Posts tagged ‘Love Sex & Courtship’

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

June 23, 2016

Week 253 – Fare thee well cold winter

So take a good look at my face
You know my smile looks out of place
If you look closer it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears

I’ll be all smiles tonight, boys, I’ll be all smiles tonight
If my heart should break tomorrow I’ll be all smiles tonight

It has always seemed to me that this song was inspired by the same sorts of emotions as Smokey’s classic…

Mike Yates recorded the song in 1972 from George ‘Tom’ Newman of Clanfield, near Bampton, in Oxfordshire. I first heard it sung by Lal and Norma Waterson on the LP Green Fields and subsequently learned it from the transcription of Mike Yates’ recording in Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs, edited by Roy Palmer.

Only a few songs recorded from Tom Newman have been made available on record: ‘The Tree in the Wood’ appeared in the seventies on the Topic LP Green Grow the Laurels, and then again – along with ‘Sing Ovy, Sing Ivy’ – on the Musical Traditions CD Up in the North, Down in the South. Meanwhile Tom’s song ‘My Old Hat That I Got On’ (which Magpie Lane recorded on the CD Six for Gold) was included on Volume 13 of The Voice of the People.

This song, however, has unfortunately never been made available. Mike Yates’ recordings can be accessed at the British Library Sound Archive, but are not available to listen to remotely. One day I must make a trip there, and this will certainly be on my list of recordings to check out. In the meantime I have absolutely no idea if the way I sing ‘Fare thee well cold winter’ bears even the slightest resemblance to the way Tom Newman sang it.

 

George ‘Tom’ Newman was in his 90th year when I met him and, sadly, I only knew him for the last six months of his life.  Originally from Faringdon, he was living in a small bungalow in the village of Clanfield, near Bampton.  I was told that Tom used to occasionally turn up at the Bampton Whit Monday ceremonies with his one-man band and would proceed to accompany the traditional morris team around the village.  John Baldwin, whose [1969] Folk Music Journal article again introduced me to Tom, had described Tom thus: He is an old man now and tends to become very excited when singing; sitting in a chair and pumping the floor with his feet alternately, and similarly his knees with clenched fists.

Mike Yates – notes to Up in the North, Down in the South

The song itself is a bit of a mixture of ancient and modern. On this Mudcat thread Malcom Douglas pointed to a seventeenth century printing of a ballad containing the “let her go, farewel she” motif, and there are nineteenth century  broadsides with very similar lyrics to Tom Newman’s version. Except they don’t have the “All smiles tonight” refrain.

It must be twenty years ago that I sang this song at a folk club and someone pointed out that the chorus crops up in a Carter Family song. Mike Yates has written that, when he collected ‘Fare thee well cold winter’ he assumed that Tom Newman had picked up the chorus from an old  recording – by the Carter Family perhaps, or Kitty Wells. But in fact Cecil Sharp collected a version from Lucy White, of Hambridge in Somerset, which included a “We’ll be all be smiles tonight” chorus.

The chorus comes from an American song written by T. B. Ranson in 1879, which may well have gained popularity in Britain at the time. Lucy White’s version proves that Ranson’s  chorus had been added to the older British song by 1903 at least, some decades before it was being recorded by various American performers (there were several recorded versions before the Carter Family recorded their ‘I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight’ – see the Traditional Tune Archive for details). I’m not aware of any connection between Lucy White and Tom Newman, so these two collected versions suggest that the song – with this chorus – must have had some kind of wider currency in Britain in the late nineteenth / early twentieth century.

 

Fare-thee-well cold winter. 19th century broadside ballad from the Bodleian collection.

Fare-thee-well cold winter. 19th century broadside ballad from the Bodleian collection.

Fare thee well cold winter

June 16, 2016

Week 252 – Chain of Gold

Shepherd Haden might be the best known traditional singer from Bampton (see last week’s entry), but both Cecil Sharp and Alfred Williams, who noted down songs from Hayden, also collected songs from his younger neighbour, and Bampton morris man, Charlie Tanner.

You will find biographical details on Charles Tanner (1845-1922), drawn from census and other records, on the Wiltshire Community History website (it was from here that I learned that in 1891 Tanner was living next door to Shadrach Haden / Hayden / Haydon).

On the same site, you’ll find a list of 23 songs collected from Mr Tanner by the Swindon railwayman poet, Alfred Williams. Williams, of course, lacked the skills to notate his singers’ tunes, and unfortunately Sharp only took down the tunes for eight of these songs (see the Full English).

Sharp noted ‘Chain of Gold’ on 7th September 1909. Williams visited Tanner in the following decade, and the words of this song appeared in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard on 11th March 1916.

Versions of this song – a classic example of a sad story set to a jolly tune – seems to have been popular in Oxfordshire: George Butterworth collected versions at Stanton St John, Charlton and Oakley in Oxfordshire, and at Brill just over the border in Buckinghamshire. The words I sing were collated from Tanner’s version, and others printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 4 (1913).

 

Charlie Tanner - photo by Cecil Sharp, copyright EFDSS

Charlie Tanner – photo by Cecil Sharp, copyright EFDSS

Chain of Gold