Posts tagged ‘Hard times’

March 1, 2015

Week 184 – Painting the Town

Bing Lyle. Photo from the Brighton Acoustic Session blog.

Bing Lyle. Photo from the Brighton Acoustic Session blog.

I don’t sing very many modern songs in public, but occasionally I come across a song and know immediately that I want to learn it. That was the case with ‘Between the Wars’ and it was the case with this one too. It was written by Bing Lyle, and I first heard him sing the song at Wingham Folk Club, near Canterbury, circa 1986.

I’d known Bing a bit for some years – he would occasionally turn up at Oyster Morris / Band events and turn in a crowd-pleasing performance of, say, ‘I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande’, or ‘Little Red Rooster’. I got to know him better in the mid-1980s, when we both found ourselves living in Faversham for a few years. Having heard him sing this at Wingham, and decided that I wanted to learn the song, I then had to wait some years before I heard it again. He moved away to Brighton, then I moved to Oxford, and although our paths would cross from time to time, it seemed to be in situations where Bing was singing more traditional material (we were both involved, for instance, with The Keys of Canterbury, Pete Castle’s first Kent-themed compilation). In the nineties, however, Bing teamed up with fiddle-player Ben Paley, and they recorded the CD We are melting. Which, among a number of other good songs written by Bing, included ‘Painting the Town’.

I have unconsciously changed the tune a bit over the years. And consciously changed one of the lines. In the last verse, the original lyrics say “a million to one, it’s not you”. I learned the song round about the time the National Lottery was launched, in which the odds of winning were famously calculated to be around 14 million to one. So the odds of achieving happiness on “the big wheel of happiness” were correspondingly lengthened.

You’ll search the Internet in vain, I’m afraid, for a Bing Lyle web page. There’s not even a photo of him on the website of the Sussex Pistols, the Brighton-based dance band he plays with. However, I was pleased to find this 2011 video of him singing ‘Painting the Town’ at the (sadly now defunct) Royal Oak folk club in Lewes.

Painting the Town

Andy Turner – vocal, C-G anglo-concertina

February 7, 2015

Week 181 – Hard Times of Old England

Another song from the Copper Family repertoire, and one which seems never to have been collected elsewhere. This is included on the recent Fellside release Bob and Ron Copper: Traditional Songs from Rottingdean, a CD reissue of a limited edition EFDSS LP which featured recordings made by Peter Kennedy, and which first came out in 1962.  Unusually – given that one tends to think of Bob Copper as the “lead singer” in the family from the 1960s onwards – there are no solos by Bob on this album, but three by his cousin Ron, including ‘Hard Times of Old England’ (in contrast, there are no solos by Ron on the 1971 box set A Song for Every Season).

Listening to that recording made me realise that, while I might soon have moved on from the Mike Batt-produced Steeleye Span arrangement of the song (it’s on their All Around My Hat LP, and features an arrangement which is very much in the same mould as the title track), the way I sing the song betrays the fact that I originally learned the song from Steeleye, and not from Ron Copper.

Brother Tradesmen. noted from Jim Copper, by Francis Collinson,1949. From the Full English Archive.

Brother Tradesmen. noted from Jim Copper, by Francis Collinson,1949. From the Full English Archive.


Hard Times of Old England

November 16, 2014

Week 169 – I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents

I learned this song from Lucy Broadwood and J A Fuller Maitland’s 1893 collection, English County Songs, where it is printed in the Dorsetshire section: “words and tune from H. Strachey, Esq”. That would be Henry Strachey of Bristol, who is listed in early Journals as a member of the Folk-Song Society. He heard the tune being “whistled by a labourer at Shillingham, Dorsetshire, in 1889” and later took it down “from a collier at Bishop Sutton, Somerset“. Several versions were taken down by early collectors such as Baring-Gould and Clive Carey, and the song appears to have remained popular: it was recorded in the 1970s from singers including Freda Palmer, Harry Upton and Frank Hinchcliffe. Most versions have been found in Southern England, but the song has also been collected in Yorkshire and Scotland – as well as Australia and North America.

In about 1980 I sang this – and came second – in a Worst Song competition at the Gypsy Davey Folk Club, which used to be held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, Oxford. The winning song on that occasion came from the legendary Trevor Vale – I think it was his classic ‘The Squire he rides by…’ and if anyone reading this has any old recordings of Trevor I (and several other people I know) would absolutely love to hear them.

Given the context, I suspect I rather hammed the song up back then. These days I sing it completely straight – if a song’s worth singing, it’s worth taking seriously. Even if it is a load of sentimental odl tripe.

I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents

August 4, 2013

Week 102 – Adieu to Old England

I first heard this on the 1974 Shirley Collins LP of the same name. Then a little later I heard it sung by John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris on Among the Many Attractions at the Show Will Be a Really High Class Band. I learned this version in the early 1980s from Caroline Jackson-Houlston; it was part of our repertoire in the harmony duo Flash Company.

The song comes from Sabine Baring-Gould’s Folk Songs of the West Country, where it says it was “Taken down from William Friend, 1889”. Elsewhere Baring-Gould claimed to have found the song “repeatedly” in the West Country, and you can see his collected versions on the EFDSS Full English site, along with versions taken down by Sharp, Gardiner, Hammond and Lucy Broadwood – all in the West Country. But that might just reflect the geographical bias of the collectors – Norfolk’s Harry Cox had the song in his repertoire, and it has also been collected in Bedfordshire, Scotland and North America.

I’d never looked into the song’s background before starting this blog post, but I was sure there would be umpteen broadside versions – the song very much has the air of one that originated with the broadside press. However the notes to the EFDSS publication Still Growing state “No known broadside versions”, and a decade on from that book’s publication I can’t find any online. However Baring-Gould’s English Minstrelsie (1896) contains an eighteenth century printed version – here are some extracts from the book’s song notes:

A song from “Vocal Music, or, The Songster’s Companion,” circ. 1778, vol. iv. This begins-

“Ye frolicsome sparks of the game,
Ye misers both wretched and old,
Come listen to Billy, my name,
Who once had his hat full of gold.”

The chorus to this is —

“Then why should we quarrel for riches,
Or any such glittering toys ?
A light heart and a thin pair of breeches,
Go through the world, brave boys ! “

But this chorus belongs to a much earlier song that is in “Perseus and Andromeda” which was acted at Drury Lane in 1728.

There is a song I have come upon repeatedly, for the last ten years, as a folk-ballad in the West of England, that goes over the same ground as the song in “Vocal Music,” but has more verses, and the chorus, “Adieu to Old England, adieu,” in place of that from “Perseus and Andromeda,”

In ” Vocal Music ” the chorus to ” Ye frolicksome sparks,” is a mere repetition of the last two lines of each verse. I have therefore adopted the chorus of the folk-song as now sung. The folk-chorus, “Adieu to Old England, adieu,” will perhaps be more acceptable than that which insists on a “Thin pair of breeches,” and the folk-melody of the chorus is also good, and better than a mere repetition.

Proving, if nothing else, that it wasn’t just songs from the oral tradition which the good Reverend felt compelled to mess around with when publishing them!

The song’s lyrics do not make clear why the narrator is bidding farewell to his native land. Has he committed a crime, and now awaits transportation? Or has, he like the character in Limbo, simply spent all his money on riotous living, and is now fleeing abroad? Answers on a postcard, please.

'Adieu to old England adieu' from the Baring-Gould manuscript archive, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

‘Adieu to old England adieu’ from the Baring-Gould manuscript archive, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

Adieu to Old England

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

February 10, 2013

Week 77 – Needlecases

I learned this from All Buttoned Up, the first LP on Topic Records by the Cock and Bull Band – apologies, the Hemlock Cock and Bull Band – where it was sung by drummer John Maxwell.

It seems to have been particularly popular (or at least, most frequently collected) in Oxfordshire: Peter Kennedy recorded a version from Arthur Smith of Swinbrook in 1952, Francis Collinson had the song from Bob Arnold (of Archers fame) at Burford in 1946, Mike Yates recorded it from Freda Palmer of Witney in 19767, and John Howson recorded the Bampton morris dancer Francis Shergold singing it  in 1987.

Francis’ version was included on the Veteran CD It was on a market day Volume 2, and his words can be found at I don’t have a copy of All Buttoned Up to hand, but I seem to remember that the sleevenotes referred to Alfred Williams as the source of the song. Be that as it may, looking at those lyrics, I think it highly likely that John Maxwell had learned the song from Francis Shergold.

Alfred Williams did collect a version from Eli Dawes of Southropp in Gloucestershire, and the song was recorded in the same village, some 40 years later, from a singer by the name of Jimmie Maunders in 1957. Apart from that the only other version listed in the Roud Index – and the only one not from the Cotswolds –  was printed in Kidson & Moffat’s English Peasant Songs (1929).

Having recently quoted Henry Mayhew on the subject of poor frozen-out gardeners I thought I would see what he had to say about sellers of needlecases. There are a number of references; the following unflattering description comes from London labour and the London poor : a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work (Volume 1) – Mayhew is here actually quoting the views of “an educated gentleman (who has been before alluded to in this work), and as he had been driven to live among the class he describes, and to support himself by street-selling, his remarks have of course all the weight due to personal experience, as well as to close observation”:

I come now to the third class of patterers, — those who, whatever their early pursuits and pleasures, have manifested a predilection for vagrancy, and neither can nor will settle to any ordinary calling. There is now on the streets a man scarcely thirty years old, conspicuous by the misfortune of a sabre-wound on the cheek. He is a native of the Isle of Man. His father was a captain in the Buff’s, and himself a commissioned officer at seventeen. He left the army, designing to marry and open a boarding- school. The young lady to whom he was betrothed died, and that event might affect his mind ; at any rate, he has had 38 situations in a dozen years, and will not keep one a week. He has a mortal antipathy to good clothes, and will not keep them one hour. He sells anything — chiefly needle-cases. He ‘patters’ very little in a main drag (public street);  but in the little private streets he preaches an outline of his life, and makes no secret of his wandering propensity. His aged mother, who still lives, pays his lodgings in Old Pye-street.



September 1, 2012

Week 54 – The Rigs of the Time

I think I first heard this song on Shirley Collins’ 1967 LP The Sweet Primeroses, and subsequently  learned it from Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain and Ireland. The version in Kennedy’s book is as  sung by John ‘Charger’ Salmons and recorded at the Sutton Windmill, near Stalham, Norfolk  in October 1947. The recording was made for the BBC Third Programme by composer E.J. Moeran. You can hear the entire 1947 broadcast on the CD  East Anglia Sings, released by the rather wonderfully named Snatch’d from Oblivion label. A Musical Traditions article, E J Moeran: Collecting folk songs in East Norfolk – in his own words gives you all the background, and allows you to listen to the songs which he recorded; you can also buy the East Anglia Sings CD from Musical Traditions.

The song presumably dates from the Napoleonic period, judging by the rich farmers’ daughters who say

Boney alas! There’s a French war to fight and the cows have no grass.

Incidentally the three ballad sheets with the title ‘Rigs of the Time’ which can be found on the Bodleian Library Ballads site deal with a similar theme to this song, but otherwise appear unrelated.

The Rigs of the Time