Posts tagged ‘Highwaymen’

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

April 21, 2013

Week 87 – Sovay

I learned this – along with quite a number of other songs – from Maud Karpeles’ collection The Crystal Spring. Cecil Sharp noted the song in September 1903 from Louie Hooper and Lucy White, at Hambridge in Somerset. It was included in Sharps’ Folk Songs from Somerset where it is notated in alternating bars of 2/4 and 3/4. I sing it pretty much in 6/4 – but what’s the odd extra beat between friends?

The line “when he spied his watch hanging by her clothes” always brings to my mind an image of the two lovers walking in a garden (actually it’s my Mum’s back-garden) where a load of washing is hanging out on the line. And there’s his watch, pegged up between one of her nighties and a pair of bloomers…


October 13, 2012

Week 60 – The Rambling Blade

Only the second song I’ve posted so far from my favourite traditional singer, Walter Pardon – but this was his favourite song.

I first saw Walter sing in 1980, at the first Downs Festival of Traditional Singing, held that year in Newbury. I’d already heard the two LPs of Walter’s songs which were then available on the Leader label, A Proper Sort and Our Side of the Baulk, and it was clear from those recordings that he was a very fine singer. But what really appealed to me when I saw him was the unshowy way in which he sang his songs. In particular, I remember a singaround with everyone sitting in a circle, and each singing a song in turn. When it was Walter’s turn he stood up, launched straight into his song without any preamble, and sat down almost before the last note had died away. A quiet, private, unassuming man (from what I can tell – I never knew him), he demonstrated that you could sing in an undemonstrative way, without any overt display of emotion, and yet put a song across in a totally effective and engaging way.

Walter Pardon - photograph by John Howson, from

Walter Pardon – photograph by John Howson, from

I saw him twice more, I think. Once at a Library lecture in Cecil Sharp House when, having battled with the Friday night traffic coming up from Kent, we actually only got to see him sing a handful of songs – but one of those was ’The Rambling Blade’, and I distinctly remember him saying this was his favourite song. And then Carol and I went to see him at the Herga folk club in the summer of 1988 (I remember the date because it was just a couple of weeks after we’d got married). Our car was in danger of breaking down, I seem to remember, but I’m really glad we made the trip and got to hear him singing over the course of a full evening.

This song, of course, turns up in many guises – ‘Newlyn Town’, ‘The Flash Lad’, ‘Adieu, Adieu’ etc. etc. But there’s a particularly fine period feel to Walter’s version, with its references to “Ned Fielding” (the novelist Henry Fielding founded the Bow Street Runners in 1749, and his blind younger half-brother John is credited with turning them into London’s first effective police force).

This song appears on the Leader LP A Proper Sort (long unavailable of course, like everything else from the Leader / Trailer catalogue) and was also included on the excellent Topic CD A World Without Horses.

The Rambling Blade