Posts tagged ‘George Butterworth’

June 10, 2018

Week 274 – Bold General Wolfe

General James Wolfe was one of those dashing military heroes of the British Empire so much admired in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. A successful military commander Europe in the seemingly endless wars against the French in the eighteenth century, in 1758 William Pitt offered him the opportunity to fight them also in North America.

In March 1759, prior to arriving at Quebec, Wolfe had written to Amherst: “If, by accident in the river, by the enemy’s resistance, by sickness, or slaughter in the army, or, from any other cause, we find that Quebec is not likely to fall into our hands (persevering however to the last moment), I propose to set the town on fire with shells, to destroy the harvest, houses and cattle, both above and below, to send off as many Canadians as possible to Europe and to leave famine and desolation behind me; belle résolution & très chrétienne; but we must teach these scoundrels to make war in a more gentleman like manner.”  (Wikipedia)

After laying siege to Quebec for three months, on 13 September 1759 Wolfe  led a daring early morning assault which took the French by surprise (was that really gentleman like?). They were defeated in only fifteen minutes – a defeat which opened the way for the British taking control of all Canada; but, as this song records, Wolfe was fatally shot in the moment of victory.

The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West (via Wikimedia)

The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West (via Wikimedia)

I originally heard the song on, and learnt it from, the Watersons’ eponymous 1966 LP. I’m indebted to George Frampton for alerting me to this Kentish version, some years before the EFDSS Take Six / Full English archive made the work of the early twentieth century collectors so much more accessible. It’s from the George Butterworth collection, but was actually noted down by Butterworth’s friend Francis Jekyll, nephew of the famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Unfortunately we don’t know any details about the singer of the song, other than the fact that in September 1910, he or she was resident in the Workhouse at Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

Bold General Wolfe, as collected by Francis Jekyll in Minster, 1910. From the VWML archive catalogue.

Bold General Wolfe, as collected by Francis Jekyll in Minster, 1910. From the VWML archive catalogue.

Jekyll noted only the tune, not the words, so I carried on singing the verses I already knew, from Frank Puslow’s Marrowbones / the Watersons.

Looking at the collected versions, it’s clear this was a popular song, in the South of England at any rate. And, of course, there were numerous broadside printings.

Bold General Wolfe - Such broadside from the Lucy Broadwood collection, via the VWML archive catalogue.

Bold General Wolfe – Such broadside from the Lucy Broadwood collection, via the VWML archive catalogue.

Jame Wolfe actually had Kentish connections. Not with the Isle of Sheppey, as far as I’m aware, but with Westerham, where he was born in 1727, and where a statue was erected to his memory in 1911.

Statue of James Wolfe, Westerham, Kent after being unveiled by Field Marshall Roberts, 2nd Jan 1911.

Statue of James Wolfe, Westerham, Kent after being unveiled by Field Marshall Roberts, 2nd Jan 1911.

 

Bold General Wolfe

October 18, 2011

Week 8 – As I roamed out

Occasionally at a folk festival I’ve come across slim volumes of folk song, usually published by the EFDSS, being sold off at bargain basement prices. Should you find yourself in a similar position, my advice is – buy them, I’ve picked up some really good stuff this way. Including the source of this song, The Ploughboy’s Glory, edited by Michael Dawney. This is a collection of previously unpublished songs from the George Butterworth collection. Of course you can find all of these today on the Take Six website, but there’s nothing quite like leafing through a book looking for new songs or tunes. Especially when you only have to go as far as page 6 to find a gem like this.

Butterworth collected the song in 1908 from a Mrs Whiting of Broseley in Shropshire; or possibly Newport in Monmouthshire – the MS as reproduced on the Take Six record is ambiguous on this.

Michael Dawney reports that

Miss [Margaret] Dean-Smith’s master title for this song is ‘The Banks of Sweet Primeroses’ (sic), of which Butterworth himself collected a version, ‘Sweet Primroses’, The actual flowers are not mentioned in ‘As I roamed out’, Butterworth wrote on his MS: ‘Several verses have been omitted’ which probably (since no complete copy exists) contained an explicit invitation to sexual intercourse, as in his ‘Sweet Primroses’:

For I will make you as happy as any lady,
If you will grant me one small relief.

