Posts tagged ‘Penguin Book of English Folk Songs’

September 25, 2015

Week 214 – The Blacksmith

Song number 8 in Classic English Folk Songs, formerly the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, and few would argue that this is a classic of the genre.

It’s actually a song which I’ve almost certainly never sung in public, and which I’ve never really considered to be part of my repertoire. Partly because I’ve always planned to learn Tom Willett’s magnificent version (and having got this version of my chest, so to speak, maybe I finally will), but also because it’s just one of those songs which everyone knows. Still, I seem to know the words without having to think about them, and it is a classic, and it’s a great song to sing; so it seemed daft not to post a version here.

I would have first heard it as the opening track of Steeleye Span’s Please to see the King. Where – like a lot of songs on the two Carthy / Hutchings Steeleye LPs – it’s given a wonderfully sparse, austere, atmospheric and totally effective arrangement. Shortly after hearing that recording I would have heard the OK but far less interesting arrangement on the first Steeleye LP, and then Andy Irvine’s take on the song, on the debut Planxty album. I suspect most of the words went in by osmosis, but having them in the Penguin book would have helped – no need to transcribe them from tape or vinyl.

Vaughan Williams noted the tune, but no words, from Mrs Ellen Powell, at Westhope, near Weobley in Herefordshire. Malcolm Douglas, in his additional notes for Classic English Folk Songs, suggests that Vaughan Williams and Bert Lloyd used Peter Verrall’s version, or possibly the Such broadside shown below, as the basis of the verses given in the book.

The blacksmith: broadside printed by H. Such, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The blacksmith: broadside printed by H. Such, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The Blacksmith

August 16, 2014

Week 156 – The Gentleman Soldier

I learned this song many years ago from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs – but only did so as a result of having heard it performed by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick on the LP Byker Hill.  The version in the Penguin book was collected by Anne Gilchrist in 1907 from Thomas Coomber of Blackham in Sussex. Miss Gilchrist’s notes say “Sung in camp” – Mr Coomber had apparently been in the local militia.

The sentry box - ballad printed by H. Such of London, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The sentry box – ballad printed by H. Such of London, between 1863 and 1885. From the Bodleian collection.

The Gentleman Soldier

February 1, 2014

Week 128 – Salisbury Plain

When the EFDSS republished the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs as Classic English Folk Songs, they got it just about right. Certainly it’s the classic collection of English folk songs, and as a result of their inclusion in the book many of the songs in it have become staples of the folk revival. And there are some real gems: ‘All Things Are Quite Silent’, ‘The Blacksmith’, ‘Death and the Lady’, ‘The Grey Cock’, ’Lovely Joan’…

I’d put ‘Salisbury Plain’ right up there with the best of them: for me it’s the epitome of a classic English folk song. It has a fantastic modal tune, and the words are wonderfully evocative. The male lead, though a rogue, is clearly something of a charmer

As I walked over Salisbury Plain,
Oh, there I met a scamping young blade.
He kissed me and enticèd me so
Till along with him I was forced for to go.

Clearly you could interpret the word “forced” to mean that the narrator was subject to physical coercion. But the way I read the song, she was just swept off her feet, and ultimately found the scamping young blade irresistible.

And the last verse – especially the slightly oblique last line – is, well, classic.

Read the expanded notes on the song in Classic English Folk Songs however, and you soon realise that, not for the first time, this classic owes more than a little to the editorial interventions of A.L.Lloyd. The Penguin edition makes clear that the tune given was collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall, from Horsham in 1904, while RVW had the words from their near neighbour, Henry Burstow (incidentally, can this really be the first song I’ve posted here from the great Henry Burstow? shameful, if so). But now we learn that

the editors have modified Mr Burstow’s text in places, and omitted the final verse:

So now young men a warning take by me,
And never keep those flash girls company,
For if that you do you will rue,
And you will die upon the high drop at last.

Well it’s good to have the full facts available, and it would appear that it’s fairly easy to determine the extent of Bert Lloyd’s intervention here – which is sadly not the case with many of the other songs he introduced to the folk scene (‘Reynardine’, ‘Weaver and the Factory Maid’, ‘Recruited Collier’ and ‘Lucy Wan’ spring to mind). And while one can regret that Lloyd was often less than transparent when he “improved” a traditional song, it’s hard to fault his artistic judgement – in most cases it seems he really did improve on the originals. There’s nothing wrong with Henry Burstow’s final verse, but I have no hesitation in saying this song is more effective without it.

Incidentally, I first heard this song sung unaccompanied by Martin Carthy on the LP Prince Heathen, and I’d rate it as one of the finest performances of Martin’s recording career.

Salisbury Plain, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.

Salisbury Plain, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.

Salisbury Plain, verse 5, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.

Salisbury Plain, verse 5, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.

Salisbury Plain

January 19, 2014

Week 126 – Fare Thee Well, My Dearest Dear

I first heard this song on the album Amaranth. This was the 1970s reissue of Shirley and Dolly Collins’ Anthems in Eden suite, where the suite itself was paired with new recordings featuring what one might loosely describe as the Albion Dance Band. The arrangement on this track was greatly enhanced by the presence of a sackbut quartet (for 10 points:  which other Albion track from the early seventies featured four sackbuts?). I actually learned the song from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs where I found that, as taken down by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall in 1904, the song had a rather more unpredictable rhythm than when rendered by Ashley and the boys. I think I was always aware that I hadn’t quite learned it “right”. Checking back now with the book  I can see that my interpretation of the tune owes at least as much to the way Shirley sings it, as to the way it was collected from Mrs Verrall.

