Posts tagged ‘farmwork’

July 23, 2016

Week 257 – If I were back ‘ome in ‘Ampshire

I was out for a walk recently when, suddenly, a great flock of birds rose up from an adjoining field, circled for a bit, then flew away. Which immediately brought this song to mind.

It’s the last song in Bob Copper’s 1973 book Songs and Southern Breezes, which of course chronicles Bob’s time as a folk song collector, including some years spent away from his beloved Sussex, running a pub at Cheriton in Hampshire.  I can’t recall if the song is mentioned in the text of the book as having been collected from a specific singer; maybe it was just universally known in those parts.

But funnily enough, in case you thought this was a quintessentially Hampshire song, the Full English has one other version – collected from Albert Bromley of Shotley in Suffolk, and entitled ‘I wish I were back home in Suffolk’. I suppose those pesky blackbirds get all over the country…

 

illustration copyright Andrew Davidson

illustration copyright Andrew Davidson

If I were back ‘ome in ‘Ampshire

June 10, 2016

Week 251 – John Barleycorn

This is the second version of ‘John Barleycorn’ to appear on this blog. I posted a Shropshire version back in Week 61, and there’s also the – largely unrelated – ‘John Barleycorn’s a Hero Bold’. I’ve also recorded a third version – collected from Charlie Hill of Devon in the 1970s – on the Magpie Lane CD A Taste of Ale. That CD can still be purchased from our website (so don’t pay £34 for it from Amazon!), or downloaded from Amazon, iTunes etc. etc. (I notice on Amazon we are described as “Oxfordshire folk supergroup” – not sure we’re quite in the Traveling Wilburys league).

Ian and I sang this version of the song on the first Magpie Lane CD, The Oxford Ramble, back in 1993, and I suppose we’d better revive it for the ‘Songs from Bampton’ session we’re running at the English Country Music Weekend at the end of this month. It’s the best-known version – indeed I’d say it’s one of the  best known English folk songs, thanks to the fact that it was included in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and to recordings by Mike Waterson, Martin Carthy, Traffic, Chris Wood… and Martin Carthy again, with Paul Weller of all the unlikely people, on the first Imagined Village album.

Believed to be a photograph of Shepherd Hayden, taken by Cecil Sharp. Copyright EFDSS.

Believed to be a photograph of Shepherd Hayden, taken by Cecil Sharp. Copyright EFDSS.

Cecil Sharp noted the song at Bampton in Oxfordshire, on 31st August 1909, from the eighty-three year old Shadrach ‘Shepherd’ Haden.

John Barleycorn, collected by Cecil Sharp from Shepherd Hayden (or Haden); from the Full English.

John Barleycorn, collected by Cecil Sharp from Shepherd Hayden (or Haden); from the Full English.

Another, completely different version of the song, also collected in Bampton, was included in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Steve Roud’s notes to the song say

It was perhaps inevitable that this song would attract the ritual-origins theorists who claimed that it was all to do with corn spirits and resurrection, but it is now generally agreed that such notions were romantic wishful thinking and there is no evidence either for the theories themselves or for this song to be anything other than a clever allegory.

And I’ll go along with that. Long live Occam’s Razor.

John Barleycorn

And here’s Ian Giles and me singing the song at the very first Magpie Lane gig, Holywell Music Room, May 1993.

 

April 11, 2015

Week 190 – O Once I was a Shepherd Boy

Ilsley remote amid the Berkshire Downs,
Claims three distinctions o’er her sister towns,
Far famed for sheep and wool, tho’ not for spinners,
For sportsmen, doctors, publicans and sinners.

This rhyme, apparently dating back to the seventeenth century, relates to East Ilsley – formerly known also as Market Ilsley or Chipping Ilsley – a village which you’ll see signposted just off the A34 as you drive North towards Oxford from Newbury. The rhyme was quoted in a 1924 History of the County of Berkshire, where the authors append the comment “The village still maintains its reputation with regard to sportsmen and publicans”.

