Posts tagged ‘Kent’

February 1, 2020

Week 286 – The Blacksmith Courted Me

I first heard ‘The Blacksmith’ via the starkly beautiful arrangement on Steeleye Span’s second album Please to see the King. That must have been the autumn of 1976. Over the next couple of years I heard several other versions: Steeleye Mark I’s rather less impressive arrangement on Hark the village wait; Andy Irvine’s reading of the song on Planxty; Shirley and Dolly Collins’ interpretation of the Phoebe Smith version, as part of their magnificent Anthems in Eden suite; and Barry Dransfield’s wonderful extemporisations on the Dransfield album The Fiddler’s Dream (as an aside, if you don’t know that record check it out now – possibly the best folk-rock album ever).

Steeleye and Planxty both did the version collected by Vaughan Williams in Herefordshire, as printed in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. That’s not a version I’ve ever sung in public, but it would have been hard not to have absorbed it in my formative years as a singer, and I posted it here back in 2015 as Week 214 – The Blacksmith.

In early 1979, thanks to Ashford public library and inter-library borrowing, I managed to get my hands on the 1963 Topic LP The Roving Journeymen featuring Tom Willett and his sons Chris and Ben. That record had a big influence on me. Over the next few years I learned over half of the songs on the album: ‘Riding Down to Portsmouth’‘The Roving Journeyman’‘The Rambling Sailor’‘My Dog and I’‘The Old Miser’‘The Game of All Fours’ and last, but certainly not least, ‘Lord Bateman’. I also really admired Tom Willett’s performance of ‘The Blacksmith Courted Me’ but somehow I never learned it. Partly, perhaps, because I viewed it as a song best sung by a woman; partly because Tom’s words were not quite, as you might say, ‘oven-ready’. Well last autumn I decided the time for procrastination was long past, and set about assembling a set of words to sing.

Tom Willett's version of 'The Blacksmith' as noted by Ken Stubbs in 1960, page 1

Tom Willett's version of 'The Blacksmith' as noted by Ken Stubbs in 1960, page 2

Tom Willett’s version of ‘The Blacksmith’ as noted by Ken Stubbs in 1960

 

I brought in lines from other versions to fill out Tom Willett’s three-line verses. Then I swapped a couple of lines around so that “clever” rhymed with “ever” and “beauty” rhymed with “duty”. And then I agonised for ages over the last couple of verses. I was determined to bring in “Oh witness have I none, save God Almighty” which, along with the “Strange news” lines earlier in the song I think of as one of the absolute glories of English traditional song lyrics. But I was equally determined not to omit Tom’s defiant last line

I shall never die for love, young man, believe me

In the end I added a whole extra verse, and turned the final stanza into a 6-line verse. And I think it works rather well. I am certainly enjoying singing the song, and when I make a visit to the Lewes Saturday Folk Club in April I think it’s pretty much certain that this will be on my setlist.

You can find recordings of Tom Willett singing this song in various places now. The Topic album The Roving Journeymen is available for download. There’s a Musical Traditions 2 CD set, Adieu to Old England, and a 2 CD release on Forest Tracks, A-Swinging Down The Lane, which (because Paul Marsh and Rod Stradling basically had the same brilliant idea at pretty much the same time) contains almost exactly the same recordings, made by Ken Stubbs in the early 1960s. Of the two I’d say the Forest Tracks album is marginally the better – apart from anything else the CD booklet contains the only photograph of Tom Willett you are ever likely to encounter. I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for listening to field recordings of traditional singers, but if you do, A-Swinging Down The Lane is an essential purchase.

If you just want to dip your toes in the water, or if money is tight, you’ll now find Ken Stubbs’ field recordings available via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library archive catalogue.

Catalogue record https://www.vwml.org/record/RoudFS/S393817 includes the pages from Stubbs’ notebook shown above, and his 1960 recording of Tim Willett singing ‘The Blacksmith’.

There’s much more in this collection, given my particular interest in songs from Kent and the South of England, that I really must explore. Often recorded in noisy pubs, often mere fragments of a song or tune, but fascinating none the less – try this recording of an unidentified singer delivering just one verse (almost!) of ‘Hopping down in Kent’; if nothing else, you certainly get a sense of atmosphere.

The Blacksmith Courted Me

September 29, 2019

Charlie Bridger – Won’t you buy my pretty flowers?

