Posts tagged ‘Jim Carroll’

September 12, 2015

Week 212 – Enniscorthy Fair

There was once a time – long ago now – that I would sit at home accompanying myself on mandolin or mandola. Occasionally, this would even happen in public. One song which got this treatment was ‘Galtee Farmer’, learned from the Steeleye Span LP Commoners Crown. As far as I can recall that one never got a public airing, and at some point I stopped singing it altogether. However in 1986 I bought a cassette issued by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Early in the Month of Spring, which contained a traditional variant of ‘Galtee Farmer’. The singer was Bill Cassidy, a traveller originally from Co. Wexford but, at the time he was recorded by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie in 1973, camping illegally under the Westway flyover in North Kensington.

I immediately decided to learn Bill’s version, but felt I needed to change soem of the words, to make it more singable. It’s not that the story is incomplete the way Bill sang it, but the sense in some of the lines seemed to have been mangled a bit e.g.

I’ll engage this mare to all kind work
And her trial won’t be a quest


She looks so style and handsome
And so action in my eye

On a visit to Cecil Sharp House, Malcolm Taylor found me a couple of excellent sound recordings as a possible source of alternative lyrics. One was by Lal Smith, another travelling singer, recorded by Peter Kennedy in the 1950s. And the other was by an unidentified singer, recorded at Killorglin Puck Fair, Co. Kerry. Checking the Roud Index, it must have been this BBC recording, made in 1947 (the catalogue record says “Co. Derry” but that must be a typo – the Puck Fair is definitely held in Kerry).

This Killorglin recording was quite remarkable. Made, I imagine, in a pub, with a very noisy, boisterous clientele, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a recording where it was so obvious that the singer, and everyone with him, was quite so monumentally plastered.

I can no longer remember which lines of my version of the song came from Lal Smith or the singer at the fair (or perhaps from my memory of the Steeleye recording). It may even be that some I just made up.

For more on Bill, and the other Irish travellers recorded by Jim and Pat, see the notes to the Musical Traditions set, From Puck to Appleby; and then purchase the CD, or download a copy – it will cost you all of £4.

Enniscorthy Fair

March 8, 2014

Week 133 – The Constant Farmer’s Son

This is a proper traditional ballad where all the main characters end up unhappy and/or dead. Just for once, it features a young lady whose parents approve of her choice of life-partner but, needless to say, there’s a fly in the ointment. In this case it’s her brothers, who want her to marry a rich young lord. They promise to kill her unsuitable suitor, and are as good as their word, inviting him a to a fair, then doing him over with a couple of sticks (although in the interests of efficiency, and preserving the internal rhyme scheme, they might have done better to have used knives).

I learned this from an Irish traveller, Josie Connors, via the VWML cassette Early in the Month of Spring. This cassette presented recordings of Irish travellers made by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie in various unromantic locations (e.g. an illegal camp underneath the Westway flyover in North Kensington) in and around London – Josie Connors, I think was recorded at Langley, near Slough. Most if not all of those recordings are now available on the Musical Traditions CD From Puck to Appleby.

The notes to that CD say

The plot of The Constant Farmer’s Son was used in the 14th century by Boccaccio in The Decameron and later made the subject of poems: by Nuremberg poet Hans Sachs in the 16th century and, in the early 19th century, by John Keats in his Isabella and the Pot of Basil.

Based on an older song, The Bramble Briar or Bruton Town, which has been described as ‘probably the song with the longest history in the English tradition’, it owes its continued popularity to its appearance on nineteenth century broadsides.  A version from Hertfordshire in 1914 gives it as ‘Lord Burling’s (or Burlington’s) Sister or The Murdered Serving Man.

As well as being found widely in England, it is very popular in Ireland, though it has only appeared in print there a couple of times.  It is included in the Sam Henry Collection which gives four sources and, more recently it was included in Fermanagh singer John Maguire’s autobiographical Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday.  Josie learned it from her mother, a Dublin Traveller.

About twenty years ago I sang this song in a ballad session at Sidmouth. The collector Keith Summers was sitting near me. When I’d finished the song he just leaned across and said “You got it boy”. That’s one of those cryptic remarks which I may well have misinterpreted, but I’ve always taken it as a huge compliment from a man who had spent an enormous amount of time in the company of traditional singers.

The Merchant's Daughter And Constant Farmer's Son - ballad sheet from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

The Merchant’s Daughter And Constant Farmer’s Son – ballad sheet from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.

The Constant Farmer’s Son

June 9, 2012

Week 42 – Early in the month of Spring

In recent years Malcolm Taylor, the Librarian of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, has been awarded an OBE, the EFDSS Gold Badge, and a Radio 2 Folk Award; while the library itself has achieved MLA Designated status, recognising the library’s national and international importance. All of these awards are entirely deserved. Malcolm is a thoroughly good egg, and in his time at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library he has both raised its profile and dramatically extended the range of services it offers – and this is set to be taken even further with the Full English project now underway.

In the 1980s, when the Society as a whole was pretty moribund, and members only seemed to have energy for bitter internecine disputes over where the HQ should be based, Malcolm just quietly got on with things: doing his best to ensure the library’s resources were secure,  organising library lectures, and masterminding a series of excellent cassettes featuring field recordings which had never before been available to the world at large.

One of these cassettes was Early in the Month of Spring, which featured recordings made by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie of Irish Travellers in England – recordings which had often been made in the most unlikely places (well, for those who think of folk songs as existing only in an idyllic rustic setting) such as underneath a flyover on the Westway.

The cassette was full of great performances of great songs, sung by singers who were clearly great characters. Fortunately, since cassette tapes were never the most wonderful or long-lasting medium, the songs from Early in the Month of Spring have now been made available on a Musical Traditions CD From Puck to Appleby (MTCD325-6)

This one came from Mikeen McCarthy, originally from  Cahirciveen, Co Kerry, but who had lived in England for most of his life. Mikeen was introduced by Jim and Pat to the London folk club scene, and I was lucky enough to see him singing at at least one National Folk Music Festival at Sutton Bonington. An obituary for Mikeen appeared in the 2006 Folk Music Journal, and this is available online.












Early in the month of Spring