The history continues

Though the training of racehorses is still one of the principal occupations of the inhabitants, East Ilsley is chiefly noted for its sheep fair, which is one of the largest in England. Almeric de St. Amand, lord of the manor in the reigns of Henry III and Edward I, set up a market here on Tuesdays, which he claimed under a charter of Henry III. It was said to be injurious to the king’s market at Wallingford. (fn. 7) Sir Francis Moore in his digest of his title to the manor, compiled in the reign of James I, states ‘that the Tuesday market for corn was discontinued, but that a sheep market was held every Wednesday from Hocktide to St. James’ tide, and a yearly fair at the Feast of the Assumption.’ Sir Francis obtained a charter confirming his right to a market for corn and grain and all other merchandise, and ‘to take such toll as the Borough of Reading doth,’ also a grant of piccage and stallage and a court of pie-powder with all the fines, forfeitures and amerciaments thereof. Under the charter it was forbidden to have sales at Cuckhamsley, where they had previously been held, under pain of the king’s displeasure, the new site for the market being an inclosed square which has since been planted and is now known as the Warren. The markets are held by arrangement once or twice a month on Wednesdays from January to September. They increased rapidly until the middle of the 18th century, no less than 80,000 sheep being penned in one day and 55,000 sold, the yearly average amounting to 400,000.(fn. 8) In addition to the markets there are numerous fairs, the two largest being on 1 August and 26 August, while those at Easter, Whitsuntide, in September, October and at Hallowtide (on Wednesday after 12 November) draw dealers and graziers from all parts of the county. There is also a hiring fare in October. The wool fair has increased in importance and has been much encouraged by the annual presentation of two silver cups given by the Marquess of Downshire and other landowners to be competed for by the wool staplers and farmers. At one of the agricultural meetings formerly held at Ilsley the chairman wore a coat made from fleeces shorn in the morning, made into cloth at Newbury, and fashioned into a coat before the evening.

‘Parishes: East Ilsley’, in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4, ed. William Page and P H Ditchfield (London, 1924), pp. 24-31  via British History Online.

 

David Nash Ford’s Royal Berkshire History Website tells us that

The last proper fair was held in 1934, but it was semi-revived as a village fete in 1975. A plaque in the centre of the village records this. Being famous for its sheep farming, it is not surprising that Berkshire was one of the many counties to have developed its own breed of sheep: the Berkshire Nott Wether. Sadly, it is now extinct, but the Hampshire Down is a direct descendant.

 

There are some wonderfully evocative photos of a late nineteenth century sheep fair at Ilsley taken by the photographer Henry Taunt, which you can view on the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Sheep fair at East Ilsley, Berkshire - late 19th century photograph by Henry Taunt, from the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Sheep fair at East Ilsley, Berkshire – late 19th century photograph by Henry Taunt, from the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Group portrait at West Ilsley, Berkshire. A group portrait of the nine oldest inhabitants of the village, four men and five women, one in a wicker bathchair.  Photographer: Henry Taunt.  Date Taken: 1860 - 1922 From the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Group portrait at West Ilsley, Berkshire. A group portrait of the nine oldest inhabitants of the village, four men and five women, one in a wicker bathchair. Photographer: Henry Taunt. Date Taken: 1860 – 1922 From the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

 

This song was collected by Cecil Sharp from Shadrack “Shepherd” Hayden (or Haden) at Bampton in Oxfordshire, on 6th September 1909.  Shepherd Hayden had been born at Lyford, Berkshire in 1826, and he shepherded at Hatford near Faringdon before moving to Bampton in 1891. I don’t know if he ever did any shepherding on the Downs near Ilsley, but no doubt he met men who had, and learned this song (surely a local composition?) from one of them. Alfred Williams also noted down three verses of the song from Shepherd Hayden, under the title ‘On Compton Downs’, and noted “An old shepherd song, local to the Berkshire Downs between Wantage and Streatley, and one of the very few that were obviously written by rustics”.

Actually the Roud Index shows that Hayden’s is not the only version to have been collected – there’s also one clearly related fragment (where the location is given as Marlborough) collected by George Gardiner in Hampshire.

I learned the song  from the copies of Sharp’s notebooks in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library – now of course all available online – and we recorded it on the Magpie Lane CD Six for Gold in 2002. This is a live recording taken direct from the mixing desk at the Banbury Folk Festival in October 2007.

