Posts tagged ‘Devon’

October 8, 2015

Week 216 – The Bold Benjamin

About four or five years ago I went to see Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot. This was one of the songs they played and, chatting to Martin in the interval, I must have mentioned it for some reason. “You should sing that”, said Martin, “it would suit your voice”. Well, if Martin Carthy MBE recommends that you sing a particular song, it strikes me that the only possible course of action is to follow his advice.

In fact I had known it vaguely, many years ago, as a result of buying a copy of the LP No Relation by Heather Wood and Royston Wood. I’d largely forgotten about it though, so set about learning it anew. I sought it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society No. 11 – completely forgetting that in fact it’s in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

The version in the Penguin Book was taken down by Henry Hammond from Joseph Taunton, at Corscombe in Devon Dorset in 1907, and published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society the same year.  Hammond’s notes say that “Taunton learnt this from a soldier when he was 17 years old” (in the Journal the song’s provenance is given as “Mr. Taunton learnt the song 50 years ago from a man-of-war’s man” i.e. he learned it circa 1857).

The Bold Benjamin, collected by H.E.D.Hammond from Joseph Taunton, 1907. From the Full English archive.

The Bold Benjamin, collected by H.E.D.Hammond from Joseph Taunton, 1907. From the Full English archive.

Hammond also noted a version in Dorset, from Marina Russell. The opening line of Mrs.Russell’s version ran “French Admiral he is gone to sea”. Although the collector added that

Mrs Russell said “I don’t know whether ’tis “”Finch” or “French Admiral”

A much earlier ballad, the earliest known version of which was printed in the 1670s, is entitled ‘The Benjamin’s Lamentation For their sad Loss at Sea by Storms and Tempests: Being a brief Narrative of one of his Majesty’s Ships, call’d, the Benjamin, that was drove into Harbour at Plimouth, and received no small Harm by this Tempest’. Captain Chilvers is the “hero” in this case, and the song details – at somewhat tedious length – the various harms that befell the ship and its crew.

Strangely, although one might think that a  song like this must have at least a kernel of truth, researchers have so far been unable to track down either the ship, or the hapless captain / admiral.

The Benjamin's lamentation for their sad loss at sea by storms and tempests - printed in London between 1689 and 1709; from Broadside Ballads Online,

The Benjamin’s lamentation for their sad loss at sea by storms and tempests – printed in London between 1689 and 1709; from Broadside Ballads Online,

The Bold Benjamin

April 25, 2015

Week 192 – ‘Twas on one April Morning

A quintessentially English rural song. It’s ubiquitous on the folk scene (to which it was introduced by Cyril Tawney and Tony Rose) but only ever collected twice in the tradition – once in Somerset and once in Devon. I believe I first heard this on an early 1980s LP by the group Salmontails. I don’t remember much about them, except they were a trio whose line-up featured Northumbrian pipes, and I’m pretty sure I once saw them at the Gypsy Davey folk club, which used to be held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, Oxford. I can’t remember who lent me their LP, but I’d guess it must have been Caroline Jackson-Houlston.

A little while later I heard the version on the Old Swan Band’s second LP, Old Swan Brand, and John Jones also used to sing the song at Oyster Band / Oyster Morris sessions. The first time I ever tried playing a concertina accompaniment would have been playing along in a session with John’s singing and melodeon. I won’t say I learned the song by osmosis, but when I decided to fix the words in my mind, most of them were already in there. As the 80s went by and John’s Oyster Band work meant that he was out with the morris less often, I would lead this in sessions. Normally with the irrepressible Mark Jopling providing bass harmonies. Indeed I remember that at the end of Sidmouth 1986, when the torchlight procession had wound down to the seafront, and the torches had been extinguished in the sea, Mark, Mary, Carol and I sang this on the beach before heading back to the camp site (where, I suspect, we sat in a small, cold Oyster Morris marquee, drinking whatever was left of the Shepherd Neame that had been brought down to keep us going for the week).

I’ve only ever sung this in sessions, where people are joining in rather than listening, which probably explains the lack of finesse in my concertina accompaniment. I still sing it in G, although I’m not sure I can really hack it at that pitch any more. F would probably be better for me these days, but F is most definitely not a session key – so it’s one where I just have to gird up my loins, belt it out and hope for the best.

‘Twas on one April Morning

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

April 19, 2015

Week 191 – I wish that the wars were all over

I learned this song in the early 1980s from Caroline Jackson-Houlston, with whom I used to sing it. The song was collected by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, from Sam Fone, a Dartmoor miner from Mary Tavy, Devon, in 1893. I always had it in my mind that Caroline had got the song from The English Folksinger by Sam Richards and Trish Stubbs, but actually the words we sang are not those given in the book, so I think perhaps Caroline had at least some of the verses from Baring-Gould’s Garland of Country Song (1895), where the opening line is “In the meadow one morning when pearly with dew”. Fone, on the other hand, appears to have sung “It was down in the meadows where violets are blue / I saw pretty Polly a-milking her cow”.

'I would that the wars' as sung by Sam Fone to Sabine Baring-Gould; from the EFDSS Full English archive,

‘I would that the wars’ as sung by Sam Fone to Sabine Baring-Gould; from the EFDSS Full English archive.


The notes in that book say “It is not untypical of a certain class of song from the time of the American Wars of Independence”. Which could perhaps be read as “we think it sounds like a song from that period but have no evidence to back this theory up”. However a contribution by Mick Pearce to this Mudcat thread points out that the song can be found in A Sailor’s songbag : an American rebel in an English prison, 1777-1779 so clearly the song was in circulation at that time (the book, edited by George Carey, presents songs from a MS assembled by an American prisoner of war – possibly named Timothy Connor – held by the British in Forton Prison). Roy Palmer, in his book The Rambling Soldier, comments that

The reference to Flanders may indicate the Seven Years’ War or the campaign of 1793. John Wardroper reports that the legend, ‘Oh, I wish that the wars were all over’, appeared on popular prints in England in the early 1780s, during the American War, showing a ragged family amid a scene of ruin (Kings, Lords and Wicked Libellers, John Murray, 1973, p.85).

Given the evidence of the song being sung in the 1770s, the Flanders Campaign of 1793 is too late, so the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) seems like a better bet.

'I wish the wars were all over. A favourite song' . Printed and sold by J Davenport, No. 6, Little Catherine- street, Strand, London, between 1799 and 1800. From Broadside Ballads Online. ‘I wish the wars were all over. A favourite song’ . Printed and sold by J Davenport, No. 6, Little Catherine- street, Strand, London, between 1799 and 1800. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Actually, like the slightly later ‘The Banks of the Nile’, the sentiments expressed in the song are timeless. Unfortunately, the intervening 200-odd years give no cause for optimism in wishing that the wars will ever be over.

I wish that the wars were all over

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

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

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

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 2, 2013

Week 76 – The Setting of the Sun

This is quite the jolliest version of ‘Polly Vaughan’ that I’ve come across.

Dave Parry introduced me to the song, which he’d found in Sabine Baring-Gould’s Songs of the West (the 1905 edition, for which Cecil Sharp acted as musical editor). Baring-Gould collected the song on 12 July 1893 from Sam Fone of Mary Tavy in Devon. The words as printed in Songs of the West struck me at the time as having been rewritten and unnecessarily prettified by Baring-Gould, and now that we can see the original – thanks to Martin Graebe and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library – I think my suspicions are confirmed. In any case, I retained only the tune, first verse and chorus, with the remaining verses taken from what I’d probably consider the definitive version of this song, from the great Harry Cox.

Incidentally, I’ve always thought that the “I shot my true love because I thought she was a swan” argument a rather dodgy line of defence. Wasn’t killing one of the Queen’s swans a crime which was subject to fairly severe penalties?

On an even more trivial note, although – I assure you – I have never been an avid watcher of Neighbours, I vaguely recall that in the late 1980s there was a plot where a young man did indeed shoot his girlfriend in a freak hunting accident. Although this may not have been a swan-related shooting. And I’m not saying for sure that the scriptwriters were familiar with the Polly Vaughan / Molly Bawn / Shooting of his dear family of ballads…

The Setting of the Sun, from Baring-Gould's notebook. Image copyright the Wren Music Trust, via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

The Setting of the Sun, from Baring-Gould’s notebook. Image copyright the Wren Music Trust, via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

The Setting of the Sun

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

April 1, 2012

Week 32 – The Rakish Young Fellow

During my time at Oxford, the Heritage Society, the University folk club, was supposedly run by students, but in fact it received a very significant helping hand from former student Caroline Jackson-Houlston – who is still active today in the running of the Friday night Oxford Folk Club. I sang with Caroline in various vocal harmony groups throughout my time as a student. In my last year we performed as a duo, under the name Flash Company, and this was one of our songs.

The song was collected by Cecil Sharp from William Nott, Meshaw, Devon in 1904, but I’m pretty sure that Caroline learned the song from Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs’ book The English Folksinger.

This Mudcat thread provides links to a number of more modern versions involving airmen, Lancers and stockmen as well as sailors – oh and a decidedly politically incorrect Australian parody which commences “Charlotte the harlot lay dying, A piss-pot supporting her head…”

I sang this last night at the Frittenden Old Fashioned Night Out
I chose it because it’s a song with a jolly chorus. Temporarily forgetting that actually it’s a song about a man planning his funeral. And that maybe this wasn’t the best choice given that a very close friend had died the previous night, after a long illness. But actually, as I got to the last verse it occurred to me that this was exactly the kind of rumbustious  funeral Dave might have planned for himself. Wherever you are Dave, RIP.

The Rakish Young Fellow - ballad sheet from the Bodleian Library collection

Ballad sheet from the Bodleian Library collection. Published J. Pitts, Seven Dials, between 1819 and 1844


The Rakish Young Fellow