A saucy song, and no mistake, which I learned from the Topic LP Round Rye Bay for More: Traditional Songs from the Sussex Coast, featuring Mike Yates’ 1976 recordings of the irrepressible Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty. Or, possibly, learned from my friend Adrian Russell, who had learned it from a Johnny Doughty recording.
I listened to Johnny singing this recently, and found that he only had a few verses. I then looked online for fuller versions, and couldn’t really find any. So I have made use of my knowledge of the female anatomy, imperfect though I’m sure this is, to expand the song.
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  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.
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.
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.
Although I learned this from the Topic LP Blackberry FoldI 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.
If forced to name my favourite John Kirkpatrick album, I would probably plump for Shreds and Patches, his 1977 LP with Sue Harris. But The Rose of Britain’s Isle, their first duo album, would also be high up on the list. Incomprehensibly, neither of those records – nor indeed any of their 1970s output for Topic – has ever been re-released on CD. But you can get them as downloads, and I strongly suggest you do that if you’ve never heard them or if, like me, you’ve worn out your original vinyl copies.
‘Up in the North’ – a cautionary tale for any young men with commitment issues – is track 2 on The Rose of Britain’s Isle and that’s where I first heard it. I learned the words a few years later on a trip to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, from a transcription by John Baldwin in the 1969 Folk Music Journal. By that time I had already heard Mike Yates’ 1972 recording of the song being sung by Freda Palmer of Witney on the Topic LP When Sheepshearing’s Done. I have to confess though that, when learning the song, John and Sue’s interpretation undoubtedly influenced me more than Freda Palmer’s original.
Freda Palmer – photo by Derek Schofield, from the Musical Traditions website.
You can hear Freda Palmer singing the song on – indeed it’s effectively the title track of – the Musical Traditions double CD Up in the North, Down in the South. Mike Yates’ notes say
Up in the North, or, No Sign of a Marriage as it is called in the Southern Uplands of the United States, appeared on several early 19th century broadsides and chapbooks, although it has seldom been encountered by collectors in England. The Hammond brothers noted a fine Dorset version, Down in the West Country, in 1907, while Alfred Williams found it sometime before 1914 at Brize Norton, only a few miles from Mrs Palmer’s home. In Scotland and North America it has been more popular and most of Roud’s 34 entries refer to these countries—however, Freda’s is the only sound recording of the song ever made in these islands.
For a few years, this was my party piece. It was the opening track on my cassette album Love, Death and the Cossack, and I also sang it as a solo piece at early Magpie Lane concerts – there’s video evidence of that, from our first ever concert, in 1993; although now that I come to look for this on YouTube it would appear that I’ve not yet digitised and uploaded it. Having sung the song a lot, I seem to have neglected it for the last 20 years or so. But at Christmas I decided it really was time that I revived the song. I notice that it lasted 4’20” on my 1990 recording, and 4’27” on this one, so it seems I’ve not changed it a great deal in the intervening quarter century – slowing down a little as I get older, but that’s no bad thing when it comes to folk songs and tunes.
This was number 286 in Professor Child’s list. But it’s not one of the “big ballads”, and the storyline (disappointingly, I’m sure, for ballad aficionados) has no incest, fratricide, sororicide, filicide, prolicide or suicide. Indeed the song is often sung to a fairly jaunty tune, and I must admit that, when planning a setlist, this is usually included in the “jolly songs with chorus” category. Having said that, stop to think about it for a while and you realise that the death toll is actually quite high.
This version comes from the Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty, although I learned it from Everyman’s Book of British Ballads, edited by Roy Palmer. At the time I suspect I’d never heard Johnny Doughty singing, although subsequently I saw him singing a number of times at Sidmouth and the National Folk Music Festival. He was a real entertainer, who relished being the centre of attention. His performances were punctuated by sly winks, and asides to his wife sat in the front row, especially when the topic of “a drop of treacle” arose (as I recall, his favourite tipple was a pint of Guinness).
