contained 1200 songs. When you see them on the printed page – well, when I see them on the page, at any rate – most Sankey & Moody hymns appear to be dreadful nineteenth century sentimental slush, with page after page of hymns with exclamation marks in the title: ‘Closer, Lord to Thee!’, ‘Then shall my Heart keep Singing!’, ‘I am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus!’, ‘Resting in the Everlasting Arms!’, ‘Ring the Bells of Heaven!’. But they were immensely popular at the time, at least in part, I’m sure, because so many of them provided the opportunity for a jolly good sing. The expanded editions included many popular pieces not written by Sankey or Moody – ‘Bringing in the Sheaves’ and ‘Nearer, my God to thee’, for example – but I’m sure the book contains many other lesser-known belters. And fortunately some people on the folk scene – notably members of the Waterson:Carthy/Swan Arcade/Blue Murder/Coope Boyes & Simpson axis – are able to sort the wheat from the chaff: the 1200 pieces include such gems as ‘Will there be any Stars in my Crown’, ‘Only Remembered’, and ‘Deliverance will come’.

The book, and the songs it contained, were not only popular in America and Britain, it appears. Here’s Martin Carthy, from the sleevenotes to the first Waterson:Carthy album, via this song’s entry on the Mainly Norfolk website:

In the 1960s, the Incredible String Band renamed a song called I Bid You Goodnight which they learned from Jody Stecher’s recordings of the great Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence and his family, the Pinder family, and the song became, for some folkies, one of those great standards. A year or two ago John Howson visited Staithes to record the Fisherman’s Choir, and was accompanied by Maggie Hunt who, at the same time, was interviewing the individuals involved. During conversations, a Mr Willie Wright sang a snatch of the Sankey hymn Sleep On Beloved which he described as a lowering down song at funerals, and which was clearly the same song as I Bid You Goodnight but in an earlier form, and when Norma heard it, she went to see Willie, who kindly proved her with the other verses. When we sang the song to Jody Stecher, he was enormously pleased, not least because its function as a funeral song in the Bahamian fishing community was identical to that in its North Yorkshire counterpart.

You can hear Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family singing ‘I Bid You Goodnight’ on YouTube (as well as numerous other versions, by everyone from The Grateful Dead to The Dixie Hummingbirds).

Sankey - The Christian's Goodnight

Sankey – The Christian’s Goodnight

Sleep on beloved

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

November 8, 2015

Week 220 – The Man He Killed

This is not the song I had intended to post this week. Indeed, I had never heard it before last Saturday night. But it formed part of Billy Bragg’s set at the EFDSS 80th Birthday Bash for Shirley Collins, and it struck me as exactly right for Remembrance Sunday.

So I got the words from the Poetry Foundation website and, although I won’t claim that I’ve quite learned them by heart yet, I think this may well be a song which finds a permanent place in my repertoire.

‘The Man He Killed’ was written by Thomas Hardy in 1902, at the time of the Boer War, and first published in his 1909 collection Time’s Laughingstocks and Other Verses. Billy Bragg set the words to the tune of the traditional song, ‘The Snows they melt the soonest’, and performed it at various events – including on the Left Field Stage at Glastonbury – in 2014, commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War.

A British soldier giving a wounded German prisoner some water to drink, near La Boisselle, during the Battle of the Somme, 3 July 1916. Photographed by the Daily Mirror’s photographer Ernest Brooks.

A British soldier giving a wounded German prisoner some water to drink, near La Boisselle, during the Battle of the Somme, 3 July 1916. Photographed by the Daily Mirror’s photographer Ernest Brooks.

 

A wounded German soldier lighting a cigarette for a wounded British soldier at a British field hospital during the Battle of Épehy, near the end of the First World War (1918). Photo: Lt. Thomas K. Aitken, British Army photographer/Imperial War Museums.

A wounded German soldier lighting a cigarette for a wounded British soldier at a British field hospital during the Battle of Épehy, near the end of the First World War (1918). Photo: Lt. Thomas K. Aitken, British Army photographer/Imperial War Museums.

British soldiers helping wounded German prisoners on the Western Front.

British soldiers helping wounded German prisoners on the Western Front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

German soldiers dressing a wounded British soldier's wounds

German soldiers dressing a wounded British soldier’s wounds

 

The fraternising of troops in Belgium on Christmas Day 1914. Group of German soldiers with two Englishmen, one in great coat and one in rear wearing balaclava cap. Photo by R W Turner, from the Imperial War Museum.

“The fraternising of troops in Belgium on Christmas Day 1914. Group of German soldiers with two Englishmen” – can you tell which of these men is fighting in which army? Photo by R W Turner, from the Imperial War Museum.

 

The Man He Killed

July 17, 2015

Week 204 – Dust to Dust

This song was written by John Kirkpatrick, but I learned it from Martin Carthy’s 1971 LP Landfall. The song is written in the extremely rare Locrian mode. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only song I’ve ever heard in that mode. It’s only recently that I’ve got my head round the modes (and I still can’t exactly remember which one’s which). But to check out for yourself what the Locrian sounds like, play a scale on a piano keyboard, starting on a B and using only the white notes. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? And yet, somehow, while there is a certain strangeness about the tune of ‘Dust to Dust’, it doesn’t sound completely outlandish or contrived (and it’s just right for the macabre subject matter of the song). John must still have been quite young when he wrote this piece. Early twenties, I’d guess. I don’t know if there was anything in particular that prompted him to write this, or if it was just an interesting challenge for a budding songwriter. When I learned the song – in my early twenties – I’d had very little exposure to death. As the years roll by, however, we are all inevitably affected by death, and it has become increasingly apparent that, not only has John Kirkpatrick concocted a wonderfully memorable tune, but there’s also a lot of wisdom in the words of this song . My Mum died earlier this year, but she had lived to a fairly ripe old age, was very frail, and had dementia, so her death was a welcome release (indeed a close family friend referred to her funeral as a “joyous celebration”, which is exactly what it was). The deaths that have affected me most deeply have been those of my musical friends, Howard Salt and Dave Parry, both from cancer; and babies Edmund (still-born) and Patrick (born with cystic fibrosis, lived just a few weeks) who both died at a time when we were expecting our second child, and only months after my Dad’s death from cancer. Death come early, death come late… The song’s lyrics draw very heavily, of course, on words from the Anglican funeral service, and other biblical passages. The refrain is from the Order for the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer:

Then, while the earth shall be cast upon the body by some standing by, the Priest shall say, FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

The last verse echoes Ecclesiastes Chapter 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

while the lines

Rich and poor all go the same, I’ll bury you all there is no favour. Don’t spend your life in seeking gain, No gold from death will ever save you

remind me of this wonderful verse from Sternhold and Hopkins’ “Old Version” of Psalm 39

Man walketh like a shade, and doth in vain himself annoy, In getting goods, and cannot tell who shall the same enjoy.

And the whole song (like this traditional song) shares the sentiment of this passage from the Anglican burial service:

When they come to the grave, while the corpse is made ready to be laid into the earth, the Priest shall say, or the Priest and Clerks shall sing: MAN that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death…

When my Dad died, I had been to only a couple of funerals, and had not particularly thought about what to expect. I was brought up sharp when, following behind the coffin, at the entrance to the Church the vicar intoned that passage. The truth contained in it was brought into sharper focus by the rather Gothic language (and not diminished by the fact that, personally, I have no sure and certain hope of eternal life). Twenty years on, at my Mum’s funeral, I don’t recall that passage being used – or if it was, it was in a more modern translation. But really, for the sheer majesty of the words, you can’t beat the Authorised Version.

The Sir John & Elizabeth Smythe memorial, St Mary's Church, Ashford, Kent. Photo from geograph.org.uk

The Sir John & Elizabeth Smythe memorial, St Mary’s Church, Ashford, Kent. Photo from geograph.org.uk

Dust to Dust

July 4, 2015

Week 202 – Six Dukes

I learned this song from Maud Karpeles’ book, The Crystal Spring Volume 2, a copy of which I received as an eighteenth birthday gift from Cathy Lesurf and Will Ward. The song was just one of a number of good pieces collected by Cecil Sharp from the inmates of Marylebone Workhouse. This one was sung to him by William Atkinson on 19th October 1908.

