Posts tagged ‘George Gardiner’

October 17, 2020

Week 298 – The Unfortunate Tailor

I learned this, of course, from John Kirkptarick’s superlative performance of the song on Morris On. That was a real eye-opener in terms of what the anglo-concertina can do (if you’re as gifted as John Kirkpatrick).

I’d be very surprised if John didn’t learn the song from Frank Purslow’s book Marrowbones. Purslow gives two Hampshire sources: George Lovett from Winchester, and Alfred Oliver from Basingstoke, collected by George Gardiner in 1906 and 1907 respectively. Their very similar versions can be viewed – words and music – on the VWML site. Alfred Williams also took down a set of verses from John Webley of Arlington in Gloucestershire.

The song was in fact written by Music Hall entertainer Harry Clifton, and published in 1868 by Hopwood and Crew (nineteenth century attitudes to musical copyright might be inferred from this broadside print on the Bodleian site, from Glasgow publisher the Poet’s Box, which also dates from 1868). Harry Clifton wrote some really well-known songs including ‘Polly Perkins of Paddington Green’ and ‘My Barney (Bonnie) lies over the ocean’ – and numerous others which will be familiar to those of us interested in traditional song and dance, such as ‘Dark girl dress’d in blue’, ‘The Watercress girl’ and ‘The Calico Printer’s Clerk’.

You’ll find Clifton’s words on John Baxter’s excellent site, Folk Song and Music Hall. It seems the “Oh! why did my Sarah serve me so?” verse was in fact originally a chorus.

On this Mudcat thread you’ll find both words and music, in ABC format. Copying the code into ABC Explorer reveals that, in the hands of country singers and musicians, both the song and related morris tune had departed some way from Clifton’s tune (which, in turn, reminds me of various older sailor-themed dance tunes). Here it is, in case you fancy learning a different version from that usually sung on the folk scene.

I'll Go and Enlist for a Sailor, Harry Clifton, 1868. From the transcription by Artful Codger on Mudcat.

I’ll Go and Enlist for a Sailor, Harry Clifton, 1868. From the transcription by Artful Codger on Mudcat.

The Unfortunate Tailor

April 9, 2016

Week 242 – Long Looked For Come At Last

I learned this from Caroline Jackson-Houlston. She and I used to sing it together – performing as Flash Company – in the early 1980s, and it’s one of several songs from that period which she and I both retain in our individual repertoires. Mind you, Caroline has always made quite clear what her reaction would be, if a suitor buggered off for a year then came back claiming “you’re the one I really want” – and it wouldn’t be to drag him off to church.

I still have Caroline’s typed copy of the words. Unusually, they don’t give her source, but looking at the Full English it must be this version from the 85 year old William Winter, collected at Andover by H. Balfour Gardiner, and which forms the basis of the version printed in Frank Purslow’s The Wanton Seed.

'Abroad as I was a-walking' from the Gardiner MSS, via the Full English

‘Abroad as I was a-walking’ from the Gardiner MSS, via the Full English

Long Looked For Come At Last

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

October 31, 2014

Week 167 – The Small Birds Whistle

Thanks to its inclusion on various Peel and Kershaw sessions, Martin Carthy’s reconstruction of this Child Ballad is known well beyond the confines of the folk world. John Peel reckoned that every time Martin recorded a new session, the song had acquired a few extra verses. Well, there are plenty to choose from, even before you start making up brand new ones. There are in fact whole chunks of the Carthy story which are missing from my version. In particular, when the King goes out hunting, nothing of note seems to happen, and he comes home safely two verses later.

