Posts tagged ‘Love Sex & Courtship’

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

March 17, 2019

Week 279 – You Roving Lads of Pleasure

By the time I became interested in folk music, Planxty had already disbanded. As related in , it was a school friend Pete Carlton who first introduced me to the band and, of course, I thought they were wonderful. It was thus with great delight that I discovered from an advert in Melody Maker that Planxty were playing a comeback gig at the Hammersmith Odeon on Easter Sunday 1979. Alan Greenwood, one of the Oyster Morris musicians, gave a lift to me and Dixie Fletcher, organiser of the Duke’s Folk club in Whitstable.

I must admit, I don’t specifically remember them playing ‘Rambling Boys of Pleasure’ that night, but I’m pretty sure they would have done – it was probably the same setlist as captured on the recently released (and highly recommended) One Night In Bremen, recorded a bit later on the same tour. The song first grabbed my attention on the new LP After the break recorded at the end of the tour, and released later the same year. For me, this was the stand-out track, and I can’t really explain why I never got round to learning it. But maybe that was as well, as it left me open to explore other versions of the song. Some 10 or 15 years ago, leafing through the bound volumes of Cecil Sharp’s Folk Tunes in the Vaughan William memorial Library, I came across a song called ‘The Rambling Beauty’. Looking up other versions in the catalogue led me to Frank Purslow’s book The Foggy Dew (now included along with Purslow’s The Constant Lovers in the excellent Southern Harvest). And then I noticed, on the next page a version of this song collected by George Gardiner from David Marlow at Basingstoke, and I took a photocopy to add to my big pile of songs I probably should do something with one day.

Last year when I finally sat down to piece together a version to learn, I decided to base it, not on David Marlow’s version but on this version collected by Cecil Sharp from William Stokes, at Chew Stoke, Somerset on 11 Jan 1907.

Ye roving lads of pleasure, collected from William Stokes. From the VWML archive.

Ye roving lads of pleasure, collected from William Stokes. From the VWML archive.

I’ve collated the words from these two sources, with the broadside version shown below. This was printed by G. Jacques, Oldham Road Library, Manchester, and can be found on the Bodelian’s Broadside Ballads Online website.

 

The rambling boys of pleasure, from Broadside Ballads Online.

The rambling boys of pleasure, from Broadside Ballads Online.

Note that on this broadside version it’s “Down by yon valley gardens”. On some others it’s “down by Sally’s Gardens”, and earlier printings don’t have that verse at all. Steve Gardham’s notes to the song in Southern Harvest suggest it started as two entirely separate songs, which were combined in Northern English printings at some time before 1850. You can check out all of the versions in the Bodlein’s online collection at http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/search/roud/386.

You Roving Lads of Pleasure

November 11, 2018

Week 277 – The First Time

In my late teens, when I started going to dances, the band of choice was the Oyster Ceilidh Band, and invariably at some point in the evening there would be a song spot featuring various members of the band – Fiddler’s Dram, John Jones and Cathy Lesurf, or Beggars Description. The latter was a duo consisting of the band’s bassist, Ian Kearey, and Alison Salter (now Alison Fenner). Their repertoire included Blues and other stuff that these days would be called Americana, alongside some British folk. The song which left the most lasting impression was ‘The First Time’, which they sang unaccompanied in harmony. It was written by Debbie Cook – like all of the Oysters, a regular at Duke’s Folk, the excellent Sunday night folk club which met at the Duke of Cumberland in Whitstable. Debbie was best known for penning ‘Day Trip to Bangor’ which featured on the first Fiddler’s Dram LP in 1978 and then, a year later, was reimagined by Dingle’s Records and became an unlikely number 3 chart hit. She later became a scriptwriter for The Archers and Eastenders, amongst other things.

This song always struck me as both moving, and very singable. Some years later (late 80s I’d guess) I got Ian Kearey to write out the words for me, and when Carol and I started singing together we added this to our repertoire. I hope the tune is right. I’ve not heard anyone else sing the song for about 40 years, but this is how I remember it.

Every year as Remembrance Day approaches, I’ve thought “we must record that song for the blog”. This year, of all years, I decided it just had to be done. So here’s a recording made on 11th of the 11th 2018, one hundred years on from the signing of the Armistice which brought an end to “the war to end wars”.

Pour ma bien aimee - postcard sent from the front by my Grandad Bert Elkins to his sister Daisy

Pour ma bien aimee – postcard sent from the front by my Grandad Bert Elkins to his sister Daisy

The tune at the end is ‘The Battle of the Somme’ a 9/8 pipe march – a Retreat March – by Pipe Major William Laurie (1881-1916) who fought at, and died at, the Somme. For more, and a score of the march (with lots of those really complicated bagpipe decorations) see http://cornemusique.free.fr/ukbattleofsomme.php. There’s a lovely rendition of the piece on Scottish smallpipes on Vicki Swan’s blog The Smallpiper Podcast. And another on YouTube – played on melodeon – by the inimitable Martin Ellison.

 

Dedicated to my Grandad, Albert Victor Elkins, the only person I really knew who served in the Great War. He was 18 when it all began, and he somehow managed to survive all four years of the war. I loved my Grandad dearly, but unfortunately by the time I was old enough to ask him sensible questions about the War, he was no longer in a state to answer them. But it must have been his wartime experiences that led him to ask, whenever I came home from University, “do they give you a decent billet?”

Albert Victor Elkins

Albert Victor Elkins

Bert Elkins (back, right, with no moustache) and unknown comrades

Bert Elkins (back, right, with no moustache) and unknown comrades

And to my great-uncle Thomas Morris “Johnnie” Turner who died aged 21 at Ypres in 1917. He’s not so much, as Eric Bogle put it “just a picture without even a name” as a picture with a name and nothing else. To my shame I don’t even know what relation he was to my paternal Great-grandfather – also Thomas Morris Turner – or how come he served in the Liverpool Scottish Regiment.

Thomas Morris

Thomas Morris “Johnnie” Turner, killed at Ypres 1917

And to the millions of others who died, or were maimed, or who were mentally scarred, or who lost loved ones, in this war and the many others that came after it.

The First Time / Battle of the Somme

Carol Turner – vocal
Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina (‘The First Time’), G/D anglo-concertina, one-row melodeon in D (‘Battle of the Somme’)

October 9, 2018

Week 276 – The Crow Sat On The Willow

For several months now, Fay Hield has been managing – no, let’s say curating – the  hashtag on Twitter. Every week a new theme is suggested, then on Tuesday anyone is free to post links to songs linked to that theme. So far, in best Blue Peter style, I’ve been posting links to previous entries on this blog, but I thought it was time to record something specially for the weekly Twitter gathering.

This week’s theme is poetry. While many traditional songs are very poetic, as far as I can recall, I have previously recorded only one setting of an actual poem – Billy Bragg’s setting of Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Man He Killed’. Despite my intentions at the time, I’ve never got round to learning that one by heart. Here’s a setting of a John Clare poem, and again I’m reading the words off a sheet of paper. But in this case (like ‘Boxing Day’ and ‘The Widow that keeps the Cock Inn’) not only have I not learned the words; frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever really had any intention of learning the words. Still, as I said in reference to those other two songs, since I made up the tune, if I don’t sing it, nobody will.

I was first alerted to John Clare (in relation to folk music at any rate) by the setting of his ‘The Cellar Door’ on the LP No Relation by Royston Wood and Heather Wood. As a student I started to investigate his poetry, and discovered, for instance, that the title of the Watersons’ For pence and spicy ale was taken from a Clare poem (‘Christmas’, part of ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’). This one, with its talk of the ploughman’s love for a milkmaid, seemed like a suitable candidate to be turned into a song – although traditional songs tend not to have this slightly awkward 10-line structure. I’m not sure if I actually ‘composed’ the tune, or just assembled sequences of notes which I’d encountered in various traditional song tunes. In fact, what I sing now may not be the tune I originally made up – I never wrote it down or recorded it, but 36 years on, I think this is pretty close to what I intended to sing back then.

You can find the words online in various places. I think I copied them out from The Later Poems of John Clare edited by Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield.

Crow in the Willow: Solitary crow perched in a willow tree. Image copyright Suzanne Goodwin.

Crow in the Willow: Solitary crow perched in a willow tree. Image copyright Suzanne Goodwin.

 

The Crow Sat On The Willow

September 17, 2017

Week 269 – Kitty from Ballinamore

Like ‘As I roved out from the County Cavan’, I learned this from the LP Triona, by Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill. Like a lot of other songs in her repertoire, I believe she had this one from her aunt, Neillí Ní Dhomhnaill. It’s a song which doesn’t seem to have been recorded frequently. You can hear Seamus Ennis singing a version on the Musical Traditions CD of late sixties recordings from the King’s Head Folk Club. And there are two recordings from Northern Irish singers – both as ‘Kate from/of Ballinamore’ – on Topic’s ever-expanding Voice of the People series: Geordie Hanna on Volume 6 Tonight I’ll Make You My Bride and Paddy Doran on The Flax in Bloom. Finally, there’s a rather charming 78 rpm recording by Joseph Maguire available to listen to via the ITMA Digital Library (that’s the Irish Traditional Music Archive, and nothing to do with Tommy Handley).

 

Kitty from Ballinamore

September 9, 2017

Week 268 – Treat my daughter kindly

Farmyard scene from my parents' postcard collection

Farmyard scene from my parents’ postcard collection

When I heard the Watersons’ LP For pence and spicy ale in about 1977 ‘Chickens in the Garden’ was one of the songs I learned from it. Along with ‘Country Life’, ‘The Good Old Way’, ‘Bellman’, ‘Swarthfell Rocks’ and the two Wassail songs. In other words, about half the songs on the album. At the time, and for many years afterwards, it seemed so very Yorkshire, I almost couldn’t imagine it having been sung in any other part of the country – a local composition, perhaps. These myths were dispelled when I heard the Veteran cassette Old songs and folk songs from Essex featuring Fred Hamer’s 1967 recordings of a ninety-three year old Harry Green, from Tilty in Essex. Here it was – evidently the same song – but with no mention of Yorkshire whatever.

Harry Green, photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

Harry Green, photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

The same recording of Harry Green was later included on the Veteran CD The Fox & the Hare. And from John Howson’s notes to that CD I learn that

This song, originally entitled The Farmer’s Daughter, or, The Little Chickens in the Garden, was written by American songwriter James Allan Bland (1854-1919) who also wrote Golden Slippers. Sheet music was published by Oliver Ditson & Co in 1883 and the cover states that it was the “Greatest success of the season with 10,000 copies sold in the first week!” Its popularity meant that it easily slipped into the tradition, particularly in America and Canada. It also found its way to these shores and it was published by the Poet’s Box in Dundee and turns up in Jimmy McBride’s collection from Donegal and Neil Lanham’s recordings from Suffolk and Essex. It was also a favourite of Norfolk singer Walter Pardon.

The Farmer's daughter; or, The Little chickens in the garden. From the Library of Congress sheet music collection.

The Farmer’s daughter; or, The Little chickens in the garden. From the Library of Congress sheet music collection.

Harry Green’s version seems to be much closer to James Bland’s original than the North country ‘Chickens in the Garden’. The words of further versions are provided on this Mudcat thread. These include sets of lyrics similar to Harry’s from North Carolina and Arkansas but, intriguingly, the version recorded from Lena Bourne Fish of New Hampshire starts “While traveling down in Yorkshire”, and also has the phrase “so blooming shy” which was such a memorable feature of Mike Waterson’s rendition.

 

Treat my daughter kindly

April 23, 2017

Week 267 – The Grey Funnel Line

I have two Cyril Tawney songs in my repertoire. I posted ‘Sally Free and Easy’ almost a year ago; now here’s the other one.

Written in 1959, it was the last song Cyril Tawney wrote before leaving the Royal Navy. You’ll find his own account of its composition at https://mainlynorfolk.info/cyril.tawney/songs/thegreyfunnelline.html.

I learned it from the Silly Sisters LP, which I must have got not long after it came out. Actually I say I learned it – it’s one of those songs where at any given time in the last 40 years I could probably have sung about 95% of the song, but never properly nailed it until now. And I have to say it was worth making the effort to learn it properly – it’s a really good song.

On this recording, the accompaniment is provided (unwittingly) by Ian Kearey playing an epinette de Vosges with two pencils (HB, as I recall). I sampled this from an old Oyster Band LP, looped it, pitch-shifted it slightly, and played around with it a bit more in Audacity, Nero Wave Editor and Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. And hey presto! here it is.

The Grey Funnel Line

January 28, 2017

Week 264 – Dowie Dens of Yarrow

Here’s one of those songs I have been meaning to learn for years…  well over 30 years, in fact having originally heard it in the early 1980s on the LP 1977 by Bob Davenport and the Rakes.

Bob Davenport learned it from the Scottish traveller singer and accordion player, Davie Stewart. You can find Davie’s version on Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland Vol. 2, the Rounder Records reissue of the Caedmon / Topic anthology The Child Ballads 2  from the Folk Songs of Britain series (hint: it’s easier and considerably cheaper to buy this album as a download than an actual CD).