You can view Sharp’s original notes on the EFDSS Full English archive. When the song was published in the 1914 Journal of the Folk-Song Society he wrote

Mr. Atkinson was born in York and plied his trade of silversmith in Sheffield and London. He learned this song from a shop-mate, Mr. Frank Habershon, a native of Sheffield, who regarded the song as a “family relic.” Mr. Habershon learned it from his father, who, in turn, had had it from his father. The song was always sung at weddings and other important family gatherings.

– no doubt because it’s such a cheerful piece!

 

Often known as ‘Six Dukes Went A-Fishing’, in The Crystal Spring it is given the title ‘The Duke of Bedford’. The mention of Woburn, the family seat of the Dukes of Bedford since 1547, appears to link the story firmly with that branch of the aristocracy. And a note by Lucy Broadwood in the 1914 Journal attempts to make sense of the “weird rush of waters” in the last verse:

It is possible that “Wo-burn,” which is in a neighbourhood where “woe-waters” suddenly flow – to the alarm of the superstitious – may have given rise to the idea that a bursting forth of a “woe-burn” was prophetic of disaster to the Duke of Bedford’s family.

But honesty forces her to admit that

The distinguished member of the family to whom I submitted the ballad cannot connect the story or the superstition with any of his kin.

 

Indeed, she concludes that the song as collected may be the combination of two separate ballads, and that the original had nothing to do with any historical Duke of Bedford. Various other nobles have been suggested, but on this Mudcat thread ballad expert Bruce Olson says quite categorically that “This is a traditional version of a broadside ballad on the death of the Duke of Grafton (son of Charles II and Barbara Villers) killed while storming Cork in 1690”. As so often, the same thread has a really valuable contribution by Malcolm Douglas, summarising the various versions, early ballad sources, and linking to sources of further information.

When I first learned this, as an impatient youth, I thought the simple 8-bar melody somewhat repetitive, and added a second strain. I’ve retained that, but just in verses 4, 8 and 10.

A few years ago I came across this song while browsing through the copy of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Words in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. I was pleased to see that Sharp had collected a couple of verses omitted from The Crystal Spring.

The courts of his father
No longer will ring
With the clink of his gold spurs
And the twang of bow string.

In chase and in tournament
A valiant knight,
Who kept his escutcheon
With honour most bright.

Initially I thought I’d have to learn these – one does not lightly pass up the chance to sing the word “escutcheon” in a folk song. But it didn’t take me long to decide that actually Ms Karpeles’ editorial judgment had been sound. The two verses don’t add anything, they’re not particularly singable, and they seemed to add an air of nineteenth century fake medievalism to the song, which had not previously been apparent. Sharp wrote

I suspect that the earlier stanzas are traditional but that the concluding four were either added by some member of the Habershon family or derived from a broadside of recent date.

And in the case of the two omitted verses I’ll have to agree with Lucy Broadwood’s comments (actually pertaining to the whole of the second half of the song)

the stamp of the early nineteenth century is on their matter and phraseology, and they are full of absurd anachronisms.

Six Dukes, as collected from William Atkinson. Cecil Sharp's 'Folk Tunes' via the Full English archive.

Six Dukes, as collected from William Atkinson. Cecil Sharp’s ‘Folk Tunes’ via the Full English archive.

 

Six Dukes

May 24, 2015

Week 196 – Polly on the Shore

One of the great English songs, learned from Pop Maynard, a singer whose repertoire contained quite a number of great songs. I first heard the song in the late seventies or early eighties on the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England and learned it from there, with assistance from a slim EFDSS pamphlet, The Life and Songs of George Maynard (a reprint of Ken Stubbs’ article in the  1963 Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society). It must have been around the same time that I heard what I still regard as the folk revival’s finest take on the song, that by Martin Carthy on Prince Heathen.

Of course Pop Maynard wasn’t the only singer with this song in his repertoire. When we played together in the trio Saint Monday, Dave Parry used to sing ‘Bold Carter’, a version collected by Vaughan Williams in Norfolk. ‘Bold Carter’ was included in Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, where the notes say

Under the title of ‘The Valiant Sailor’, this first appeared in 1744 as one of ‘three excellent New Songs’ in ‘The Irish Boy’s GARLAND (EDINBURGH, Printed and Sold in Swan Close, a little below the Cross-Well, North-side of the Street’). Through the long period of oral transmission since then the song has kept remarkably close to the same powerful text, and has usually been found with fine, soaring tunes.