I was inspired to learn the song after hearing Jasper Smith’s four verses fragment on the Topic LP The Travelling Songster (that recording was also included on Voice of the People Volume 11, My Father’s the King of the Gypsies). On a trip to the Vaughan Williams memorial Library I assembled enough verses to make a coherent whole, thanks in part to the seven Scottish, American and Canadian variants in Bronson’s Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads but mainly making use of the version printed in Frank Purslow’s book The Constant Lovers. That version of the song came from Albert Doe, of Bartley in Hampshire, collected by George Gardiner on 17th December 1908. Frank Purslow’s notes say that Albert Doe was “apparently a good singer with a very fine repertoire, some, if not all, of Irish origin. The tune of this version in any case betrays its country of origin, as it is a variant – a good one – of a tune much associated with texts of Irish origin, such as The Croppy Boy, The Isle of France, Sweet William, The Wild and Wicked Youth and several others”. Jasper Smith’s song is set to a variant of the same tune, while on The Travelling Songster Phoebe Smith uses an almost identical tune for ‘Sweet William’ – indeed, I think the way I sing the tune probably owes more to Phoebe than Jasper Smith.

The song itself dates back to the seventeenth century. The earliest copy in the Bodleian was “Printed for Eliz. Andrews in little St. Bartholomews court in West-smithfield” (in London) between 1664 and 1666. And while we know that all folk songs and ballads must have been written by someone, this is one where we’re pretty sure who that someone was: ‘The famous Flower of Serving-Man. Or, The Lady turn’d Serving-Man’ was entered in the Stationers’ Register on July 14, 1656, by noted (and prolific) ballad-writer Laurence Price.  If your public library provides access to the Oxford DNB, you can read Roy Palmer’s biographical entry on Price at

The famous flower of serving-men. Or The lady turn'd serving. Printed for Eliz. Andrews in little St. Bartholomews court in West-smithfield, between 1664 and 1666. From the Bodleian collection.

The famous flower of serving-men. Or The lady turn’d serving. Printed for Eliz. Andrews in little St. Bartholomews court in West-smithfield, between 1664 and 1666. From the Bodleian collection.

The Small Birds Whistle

July 20, 2013

Week 100 – Through Lonesome Woods

It’s the one hundredth week of the blog, so let’s celebrate with a rather lovely little traditional song, with a decidedly lovely guitar accompaniment from the perennially lovable Chris Wood.

I first heard this c1981 at the Heritage Society in Oxford, sung by Andy Cheyne, who had recently appeared on the Oxford scene. Andy immediately became a favourite at the club, as he had a range of really interesting songs with really interesting accompaniments. Mainly, he played acoustic guitar, but also had one of those electric guitars with a small speaker embedded in the body – a few years later Ali Farka Toure was shown playing one on the cover of Folk Roots.

Andy had had this song from Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs’ The English Folksinger, from where I also took the words. Andy recorded the song a decade or so later with Michelle Soinne on an excellent cassette-only release Fish Royal. Meanwhile, when Chris Wood and I started working up material in the summer of 1982, I’m pretty sure this was one of the very first songs to go into our repertoire. It was certainly one of my favourites, and when I came to record an album in 1990, this was always going to be on it. That album, Love, Death and the Cossack, was also cassette-only. And, retro-fans, I do still have a box of them knocking around the loft. But if you’d like a copy, you may prefer to download it from

Chris has subsequently recorded the song a couple of times, with the Two Duos Quartet, and with Jean-Francois Vrod. Chris learned it from me, as he has always acknowledged, although I seem to remember he’s changed the accidentals around a little.

'Through Lonesome Woods' from Henry Perkes, collected by George Gardiner. Image © EFDSS

‘Through Lonesome Woods’ from Henry Perkes, collected by George Gardiner. Image © EFDSS

Like last week’s song, this appears to be the only collected version of Roud number 3461.

Last week, a friend’s comment on ‘Master Kilby’ was, simply, “Poetry!” . Well so is this

Through lonesome woods I took my way
So dark, so dark, as dark could be
Where the leaves were shivering on every tree
Which don’t you think ’twas grief for me

Through Lonesome Woods

Andy Turner: vocals
Chris Wood: guitar

November 3, 2012

Week 63 – Common Garden

Some years ago, on a visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, my search for the words of a song led me to the George Gardiner MSS. These are now freely available on the EFDSS Take Six website but back in the dark ages one had to scroll through the collection on microfilm. Once I’d noted down the song I was after, having put Malcolm to the trouble of loading up the film, I thought I might as well have a browse and see what else I could find. I’m really glad I did, as I came across the version of ‘The Isle of France’ which I recorded last year with Magpie Lane, and this little gem, which immediately became one of my favourites.