I remember hearing Tony Rose sing this song on Radio 2’s folk show Folkweave back in the late seventies or early eighties. He said that, as a young singer, he had gained a reputation for being very knowledgeable about the songs he sang. Little did people realise, he confided, that all he was doing was regurgitating the notes from the back of the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. So imagine his horror when he turned to the back of the book and found that, inexplicably, the editors had failed to provide any notes for this song. With its republication as Classic English Folk Songs, this error has of course been redressed. Malcolm Douglas’ notes to the new book tell us that

  • this appears to be one of those songs which have only been collected from a single traditional source (the Roud Index has ‘Over the Mountain’, collected by Gardiner in Hampshire, sharing the same Roud number, but comparing the three verses of that song, I’m not convinced)
  • it is descended from a late seventeenth century broadside, ‘The Two Faithful Lovers’
  • the tune prescribed for the words on one seventeenth century broadside at least was ‘Franklin is Fled Away’, from which Harriett Verrall’s tune appears to be descended – see (and indeed, listen) for yourself at abcnotation.com

Incidentally, I can only find Mrs Verrall’s tune and first verse in the Full English archive, although six verses are given by RVW in the 1906 Journal of the Folk-Song Society.

Fare thee well my dearest dear, noted by Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall, Horsham, Sussex, 22 Dec 1904; image copyright EFDSS.

Fare thee well my dearest dear, noted by Vaughan Williams from Harriett Verrall, Horsham, Sussex, 22 Dec 1904; image copyright EFDSS.

The two faithful lovers. Broadside printed in London, between 1663 and 1674, from the Douce Ballads. Image copyright the Bodleian Library.

The two faithful lovers. Broadside printed in London, between 1663 and 1674, from the Douce Ballads. Image copyright the Bodleian Library.

Fare Thee Well, My Dearest Dear

Andy Turner: vocals, G/D  anglo-concertina

September 1, 2013

Week 106 – The Deserter from Kent

I learned this from the Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs. It was collected in 1907 from a Mr Kemp, at Elstead in Surrey. The collector was Walter Ford, who was one of the early members of the Folk Song Society, and served on the committee. He wrote Lucy Broadwood’s obituary in the 1929 Journal; Dorothy De Val, in her In Search of Song: The Life and Times of Lucy Broadwood describes Ford as “a long-time members of the Society and a singer in the tradition of Plunket Greene, as well as a contemporary of Sharp at Cambridge.”

Mr Kemp was described by Ford as “an agricultural labourer, aged about 75”. But he may have knocked a decade and a half off the singer’s age: according to Classic English Folk Songs, the only likely candidate to be found in the 1901 census for Elstead is the 86-year old George Kemp.

The song is quite rare – the only other known version appears to be one which Ewan MacColl collected from the gipsy singer, Nelson Ridley. If the deserter did come from the West of Kent, that probably means he was deserting from the The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment; the soldiers who apprehend him, meanwhile, were from the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot (later the Norfolk Regiment).

You can find a 1990 recording of this song on my album Love, Death and the Cossack.

The Deserter from Kent

May 26, 2013

Week 92 – Death and the Lady

This is the only song in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs to have been collected in Kent. And while most of the songs in that book had been collected at the start of the twentieth century, this one had been noted a mere 13 years before the book’s publication. Arranger, academic and radio presenter Francis Collinson had the song on 16th February 1946 from Mr Harry Baker of Maidstone.

The song was included in JEFDSS Vol 5 No 1 (1946), with the following note from Collinson:

Mr. Baker of Maidstone, who is in his seventies, has worked all his life as an engineer at Thomas Tillings’. He is a little uncertain in his singing, and I had to ask him to repeat the tune of “Death and the Lady” a number of times before I was certain of having it down correctly.

Mr Baker’s textually incomplete version was padded out with verses possibly taken from Alfred Williams’ Folk Songs of the Upper Thames (according to Malcolm Douglas’s notes in Classic English Folk Songs).

Death and the Lady, as collected by Francis Collinson from Mr Baker. From the EFDSS Full English archive.

The song is of some antiquity: the earliest known printed version has been dated c.1685-1689. The ballad sheet shown here is from at least 100 years later: printed by J. Turner, High Street, Coventry, between 1797 and 1846.

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Death and the lady

November 25, 2012

Week 66 – As Sylvie was walking

“Bunch of green ribbons” from the Bodleian collection

The first song in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs is from Lower Beeding, Sussex. The next is from Moonee Ponds, Victoria, in Australia. The singer, the octagenarian Mrs. Ann Aston, had been living in Australia since 1855, but had been  born in Coleford, Gloucestershire. She had learned the song from an uncle, who also hailed from Gloucestershire.

The notes to the book say “This song was sent to W. P. Merrick from Australia” – by whom, I’m afraid I know not – and “The text has been amplified from versions sung to H.E.D. Hammond in 1906 by two Dorset women, Mrs. Hann of Stoke Abbot and Mrs. Russell of Upwey.  A version from Lew Down, Devon, appears in Songs of the West (Baring-Gould and others, 1905) under the title of A Maiden Sat A-Weeping.”  Malcolm Douglas’ expanded notes to the reprint (Classic English Folk Songs) point out that the final verse appears to come from the Baring-Gould version.

In the folk revival, the most widely sung version is probably that based on the recording by Pentangle (“Once I had a sweetheart” from Cruel Sister), which seems to derive from a version collected by Sharp in Somerset. But I really like John Kirkpatrick’s arrangement of Baring-Gould’s “A Maiden Sat A-Weeping” on the Brass Monkey album Going and Staying. Steeleye Span were so taken with the “Sails of Silver” line that they based a whole song around it, the title track of their 1980 LP.

As for my own arrangement, I can no longer recall if the D minor – Eb major chord progression was the result of musical inspiration, or just a happy accident. Probably the latter, to be honest.

As Sylvie was walking

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina