Posts tagged ‘H E D Hammond’

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

October 8, 2015

Week 216 – The Bold Benjamin

About four or five years ago I went to see Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot. This was one of the songs they played and, chatting to Martin in the interval, I must have mentioned it for some reason. “You should sing that”, said Martin, “it would suit your voice”. Well, if Martin Carthy MBE recommends that you sing a particular song, it strikes me that the only possible course of action is to follow his advice.

In fact I had known it vaguely, many years ago, as a result of buying a copy of the LP No Relation by Heather Wood and Royston Wood. I’d largely forgotten about it though, so set about learning it anew. I sought it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society No. 11 – completely forgetting that in fact it’s in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

The version in the Penguin Book was taken down by Henry Hammond from Joseph Taunton, at Corscombe in Devon Dorset in 1907, and published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society the same year.  Hammond’s notes say that “Taunton learnt this from a soldier when he was 17 years old” (in the Journal the song’s provenance is given as “Mr. Taunton learnt the song 50 years ago from a man-of-war’s man” i.e. he learned it circa 1857).

The Bold Benjamin, collected by H.E.D.Hammond from Joseph Taunton, 1907. From the Full English archive.

The Bold Benjamin, collected by H.E.D.Hammond from Joseph Taunton, 1907. From the Full English archive.

Hammond also noted a version in Dorset, from Marina Russell. The opening line of Mrs.Russell’s version ran “French Admiral he is gone to sea”. Although the collector added that

Mrs Russell said “I don’t know whether ’tis “”Finch” or “French Admiral”

A much earlier ballad, the earliest known version of which was printed in the 1670s, is entitled ‘The Benjamin’s Lamentation For their sad Loss at Sea by Storms and Tempests: Being a brief Narrative of one of his Majesty’s Ships, call’d, the Benjamin, that was drove into Harbour at Plimouth, and received no small Harm by this Tempest’. Captain Chilvers is the “hero” in this case, and the song details – at somewhat tedious length – the various harms that befell the ship and its crew.

Strangely, although one might think that a  song like this must have at least a kernel of truth, researchers have so far been unable to track down either the ship, or the hapless captain / admiral.

The Benjamin's lamentation for their sad loss at sea by storms and tempests - printed in London between 1689 and 1709; from Broadside Ballads Online,

The Benjamin’s lamentation for their sad loss at sea by storms and tempests – printed in London between 1689 and 1709; from Broadside Ballads Online,

The Bold Benjamin

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