I’ve posted several songs here which I learned from Charlie Bridger, from Stone-in-Oxney in Kent:

I recorded Charlie singing, and talking about both his working life and his involvement with music, back in April 1983. Around last Christmas-time Rod Stradling, editor of Musical Traditions, got in touch to say that he’d like to put these recordings out on a CD. I’d always intended to write up what I knew about Charlie – indeed I’d promised to do so for Keith Summers, the previous editor of Musical Traditions, when it was still a printed magazine. Having failed to publish anything in the intervening years, I’d decided it could wait till my retirement. But this seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. George Frampton, who had never met Charlie, but interviewed his widow Lily, and various other people who knew him, very generously sent me all of his notes, and copies of a number of photos. And I set about pulling together the information, and then writing up booklet notes for the CD.

Charlie Bridger, Won't you Buy my Pretty Flowers?, CD cover.Charlie Bridger, Won’t you buy my pretty flowers? (MTCD377) came out in July. It’s available for £12 from Musical Traditions records. The CD contains 29 tracks – all but 2 of the songs I recorded from Charlie, plus one track of him playing the clarinet. Here’s the tracklist, and you can also read the 28 page booklet on the MT site.

It’s had a couple of really nice reviews. And I’m particularly chuffed by the fact that these reviews were written by two people I admire greatly, song collector Mike Yates and former EFDSS librarian Malcolm Taylor.

I’m mentioning all of this now, because next weekend (5th-6th October) I’ll be at the Tenterden Folk Festival. I’ll be singing a number of the Kentish songs in my repertoire, and on the Sunday afternoon I’m giving a talk about Charlie Bridger. Vic and Tina Smith have kindly agreed to be on hand with their laptop, speaker and projector, so this will be an illustrated presentation; and it will include some recordings of Charlie singing, and clips of him talking – about farmwork, stonebreaking, tanner hops, busking, and the places where country people sang, some 80 or 90 years ago.

Here’s a sample, from the recording I made when I interviewed Charlie and Lily on 2nd July 1988. This is Charlie talking about smoking concerts.

 

Please note: this excerpt is from a copy of my original cassette recording. The songs included on the CD have all been professionally cleaned up to remove hiss and hum and so forth, so are of a much higher audio quality than this.

June 10, 2018

Week 274 – Bold General Wolfe

General James Wolfe was one of those dashing military heroes of the British Empire so much admired in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. A successful military commander Europe in the seemingly endless wars against the French in the eighteenth century, in 1758 William Pitt offered him the opportunity to fight them also in North America.

In March 1759, prior to arriving at Quebec, Wolfe had written to Amherst: “If, by accident in the river, by the enemy’s resistance, by sickness, or slaughter in the army, or, from any other cause, we find that Quebec is not likely to fall into our hands (persevering however to the last moment), I propose to set the town on fire with shells, to destroy the harvest, houses and cattle, both above and below, to send off as many Canadians as possible to Europe and to leave famine and desolation behind me; belle résolution & très chrétienne; but we must teach these scoundrels to make war in a more gentleman like manner.”  (Wikipedia)

After laying siege to Quebec for three months, on 13 September 1759 Wolfe  led a daring early morning assault which took the French by surprise (was that really gentleman like?). They were defeated in only fifteen minutes – a defeat which opened the way for the British taking control of all Canada; but, as this song records, Wolfe was fatally shot in the moment of victory.

The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West (via Wikimedia)

The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West (via Wikimedia)

I originally heard the song on, and learnt it from, the Watersons’ eponymous 1966 LP. I’m indebted to George Frampton for alerting me to this Kentish version, some years before the EFDSS Take Six / Full English archive made the work of the early twentieth century collectors so much more accessible. It’s from the George Butterworth collection, but was actually noted down by Butterworth’s friend Francis Jekyll, nephew of the famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Unfortunately we don’t know any details about the singer of the song, other than the fact that in September 1910, he or she was resident in the Workhouse at Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

Bold General Wolfe, as collected by Francis Jekyll in Minster, 1910. From the VWML archive catalogue.

Bold General Wolfe, as collected by Francis Jekyll in Minster, 1910. From the VWML archive catalogue.

Jekyll noted only the tune, not the words, so I carried on singing the verses I already knew, from Frank Puslow’s Marrowbones / the Watersons.

Looking at the collected versions, it’s clear this was a popular song, in the South of England at any rate. And, of course, there were numerous broadside printings.

Bold General Wolfe - Such broadside from the Lucy Broadwood collection, via the VWML archive catalogue.

Bold General Wolfe – Such broadside from the Lucy Broadwood collection, via the VWML archive catalogue.

James Wolfe actually had Kentish connections. Not with the Isle of Sheppey, as far as I’m aware, but with Westerham, where he was born in 1727, and where a statue was erected to his memory in 1911.

Statue of James Wolfe, Westerham, Kent after being unveiled by Field Marshall Roberts, 2nd Jan 1911.

Statue of James Wolfe, Westerham, Kent after being unveiled by Field Marshall Roberts, 2nd Jan 1911.

 

Bold General Wolfe

December 17, 2016

Week 262 – The Woodside

A telegram received at Folkestone from Cromer leaves little doubt as to the fate of the brig Woodside, of Folkestone, one of her boats having been picked up. The Woodside left Sunderland on Dec. 20, and has not been heard of. She carried a crew of eight, and was bringing home a Dover sailor who had been discharged from Sunderland Hospital after illness.

Dover Express – Friday 18 January 1895

It’s coming up to Christmas, and the blog returns – but not with “a song for the time when the sweet bells chime”, as the piece popular at Yorkshire carolling sessions has it; more a song for the time when the bell shall toll…

Traditional singers, especially gypsies, would often end a song by saying “and that’s a true story”, but this one really is. It tells in five simple verses of the shipwreck of the brig the Woodside, returning home from Sunderland to Folkestone, which, like a number of other ships, foundered in the terrible storm of 22nd December 1894.

Between December 21st and 22nd, 1894, a whole fleet of British and German trawlers and cargoes were lost during the great storm over the North Sea. All were reported as missing and for some of them, floating wreckage was found

http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?155824

Just before Christmas 1894 the whole of the North of England was battered by a very severe gale. Commentators stated that nothing had been seen like it for over 40 years and it left a trail of death and destruction in its wake.

It started around midnight on the morning of Saturday 22nd December 1894 and gradually increased in strength. The speed of the winds became so strong that they started to cause structural damage. In Leeds the chimney of Messrs. Richard Bailes & Co, Chemical Works at Woodhouse Carr was blown down onto the adjoining house on Speedwell Street. At the time a mother and her six children occupied the house, one of whom was sadly killed. Reports from Liverpool to Whitby reported similar tragedies with many people crushed or hit by falling buildings.

Two trams were blown clean off the rails in Leeds and many shop windows were blown in. In Pudsey a workman narrowly escaped death when the chimney of the factory he was working in came down. Chaos was caused to communications when, starting at midnight, one by one, the 20 telegraph wires linking Leeds with London started to fail. By 1:30 am they were all gone, there was also no communications between Leeds and Derby, Birmingham, Bristol and whole of the west of England, most other places in the north of England were also affected. The telegraph office issued a notice that all messages would only be taken at the sender’s risk.

http://www.barwickinelmethistoricalsociety.com/8912.html

Grave fears are entertained at Sunderland for the safety of the vessels – George, of Southampton; Woodside, of Folkestone; and Ketch Elizabeth, of Sunderland, which left the Wear on the 21st of December, and have not since been heard of. The crews number 20. Anxiety is also felt concerning the steamer Prescott, which left the Wear on the 29th ult. For Marseiiles. [and which was indeed lost with all hands]

The Globe, Tuesday 08 January 1895

Details of the Woodside and its crew were related in the Folkestone Express, January 1895:

THE LOSS OF THE WOODSIDE COLLIER.

There is now unhappily no doubt that this vessel foundered in the recent disastrous gale in the North Sea on Saturday, December the 22nd, and that the crew were drowned. No particulars of the disaster will ever be known. Her crew consisted of six men and a boy. Their names were Henry Milton, of Fenchurch street, master, who leaves behind a widow and family, the youngest child being about 12; Jesse Wooderson, mate, widow and three young children; Benjamin Cotterell, ordinary seaman, recently married; John McKay, able seaman, single; William Baker, able seaman, single; and Charles Woollett, boy. There was also on board a man named James Batchelor, supposed to belong to Whitstable, who had broken his leg, and the captain was giving a passage to Folkestone.

