Posts tagged ‘Oxfordshire’

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

June 10, 2016

Week 251 – John Barleycorn

This is the second version of ‘John Barleycorn’ to appear on this blog. I posted a Shropshire version back in Week 61, and there’s also the – largely unrelated – ‘John Barleycorn’s a Hero Bold’. I’ve also recorded a third version – collected from Charlie Hill of Devon in the 1970s – on the Magpie Lane CD A Taste of Ale. That CD can still be purchased from our website (so don’t pay £34 for it from Amazon!), or downloaded from Amazon, iTunes etc. etc. (I notice on Amazon we are described as “Oxfordshire folk supergroup” – not sure we’re quite in the Traveling Wilburys league).

Ian and I sang this version of the song on the first Magpie Lane CD, The Oxford Ramble, back in 1993, and I suppose we’d better revive it for the ‘Songs from Bampton’ session we’re running at the English Country Music Weekend at the end of this month. It’s the best-known version – indeed I’d say it’s one of the  best known English folk songs, thanks to the fact that it was included in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and to recordings by Mike Waterson, Martin Carthy, Traffic, Chris Wood… and Martin Carthy again, with Paul Weller of all the unlikely people, on the first Imagined Village album.

Believed to be a photograph of Shepherd Hayden, taken by Cecil Sharp. Copyright EFDSS.

Believed to be a photograph of Shepherd Hayden, taken by Cecil Sharp. Copyright EFDSS.

Cecil Sharp noted the song at Bampton in Oxfordshire, on 31st August 1909, from the eighty-three year old Shadrach ‘Shepherd’ Haden.

John Barleycorn, collected by Cecil Sharp from Shepherd Hayden (or Haden); from the Full English.

John Barleycorn, collected by Cecil Sharp from Shepherd Hayden (or Haden); from the Full English.

Another, completely different version of the song, also collected in Bampton, was included in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Steve Roud’s notes to the song say

It was perhaps inevitable that this song would attract the ritual-origins theorists who claimed that it was all to do with corn spirits and resurrection, but it is now generally agreed that such notions were romantic wishful thinking and there is no evidence either for the theories themselves or for this song to be anything other than a clever allegory.

And I’ll go along with that. Long live Occam’s Razor.

John Barleycorn

And here’s Ian Giles and me singing the song at the very first Magpie Lane gig, Holywell Music Room, May 1993.

 

March 7, 2016

Week 237 – Up in the North

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.

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.

 

Up in the North

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

December 11, 2015

Week 225 – While Shepherds Watched

Surprisingly, I have so far posted only one other version of ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night’ on this blog – Sweet Chiming Bells. I was convinced I had also posted a recording of Magpie Lane singing ‘Foster’, but checking the site index I find that it’s not so. This will have to be rectified (actually, it is the first song in our Magpie Lane Christmas playlist which I shared here a week or so ago, but that doesn’t count!). It would be nice at some point also to be able to post recordings of ‘Otford’, ‘Lyngham’ and, probably my favourite setting of them all, William Knapp’s wonderful  ‘The Song of the Angels, at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour’. And that still would still be no more than scratching the surface of all the great settings of these words from West Gallery sources, and from the living carolling traditions of South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Cornwall.

The words of ‘While Shepherds Watched’ – properly, as Knapp titled it, ‘Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour’ – were written by Nahum Tate (1652-1715), poet laureate to William of Orange. The ubiquity of the words owes much to the fact that the six, easily-remembered verses were included immediately after the metrical Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer.

Browsing through the Full English a few weeks back, for carols collected in Oxfordshire, I came across this one.

Shepherds Watch, collected by Cecil Sharp from Charles Benfield, 4th September 1909. From the Full English.

Shepherds Watch, collected by Cecil Sharp from Charles Benfield, 4th September 1909. From the Full English.

The simple tune was noted by Cecil Sharp on 4th September 1909 from Charles Benfield of Bould in Oxfordshire. Mr Benfield (1841-1929) is better known as a morris musician – he played both pipe and tabor and fiddle, for morris sides including  Bledington,Fifield, Idbury, Longborough and Milton-under-Wychwood.

A drawing of Charles Benfield

A drawing of Charles Benfield, and the “queer way he held his bow”. This is a scan of a postcard from my parents’ collection. The illustration was also used as the frontispiece in the first issue of the Countryman magazine. Check out the back of the postcard too.