There are various theories about this song being based on actual people and events (see the song’s entry on the Mainly Norfolk website). But whether or not there’s any historical basis for the song is really irrelevant – it makes no difference to the power of the story and the song.

The verse which always caught my attention was

Her hair it was three quarters long
The colour of it was yellow
She’s wrapped it round his middle so small
And she’s carried him home from Yarrow.

The image of the grieving lover with her hair “three quarters long” is what always came into my head whenever I thought of this song, and it’s that which – finally – prompted me to learn the song.

Back in the autumn I had a conversation with an artist friend, Cathy Ward, about taking part in an exhibition she’ll be putting on at Conquest House in Canterbury, in May this year. Over the years Cathy has produced a number of astonishingly detailed drawings of, or inspired by, women’s hair. I’ve placed a couple of examples below, and you can see plenty more on her website at http://www.catharyneward.com/project/drawing-archive/. As far as I know, Cathy has never turned her hand to illustrating Child Ballads, but if she decides to give it a go, this song might be the obvious place to start.

Flaxenvale by Cathy Ward

Flaxenvale by Cathy Ward

Exquisite Knot by Cathy Ward

Exquisite Knot by Cathy Ward

Dowie Dens of Yarrow

September 2, 2016

Week 261 – The Hawk and the Crow

Well, after a brief hiatus, here’s the first non-weekly instalment of A Folk Song A Week. I learned this from one of my absolute favourite singers, Kevin Mitchell, via his 1977 Topic LP Free and Easy. Kevin calls it ‘Two Strings on a Bow’, and he learned it from Anne Brolly of Dungiven, County Derry. The LP notes say

American singers call this song The Bird’s Courtship or The Leather Winged Bat

(indeed I was reminded of the song recently when listening to Elizabeth Laprelle’s solo album, The Birds’ Advice)

– it’s quite common there but only once has it been collected in the British Isles; Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle obtained it from Liam O’Connor of Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone…

Kevin has changed the tune of the chorus so that the air as a whole is that of the hornpipe The Cuckoo’s Nest – a not inappropriate combination of tune and words.

The version collected by Peter Kennedy from Liam O’Connor in 1953 was included in his mammoth book Folksongs of Britain and Ireland.

The Hawk and the Crow

August 5, 2016

Week 259 – Young Banker

I learned this song from the Watersons’ 1981 LP Green Fields and for pretty much all of the intervening 35 years it has been one of my default songs to fall back on, when I need a chorus song in a singaround or pub session.

Bert Lloyd – Topic’s go-to man for sleeve notes back in the seventies and early eighties – states in the notes for this song that it was

noted by Frank Kidson from Mrs Kate Thompson of Knaresborough.

The booklet notes for the Carthy Chronicles, which features a different Watersons recording of the song, expand on this:

Young Banker has words collected from a maidservant from the Isle of Axholme near Doncaster, set to a tune which Frank Kidson collected from Kate Thompson of Knaresborough

The Full English, of course, has the tune which Frank Kidson collected from Mrs Thompson in Knaresborough; while the words (with a slightly different tune), which were noted down by Alfred Atkinson from an unnamed singer in the Isle of Axholme – in North Lincolnshire, between Doncaster and Scunthorpe – in 1904, can be found in the 1905 Journal of the Folk-Song Society.

Other versions have been collected in Lincolnshire (by Percy Grainger), Gloucestershire (Alfred Williams and Cecil Sharp), Somerset (Sharp), and Herefordshire (Ella Leather).

I learned the song to sing with Caroline Jackson-Houlston, and it was she who typed out the words for me, almost certainly from the JFSS. Whereas the Watersons (following the collected version) have the last line of the chorus as “For my young banker I will go there”, Caroline changed this to “For my young banker I will go bare”. This seemed to make more sense in context and, she thought, was almost certainly how the line had originally been written. But in fact the broadside version (titled ‘A new song called The banking boy’) which you can see on the Bodleian’s Broadside site, also has that line as “For the young banker I will go there”.

 A new song called The banking boy - 19th century ballad sheet from Broadside Ballads Online.

A new song called The banking boy – 19th century ballad sheet from Broadside Ballads Online.

The young banker in this song, incidentally, is not a high-flying, cocaine-snorting, economy-destroying financial whizzkid, but “a man who made embankments, stone walls and such” (A.L.Lloyd), or perhaps “A labourer who makes or repairs the banks of waterways; spec. one who digs drains, ditches, or canals” (OED).

 

Young Banker