Posts tagged ‘Henry Burstow’

June 19, 2015

Week 200 – The Grand Conversation on Napoleon

At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender… but the legend lived on, of course, and his years of exile on the lonely Isle of St Helena provided further material for those who sought to romanticise the man in verse or song. I think this is a rather fine  – if typically confused – example of such pieces. I first heard it in the late 1970s, on a Strawhead LP lent to me by my friend Simon Oliver. A few years later, on a visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I looked the song up, and copied it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 2 (1906). Vaughan Williams had collected the song in 1904, from Henry Burstow (born 1826) of Horsham in Sussex,. There are several examples of nineteenth century broadside printings to be found at Ballads Online and the Full English but apart from Henry Burstow’s version (one of quite a number of Napoleonic songs in his repertoire) the song was only found twice by the early English collectors in oral tradition – once by Baring-Gould in Devon, and by Vaughan Williams, again, in Norfolk. In more recent times, versions have been recorded in Ireland from Elizabeth Cronin of Cork in the 1950s, and from Tom Costello of Connemara in 1972 (the latter can be heard on Volume 8 of The Voice of the People). Gordon Hall (who of course had a strong connection with, and interest in, Henry Burstow) sang the song on the Veteran CD When The May Is All In Bloom. In the sleevenotes to that CD John Howson notes

As the broadside versions mention Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, this ballad must date from sometime after 1821. Both Harkness of Preston and Such of London published the song in about 1840 but it was probably based on an earlier broadside ballad called The Grand Conversation under the Rose. Perhaps due to the popularity of the Napoleon ballad, they both, some time later published The Grand Conversation on Nelson.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose - broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose – broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.

There’s an interesting article on this, and other pro-Napoleon ballads, on the Musical Traditions site –The Grand Conversation: Napoleon and British Popular Balladry, by the always-readable Vic Gammon.

 

 

Well there we are then: two hundred consecutive weeks of songs on this blog. When I started I guessed that I knew about 150 songs. A little while ago I revised my estimate up to 200, and now I’m thinking the total might be nearer 250. In fact the number keeps increasing: next week’s song (yet more Napoleon) is a song I’ve only learned in the last few weeks. To those of you who have followed this blog over the years, and made supportive or constructive comments, many many thanks – it has meant a lot to me.

The Grand Conversation on Napoleon

February 1, 2014

Week 128 – Salisbury Plain

When the EFDSS republished the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs as Classic English Folk Songs, they got it just about right. Certainly it’s the classic collection of English folk songs, and as a result of their inclusion in the book many of the songs in it have become staples of the folk revival. And there are some real gems: ‘All Things Are Quite Silent’, ‘The Blacksmith’, ‘Death and the Lady’, ‘The Grey Cock’, ’Lovely Joan’…

I’d put ‘Salisbury Plain’ right up there with the best of them: for me it’s the epitome of a classic English folk song. It has a fantastic modal tune, and the words are wonderfully evocative. The male lead, though a rogue, is clearly something of a charmer

As I walked over Salisbury Plain,
Oh, there I met a scamping young blade.
He kissed me and enticèd me so
Till along with him I was forced for to go.

Clearly you could interpret the word “forced” to mean that the narrator was subject to physical coercion. But the way I read the song, she was just swept off her feet, and ultimately found the scamping young blade irresistible.

And the last verse – especially the slightly oblique last line – is, well, classic.

Read the expanded notes on the song in Classic English Folk Songs however, and you soon realise that, not for the first time, this classic owes more than a little to the editorial interventions of A.L.Lloyd. The Penguin edition makes clear that the tune given was collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall, from Horsham in 1904, while RVW had the words from their near neighbour, Henry Burstow (incidentally, can this really be the first song I’ve posted here from the great Henry Burstow? shameful, if so). But now we learn that

the editors have modified Mr Burstow’s text in places, and omitted the final verse:

So now young men a warning take by me,
And never keep those flash girls company,
For if that you do you will rue,
And you will die upon the high drop at last.

Well it’s good to have the full facts available, and it would appear that it’s fairly easy to determine the extent of Bert Lloyd’s intervention here – which is sadly not the case with many of the other songs he introduced to the folk scene (‘Reynardine’, ‘Weaver and the Factory Maid’, ‘Recruited Collier’ and ‘Lucy Wan’ spring to mind). And while one can regret that Lloyd was often less than transparent when he “improved” a traditional song, it’s hard to fault his artistic judgement – in most cases it seems he really did improve on the originals. There’s nothing wrong with Henry Burstow’s final verse, but I have no hesitation in saying this song is more effective without it.

Incidentally, I first heard this song sung unaccompanied by Martin Carthy on the LP Prince Heathen, and I’d rate it as one of the finest performances of Martin’s recording career.

Salisbury Plain, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.

Salisbury Plain, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.

Salisbury Plain, verse 5, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.

Salisbury Plain, verse 5, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.

Salisbury Plain