The young man, Benjamin Cotterell, was a son of Mr. Cotterell, of the Ham and Beef Warehouse, High Street. He has another son who during the heavy gale was in great peril in another ship, not far away from the spot where the Woodside is supposed to have foundered. Writing on board the schooner Via, from Gateshead-on-Tyne, on Boxing Day, to his father, he says: “We arrived here safely on Monday evening, after having a fearful time of it. We left London on Wednesday, blowing a gale, and got out clear of the river, when the forepeak halyards came down, and we had to put back to Sheerness with the head of the sail split. Left again on Thursday morning, and went into Harwich in the evening. Left Friday morning, and got down off Flamborough Head on Saturday morning at four o’clock, when that terrible gale struck us, It had been blowing a moderate gale all night. We were blown right off the land – blew all our head sails to ribbons and two of the head stays with them. At last we got her hove to, with only a close-reefed mainsail on her, and oil bags over the side. I very nearly lost the run of my mess, owing to the lower topsail. We lay hove to for about 10 hours, seas breaking aboard all the time. I think it was a lot worse than last year. I was over to Sunderland yesterday, and was told the Woodside left on Thursday. I hope she came all right out of it.”

We understand arrangements are being made to raise a fund for the benefit of the widows.

It seems likely that this song was locally composed as part of, or to draw attention to, those fund-raising efforts. It has been collected only once, from the brothers John and Ernest ‘Ted’ Lancefield, of Aldington in Kent. They were employed as gardeners at Goldenhurst, Noel Coward’s country home. Francis Collinson, who noted the song down in June 1942, would have moved in the same circles as Coward – both were involved in musical theatre – so it is no surprise that he should have visited Goldenhurst; he might even have been invited over specifically to meet the musical Lancefield brothers.

 

In Collinson’s MS the song is headed ‘The Woodside Woodison’. The second word in this title always puzzled me but, looking at the list of victims above, I see that Jesse Wooderson was mate of the Woodside. Aldington is not far from Folkestone where the Woodside was based, so the Lancefields may well have known members of the Wooderson family. I’m not sure how old Ted Lancefield was when he died in 1954, but it’s not inconceivable that he knew Jesse Wooderson himself.

'The Woodside Woodison' as collected from John & Ted Lancefield, June 1942. From the Francis Collinson MSS via the Full English.

‘The Woodside Woodison’ as collected from John & Ted Lancefield, June 1942. From the Francis Collinson MSS via the Full English.

I recorded this previously, with Pete Castle on guitar, on the compilation Apples, Cherries, Hops and Women.

The Woodside

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

March 12, 2016

Week 238 – The Faithful Sailor Boy

I always think of this as a Kentish song. I learned it from George Spicer, who was born at Little Chart near Ashford, and learned most of his songs as a young man in Kent. In the 1940s Francis Collinson noted it from William Crampon from Smarden. And in the 1980s, when I met Charlie Bridger, I found that he also knew the song – at least, he knew the first verse and chorus, and I was able to provide him with the rest of the words.

But of course the song was known throughout Britain, and further afield. In his notes to the Musical Traditions CD Plenty of Thyme by Suffolk singer Cyril Poacher, Rod Stradling writes

The Faithful Sailor Boy was written by George W. Persley towards the end of the 19th century. Few songs have achieved such widespread popularity among country singers and their audiences. It turns up again and again in tap-room sing-songs throughout Britain, even through into the 1980s. Gavin Greig described it as being “Very popular in Aberdeenshire in the early years of this century” (and, sure enough, Daisy Chapman had it in her repertoire), and we have heard it in both Donegal and Cork in the last few years. Two versions have been found in the North Carolina mountains (there’s a ’20s hillbilly recording by Flora Noles, Sailor Boy’s Farewell—Okeh 45037), while other other sets have been reported from as far away as Australia and Tristan da Cunha.

Actually, the authorship of the piece is unclear: the song’s entry in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs states

The song appeared on one or two late nineteenth-century broadsides, and was probably written about 1880. Several sources claim that it was composed by the well-known songwriters Thomas Payne Westendorf (1848-1923) and G. W. Persley (1837-94), but we have not been able to confirm this, nor have we found any original sheet music.

 

Blackberry Fold - Topic LP sleeve (from the Mainly Norfolk website)

Blackberry Fold – Topic LP sleeve (from the Mainly Norfolk website)

Although I learned this from the Topic LP Blackberry Fold I think the first time I ever heard it was at a meeting of the shortlived folk club which Alan Castle  (subsequently the organiser of the long-running Tenterden Folk Festival) ran at the Victoria in Ashford, circa 1979. On that occasion it was sung by Adrian Russell, at least one of the Creissen brothers (Terry and/or Gary) and probably Tim Bull. Adrian or Gary may remember – so if you’re remotely interested (and I can’t think why you would be, to be honest), keep an eye on the Comments below this blog post.

The Faithful Sailor Boy

February 11, 2016

Week 234 – Johnny Abourne

Photo of Phoebe Smith by Mike Yates, from the EATMT website.

Tune, title, and words of verse 1 (mostly):  from the great Phoebe Smith, via Mike Yates’ recording on the Topic LP The Travelling Songster: An Anthology from Gypsy Singers.

All other words: from  ‘Bothy Songs & Ballads’ by John Ord.

Phoebe Smith’s title, ‘Johnny Abourne’, is a mishearing or corruption of the original Scottish title ‘Jamie Raeburn’.  Similarly, she consistently sang ‘Canada’  rather than the perhaps unfamiliar word ‘Caledonia’.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘Jamie Raeburn’ states that

Jamie Raeburn is reputed to have been a baker in Glasgow before being sentenced for petty theft, although he was allegedly innocent, and then sent out to the colonies as punishment…

In Robert Ford’s ‘Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland: With Many Old and Familiar Melodies’ (1901) he writes the following in relation to the song:

The above was long a popular street song, all over Scotland, and sold readily in penny sheet form. The hero of the verses, in whose mouth the words are put, I recently learned on enquiry, through the columns of the Glasgow Evening Times, was a baker to trade, who was sentenced to banishment for theft, more than sixty years ago. His sweetheart, Catherine Chandlier, thus told the story of his misfortunes: We parted at ten o’clock and Jamie was in the police office at 20 minutes past ten. Going home, he met an acquaintance of his boyhood, who took him in to treat him for auld langsyne. Scarcely had they entered when the detectives appeared and apprehended them. Searched, the stolen property was found. They were tried and banished for life to Botany Bay. Jamie was innocent as the unborn babe, but his heartless companion spoke not a word of his innocence.

You’ll find numerous recordings of the song from Scottish tradition at http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk

I’m always amazed that this version, with it’s wonderful tune, is not more widely sung.

Jamie Raeburn: broadside printed by James Kay, Glasgow. Probable period of publication: 1840-1850. From the National Library of Scotland Word on the Street site.

Jamie Raeburn: broadside printed by James Kay, Glasgow. Probable period of publication: 1840-1850. From the National Library of Scotland Word on the Street site.

Johnny Abourne

January 29, 2016

Week 232 – The Veteran

Charlie Bridger wrote out the words of this song, and sang it for me, when I first met him in April 1983. It took me another 25 years or so to get round to learning the song, and I have to confess that, having learned it, it’s not been something I’ve returned to very often. But I think perhaps I should sing it more.

The Veteran - as written out by Charlie Bridger

 

The Copper Family have a version, with a different melody to Charlie’s. It’s included in Bob’s book A Song for every Season, but not on the box-set, or on any subsequent releases. I recently asked on Facebook if anyone in the family sang the song, but the answer was “We don’t like it much… neither did Bob…”.

Well, it is a bit of a miserable old song, a bit of early Victorian sentimentality (the Roud Index has numerous songster and broadside listings, of which the earliest appears to be Bayly, Songs & Ballads Grave & Gay, 1844). But I think there’s a certain dignity in the song. It’s no Lear, but the song’s theme of an old man, alone, forgotten, friendless and with no one with whom to share his last days, has certainly not lost its relevance.