 

O Once I was a Shepherd Boy

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Banbury Folk Festival, October 14th 2007.

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

October 4, 2014

Week 163 – Mistress’ Healths

Two healths from Sussex. I learned the first one from Shirley Collins’ album Adieu to Old England (where it is followed by Lumps of Plum Pudding played on anglo-concertina by the inimitable John Watcham). A L Lloyd’s notes to the LP say

Harvest-homes were ceremonial suppers, given by the farmer to the harvest labourers when the crop was gathered. The custom has been widespread all over Europe, at least since the Middle Ages, maybe longer. It’s an occasion for big eating and drinking and plenty of music; but very ceremonious, and an important feature was the singing of elaborate compliments in the form of toasts. At the harvest-homes in England, right up to the present century, the queenly qualities of the farmer’s wife were commonly extolled (“anything for another mug of ale” was a comment reported by a 19th century observer). This toast, doubtless referring to Elizabeth I, was traditionally applied to the farmer’s wife in many parts of Southern England. The Cuckfield baker Samuel Willett noted it from harvest hands and passed it on to Lucy Broadwood.

Lucy Broadwood printed the song in her English County Songs. A health which starts with very similar lyrics turns up in North Yorkshire, as a ‘Bridal Song’ sung by Jack Beeforth (1891-1974):

Here’s the bride’s good health we’ll now begin
In spite of the Turk and the Spanish king.
And as for the bridegroom we’ll not let it pass
We’ll have their drink in a flowing glass.

So see, see, see that you drink it all
See, see, see that you let none fall
For if you do you shall have two
And so shall the rest of the company too.

This is included in Volume 2 of David Hillery’s PhD thesis Vernacular song from a North Yorkshire hill farm : culture, contexts and comparisons. I have to confess I’ve only discovered this work whilst Googling this morning, but it looks to be an interesting read.

“Harvest Home” – illustration from Chambers’ Book of Days

The second song here is one of several healths and toasts included on Vic Gammon’s double-LP set The Tale of Ale. It was collected from Henry Hills of Lodsworth in Sussex and included in the very first volume of the Journal of the Folk-Song Society in 1901, in an article by the collector W P Merrick. For more on Henry Hills and folk traditions in Lodsworth, see the ‘Lodsworth Folk Songs and Carols’ section in Notes for a History of Lodsworth by Wilfrid Lamb M.A. who was Vicar of Lodsworth 1955-1961. There are some nice photographs of harvest suppers from that era, from Bodiam in East Sussex, at www.bygonebodiam.co.uk.

Harvest supper, possibly 1952, New House Oast, Bodiam. From http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk

Harvest supper, possibly 1952, New House Oast, Bodiam. From http://www.bygonebodiam.co.uk

Mistress’ Health (Our Mistress’ Health we’ll now begin)

Mistress’ Health (Now Harvest is over)

September 16, 2013

Week 108 – Horkstow Grange

Recorded onto a phonograph cylinder by Australian musician, composer and (briefly) folk song collector Percy Grainger in 1908, this fragment of a song has continued to fascinate singers, arrangers and composers alike. It was first sung to Grainger by George Gouldthorpe at Brigg in July 1906 – see his transcription below from the EFDSS’s magnificent Full English archive. I learned the song from the (also magnificent) Leader LP Unto Brigg Fair: Joseph Taylor and Other Traditional Lincolnshire Singers Recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger.

Mr Gouldthorpe was born around 1840 – he told Grainger he had “a vast of years” – and had lived most of his life in the place of his birth, Barrow-upon-Humber. He had worked as a lime-burner and, by 1908, after a spell in Brigg workhouse, had moved in with his sister at Goxhill. Regarding this move, Mr Gouldthorpe said “I was easier in my mind”. Which, as Bob Thomson comments in his notes to Unto Brigg Fair, “one suspects is a grim understatement of the circumstances”.