I see that Steve Roud has given this a unique Roud number; although the song has some words in common with other songs, such as ‘Yarmouth is a Pretty Town’, ‘Boys of Kilkenny’ and ‘The Chaps of Cockaigny’.

It’s one of those songs which conjure up an atmosphere, but you’re not really sure what’s going on. No doubt at one time the song did make more sense but, deliberately or through forgetfulness, the folk process has improved it. (The mystery preserved in the words adds to my enjoyment of the song – it seems to make it “proper poetry”; and I’m a great fan of Elvis Costello, but I often don’t have a clue what he’s going on about).

Gardiner collected this in Axford, Hants – a hotbed of traditional singing at the time, it would seem – on 19 August 1907. The source was Alfred Goodyear, an agricultural labourer born at Nutley, less than a mile away, in 1866 (I have this from a list of Hampshire singers produced by the Singing Landscape Project at Bournemouth University).

Gardiner listed the song as ‘Covent Garden’, but Mr Goodyear seems consistently to have sung “Common Garden” – you can see for yourself on the Take Six site.

'Common Garden' as collected by George Gardiner, from the VWML archive

‘Common Garden’ as collected by George Gardiner, from the VWML archive

Common Garden

February 11, 2012

Week 25 – Limbo

The Rake's complaint in Limbo - ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection

The Rake’s complaint in Limbo – ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection

I first heard this song performed by the Oyster Ceilidh Band in the late seventies. They subsequently recorded it on the LP Jack’s Alive. I learned the words from Frank Purslow’s book Marrowbones; where I also found that, although the Oysters played it in 6/8, it had originally been notated in 3/4.

The song has been found only rarely in oral tradition. The version in Marrowbones was collected in 1908 by George Gardiner, from James Brooman, of Upper Faringdon in Hampshire, and can now be seen via the EFDSS Take Six archive.

It is always stated that the title of the song comes from the nickname for a debtor’s prison, such as the Marshalsea Prison where Charles Dickens’ father was imprisoned. I thought I’d try to find some evidence for this usage, so I looked at the Online Slang Dictionary – which tells us only that “limbo” has been used to refer to marijuana. The OED, meanwhile, has various definitions for “limbo”:

A region supposed to exist on the border of Hell as the abode of the just who died before Christ’s coming, and of unbaptized infants

A South African name for a kind of coarse calico

A dance in which the dancer bends backwards and passes under a horizontal bar raised only a few inches off the ground.

Initially I thought all of these seemed irrelevant to the song; but actually, thinking about Dickens’ descriptions of debtors’ prison, it occurred to me that the first definition was probably the origin of our modern expression “in limbo”, and could easily have been used to refer to the interminable wait [for something to turn up] of those imprisoned for debt.

And then I came across this passage from Biblical references in Shakespeare’s plays by Naseeb Shaheen, via Google Books

“Limbo” is the religious term used to denote the underworld abode of just souls not entitled to go to heaven because of having died before Christ (limbus oatrum), or because they lacked baptism (limbus infantum). The teaching is based on Church tradition rather than on Scripture. The word is used in that sense in Titus Andronicus 3.1.149, and All’s Well That Ends Well 5.3.261. But in Shakespeare’s day, “limbo” was also the cant term for London’s debtors’ prisons. Used in the latter sense, to be in limbo would mean to be in prison. Limbo Patrum is used in that sense in Henry VIII 5.3.64.

Clearly this usage of the word continued for at least another two centuries after Shakespeare’s time – the ballad sheet shown here dates from the early nineteenth century, while our song was noted down in the early twentieth century. From Wikipedia I learn that “The Debtors’ Act of 1869 abolished imprisonment for debt, although debtors who had the means to pay their debt, but did not do so, could still be incarcerated for up to six weeks.”


Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina