Posts tagged ‘Fred Hamer’

September 9, 2017

Week 268 – Treat my daughter kindly

Farmyard scene from my parents' postcard collection

Farmyard scene from my parents’ postcard collection

When I heard the Watersons’ LP For pence and spicy ale in about 1977 ‘Chickens in the Garden’ was one of the songs I learned from it. Along with ‘Country Life’, ‘The Good Old Way’, ‘Bellman’, ‘Swarthfell Rocks’ and the two Wassail songs. In other words, about half the songs on the album. At the time, and for many years afterwards, it seemed so very Yorkshire, I almost couldn’t imagine it having been sung in any other part of the country – a local composition, perhaps. These myths were dispelled when I heard the Veteran cassette Old songs and folk songs from Essex featuring Fred Hamer’s 1967 recordings of a ninety-three year old Harry Green, from Tilty in Essex. Here it was – evidently the same song – but with no mention of Yorkshire whatever.

Harry Green, photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

Harry Green, photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

The same recording of Harry Green was later included on the Veteran CD The Fox & the Hare. And from John Howson’s notes to that CD I learn that

This song, originally entitled The Farmer’s Daughter, or, The Little Chickens in the Garden, was written by American songwriter James Allan Bland (1854-1919) who also wrote Golden Slippers. Sheet music was published by Oliver Ditson & Co in 1883 and the cover states that it was the “Greatest success of the season with 10,000 copies sold in the first week!” Its popularity meant that it easily slipped into the tradition, particularly in America and Canada. It also found its way to these shores and it was published by the Poet’s Box in Dundee and turns up in Jimmy McBride’s collection from Donegal and Neil Lanham’s recordings from Suffolk and Essex. It was also a favourite of Norfolk singer Walter Pardon.

The Farmer's daughter; or, The Little chickens in the garden. From the Library of Congress sheet music collection.

The Farmer’s daughter; or, The Little chickens in the garden. From the Library of Congress sheet music collection.

Harry Green’s version seems to be much closer to James Bland’s original than the North country ‘Chickens in the Garden’. The words of further versions are provided on this Mudcat thread. These include sets of lyrics similar to Harry’s from North Carolina and Arkansas but, intriguingly, the version recorded from Lena Bourne Fish of New Hampshire starts “While traveling down in Yorkshire”, and also has the phrase “so blooming shy” which was such a memorable feature of Mike Waterson’s rendition.

 

Treat my daughter kindly

December 13, 2014

Week 173 – On Christmas Day

Not exactly full of Christmas cheer, this week’s entry. Nor does this bleak song portray the Redeemer as a particularly forgiving or compassionate deity. It’s quite widely sung these days, but has been rarely collected. In fact pretty much every version you hear around the folk scene is likely to derive directly or indirectly from the version recorded by Fred Hamer from the wonderful Shropshire gypsy singer May Bradley, or that collected in 1912 from her mother Esther Smith by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Ella Leather.

You can hear May Bradley singing the song on the EFDSS CD A Century of Song, and on the Musical Traditions disc Sweet Swansea. Her mother’s singing had also been recorded – on phonograph cylinder – although unfortunately we’re not in a position to hear that.

On the EFDSS cassette The Leaves of Life – following on from May Bradley’s singing of ‘Under the Leaves’ – you can hear the moment when Fred Hamer realises that she is the daughter of Esther Smith. Hamer seems to get quite excited at the Vaughan Williams connection, but Mrs Bradley is clearly unimpressed by any mention of “the greatest composer in this country”. It’s a lovely insight into the cultural chasm that could exist between singer and collector.

Another version of the song, collected from an unnamed gypsy singer in the New Forest, is titled ‘In Dessexshire as it Befel’. You can download a PDF of that version from http://spellerweb.net/cmindex/Gipsy/Dessexshire.html

The notes on that site say

This curious carol was one of a number collected by Alice Elizabeth Gillington (1863-1934), a clergyman’s daughter and student of gypsy culture who herself spent the last quarter century of her life as a gypsy. The Herefordshire gipsy carol, On Christmas day it happened so is a variant of this one.

I’ve almost known the words of this song for years, and recently decided it was time I learned it properly. Incidentally, this is not the only Christmas song from Shropshire where the sins of the farmer are visited upon his livestock – see also ‘The Man that Lives’.

On Christmas Day

May 1, 2014

Week 141 – Good morning lords and ladies

Good morning lords and ladies it is the first day of May

May Day at Ickwell - from http://www.bedfordshire.gov.uk May Day at Ickwell – from http://www.ickwellmayday.co.uk

The blind song collector Fred Hamer recorded this short piece from the Bedfordshire singer Mrs Margery ‘Mum’ Johnstone, and it is one of several May songs and carols included in Hamer’s excellent little book Garners Gay (one of the others is the ‘Northill May Song’ which I posted here a couple of years ago). I first started dipping into Garners Gay circa 1976, and it was probably not long after that I learned this song.