 

George 'Pop' Maynard (right) outside the pub at Tinsley Green, Sussex, 1936.  Photo from Keith Summers Collection via the Musical Traditions website.

George ‘Pop’ Maynard (right) outside the pub at Tinsley Green, Sussex, 1936. Photo from Keith Summers Collection via the Musical Traditions website.

Polly on the Shore

January 9, 2015

Week 177 – The trees they do grow high

Tuesday 6th January 2015 was the centenary of the birth of Bob Copper. This anniversary was marked with an article in the Daily Telegraph, while the Sussex brewers Harveys began brewing ‘Copper Ale’ in his honour. And later this month, there’s a day-long celebration of Bob’s life at Cecil Sharp House, in which I’m very pleased to say I will be participating (not least because I’ll be able to pick up a few bottles of the Harveys ale).

As the Telegraph article said, Bob Copper “is rightly hailed as one of the key figures in 20th-century English folk music”. He made a lasting impression on me with his singing, his books, and his stories of country life in days gone by, and the central role which music-making played – for his family and others. He was also a thoroughly nice bloke and decent human being. He always seemed to be good-humoured, always generous in his encouragement and support of other singers.

Back in 1991 or thereabouts, I played the Lewes Saturday Folk Club and Nellie’s at Tonbridge on consecutive nights. After the Lewes gig I was put up by Bob’s next-door neighbour George Wagstaff (another really nice man, sadly no longer with us). George knew that I would want to meet Bob, so he invited him round for a big cooked breakfast. Suitably fortified, straight after breakfast Bob (then in his late seventies) was setting off with John Copper and Jon Dudley on what I think was an annual walking tour of Sussex.

Bob Copper - photo copyright Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine

Bob Copper – photo copyright Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine

I learned this song from Bob’s singing on the Veteran CD When the May is all in Bloom.  It’s not from the family repertoire; rather, Bob learned the song from Seamus Ennis when they were both working as song collectors for the BBC in the 1950s.

 

The trees they do grow high

July 6, 2014

Week 150 – Young girl cut down in her prime

It’s Week 150, and here to celebrate is the song which is number 2 in Steve Roud’s index (bizarrely I don’t currently sing a version of Roud number 1). There are 219 examples listed, but no doubt the number could be much higher. Starting life in the late eighteenth century as a “homilectic street ballad… concerning the death and ceremonial funeral of a soldier “disordered” by a woman” (A.L.Lloyd’s notes, Penguin Book of English Folk Songs) the song has spread all over the English-speaking world, and the expiring principal character has metamorphosed from an Unfortunate Rake or Unfortunate Lad to an Unfortunate Lass, a Sailor Cut Down in his Prime, Dying Airman, Dying Stockman, Cowboy, Gambler… while the location might range from St James’ Hospital, to St James’ Infirmary, down by the Royal Albion, the Banks of the Clyde, Cork City, the Streets of Laredo…

The unfortunate lad, broadside printed by Such between 1863 and 1885, from the Bodleian collection.

The Unfortunate Lad, broadside printed by Such between 1863 and 1885, from the Bodleian collection.

The very first version I heard would have been ‘When I was on Horseback’, on the Steeleye Span album Ten Man Mop. That version, recorded in the 1950s from Irish tinker Mary Doran, is rather minimalist: if you don’t already know the story it’s hard to work out exactly what’s going on (incidentally you can hear Mary Doran’s stunning version on the recently-released Topic CD set The Flax in Bloom). A bit later I came across ‘St James’ Infirmary’ in the Penguin Book of American Folk Songs edited by Alan Lomax. It’s a song I’ve always meant to learn, but never have (although I can play the chords on the ukulele). Then I heard another version, in the shape of ‘The Bad Girl’ on Fiddler’s Dram’s eponymous post-‘Bangor’ LP (it’s actually one of several pretty good tracks on the album).