 

The Veteran - broadside ballad published at Taylor's Song Mart, 93, Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, London, between 1859 and 1899. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The Veteran – broadside ballad published at Taylor’s Song Mart, 93, Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, London, between 1859 and 1899. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The Veteran

January 22, 2016

Week 231 – Georgie

When a singer knows upwards of 250 folk songs, you might reasonably expect his or her repertoire to include certain classic ballads – say, ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’, ‘Banks of Green Willow’, ‘The Unquiet Grave’ and ‘Georgie’. All widely sung on the folk scene, and widely encountered in British and American tradition. Well this time last year, I didn’t have any of those songs in my repertoire. With ‘Banks of Green Willow’ the problem has been – and continues to be – deciding exactly which of the many fine collected versions to learn. I do have a version of   ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’ lined up  to learn – indeed last January I was confidently saying that it would be the next song I learned. It wasn’t, and I’m wary of making any promises about quite when I might knuckle down and get it under my belt. But in the spring I did at least put together a version of ‘Georgie’ and have been singing it often enough since then to begin feeling at home with the song.

I found the melody some twenty years ago when scrolling through the copies of Vaughan Williams’ MSS held in the library named in his honour. In those days, these copies were available only on microfilm, whereas now, of course, you can get them all online. I was looking for songs RVW had collected in Kent – specifically those he noted from Mr and Mrs Truell of Gravesend. This song is the next one in the MS.

There’s a lack of clarity about its provenance. The page is headed “Kent Songs” but the source of the song is given as a Mr Jeffries, at Mitcham Fair (in Surrey). In the VWML index record the Place collected reads “England : Surrey : Mitcham CHECK” so clearly some doubt remains. I suppose Mr Jeffries may have been attending the annual fair, but have hailed from Kent. With no other information recorded about the singer, I guess we will never know.

Typically, Vaughan Williams noted just the tune and one verse – in this case verse 9 (verse 5 in my reconstruction)

He stole neither sheep nor cow
Nor oxen has he any
But he has stolen six of the king’s fat deer
He sold them to Lord Daney (Davey?)

Typically, also, I can’t quite decipher Rafe’s handwriting.

Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.

Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.

I have assembled a set of words from various oral and printed sources:

  • The first two verses – including the placing of the action on “a Whitsun Monday” and the “pretty little boy” line – come from a broadside printed by Armstrong in Liverpool in the 1820s.
  • Most of the other verses come from a Such ballad, from later in the nineteenth century, or the version collected by Henry Hammond from Sergeant Fudge, at East Combe Lydeard in Somerset.
  • The “lawyers, lawyers” verse meanwhile is based on an American version, collected by Vance Randolph from Georgia Dunaway, Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1942.

You’ll find historical background to the ballad on Mudcat and the Mainly Norfolk site. Basically, there are two similar but distinct ballads: the Scottish ‘Geordie’, where the hero’s wife successfully saves him from the gallows, and the English ‘Georgie’ (or ‘Geordie’), where her efforts are in vain. The songs may or may not have been based on actual historical incidents. But, as with Shakespeare, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, the love and grief felt by the female protagonist are real enough.

Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Georgie

March 13, 2015

Week 186 – The Bold Princess Royal

I’m a fool. Having recorded a song which begins “On the fourteenth of February” I then completely forgot to post it on 14th February. So, one month late, here it is.

My tune comes from the Butterworth MSS, but was actually collected in September 1910 – at Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent – by his friend and associate Francis Jekyll, nephew of the famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll (the family surname, I believe, rhymes with “treacle” rather than “heckle”).

As was common practice at the time, Jekyll appears to have noted the tune but not the words. And, as always in these circumstances,  my first port of call for a singable set of words was the Copper Family songbook. In truth, words for this song don’t vary that much from singer to singer; although in retrospect I do wish I’d shopped around a bit, and managed to provide the pirate with a loud-speaking trumpet (as in Sam Larner’s version and the printed ballad sheet shown below).

I can forgive the collector for not writing down the words of the song. But rather less forgivable is the fact that he failed to record the singer’s name. That’s pretty poor in any circumstances, but somehow it seems worse given that the singer was an inhabitant of the Minster Union (Workhouse). Almost certainly going into the workhouse was a source of shame and indignity for the singer. And, because an Eton-educated folk song collector couldn’t be bothered to find out his name, he (I assume it was a him, ‘Bold Princess Royal’ seems like the sort of song which would have been sung mainly by men) is robbed even of claiming a place as a minor footnote in history. It’s really not good enough.

I must thank George Frampton for originally drawing this song to my attention – and the others which Jekyll collected on Sheppey – some years before they became more readily available via the Take Six, and now the Full English archive.