You can read about the background to the song itself on Reinhard Zierke’s Mainly Norfolk site and on this page on the Lincolnshire County Council website, part of  a series of articles headed Legacy of Lincolnshire Songs. In short, nothing is known of the old miser “Steeleye” Span, or his foreman John Bowling, still less of this exchange of fisticuffs between them. Although the song has all the hallmarks of a local composition, it would seem that George Gouldthorpe may have got the names confused. With the expansion of local newspapers, court reports and other archival material on the web, it’s entirely possible that details will eventually emerge. Part of me hopes that they do. But another part of me feels that, maybe, it’s best if some mysteries just remain as mysteries,

'Horkstow Grange', from Percy Grainger's MSS, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

‘Horkstow Grange’, from Percy Grainger’s MSS, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

Horkstow Grange

July 7, 2013

Week 98 – Nobleman and Thresherman

Postwar folk song commentators and activists such as A.L. Lloyd seized on industrial folk song – ‘Blackleg Miner’, ‘Four Loom Weaver’, ‘Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife’ and the like – as the product of a proletariat engaged in class struggle. Their Marxist beliefs would, I suppose, have predisposed them against expecting to find similar material coming out of the rural working class, and this was probably just as well – I can think of very few examples of traditional country songs raging against the social order. (Even in poaching songs, while there are often complaints about the “hard-hearted judges”, it is the gamekeepers – the agents of the landowning classes, rather than the landowners themselves  – who are usually perceived as the enemy).

This song, judging by the number of times it has been collected in England and beyond, seems to have been hugely popular. Not only does it not challenge the status quo, but invites us to join in blessing the noble gentleman who – most improbably – bestows “fifty five good acres” on the hardworking labouring man. Although actually traditional singers do seem to have toned down somewhat the obsequious nature of the song as found in printed broadsides, such as Good Lord Fauconbridge’s generous gift, printed by J. Pitts of London, between 1819 and 1844, of which this is the final verse.

No tongue was able in full to express
In depth of their joy and true thankfulness
Then many a courtsey and bow to the ground
Such noblemen there are few to be found

This particular version was collected by Cecil Sharp at Hamstreet in Kent, in September 1908.  Not being an authority on Sharp’s handwriting, I’d be hard-pressed to say if he meant to record the singer’s name as Clarke Lankhurst or Lonkhurst (or even Larkhurst). In fact it was almost certainly Clarke Lonkhurst, who the local Kelly’s Directory lists as landlord of the Duke’s Head at Hamstreet. George Frampton, who has researched all of the singers Sharp encountered on this collecting trip, has established that Mr Lonkhurst also worked as a carrier, and was a keen sportsman – playing football and cricket, and a member of the Mid-Kent Stag Hunt. He has also found – just to add even more confusion to the matter of his surname – that in the 1901 Census he is listed as Clarke Longhurst, age 37, born at Dunkirk near Faversham. There are Longhursts from Romney Marsh in my family tree, on my mother’s side, so it’s just possible that this singer is a distant relation of mine.

[ As an aside, I’ve just done a Google search which has located an endorsement from Clarke Lonkhurst, in The horse-owner’s handy note book or common diseases of horses and other animals, with their remedies  (1908), of  Harvey’s Embrocation:

“I have been using your Embrocation for Capped Elbew with great benefit. — Clarke Lonkhurst, Duke’s Head Hotel, Hamstreet, Ashford, Kent, July 29th, 1908.” ]

Clarke Lonkhurst only sang four verses of this song; I followed my usual practice of completing the words by borrowing verses from the Copper Family version. Had I held on a little, I would have come across a pretty complete set of words collected in 1942 by Francis Collinson from Harry Barling of South Willesborough, Ashford, Kent. This Mr Barling was most likely the same Harry Barling who is listed in the 1901 Census as a Carrier General, living at Aldington, born at Ruckinge; and in the 1881 Census as living at the “Good Intent”, Aldington Frith – i.e. from very much the same part of the world, and a similar age, as Clarke Lonkhurst. The singers’ tunes are almost identical except that Harry Barling’s is in 4/4 and Clarke Lonkhurst’s in 6/8.

Including a song collected by Cecil Sharp gives me the opportunity to mention the EFDSS’s Full English archive, launched a couple of weeks ago. I’ve not, unfortunately, had very much time to explore the site as yet, but it is without doubt an incredible resource – both for researchers, and for those on the look-out for new versions of old songs.