 

 

While Shepherds Watched

Andy Turner – vocal, Bb/F anglo-concertina

April 11, 2015

Week 190 – O Once I was a Shepherd Boy

Ilsley remote amid the Berkshire Downs,
Claims three distinctions o’er her sister towns,
Far famed for sheep and wool, tho’ not for spinners,
For sportsmen, doctors, publicans and sinners.

This rhyme, apparently dating back to the seventeenth century, relates to East Ilsley – formerly known also as Market Ilsley or Chipping Ilsley – a village which you’ll see signposted just off the A34 as you drive North towards Oxford from Newbury. The rhyme was quoted in a 1924 History of the County of Berkshire, where the authors append the comment “The village still maintains its reputation with regard to sportsmen and publicans”.

The history continues

Though the training of racehorses is still one of the principal occupations of the inhabitants, East Ilsley is chiefly noted for its sheep fair, which is one of the largest in England. Almeric de St. Amand, lord of the manor in the reigns of Henry III and Edward I, set up a market here on Tuesdays, which he claimed under a charter of Henry III. It was said to be injurious to the king’s market at Wallingford. (fn. 7) Sir Francis Moore in his digest of his title to the manor, compiled in the reign of James I, states ‘that the Tuesday market for corn was discontinued, but that a sheep market was held every Wednesday from Hocktide to St. James’ tide, and a yearly fair at the Feast of the Assumption.’ Sir Francis obtained a charter confirming his right to a market for corn and grain and all other merchandise, and ‘to take such toll as the Borough of Reading doth,’ also a grant of piccage and stallage and a court of pie-powder with all the fines, forfeitures and amerciaments thereof. Under the charter it was forbidden to have sales at Cuckhamsley, where they had previously been held, under pain of the king’s displeasure, the new site for the market being an inclosed square which has since been planted and is now known as the Warren. The markets are held by arrangement once or twice a month on Wednesdays from January to September. They increased rapidly until the middle of the 18th century, no less than 80,000 sheep being penned in one day and 55,000 sold, the yearly average amounting to 400,000.(fn. 8) In addition to the markets there are numerous fairs, the two largest being on 1 August and 26 August, while those at Easter, Whitsuntide, in September, October and at Hallowtide (on Wednesday after 12 November) draw dealers and graziers from all parts of the county. There is also a hiring fare in October. The wool fair has increased in importance and has been much encouraged by the annual presentation of two silver cups given by the Marquess of Downshire and other landowners to be competed for by the wool staplers and farmers. At one of the agricultural meetings formerly held at Ilsley the chairman wore a coat made from fleeces shorn in the morning, made into cloth at Newbury, and fashioned into a coat before the evening.

‘Parishes: East Ilsley’, in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4, ed. William Page and P H Ditchfield (London, 1924), pp. 24-31  via British History Online.

 

David Nash Ford’s Royal Berkshire History Website tells us that

The last proper fair was held in 1934, but it was semi-revived as a village fete in 1975. A plaque in the centre of the village records this. Being famous for its sheep farming, it is not surprising that Berkshire was one of the many counties to have developed its own breed of sheep: the Berkshire Nott Wether. Sadly, it is now extinct, but the Hampshire Down is a direct descendant.

 

There are some wonderfully evocative photos of a late nineteenth century sheep fair at Ilsley taken by the photographer Henry Taunt, which you can view on the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Sheep fair at East Ilsley, Berkshire - late 19th century photograph by Henry Taunt, from the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Sheep fair at East Ilsley, Berkshire – late 19th century photograph by Henry Taunt, from the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Group portrait at West Ilsley, Berkshire. A group portrait of the nine oldest inhabitants of the village, four men and five women, one in a wicker bathchair.  Photographer: Henry Taunt.  Date Taken: 1860 - 1922 From the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

Group portrait at West Ilsley, Berkshire. A group portrait of the nine oldest inhabitants of the village, four men and five women, one in a wicker bathchair. Photographer: Henry Taunt. Date Taken: 1860 – 1922 From the English Heritage ViewFinder site.

 

This song was collected by Cecil Sharp from Shadrack “Shepherd” Hayden (or Haden) at Bampton in Oxfordshire, on 6th September 1909.  Shepherd Hayden had been born at Lyford, Berkshire in 1826, and he shepherded at Hatford near Faringdon before moving to Bampton in 1891. I don’t know if he ever did any shepherding on the Downs near Ilsley, but no doubt he met men who had, and learned this song (surely a local composition?) from one of them. Alfred Williams also noted down three verses of the song from Shepherd Hayden, under the title ‘On Compton Downs’, and noted “An old shepherd song, local to the Berkshire Downs between Wantage and Streatley, and one of the very few that were obviously written by rustics”.

Actually the Roud Index shows that Hayden’s is not the only version to have been collected – there’s also one clearly related fragment (where the location is given as Marlborough) collected by George Gardiner in Hampshire.

I learned the song  from the copies of Sharp’s notebooks in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library – now of course all available online – and we recorded it on the Magpie Lane CD Six for Gold in 2002. This is a live recording taken direct from the mixing desk at the Banbury Folk Festival in October 2007.

 

O Once I was a Shepherd Boy

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Banbury Folk Festival, October 14th 2007.

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina
Ian Giles – vocal
Sophie Thurman – cello
Jon Fletcher – guitar
Mat Green – fiddle

November 30, 2014

Week 171 – As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care

The rules of the blog say, as soon as we’re into Advent it’s OK to start posting up Christmas material. So to get the ball rolling here’s a recording of Magpie Lane, from one of last year’s Christmas concerts.

I learned this song from the EFDSS Take Six archive – now part of the Full English. It’s from Janet Blunt’s MSS, and she collected it from the indefatigable William Walton of Adderbury, North Oxfordshire. Blunt’s transcriptions of the various carols she had from William Walton – Newton’s Double  is another – are remarkable in that they have 2 or 3 harmony parts as well as the tune, the octogenarian Walton being able to recall the various parts he had sung over the years. The bass vocal / cello line here, and additional vocal harmony line in the chorus, are all as noted from William Walton; the only thing we’ve added is the short instrumental ‘symphony’ between the verses (and one extra verse, from the five originally published in 1785 – see below).

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care, from the Blunt MSS.

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care, from the Blunt MSS.

Unlike some of the other Adderbury carols, we know exactly who wrote this one. ‘As shepherds  watched their fleecy care’ was composed by Joseph Key, an excise officer from Nuneaton in Warwickshire, and first published in Five Anthems, Four Collects, Twenty Psalm Tunes, [etc.]. Book III.  This was actually published in 1785 by his widow, Elizabeth Key, Joesph having died the previous year. There is information about Key and his published works on the website of Warwickshire West Gallery choir Immanuel’s Ground, where it notes that “His wife, no doubt dependant upon the income from his music, and possibly quite capable of taking singing classes herself, continued to publish his music for another six years after his death.”

Sophie, the cellist in Magpie Lane, had actually sung on a recording of this piece while a student. That was on While shepherds watched: Christmas Music from English Parish Churches and Chapels, 1740–1830 by Psalmody with The Parley of Instruments, directed by Peter Holman. The approach on that disc is informed very much by a classical music aesthetic. We treat the song far more like something from the folk tradition.

The recording below was made last December in the reverberant acoustic of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking. There was a good recording of the song from last year’s Holywell Music Room gig too, but the cello is particularly sonorous on this recording – Ian Giles’ bass notes are also captured rather well, I think. Many thanks for fellow Magpie for recording all our Christmas gigs, and sharing the recordings.

We’ll be back in both Oxford and Woking next weekend – followed by Towcester on the 14th and Ringwood Folk Club on 16th Deecmber. Check out all the details at www.magpielane.co.uk

As Shepherds Watched Their Fleecy Care

Magpie Lane, recorded at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Dunstan, Woking, 7th December 2013.

Andy Turner, Ian Giles, Jon Fletcher – vocals
Mat Green – fiddle
Sophie Thurman – cello

July 6, 2014

Week 150 – Young girl cut down in her prime

It’s Week 150, and here to celebrate is the song which is number 2 in Steve Roud’s index (bizarrely I don’t currently sing a version of Roud number 1). There are 219 examples listed, but no doubt the number could be much higher. Starting life in the late eighteenth century as a “homilectic street ballad… concerning the death and ceremonial funeral of a soldier “disordered” by a woman” (A.L.Lloyd’s notes, Penguin Book of English Folk Songs) the song has spread all over the English-speaking world, and the expiring principal character has metamorphosed from an Unfortunate Rake or Unfortunate Lad to an Unfortunate Lass, a Sailor Cut Down in his Prime, Dying Airman, Dying Stockman, Cowboy, Gambler… while the location might range from St James’ Hospital, to St James’ Infirmary, down by the Royal Albion, the Banks of the Clyde, Cork City, the Streets of Laredo…

The unfortunate lad, broadside printed by Such between 1863 and 1885, from the Bodleian collection.

The Unfortunate Lad, broadside printed by Such between 1863 and 1885, from the Bodleian collection.

The very first version I heard would have been ‘When I was on Horseback’, on the Steeleye Span album Ten Man Mop. That version, recorded in the 1950s from Irish tinker Mary Doran, is rather minimalist: if you don’t already know the story it’s hard to work out exactly what’s going on (incidentally you can hear Mary Doran’s stunning version on the recently-released Topic CD set The Flax in Bloom). A bit later I came across ‘St James’ Infirmary’ in the Penguin Book of American Folk Songs edited by Alan Lomax. It’s a song I’ve always meant to learn, but never have (although I can play the chords on the ukulele). Then I heard another version, in the shape of ‘The Bad Girl’ on Fiddler’s Dram’s eponymous post-‘Bangor’ LP (it’s actually one of several pretty good tracks on the album).

I don’t suppose I connected these songs at the time; that realisation came later (and, later still, the history and evolution of the song was covered in some depth by David Atkinson in the first of the EFDSS’s short-lived Root & Branch series).

I had planned for many years to learn Harry Upton’s ‘Royal Albion’ (or possibly Alf Wildman’s similar ‘The Banks of the Clyde’) but again never got round to it. Then I came across this version, and very soon realised it was a song I had to learn – especially when I found I could sing it in D minor, and it just fits like a dream on the C/G anglo.

The tune was collected by Cecil Sharp from Shadrack ‘Shepherd’ Haden, at Bampton in Oxfordshire. It is printed, along with two others, in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society number 17, in 1913. Sharp does not seem to have collected more than the first verse from Shepherd Haden; the five verses given in the Journal were noted by Francis Jekyll at East Meon in Hampshire (the singer’s name is not given). I put together a composite set of words from various sources, including the Hampshire version – which is also the version included in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

“Sailor Cut Down In His Prime” collected from Shepherd Haden 21 Aug 1909, from the EFDSS Full English archive.

Although I’ve been singing this for a few years now, I’ve not actually performed it in public that often, and the accompaniment is still quite fluid: I recorded it three times for this blog, and played the ending differently each time. Still not sure which one I prefer, so if you see me singing this at a gig, it might have changed again.

Young girl cut down in her prime

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

June 1, 2014

Week 145 – Husbandman and Servingman

The servingman the plowman would invite
To leave his calling and to take delight ;
But he to that by no means will agree,
Lest he thereby should come to beggary.
He makes it plain appear a country life
Doth far excel : and so they end the strife

Dixon & Bell, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England (1857)

Here’s another one from the Cantwell family of Standlake in Oxfordshire (see last week’s entry) which Peter Kennedy recorded from the brothers Fred and Ray in November 1956.

A different – part-sung, part-spoken – variant of the song is performed at the end of the Symondsbury Mummers’ play. Kennedy recorded that also in the 1950s; you can hear a more recent recording made by Bob Patten of both the play and the song on the British Library Sound Archive website. In fact a search of the Roud Index / Full English suggests that versions of this song were widespread in the South of England. Lucy Broadwood included it in both English County Songs and Sussex Songs.  Her version was reproduced from Davies Gilbert’s Some Ancient Christmas Carols -see www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/servingman_and_the_husbandman.htm. The song appeared in The Loyal Garland (1686), and is in the Roxburghe Collection; Malcolm Douglas’ notes to the song quote Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad, as dating it to “1665 or earlier”.

A similar version to the Cantwells’ was performed by Janet Blunt’s indefatigable informant William Walton of Adderbury in North Oxfordshire, sometimes with the assistance of Samuel Newman – the song is, after all, clearly designed to be performed by two people.

When we were assembling material for inclusion on the Magpie Lane CD, The Oxford Ramble. I think I suggested this song, knowing of its Oxfordshire connections. In fact Ian Giles already knew the song, having learned it from the Young Tradition LP Galleries. I’d also heard it on that record (or rather on Galleries Revisited – I’m a bit younger than Ian!) but made a point of getting hold of the Cantwells’ version, on one of those dreadful, tatty old Folktrax cassettes. I was not particularly surprised to learn that Peter Bellamy and Royston Wood had in fact recorded a fairly faithful reproduction of the song as sung by Ray and Fred Cantwell.

Below you will find a video of Ian and me singing the song at the first ever Magpie Lane concert in 1993, and then again – having revived the song after a long lay-off – at a concert in Bampton Church last autumn.

The husbandman and servant man. Early 19th century broadside from the Bodleian collection.

The husbandman and servant man. Early 19th century broadside from the Bodleian collection.

 

Husbandman and Servingman

Magpie Lane: Ian Giles, Andy Turner, Sophie Thurman, Jon Fletcher, Mat Green – vocals
St Mary’s Church, Bampton, 21st September 2013.

 

Magpie Lane: Ian Giles and Andy Turner – vocals

followed by

Banbury Bill: Mat Green – fiddle
As I was going to Banbury: Ian Giles – vocal; Pete Acty – mandola; Jo Acty – vocal; Isobel Dams – cello; Tom Bower – side drum; Mat Green – fiddle; Andy Turner – C/G anglo-concertina.

Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 3rd May 1993.

May 24, 2014

Week 144 – The Nightingales Sing

It feels like I’ve known this song for ever, although in truth it can’t be more than about –  oh – 37 years…

I first heard it performed by Fred and Ray Cantwell on the Topic LP Songs of Seduction. Typically, the version included on that LP had lost more than half its verses; I must have got the missing verses from Peter Kennedy’s book Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland. Kennedy had recorded the Cantwell family at Standlake in Oxfordshire in 1956. I’d always assumed that Fred and Ray were brothers, but looking at the entries for the Kennedy recordings in the British Library Sound Archive catalogue, it seems that there was a brother Ray (75 years old in 1956, and a couple of years older than Fred) and it was these brothers who sang the version of ‘Husbandman and Servingman’ later popularised by the Young Tradition. But the accordion-playing Ray on this song was a much younger man, Fred’s son. There’s a Mudcat thread with a contribution from Fred Cantwell’s granddaughter, where it’s stated that Fred had eight sons. From Mudcat I learn also that Greg Stephens has fond memories of hearing one of these sons, Aubrey, singing this song in a pub in Standlake in the 1960s, while the Roud Index reveals that Gwilym Davies recorded a few songs from John and Aubrey Cantwell in the late seventies. Gwilym tells me that he met John and Aubrey when they were living in Stonehouse in Gloucestershire in the seventies: “we had several lively pub sessions together.  I have some recordings from then, but they are fairly noisy pub sessions”. These recordings are deposited with the British Library but, like those made by Kennedy, not yet digitised and publicly available online.

I’ve always thought of this song as a bit of a hackneyed old number, and it may well have been in the sixties but, to be honest, I can’t recall ever having heard anyone else sing it. Maybe it’s just the tune which is hackneyed, thanks (or rather, no thanks) to the Yetties. In any case, I’ve always really enjoyed singing it. And, although I suppose it’s actually a song of seduction and betrayal, I like to sing it “so sweet and tenderly” as if it were an innocent pastoral love song.

I’m pleased to report that on the Rounder CD reissue of Songs of Seduction we are treated to four verses (the usual third verse being omitted). Annoyingly the sloppily-edited CD notes still show just two verses, with the other three italicised and labelled “Additional verses”. So did Fred only sing four verses, and Kennedy has restored the missing verse from elsewhere? Or did he normally sing five verses, but only four on this occasion? Or did he actually sing all five verses and, even with all the space available on a compact disc, Kennedy / Rounder still decided to edit one out for the record? I’m not the only one to be irritated by all of this. But, like Rod Stradling, I was really pleased when I got hold of this record on CD – especially as, when I first heard it back in the seventies,  it was, apart from the Copper Family, the first time I’d heard field recordings of traditional British singers; listening to the songs again 25 years later reminded me just what an influence hearing the old LP had had on me.

And being able to hear two more verses of this song, at least, was a treat: it’s a fine spirited performance from Mr Cantwell, where he is clearly enjoying himself – after singing the line “Now I’m going to India for seven long year” the singer calls out excitedly “I been there!” (as a soldier, too, one might assume, although that’s pure speculation). And we do also get to hear that he inserts a short whistled refrain between each verse. Indeed the notes contain this rather wonderful sentence

Fred Cantwell said emphatically, as he finished the recording, ‘It ain’t much now, but I used to be able to whistle just exactly like a nightingale when I had my teeth.’

I can’t whistle like a nightingale. But I’ve never been able to resist adding a little whistled coda at the end of the song. Well it worked for Otis Redding…

The Nightingales Sing