The bold Princess Royal, Such broadside from Ballads Online.

The bold Princess Royal, Such broadside from Ballads Online.

The Bold Princess Royal

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

February 15, 2015

Week 182 – Wait till the clouds roll by

Valentine’s Day is over… but here’s a sentimental love song which would have been perfect had I been organised enough to get it posted yesterday. I learned this song over thirty years ago from Charlie Bridger of Stone-in-Oxney in Kent. Around the same time Pete Coe was singing the song around the clubs, in a version learned from the Old Time singer and banjo-player Uncle Dave Macon. The song was in fact very popular in America. When published by New York publishers Thomas B. Harms & Company in 1881 it became the company’s first big hit. In an 1884 newspaper interview, in response to the question “What was the most successful song ever written during your existence?” the publisher’s reply was “Oh, Wait Till the Clouds Roll By had by far the greatest sale. We sold over 75,000 copies in a single month. It was the easy, jingly music did it, and the sentimental words”.

Wait Till the Clouds Roll By, published by T.B. Harms & Co., 819 Broadway, New York, 1881. From the Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection.

The published version states “words by J T Wood, music by H J Fulmer” and for many years I took this at face value. Indeed, in my Musical Traditions review of The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History I took the author Dan Worrall to task for stating that the song had been written by an Irish singer and concertina player called Tom Maguire. In fact it turned out that Dan had done his research and I hadn’t, and he has put together all the information he has on Tom Maguire in a short paper on his website: Tom Maguire, a forgotten late nineteenth century Irish vocalist, comedian, concertinist, and songwriter. Much of the information in this post comes from that source – thanks Dan.

“J T Wood” and “H J Fulmer” were actually fictitious pseudonyms of the American musical arranger Charles Pratt. He used the same pseudonyms to claim authorship for ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’, which of course was – at the very least – not an entirely original composition (check out the wonderful minor key version sung by Cecilia Costello on the recent Musical Traditions CD Old Fashioned Songs). When facing prosecution for “creating an obstruction” outside a London Theatre in 1907, Tom Maguire claimed authorship of this and other songs under oath. Whether Pratt had bought the publishing rights from Maguire, or simply stolen the song, is not known. Either way, by the early twentieth century poor Tom Maguire, now blind and nearly deaf, was destitute and reduced to singing and playing his concertina on the streets, and hawking books containing words of the songs he had written earlier in life.

I’m not sure whether Charlie Bridger learned the song orally or from a printed source. Either is equally likely – he had a large store of song books, News Chronicle Song Book and the like. Given that he was born in 1913, he’s not likely to have learned it from an individual ballad sheet, but ‘Wait till the clouds roll by’ featured on a number of such sheets – see the Full English and the Bodleian’s Broadside Ballads Online.

Wait till the clouds roll by,  published by H.J. Wehman, New York, 1881. From Broadside Ballads Online.

Wait till the clouds roll by, published by H.J. Wehman, New York, 1881. From Broadside Ballads Online.

The song also inspired a reply-song, and a number of parodies, for instance Put Me Some Jam-Roll By, Jenny. Little Thomas’s New Banjo Song (Mohawk Minstrels). Popular Parody on “Wait Till the Clouds Roll By” and Wait till the clouds roll by, Billy! (in support of William Gladstone’s stance on Home Rule).

As well as being a singer, Charlie Bridger was a keen brass and wind band player. He played tenor horn in Woodchurch and Cranbrook bands, and also played clarinet. When I first recorded him in April 1983 he played me one tune on clarinet, a version of the ‘Jenny Lind Polka’ with an extra part tacked on the end. I’ve been playing that version of the tune almost as long as I’ve been singing the song. A few years ago, having decided to put the tune and song together, I was delighted to find that, slowed down, the last two bars of ‘Jenny Lind’ were pretty much identical to the last two bars of the song – clearly they were destined to be played together.

Woodchurch Band, late nineteenth century. From a copy of the photo provided to me by Charlie Bridger. His father (Charles) and grandfather (Tom) are both in this photo.

Woodchurch Band, late nineteenth century. From a copy of the photo provided to me by Charlie Bridger. His father (Charles) and grandfather (Tom) are both in this photo.

Jenny Lind / Wait till the clouds roll by

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina