Posts tagged ‘Herefordshire’

February 25, 2018

Week 272 – The Bitter Withy

I’m not sure why this song popped up in my head a few weeks back. I used to sing it occasionally a long time ago – mostly just around the house or in the car – having absorbed it from Mike Waterson’s irrepressibly individualistic recording on The Watersons’ LP  Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy. Having decided to resurrect the song, I thought I’d check out other versions. I wasn’t sure if it was one of those songs which is widely sung in the folk revival, but rarely if ever collected from tradition. Actually the VWML Archive Catalogue shows that it has been quite widely collected – but particularly in Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire.

The words – often a bit garbled (“up Lincull and down Lincull”) – were sung to a variety of good tunes, both major and minor. Unable to decide between them, I then had a listen to the version from gypsy singer Charlotte Smith on the Topic/Caedmon album Songs of Christmas/Ceremony (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 9) and immediately decided that was the one for me. It’s a very simple tune, with a span of less than an octave, but it really got its hooks into me. I don’t know how many verses Charlotte Smith sang to Peter Kennedy when he recorded her at Tarrington in Herefordshire in October 1952; only two appear on the Topic LP, and Kennedy’s recording doesn’t appear to be available on the British Library website. So I started to compile my own set of words, from the versions accessible via the Full English, and those printed in old FSS / EFDSS Journals. But I soon realised

  • the words I’d learned (perhaps misremembered) from Mike Waterson were very firmly lodged in my brain
  • I was unlikely to assemble a better set of lyrics

so it just made sense to carry on singing the same words I had always sung.

A.L.Loyd, from whom I imagine Mike Waterson learned this song, was very taken with the idea of the working class Christ teaching a lesson to the three snobbish young aristocrats who refuse to play ball with him (see Folk Song in England page 116-118, and Lloyd’s album notes reproduced at https://mainlynorfolk.info/lloyd/songs/thebitterwithy.html). And the picture painted here of a young Jesus who misbehaves, just like any other child, and gets a thrashing from his mother for his pains, is very much at odds with the portrayal of Jesus in Victorian Christmas carols, where “no crying he makes”, and “Christian children all should be, Mild, obedient, good as He”. As this is a carol I’ve always associated it with with Christmas, but of course there’s nothing remotely Christmassy about it. Indeed I feel very strongly that songs about Jesus drowning a bunch of stuck-up rich kids really are not just for Christmas…

 

The Bitter Withy

Mural from the monastery church on the summit of Bahar Dar, Lake Tana, Ethiopia.

Mural from the monastery church on the summit of Bahar Dar, Lake Tana, Ethiopia.

Max Ernst: The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter (1926)

Max Ernst: The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter (1926)

September 25, 2015

Week 214 – The Blacksmith

Song number 8 in Classic English Folk Songs, formerly the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and few would argue that this is a classic of the genre.

It’s actually a song which I’ve almost certainly never sung in public, and which I’ve never really considered to be part of my repertoire. Partly because I’ve always planned to learn Tom Willett’s magnificent version (and having got this version of my chest, so to speak, maybe I finally will), but also because it’s just one of those songs which everyone knows. Still, I seem to know the words without having to think about them, and it is a classic, and it’s a great song to sing; so it seemed daft not to post a version here.

I would have first heard it as the opening track of Steeleye Span’s Please to see the King. Where – like a lot of songs on the two Carthy / Hutchings Steeleye LPs – it’s given a wonderfully sparse, austere, atmospheric and totally effective arrangement. Shortly after hearing that recording I would have heard the OK but far less interesting arrangement on the first Steeleye LP, and then Andy Irvine’s take on the song, on the debut Planxty album. I suspect most of the words went in by osmosis, but having them in the Penguin book would have helped – no need to transcribe them from tape or vinyl.

Vaughan Williams noted the tune, but no words, from Mrs Ellen Powell, at Westhope, near Weobley in Herefordshire. Malcolm Douglas, in his additional notes for Classic English Folk Songs, suggests that Vaughan Williams and Bert Lloyd used Peter Verrall’s version, or possibly the Such broadside shown below, as the basis of the verses given in the book.

The blacksmith: broadside printed by H. Such, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The blacksmith: broadside printed by H. Such, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The Blacksmith

April 18, 2014

Week 139 – There is a Fountain of Christ’s Blood

Last Christmas I was taken to task for failing to mention, when I wrote about ‘This is the truth sent from above’, the version collected, and subsequently arranged for choir, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. That version, noted from a Mr Jenkins at King’s Pyon in Herefordshire, has, I have to admit, a rather wonderful melody. But actually variants of the same melody seem to have been used elsewhere in the Welsh border counties for other carol texts. I have a four-part arrangement which I hope to post some time of a version of ‘On Christmas Night All Christians Sing’, collected in Shropshire by Cecil Sharp, and which is clearly a variant of Mr Jenkins’ tune. And here’s another variant, once again from Herefordshire, recorded in 1909 by Vaughan Williams and E.M. Leather from Mr W. Hancock (or Hancocks) at Weobley.

The tune and first verse of the carol were printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol 4 No 14 (1910), alongside numerous other really fine carols collected by Vaughan Williams. The notes for this piece say “Noted by R. Vaughan Williams, from a Phonograph Record”. I have completed the words with a further five verses (out of an available twelve) from A Good Christmas Box, a collection printed at Dudley in the West Midlands in 1847. It would seem that the song was not infrequently classed as a Christmas carol, as can be seen from these examples from the Bodleian and Full English collections, but it’s clearly a Passiontide piece. Referring back to the Journal article, I was glad to see that Ella Leather concurs: she notes

It is a great favourite with Herefordshire singers, and was formerly sung at Christmas, although the subject is clearly the Crucifixion and not the Nativity.

The Fountain Of Christ's Blood, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

The Fountain Of Christ’s Blood, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

Having learned and recorded ‘Jack Williams’ a couple of months ago, this was to have been my second new song of 2014. So far, however, all attempts to din the words into my head have proved fruitless. I have occasionally, when recording songs for this blog, had the words in front of me as a safety net; this is the first time they’ve been an essential prop. I wanted to put the song online now though, as it’s appropriate for Easter, and I’m not sure that I have enough songs to keep this blog going till Easter next year!

There is a Fountain of Christ’s Blood

December 27, 2011

Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire

Thanks to the Tradsong mailing list and a discussion on Mudcat I’ve been alerted to a pre-Christmas interview in which Roy Palmer discusses Ella Leather’s carol-collecting activities in Herefordshire before the First World War.

The interview was on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on 23rd December, and is available in near-perpetuity on the iPlayer (it comes about 10 minutes from the end of the programme).

Roy has recently edited a new edition of E. M. Leather and R. Vaughan Williams’ Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire for Stainer & Bell. I’ve not yet seen the book, but given Roy’s involvement, I’ve no reason to doubt that it’s an excellent production.

A Mudcat contributor points out that a facsimile of the original 1920 publication is available online.

It contains, for instance, the version of ‘Saviour’s Love’ which was the source of my words, though not my tune  (see Week 16 ‘Have you not heard’).

December 18, 2011

Week 17 – The Holly and the Ivy / Christmas now is drawing near at hand

Last week it was Shropshire, this week we have two carols collected in Herefordshire.

In quires and places where they sing, if you hear ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ it will invariably be sung to the tune which Cecil Sharp collected in 1909 from Mrs Mary Clayton at Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire, and which was included in the Oxford Book of Carols. On the folk scene, this tune exercises a similar hegemony. It was recorded in the 1950s from Peter Jones of Bromsash in Herefordshire, and that recording was included on the LP Songs of Ceremony (part of the Caedmon / Topic Folk Songs of Britain series). I first heard it in 1976 or 77, at a mass door-to-door carol-singing event in the village of Warehorne in Kent, where the singing was led by John Jones and Cathy Lesurf of the Oyster Ceilidh Band. It was an absolute revelation to me a) that carols like ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ sounded really good when accompanied by melodeons and guitars, and b) that there was more than one tune to some carols – notably this one, and ‘While Shepherds Watched’ (little did I know at that stage just how many different tunes ‘While Shepherds’ could be sung to).

I’m joined on this recording by my son, Joe, on fiddle. He said he’d never actually played the tune before, but it was lodged in his brain after “years of exposure to Magpie Lane at Christmas”.  Well, it doesn’t seem to have done him any permanent harm…

In the Journal of the Folk-Song Society for 1914 you will find a number of versions of ‘Christmas now is drawing near at hand’, collected by Vaughan Williams and Sharp in various locations, but particularly in the West Midlands and counties adjoining Wales. You can find transcriptions of some of the versions which appeared in early volumes of the Journal at http://folkopedia.efdss.org/wiki/Christmas_now_is_drawing_near_at_hand

I, like almost everyone else on the folk scene, learned this fine carol from the singing of the late, great Lal Waterson, on the seminal Watersons LP Frost and Fire.

A.L. Lloyd’s sleeve notes for that LP say:

This moralising carol was much used by beggars and others towards Christmas time. Its tune turns up over and again attached to such carols as The Fountain of Christ’s BloodHave You Not Heard of our Dear Saviour’s Love, and The Black Decree, also to the favourite old dialogue-ballad of Death and the Lady, traceable to the sixteenth century. Here it is sung by Elaine Waterson in a form common among gipsies habitually drifting through the West Midlands half a century ago.

It looks to me that Lal based her tune on that collected by Vaughan Williams in September 1913: “Sung by a Waggoner (name unknown), Pool-End, near Hereford, Herefordshire”, and one of those printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol V, No. 18 (1914).

'Christmas now is drawing near at hand'  Sung by a Waggoner (name unknown), Pool-End, near Hereford, Herefordshire; noted by R. Vaughan Williams, Sept 1913. Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol V, No. 18 (1914) p11

Sometimes I think I’ll relearn the tune the way Vaughan Williams wrote it down – not in a vain attempt to be more “authentic”, but because it has some rather nice subtle twists. But after singing it like this for well over 30 years, I suspect that’s not going to happen.

The Holly and the Ivy

Andy Turner: vocal, G/D anglo-concertina
Joe Turner: fiddle

Christmas is now drawing near at hand