It builds on the Take Six archive, which presented digital images of the collections of  Collinson, Butterworth, Blunt, Hammond, Gardiner and Gilchrist. Now we also have access to the work of relatively little-known collectors such as Harry Albino and Frank Sidgwick through to the big names: Lucy BroadwoodRalph Vaughan Williams and, of course, Cecil James Sharp. The whole thing has been thoroughly and professionally catalogued and indexed, and even looks quite cool – whatever has happened to the DEAFASS we used to love to malign in the past!

Here’s examples of what you can find:

Clarke Lonkhurst’s ‘Nobleman and Thresherman’ from Cecil Sharp’s Folk Words MS (permament URL www.vwml.org.uk/record/CJS2/9/1774)

Nobleman and Thresherman, collected from Clarke Lankhurst by Cecil Sharp - from Sharp's 'Folk Words' © EFDSS

‘Nobleman and Thresherman, collected from Clarke Lankhurst by Cecil Sharp – from Sharp’s ‘Folk Words’ © EFDSS’

and the musical notation from Sharp’s Folk Tunes (permanent URL www.vwml.org.uk/record/CJS2/10/1921)

Nobleman and Thresherman, collected from Clarke Lankhurst by Cecil Sharp - from Sharp's 'Folk Tunes' © EFDSS

Nobleman and Thresherman, collected from Clarke Lankhurst by Cecil Sharp – from Sharp’s ‘Folk Tunes’ © EFDSS

As you’ll see, each record has a permament URL, to make it easy to refer others to a specific record. And there are some nice little features, like the ability to refer to a simple URL to point to all the versions of  a particular Roud number e.g. this song would be www.vwml.org/roudnumber/19 – just substitute the Roud number of your choice.

Nobleman and Thresherman

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

October 22, 2012

Week 61 – John Barleycorn

‘John Barleycorn’ was one of the first traditional songs I ever heard. That was the Steeleye version, which I soon discovered was pretty much the same as that printed in Fred Hamer’s Garners Gay. Like pretty much everything on Below the Salt, I learned that version at the time; and I’m pretty sure it was for a while in the repertoire of a group I sang with at University, The Paralytics aka Three Agnostics and a Christian.

In more recent times, I have recorded two different versions with Magpie Lane. First, on The Oxford Ramble Ian Giles and I sang the classic Shepherd Haden version. Then on A Taste of Ale I sang a version collected by Gwilym Davies in the 1970s. The Oxfordshire version should appear on this blog at some point, since it is, notionally at least, still in my repertoire. But the Devon version, like much of the material on A Taste of Ale, was worked up for the CD, then forgotten about (I can’t actually recall the tune right now).

If I was starting from scratch, and looking for a ‘John Barleycorn’ version to sing, I might well be tempted by the rather nice minor key version (another from Bampton-in-the-Bush) printed in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. But here’s a version which I recorded on a demo tape with Chris Wood, circa 1985. This came from Peter Kennedy’s Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland. Kennedy collected the song from Bert Edwards of Little Stretton, Shropshire, and it’s similar to the way another Shropshire singer, Fred Jordan, used to sing the song.

The notes to this song in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs say

It was perhaps inevitable that this song would attract the ritual-origins theorists  who claimed that it was all to do with corn spirits and resurrection, but it is now generally agreed that such notions were romantic wishful thinking and there is no evidence either for the theories themselves or for this song to be anything other than a clever allegory.

If we stick to what we do know…

Well if you want to know what we do know, you’ll have to buy the book. Even if you never learn any of the songs, it’s worth every penny for Steve Roud’s excellent well-informed and thoroughly commonsensical introduction.

John Barleycorn

Andy Turner: vocals, anglo-concertina

Chris Wood: fiddle, vocals

Recorded 1985 (?) by Bernard Brown

September 16, 2012

Week 56 – Hopping down in Kent

Hop-picking scene, from www.visithawkhurst.org.uk

Hop-picking scene, from http://www.visithawkhurst.org.uk

You can’t be a folk singer from Kent and not know at least a few verses of this song.