Hamer’s recording of Mrs Johnstone singing it was included on the EFDSS LP Garners Gay. That’s never been released on CD, but you can hear her singing and talking about Bedfordshire May Day customs in this video from Pete Castle:

(I posted this link two years ago, but it’s worth repeating)

Because of its seasonal nature, and its brevity, this is not a song I’ve ever sung very much in public (although I think we did it once or twice in the early days of Magpie Lane). Strangely, until I came to record it a couple of weeks back, it had never occurred to me to try it with concertina, but actually it seems to work rather well.

Happy May Day one and all.

Good morning lords and ladies 

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

March 29, 2013

Week 84 – Pace Egging Song

Emma Vickers - photo from www.veteran.co.uk/Artistes.htm#Emma Vickers

Emma Vickers – photo from http://www.veteran.co.uk/Artistes.htm#Emma Vickers

Oh we got a good welcome at all the toffs’ houses, up Junction Lane and round about, because… even the gentry had a certain love for the Pace Egg.

Back in the 1970s I learned the Watersons’ version of the ‘Pace Egging Song’ from their seminal LP Frost and Fire (sorry but it’s a legal requirement to refer to it as a “seminal” LP; although you are permitted, as Mark Radcliffe did on Radio 2 this Wednesday, to call it “one of the most important folk albums ever made”).

Then in the late eighties Malcolm Taylor of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library put out an excellent cassette, The Leaves of Life, containing field recordings made by the collector Fred Hamer. May Bradley was of course one of the stars of the show, but the other was undoubtedly Mrs Emma Vickers of Burscough in Lancashire. I was really taken by her ‘Pace Egg Song’: it has a funny little kink in the rhythm in the chorus; a first verse with plenty of rhymes, but not necessarily where you’d expect them; and a splendid last line “if you give us a trifle you’ll never be no worse”. What’s not to like?

Mrs Vickers, who had taken part in the Easter Pace Egging custom as child, and revived it later in life, had two Pace Egg Songs – this is actually the junior song, for use by the children. On The Leaves of Life she gives a good description of the characters’ costumes, and of how and where the custom was performed. The quotation at the start of this page is taken from that interview.

If you are a member of a Further or Higher Education institution in the UK – and apologies to those of my readers who are not – you can hear a longer interview conducted by John Howson back in 1972:

Description of pace-egging – Mrs Emma Vickers recorded by John Howson c1972 (login required)

Pace Egging Song

November 18, 2012

Week 65 – My Son John

This is the song I had meant to post last week, but when I came to upload it I found I had forgotten to press the Record button. Glad to say that this week I seem to  have overcome my technical deficiencies.

I learned the song over 30 years ago from Fred Hamer’s book Garner’s Gay. It’s one of several pieces which Hamer recorded from Bedfordshire singer David Parrott. Of the song, Hamer wrote

David’s brother produced evidence to show that this song was sung by an ancestor of the Parrott family who had served at Waterloo. Apparently he was in the habit of singing the song as reunions of veteran soldiers at the Corn Exchange in Bedford, and he invites us to imagine that this is the conversation that takes place when a father takes his son, wounded at Trafalgar, before a naval surgeon, who tries to swindle him out of his disablement pension by claiming it was his own fault.

Of the singer

In 1924 the Bedfordshire Times published a series of articles examining the repertoire of songs sung by the pseudonymous author’s mother. It took me two years of diligent search to find the author’s name, and by the time I found them both he and his mother had died. However his brother, David, was still alive and he could remember the tunes of most of the songs.

My Son John

May 7, 2012

Week 37 – Queen of the May

Julia Margaret Cameron, 'For I'm to be Queen of the May, Mother'; The May Queen, 1875. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

Julia Margaret Cameron, ‘For I’m to be Queen of the May, Mother’; The May Queen, 1875. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum.

This was the first song I learned from a book of folk songs, rather than from a recording of Steeleye Span or the Watersons. This meant that I had to take my own decisions about how to sing it, without having someone else’s arrangement in my head (having said that, I don’t suppose I sang it in anything like my own voice but, as with everything else in those days, as a curious amalgam of wannabe Tim Hart, Mike Waterson and Martin Carthy at his most idiosyncratic).

I learned it, like last week’s song, from Fred Hamer’s book Garners Gay. Hamer recorded the song from Bedfordshire singer Harry Scott. Some recordings of Harry Scott have been made available, on the EFDSS cassette The Leaves of Life, but at present if you want to hear his ‘Queen of the May’ I think you’ll need to visit the British Library Sound Archive – which so far, I haven’t.

Looking out of the window on this May Bank Holiday, I think the young lady in the song might well have said “I’m not going with you, because you’ll get my dress horribly muddy”; or perhaps just stayed at home in the dry.

Queen of the May

April 30, 2012

Week 36 – Northill May Song

Learned many years ago from Fred Hamer’s lovely little book, Garners Gay. Fred collected it from “Chris Marsom and others” – Mr Marsom had by that time emigrated to Canada, but Fred met him on a visit to his native Northill, Bedfordshire. Fred’s notes say

The Day Song is much too long for inclusion here and the Night Song has the same tune. It was used by Vaughan Williams as the tune for No. 638 of the English Hymnal, but he gave it the name of “Southill” because it was sent to him by a Southill man. Chris Marsom who sang this to me had many tales to tell of the reception the Mayers had from some of the ladies who were strangers to the village and became apprehensive at the approach of a body of men to their cottage after midnight on May Eve.