I almost wish I hadn’t read that: I always thought of ‘Sweet Primroses’ as such an innocent song!

Anyway, as well as the confusion as to whether this was collected in England or Wales, other questions which arise include:

  • where did Dawson find the words? I can only find the tune on Take Six.
  • and is this part of  Roud 586 (‘Banks of the Sweet Primroses’) or Roud 922 (‘The Lawyer’ aka ‘Mowing the Barley’)? It’s classified as both in Steve Roud’s Index
  • and what was so shocking in the original? Neither Sweet Primroses or The Lawyer is usually outway rude. Was Butterworth particularly prudish? or did Mrs Whiting have an especially crude set of words?

Alas, we shall probably never know the answer to the last question. Which is a great pity. But in fact, the fragment we have left – though the result of a collector’s sensitivities rather than the refining work of the folk process – is to my mind rather beautiful. It creates a mood, without explicitly telling you what’s going on, and I don’t see that as a problem. After all, that approach to songwriting doesn’t seem to have done Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello any harm…

As I roamed out

Update 18th October

Have done some further investigating, and discovered quite a lot more information about this song.

  1. From http://www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de/~zierke/watersons/songs/maymorning.html I discovered that Eliza Carthy has recorded the song, on the Waterson: Carthy album A Dark Light. That’s a record I own, but I hadn’t listened to it for some while, and had definitely not registered this song. The CD notes say “Liza learned May Morning from the Cecil Sharp collection” – but I think she has misremembered, and must have had the song, as I did, from Ploughboy’s Glory.
  2. That page led me to this Mudcat Café thread from which I’ve learned a number of things, most importantly that the song has antecedents in a broadside ballad, probably dating from the early nineteenth century – have a look at the ballad sheets themselves by searching for “shady green tree ” at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/ballads/
    You’ll see that it must have been (the remnants of) verses 3 and 4 that Butterworth felt couldn’t be repeated in polite society. The Roud Index has this song as number 2512.
  3. Also on that Mudcat thread, the last contributor links the song (very plausibly) to Roud 9785, with two versions:

Well that’s a satisfying day’s work. My feeling is that ‘As I roamed out’ is clearly derived from the ballad ‘Shady Green Tree’, and should be reclassified as either Roud 2512 or 9785 – it’s an entity in itself, and nothing to do with either ‘The Lawyer’ or ‘Sweet Primroses’.
I’ve supplied the above information to the ever-helpful Steve Roud. He’s busy with other things at the moment, but will no doubt sort all of this out in due course.

September 11, 2011

Week 3 – Saucy Sailor

It was the Steeleye Span album Below the Salt which turned me onto folk music, and there was a time when I could have sung all of the songs on that LP. Including the rather lovely final track, ‘Saucy Sailor’. The album sleevenotes say that their version is “from the Journals of the Folk-Song Society. Collected by George Butterworth in Sussex, 1907”. Now that we have access to George Butterworth’s manuscripts via the Take Six website, I must admit that I can’t identify which version Steeleye were using. Not that it matters; theirs is still a very good arrangement.

In any case, I’ve moved on: about a dozen years ago I heard Vic Gammon singing a different Sussex version, and it prompted me to go looking to see what other variants I could find. This version was collected by Butterworth in May 1907, from a Mr. H. Webb at Stanton St.John in Oxfordshire, and I found it in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol 4  (1913). There are four versions of the song published in that year’s Journal, two of which are from Butterworth.

Neither the Journal nor Butterworth’s MS makes it clear from whom the published set of words was collected – from Mr Webb, or a group of children from Amberley in Sussex. I was originally tempted to replace the couplet “I’ll cross the briny ocean / Where the meadows are so green”, but ultimately decided to retain it. It doesn’t make sense, but I like the idea of a singer from Oxfordshire – about as far from the sea as you can get in England – having a rather confused idea of what the sea was actually like.

You can see all of the versions of this song which Butterworth collected (listed under the title ‘Come my own one’) by following this link to the Take Six site.

Saucy Sailor