I first encountered it sung by Shirley Collins on the Albion Dance Band LP The Prospect Before Us. When I first heard that I was still a folk music novice, and almost every song I heard was new to me. Given how well-known the song has become, it’s funny to think that, when that album was released back in 1977 Hopping down in Kent was in fact new to most people on the folk scene.

Mike Yates recorded a couple of versions in the early seventies, from Louie (Louise) Fuller of Lingfield, Surrey, and the gipsy singer Mary Ann Haynes, who had settled in Brighton. Both versions were included in the Folk Music Journal, in an issue dedicated to travellers’ songs, in 1975.  I’d guess that the Albions’ recording was prompted by this (House in the country, which they recorded later on Rise up like the sun, was in the same issue) – although Shirley may well have known Louie and/or Mary Ann, and heard them singing the song.

Mary Ann Haynes - photo by Mike Yates (?) from Musical Traditions

Mary Ann Haynes – photo by Mike Yates (?) from Musical Traditions

Louie Fuller’s version appeared on the 1976  Topic album Green Grow the Laurels: Country Singers from the South; Mary Ann Haynes’ version only became generally available on the excellent Travellers compilation (also on Topic) in 1985.

Both recordings have since been made available on CD, although the situation is confused by an error with the tracklisting for Topic’s The Voice of the People series. Despite what it says on the CD (and almost anywhere the CD contents are listed on the Internet), it is not Mary Ann Haynes who sings this song on Volume 5 Come All my Lads that Follow the Plough – it’s Louie Fuller. You can  hear Mary Ann Haynes’ version on Here’s Luck to a Man: An Anthology of Gypsy Songs & Music from South-East England (Musical Traditions MTCD320).

In the booklet to that CD, Mike Yates wrote this about his first encounter with Mary Ann Haynes:

One of the first Gypsy singers that I met was Mary Ann Haynes.  I had been told that her son, Ted, was a singer and I drove down to Sussex one Sunday afternoon, looking for his trailer.  Eventually, I found Ted and his trailer in a field.  He was busy and directed me to his mother, who ‘knew all the old songs’.  Mary lived in High Street, Brighton, where, according to Ted, she was known to ‘everybody’.  High Street turned out to be a narrow street off the sea-front and was full of large tower blocks.  I started knocking on doors, only to be told that nobody knew a Mrs Haynes.  I found that when I mentioned that she was a Gypsy doors were closed very quickly in my face.  I began to wonder if I would ever find Mary, and was about to give up, when a lady said that there were no Gypsies in the area, only ‘an Italian looking lady’.  This was, of course, Mary.  When I arrived she was sleeping off a lunchtime session in the pub, but, once roused, she set about making a cup of tea and, having said that I knew her son (sort of), she began to sing as soon as I mentioned songs.  Mary had been born in 1905, in a Faversham waggon parked behind The Coach and Horses in Portsmouth, Hampshire.  Her father, Richard Milest, was a horse-dealer whose family would accompany him across England during the summer as he made his way from fair to fair.  “We used to go to the Vinegar & Pepper Fair at Bristol, then to Chichester, Lewes, Canterbury and Oxford, then up to Appleby and back down to Yalding.”  Mary’s husband died suddenly, leaving her with a large family, and, having settled in Brighton, she worked as a flower-seller, earning enough to support her family.  Mary died in 1977.

The way I sing the song these days is very much based on Mike’s recording of Mary Ann Haynes, although I’ve also included some verses from Louie Fuller, and a couple from lovely Ron Spicer. The second and penultimate verses are Ron’s, and I’ve never come across them anywhere else. I was also tempted to add this verse from Shropshire singer Ray Driscoll

When we use the karsey, sitting on the pole,
You have to keep your balance or you fall back in the hole

Ray Driscoll and Louie Fuller were both brought up in London, and  in the days before mechanisation the local workforce would be massively swelled at hop-picking time by families from the East End of London come down for a working holiday – and of course by a great many gipsies and travellers.

There are several British Pathé films in the archive about hop-picking. Here’s one from 1946.