You can hear Vaughan Williams’ setting of the tune (one of many traditional tunes which he slipped in to the English Hymnal) at cyberhymnal.org

text: ‘Jerusalem My Happy Home’
tune: ‘Southill’, tra­di­tion­al arranged Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Eng­lish Hymn­al (Lon­don: Ox­ford Un­i­ver­si­ty Press, 1906), num­ber 638 (MI­DIscore)

There’s more information on May Day customs in and around Northill – and some nice old photos – on the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service website.

Young men going maying including the bride and Moggers and Moggies

Young men going maying including the bride and Moggers and Moggies.
From “Old Village Customs in Northill” page at http://www.bedfordshire.gov.uk

On 1st May several customs were observed. Children would go garlanding, a garland being, typically, a wooden hoop over which a white cloth was stretched. A looser piece of cloth was fastened at the top which was used to cover the finished garland. Two dolls were fastened in the middle, one large and one small. Ribbons were sewn around the front edge and the rest of the space was filled with flowers. The dolls were supposed to represent the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. The children would stop at each house and ask for money to view the garland.

Another custom, prevalent throughout the county if not the country, was maying. It was done regularly until the outbreak of the First World War and, sporadically, afterwards. Young men would go around at night with may bushes singing May carols. In the morning a may bush was attached to the school flag pole, another would decorate the inn sign at the Crown and others rested against doors, designed to fall in when they were opened. Those maying included a Lord and a Lady, the latter the smallest of the young men with a veil and bonnet. The party also included Moggers or Moggies, a man and a woman with black faces, ragged clothes and carrying besom brushes.

And finally – before we get to the song itself (which is very short) here’s a link to a recently posted May Day video from Pete Castle. Pete lived in Bedfordshire in the seventies and eighties, and he met and recorded Mrs Marjorie “Mum” Johnstone who had sung a couple of May songs for Fred Hamer some 20 years earlier. The video has “Mum” singing the two songs, and talking about her involvement in May Day customs as a young girl.

Northill May Song

March 12, 2012

Week 29 – Sweet Swansea

One of my favourite songs, and another from the wonderful May Bradley (see last week’s post). I learned this from the book Garners Gay, prompted by having heard the song on the LP  Rose of Britain’s Isle by John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris. I adjusted the way I sing ‘Sweet Swansea’ a little bit after hearing May Bradley herself sing it on the Garners Gay LP. In particular I really liked the way she repeated the last verse, but changing the words ever so slightly. It was the lack of this feature on either of the versions included on the Musical Traditions CD Sweet Swansea which made me realise that some of the recordings from the 1971 EFDSS LP had not (initially) been included on this CD. It turned out  that the National Sound Archive had provided Rod with all of the recordings they had of Mrs Bradley – which, sadly, suggests that one reel of tape must have gone missing at some point between 1971 and 2010; hopefully this will reappear at some point.

According to May Bradley the song was based on an actual incident, and had been written by her “double great grandfather”; and it’s certainly the case that only one other version is known to have been collected, by Cecil Sharp in 1907, from Caroline Passmore, Pitminster, Somerset.

 

Sweet Swansea

March 4, 2012

Week 28 – The Outlandish Knight

When, in my late teens, I became fascinated with traditional song, I looked in my local public library to see what songbooks they had on the shelves. As I recall there were just three: a volume of songs collected by Sharp, Seeger and MacColl’s Singing Island, and Garners Gay by Fred Hamer (to be fair, they added Peter Kennedy’s monumental Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland a little while later). Of these three, Garners Gay  was, and has remained, my favourite. It contains some lovely songs, and I liked the way that Fred Hamer’s notes talk as much about the singers as the songs.

This is one of the songs I learned from the book. It was collected from May Bradley, a gypsy singer settled in Ludlow. It was several years later that I actually got to hear a recording of Mrs Bradley’s singing: in 1988 the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library released the cassette The Leaves of Life featuring previously unheard Fred Hamer recordings; and around the same time I came across the old EFDSS LP Garners Gay, which included May Bradley singing this song. On listening to these recordings it was immediately apparent that May Bradley was a very fine singer indeed, so I was delighted when, a couple of years ago, Rod Stradling’s Musical Traditions label put out Sweet Swansea, a whole CD of her songs. If you want to know just how good I thought this CD was, you can read my review; or you can just go straight ahead and buy it – if you’re a fan of traditional singing you really won’t regret it.

Incidentally, I’ve always called this ‘The Outlandish Knight’ because that’s what it’s called in Garners Gay. But May Bradley called it ‘The Dappledy Grey’, and actually she makes no mention of an outlandish knight – her version starts “Now it’s of a Turkey he came from the north land”. Fred Jordan, who was born in Ludlow and knew May Bradley well, had a very similar version of the song, which he called ‘Six Pretty Maids’. He had learned his version from members of another local gypsy family, the Lockes.

The Outlandish Knight