I don’t suppose I connected these songs at the time; that realisation came later (and, later still, the history and evolution of the song was covered in some depth by David Atkinson in the first of the EFDSS’s short-lived Root & Branch series).

I had planned for many years to learn Harry Upton’s ‘Royal Albion’ (or possibly Alf Wildman’s similar ‘The Banks of the Clyde’) but again never got round to it. Then I came across this version, and very soon realised it was a song I had to learn – especially when I found I could sing it in D minor, and it just fits like a dream on the C/G anglo.

The tune was collected by Cecil Sharp from Shadrack ‘Shepherd’ Haden, at Bampton in Oxfordshire. It is printed, along with two others, in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society number 17, in 1913. Sharp does not seem to have collected more than the first verse from Shepherd Haden; the five verses given in the Journal were noted by Francis Jekyll at East Meon in Hampshire (the singer’s name is not given). I put together a composite set of words from various sources, including the Hampshire version – which is also the version included in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

“Sailor Cut Down In His Prime” collected from Shepherd Haden 21 Aug 1909, from the EFDSS Full English archive.

Although I’ve been singing this for a few years now, I’ve not actually performed it in public that often, and the accompaniment is still quite fluid: I recorded it three times for this blog, and played the ending differently each time. Still not sure which one I prefer, so if you see me singing this at a gig, it might have changed again.

Young girl cut down in her prime

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

May 26, 2013

Week 92 – Death and the Lady

This is the only song in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs to have been collected in Kent. And while most of the songs in that book had been collected at the start of the twentieth century, this one had been noted a mere 13 years before the book’s publication. Arranger, academic and radio presenter Francis Collinson had the song on 16th February 1946 from Mr Harry Baker of Maidstone.

The song was included in JEFDSS Vol 5 No 1 (1946), with the following note from Collinson:

Mr. Baker of Maidstone, who is in his seventies, has worked all his life as an engineer at Thomas Tillings’. He is a little uncertain in his singing, and I had to ask him to repeat the tune of “Death and the Lady” a number of times before I was certain of having it down correctly.

Mr Baker’s textually incomplete version was padded out with verses possibly taken from Alfred Williams’ Folk Songs of the Upper Thames (according to Malcolm Douglas’s notes in Classic English Folk Songs).

Death and the Lady, as collected by Francis Collinson from Mr Baker. From the EFDSS Full English archive.

The song is of some antiquity: the earliest known printed version has been dated c.1685-1689. The ballad sheet shown here is from at least 100 years later: printed by J. Turner, High Street, Coventry, between 1797 and 1846.

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Death and the lady

April 14, 2013

Week 86 – The Life of a Man

I learned this song from the Sussex Singer Harry Upton, via the limited edition 1978 Topic LP Why Can’t It Always Be Saturday?

Harry’s tune was somewhat different to that usually sung on the folk scene and, inadvertently, I seem to have bent it a bit further. Consequently, having started to sing this at folk clubs in the early nineties, I soon gave up – when it got to the chorus everyone seemed to weigh in with the tune or harmony they knew, and it tended to clash rather horribly with what I was singing. After that I didn’t sing the song at all for many years, but revived it one year ago, to perform in very particular circumstances. Several readers of this blog will know what those circumstances were, and will understand when I say that I have never derived less enjoyment from singing a song.

The Life of a Man

January 19, 2013

Week 74 – Floating down the tide

This is a song I found on one of my occasional forays through the copies of the Sharp MSS held in the Library at Cecil Sharp House. Often when just browsing, rather than looking for anything in particular, it will be an unusual or striking title which first jumps out and grabs my attention, and that was almost certainly the case with this one. Sharp noted it down on 27th December 1905 from Susan Williams  (1832-1915), of Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset.

The song has a long history – see Steve Gardham’s “Dungbeetle” article, The Distressed Maid for Musical Traditions, from which it is clear that this version is derived (and only slightly condensed) from ‘The Dublin Tragedy’, first published on a broadside printed by Mayne of Belfast in the mid nineteenth century.

Susan Williams (1832-1915), Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset. Photograph by Cecil Sharp. copyright EFDSS.

Susan Williams (1832-1915), Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset. Photograph by Cecil Sharp. copyright EFDSS.

Floating down the tide