Johnny Doughty. Photo by Doc Rowe, from the Musical Traditions article “Johnny Doughty… an interview with Vic Smith”
A recording of this song made by Mike Yates was included on the Topic LP Round Rye Bay for more, and I think I must have heard that at some point in the early eighties. I never owned a copy, however, until earlier this year when I was sorting through my parents’ record collection and, to my surprise, found a copy of the album snuck in amongst the country dance bands, the Tim Laycock, the Strawhead, the Max Bygraves, and Your One Hundred Best Tunes compilations.
Mike Yates’s notes on Round Rye Bay for more (quoted at mainlynorfolk.info) provide this background on the song’s origins:
Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
Sir Walter Rawleigh has built a ship in the Netherlands,
And it is called the Sweet Trinity,
And was taken by the false gallaly,
Sailing in the Lowlands.
So begins a blackletter broadside [Version A in Child], “shewing how the famous ship called the Sweet Trinity was taken by a false Gally, and how it was again restored by the craft of a little sea-boy, who sunk the Gally,” that was printed during the period 1682-85 by Joshua Conyers, “at the Black-Raven, the 1st shop in Fetter-lane, next Holborn.”
The history books appear to have missed this particular episode in Raleigh’s life—no doubt because it was a flight of Conyers’, or some other unknown printer’s, imagination; a simple attempt to increase sales by the addition of a romantic and well-known name to an otherwise commonplace tale. Whatever the origin, the ballad certainly caught the popular imagination with the result that more than a hundred sets have been collected throughout England, Scotland, America and Australia. Johnny’s final couplet is, to my knowledge, unique to his version.
Johnny Doughty’s unique ending was a half-verse
Was there ever half a tale so sad
As this tale of the sea
Where we sailed by the lowlands low?
If I were learning the song today, I would almost certainly keep that in. But 30-odd years ago for some reason I found it unsatisfactory, so I made up my own, somewhat tongue-in-cheek final verse, in which the young cabin boy wreaks terrible revenge on the perfidious captain and his crew. Which, of course, increases the death toll even more…
The Golden vanity, or The low lands low. Such ballad from the Bodleian collection.
One last song learned from the LP Who owns the game? (see Week 165 and Week 166). Mike Yates and John Howson recorded this one from Roy Last of Mendlesham Green.
Roy Last. Photo by John Howson (?) from the EATMT website.
It tells, of course, of the death of King William II, aka William Rufus, who succeeded his father William (the Conqueror) in 1087, and was killed whilst on a hunting trip in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100; today the Rufus Stone marks the spot.
Historians are divided as to whether this was simply a hunting accident, or an assassination. Either is entirely plausible. The fact that, immediately afterwards, his brother Henry rushed off to Winchester to seize the treasury, and had himself crowned just days later in London without waiting for either the Archbishop of Canterbury of York to arrive, might support the idea that this was a premeditated killing. But equally it might just be evidence of quick thinking on Henry’s part – you didn’t get far as a member of the Norman, Angevin or Plantagenet royal families if you weren’t prepared to take the bull by the horns, and snatch at every opportunity for self-advancement.
The Rufus Stone in the shade, New Forest – geograph.org.uk; from Wikimedia Commons.
I had always assumed that the song dates from the later nineteenth century (it begins “800 years ago, sir”). In fact I’ve just found it as ‘The Ballad of William Rufus’, seven verses long, in The Romance of the Scarlet Leaf: And Other Poems; with Adaptations from the Provençal Troubadours by Lyndhurst-based versifier Hamilton Aide, published 1865 by Edward Moxon & Co. There is a note to say “This ballad has become popular in the New Forest. Several of the songs that follow have been set to music, and are published”. The songs in question are not traditional or anonymous verses which the author has rescued from obscurity, they are by Aine himself. ‘The Ballad of William Rufus’ was popular enough to be quoted in Two Knapsacks A Novel of Canadian Summer Lifeby John Campbell (1840-1904). Somehow it must also have made its way to Suffolk. I wonder if Roy Last might have learned it at school?
The song’s use in the New Forest – as a spoken prologue to a Mummers’ play – is also mentioned in Chapter 2 of The Fire Kindlers: The Story Of The Purkis Family, a (slightly fanciful) family history written in the late 1930s by Leslie S. Purkis. The Purkis family, it seems, were historically charcoal burners in the New Forest. And legend has it that it was a member of the family who discovered the dead king’s body, and carried it in his cart to Winchester.
Thanks to its inclusion on various Peel and Kershaw sessions, Martin Carthy’s reconstruction of this Child Ballad is known well beyond the confines of the folk world. John Peel reckoned that every time Martin recorded a new session, the song had acquired a few extra verses. Well, there are plenty to choose from, even before you start making up brand new ones. There are in fact whole chunks of the Carthy story which are missing from my version. In particular, when the King goes out hunting, nothing of note seems to happen, and he comes home safely two verses later.
I was inspired to learn the song after hearing Jasper Smith’s four verses fragment on the Topic LP The Travelling Songster (that recording was also included on Voice of the People Volume 11, My Father’s the King of the Gypsies). On a trip to the Vaughan Williams memorial Library I assembled enough verses to make a coherent whole, thanks in part to the seven Scottish, American and Canadian variants in Bronson’s Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads but mainly making use of the version printed in Frank Purslow’s book The Constant Lovers. That version of the song came from Albert Doe, of Bartley in Hampshire, collected by George Gardiner on 17th December 1908. Frank Purslow’s notes say that Albert Doe was “apparently a good singer with a very fine repertoire, some, if not all, of Irish origin. The tune of this version in any case betrays its country of origin, as it is a variant – a good one – of a tune much associated with texts of Irish origin, such as The Croppy Boy, The Isle of France, Sweet William, The Wild and Wicked Youth and several others”. Jasper Smith’s song is set to a variant of the same tune, while on The Travelling Songster Phoebe Smith uses an almost identical tune for ‘Sweet William’ – indeed, I think the way I sing the tune probably owes more to Phoebe than Jasper Smith.
The song itself dates back to the seventeenth century. The earliest copy in the Bodleian was “Printed for Eliz. Andrews in little St. Bartholomews court in West-smithfield” (in London) between 1664 and 1666. And while we know that all folk songs and ballads must have been written by someone, this is one where we’re pretty sure who that someone was: ‘The famous Flower of Serving-Man. Or, The Lady turn’d Serving-Man’ was entered in the Stationers’ Register on July 14, 1656, by noted (and prolific) ballad-writer Laurence Price. If your public library provides access to the Oxford DNB, you can read Roy Palmer’s biographical entry on Price at www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22759.
The famous flower of serving-men. Or The lady turn’d serving. Printed for Eliz. Andrews in little St. Bartholomews court in West-smithfield, between 1664 and 1666. From the Bodleian collection.
Like last week’s song ‘Who Owns the Game?’ this was recorded by Mike Yates and John Howson from the Suffolk singer Fred Whiting, and I learned it from the LP Who Owns the Game? – which, contrary to what I initially wrote last week, is available on CD from Veteran. And once again, Fred Whiting seems to be the only known source for the song.
According to Sing, Say or Pay!Keith Summers’ survey of East Suffolk Country Music (Musical Traditions Article MT027), Fred had the song from Cropther Harvey from Redlingfield:
It’s amazing, you know, what some of those old boys could drink too. I was playing in Rishangles Swan once and there was an old boy called Swaler Parrott and nearly every five minutes he’d bang on the bar and shout “I’ll have another skep”. Five minutes later “I’ll have another skep” (pint), and he must have had 18 pints that night, and do you know he walked home as straight as a crow in a rain storn.
Old Cropther Harvey from Redlingfield – nearly all his songs were about beer-drinking, and that’s where I learnt that song Poison Beer from. My dad used to knock about with him – they were both shepherds and both sang beer songs – “If you want to get rid of yer beer, I’ve got plenty of room down here”.
Beyond that, I know nothing about the song. But presumably it dates from the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Temperance movement was in full swing.
I first met Mike Yates in April 1984 in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. We both happened to be visiting the library, and were introduced by Malcolm Taylor the Librarian, who knew that I had “discovered” a traditional singer, Charlie Bridger. A week or two later, on St George’s Day, Mike came down to Kent to record Charlie at his home in Stone-in-Oxney. Over lunch at the Ferry Inn, Mike was enthusing about the recordings he had been making in Suffolk, and in particular about this song, which would be the title track of ‘Who owns the game?’, an LP released later in 1984 on Mike’s Home-Made Music label.
This song certainly has a home-made feel to it. Mike recorded it from Fred ‘Pip’ Whiting, of Kenton in Suffolk – actually better known as a fiddle-player than a singer – and it has so far only ever been collected from Fred. Fred learned most of his songs in local pubs; this one he picked up in Burstall Half Moon.
The song raises a perfectly reasonable question. It also charts the lessening severity over times of the punishment meted out to those found guilty of poaching: grandfather – transported; father – two or three months’ oakum picking; singer – fined.
You can hear a 1980 recording of the song made by Carole Pegg in The Victoria, Earl Soham on the British Library website – but only, I’m afraid, if you are affiliated with a UK Further or Higher Education establishment. [Edit 18/10/2014] The LP ‘Who owns the game?’ has unfortunately never seen any kind of digital release, as far as I’m aware. A shame, as it has a lot of good performances of both songs and tunes. The LP Who owns the game? has been released on CD by Veteran, and is well worth hearing both for the songs and the tunes. There will be more songs learned from the record making an appearance in future weeks on this blog.
Those of you who sometimes find life imitating High Fidelity may have been asked to list your top five opening tracks on albums. My list would certainly include ‘I saw her standing there’ and ‘Country Home’ (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory). Perhaps ‘The Kesh Jig’ etc. (The Bothy Band, The Bothy Band) and ‘Shirley’ (Billy Bragg, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry). And definitely ‘Canadee-i-o’, the opening track on Nic Jones’ timeless classic Penguin Eggs. I first heard Nic play the song at a concert in Hertford College, Oxford in early 1980. Penguin Eggs was released later that year and of course I, like many others, played it over and over.
It was probably just a little bit later than that when I acquired a copy of the Topic LP Sussex Harvest, on which the opening track, funnily enough, is ‘Canadee-i-o’ – sung by Harry Upton from Balcombe, West Sussex, recorded by Mike Yates. I fairly soon decided to learn Harry Upton’s version, although it was probably some years later before I ever sung it in public – I always felt that the song wanted an accompaniment, but it took me a long time to work one out. In fact the accompaniment I play now has had several iterations over the years. I remember that I was always vaguely dissatisfied with it, but having recently come back to the song for the first time in about five years I’m much happier with it. So either I’ve got better at playing it, or I’ve improved it somehow, or my quality threshold has gone down.
On the excellent BBC Four documentary The Enigma of Nic Jones – Return of Britain’s Lost Folk Herothere were several sequences where Harry Upton’s ‘Canadee-i-o’ could be heard, behind film of the old blue-label Topic LP being played. I’m not sure if this was meant to suggest that Nic Jones learned the song from a recording of Harry Upton. If so, it’s further evidence, if any were needed, of Nic’s wonderful creative ability, as his wonderful rendition bears only a passing resemblance to the song as recorded from Harry Upton.
Mike Yates’s 1970s recording of Harry Upton singing ‘Canadee-i-o’ can now be found on the Musical Traditions CD Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike’s notes tell us that Harry, a retired cowman, had learned ‘Canadee-i-o’ from his father, a Downsland shepherd. Apparently he and his father would sometimes sing together in harmony. It is also interesting to note that “like the Copper Family, Harry had many of his songs in manuscript form, often in his father’s handwriting, and had owned a collection of broadsides, mainly printed in the 1880s by the daughter of Henry Parker Such, of the Borough in south London. Bought originally in Brighton, these had also been inherited from his parents”.
The Roud Index shows that this song was popular on broadsides, and has been collected throughout the British Isles. Had I not already had a version of the song in my repertoire I might well have been tempted to learn the version collected by Francis Collinson from Mr Newport of Boughton Aluph, a village just outside my home town of Ashford in Kent. Perhaps some seafaring, folksong-singing Kentish resident who follows this blog might like to give it a go? If it helps, there’s a transcription of the tune and words on Folkopedia.
The lady’s trip to Kennady, 19th century broadside ballad from the Bodleian Collection.