Hop Pickers

Hopping down in Kent

August 11, 2012

Week 51 – Raking the Hay

In the Spring of 1980 my friends Ian and Jane put on an excellent series of folk concerts in Oxford: Nic Jones with support from Crows; June Tabor and Martin Simpson; Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick. The latter were in fact joined by trumpeter Howard Evans, and when I saw them the following year at the Lewes Folk Day, they were billed as Carthy, Kirkpatrick & Evans. I can’t remember if they sang this song in Oxford, but they certainly did in Lewes, and I was very taken with it. I learned the song shortly afterwards, when I found the words and music in Roy Palmer’s Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs. And not long after that I first heard the original source, Sam Larner, on the Topic LP A Garland for Sam.

A live recording of Martin and John singing the piece – unaccompanied, in unison – was included on the 4-CD box set, The Carthy Chronicles.

I had the pleasure of singing this yesterday during an all-too-brief visit to the lunchtime session at The Volunteer in Sidmouth.

Raking the Hay

June 30, 2012

Week 45 – Sheep Shearing Song

Cover of 'A Song for Every Season' single LP I learned this from the singing of Bob and John Copper on the single LP selection from A Song for Every Season. Bob gives the background to the song in his book of the same name:

Shearing the wool off the back and belly of a sheep in such a manner as to finish up with a fleece of the maximum weight in one piece and in the minimum time was by no means a simple task. It was a skill that was developed over a number of years and, even then, really good shearers were few and far between. For this reason when it ‘came in season the lambs and ewes to shear’ a crew of expert shearers was formed to travel round from farm to farm in a given area and shear all the sheep at each farm in turn by piece-work. The crew from the Rottingdean area called themselves the Brookside Shearers, because the area they covered included all the ‘brook farms’ up the western side of the Ouse Valley from Newhaven to Lewes in what was known as Brookside Country. A crew consisted of a captain, who wore two stars on his hat, a lieutenant, who wore one star, twelve to fourteen men, picked for their skill at shearing and willingness to work hard for long hours, a wool winder to roll and stack the shorn fleeces and a tar-boy whose job it was to go round as required and dab tar – or in later years, powdered lime – on any accidental cuts in the sheep’s hide to stop the bleeding and to prevent flies from entering.

Bob Copper, A Song for Every Season, Heinemann, 1970, p116

This was the practice when Bob’s father Jim started shearing around the turn of the twentieth century, and things appeared to have changed very little for decades.

In an interview given to Vic Smith in 1970 – and now transcribed on the Musical Traditions website – Bob talked more about White Ram Night, which preceded the shearing, and the rather more rumbustious Black Ram Night which came at the end of their work:

They used to start off in their first night to make arrangements of where they were going and what they were going to do and that was called ‘White Ram Night’.  They’d agree on a pub for headquarters.  Usually it was the Red, White & Blue in Lewes.  It’s no longer a pub.  It was until fairly recently.  I’ve had a drink there.  Is it Friars Walk?  Anyway, it’s a green tiled place.  It was a horrible pub.  The worst of Victoriana, but they liked it.  They must have liked the landlady or her daughter or something.  Well, that was their headquarters.  Well, they used to start off on the first night, before the shearing actually started, on the Saturday before they started on the Monday morning.  That was called ‘White Ram’.  That was more or less just business.  There was plenty of beer, there always was.  Then they used to arrange where they were going.  The captain would read out which farms they were going to.  How many in each flock, “Well, we’ll get through that in two days.” And so on and so on.

Then they had a list of fines.  They used to …  If you leave a patch of wool as big as a half-crown on a sheep, you were fined sixpence.  And if it were bigger, it would be a shilling.  If you let your sheep go in the barn, that would cost you sixpence.  If you called a man a fool, sixpence; if you called him anything worse, a shilling.  And they all agreed on this because this all went into the kitty for Black Ram which was the last … which was the Saturday after the completion.  They used to meet on the following Saturday, pay out the wages due and the fines used to go into the kitty over the counter against food, salt beef, they used to have a very good do, cooked beef and bacon and goodness knows what.  That was Black Ram.  That was a really good night, a real humdinger and, in fact, the strong beer they used to drink was called Black Ram very strong, stronger than Old, like a very strong barley wine.  That was called Black Ram and that was a real humdinger.  That was a pretty beefy affair.  So that was the second one, Black Ram.

Sheep Shearing Song