Posts tagged ‘Dorset’

June 13, 2021

Week 305 – The Prentice Boy

In 1995 Dave Townsend invited Ian Giles and me to sing on a new Mellstock Band record, Songs of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. We recorded our contributions over two sunny days at the Saydisc recording studios – namely David Wilkins’ house at Littleton-on-Severn. I may be wrong, but my memory is that all the singers and musicians were put up in the house; we ate breakfast and lunch together; and then in the evening we’d go down to the village pub for dinner and a few pints of Smiles’ bitter. A very enjoyable experience all round. The recordings themselves were largely stress-free and, though I say it myself, I was in particularly good voice at the time – although not in such good voice as the wonderful Julie Murphy, who Ian and I were encountering for the first time, and whose singing just blew us away.

True to form, Dave Townsend had come up with some interesting material. Ian got to sing a lovely version of ‘The Foggy Dew’ which we immediately pinched for ourselves, and which was subsequently turned into a Greatest Hit for Magpie Lane. I sang, and was able to add to my own repertoire, ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ and ‘The Light of the Moon’, plus ‘The Prentice Boy’. I never considered actually learning this one, as I already sang a version of Roud 263 (‘The Wexford Murder’ which I’ve been singing since the early 80s, but which I’ve yet to record satisfactorily for this blog). However, for the sake of completeness, I thought I’d include it here.

The song was collected by Henry Hammond from Joseph Elliott of Todber in Dorset, with some additional words here as noted by Thomas Hardy himself. The tune, it strikes me, is a modal version of ‘Highland Mary’.

Saydisc stopped producing new records some years ago, but I’m pleased to say that much of their catalogue, including this one, is still available both digitally and on CD. The record is listed on Spotify, but only a few of the tracks are available to play (maybe you need to take out a subscription, which is something I have absolutely no intention of doing). So here it is from YouTube. Now, the only other time I’ve featured a YouTube recording on this blog – and ranted a bit about how it really shouldn’t be there without the copyright-holder’s permission –  the track became unavailable within a few days. Such is my power! So if you want to listen to this song, you’d better do it quickly. Even better – and I say this without any financial interest whatsoever – treat yourself to the CD.

February 27, 2016

Week 236 – One Night As I Lay on My Bed

I first encountered this song c.1977 on the debut Steeleye Span LP, Hark! the Village Wait, though it can’t have been very much later that I heard Shirley Collins’ version, on the LP Adieu to Old England, where the accompaniment switches between Dolly Collins’ portative organ and Ian Stewart’s plucked psaltery. Shirley’s version has a few extra verses, but when I learned the song I stuck to the five printed in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Those five verses work just fine, and as the Steeleye album notes suggest, “this ballad can perhaps claim to have the most discreet ending of any folk song”. I can’t remember whether I stuck to those verses simply because I liked the song that way, or because I’d already learned the song before I heard Shirley’s version. Or if, in my innocence, I thought I was preserving the purity of a single collected version. That’s something I’d set less store by these days (although if the words from a single source do hang together OK, I feel no need to start meddling with them). In any case, if I’d read the notes to this song in the Penguin volume properly, I’d have noticed that, while the tune and first verse come from Mrs Marina Russell of Upwey in Dorset, the remaining verses were collected from Mr. George House, from Beaminster, also in Dorset, and also collected by Henry Hammond.

One Night As I Lay On My Bed, as sung by Marina Russell. From the Henry Hammond Manuscript Collection via the Full English.

One Night As I Lay On My Bed, as sung by Marina Russell. From the Henry Hammond Manuscript Collection via the Full English.

One Night As I Lay on My Bed

November 16, 2014

Week 169 – I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents

I learned this song from Lucy Broadwood and J A Fuller Maitland’s 1893 collection, English County Songs, where it is printed in the Dorsetshire section: “words and tune from H. Strachey, Esq”. That would be Henry Strachey of Bristol, who is listed in early Journals as a member of the Folk-Song Society. He heard the tune being “whistled by a labourer at Shillingham, Dorsetshire, in 1889” and later took it down “from a collier at Bishop Sutton, Somerset“. Several versions were taken down by early collectors such as Baring-Gould and Clive Carey, and the song appears to have remained popular: it was recorded in the 1970s from singers including Freda Palmer, Harry Upton and Frank Hinchcliffe. Most versions have been found in Southern England, but the song has also been collected in Yorkshire and Scotland – as well as Australia and North America.

In about 1980 I sang this – and came second – in a Worst Song competition at the Gypsy Davey Folk Club, which used to be held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, Oxford. The winning song on that occasion came from the legendary Trevor Vale – I think it was his classic ‘The Squire he rides by…’ and if anyone reading this has any old recordings of Trevor I (and several other people I know) would absolutely love to hear them.

Given the context, I suspect I rather hammed the song up back then. These days I sing it completely straight – if a song’s worth singing, it’s worth taking seriously. Even if it is a load of sentimental old tripe.

I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents

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 16, 2013

Week 95 – The Light of the Moon

I was given this song by Dave Townsend. Back in 1994 Dave invited Ian Giles and myself to be guest vocalists (alongside Sally Dexter and the wonderful Julie Murphy) on the Mellstock band album Songs of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex on Saydisc. We spent a very enjoyable two days at David Wilkins’ house-cum-studio overlooking the River Severn, and I have to say I really like the album. Dave Townsend had (typically) found a collection of lesser-known versions of songs mentioned in Hardy’s works – wherever possible versions from Dorset – and provided them with interesting and effective arrangements. And though I say it myself, I was in particularly good voice those two days in May.

On the record the arrangement for this song featured English concertina, violin, cello and vox humana (hello Charles, if you’re reading this) with, if I’m not very much mistaken, a nod towards Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending. I have occasionally performed it since then as an unaccompanied piece. I’d not sung it for ages, but it came into my mind a week or so again and I was reminded what a lovely song it is. Then, as luck would have it, I had the pleasure of seeing Ian Giles sing it on Friday night, accompanied by Dave Townsend on concertina. Folk club organisers please take note: after you’ve given me a booking, Ian and Dave should be next on your list.

The song itself was collected from Robert Barratt of Piddletown, Dorset, by Henry Hammond in June 1906.

“The Grey Cock”, collected by Henry Hammond from Robert Barratt of Piddletown, Dorset. Image copyright EFDSS.

The Light of the Moon

March 18, 2012

Week 30 – The Nobleman’s Wedding

Dedicated to my dear friend and musical colleague, Dave Parry, who suggested some twenty years ago that I should sing this song.

It was collected by H.E.D. Hammond in May 1906, from a Mrs Crawford of  West Milton in Dorset. I learned the song from Frank Purslow’s book Marrowbones, but of course you can now find the song in the EFDSS Take Six archive.

The song has been widely collected in England, Scotland, Ireland and North America. There are American versions with the title ‘The Awful Wedding’. We’ve certainly played at a few of those…

The Nobleman’s Wedding