Posts tagged ‘Percy Grainger’

January 9, 2016

Week 229 – Once I Courted a Damsel

Percy Grainger recorded the melody for I Courted a Damsel from the great Joseph Taylor, and the words are from various sources. I learned it from Bill Prince, who had it from a woman he calls a songfinder extraordinary, whose name is Michelle Soinne.

Liner notes to Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, Skin and Bone, from

Now I’m pretty sure I own a copy of that LP – bought at Sidmouth in the early-mid nineties, when festival record stalls were selling off their stocks of vinyl at knock-down prices. Bizarrely, I can’t recall ever having listened to the record though (an omission I mean to rectify as soon as possible). And – although I knew that Martin had learned this song from Bill, who in turn had learned it from Michelle – I hadn’t realised that he had ever recorded the song.

I first heard it performed by my friends Michelle Soinne and Andy Cheyne, both at live gigs and on their excellent cassette-only album Fish Royal.

It appears that Percy Grainger – with Frank Kidson, whose transcription is shown below – first noted the song from Joseph Taylor in April 1905.

Once I courted a damsel, as noted by Frank Kidson

Once I courted a damsel, as noted by Frank Kidson

He returned to make a phonograph recording of the song in July the next year. As far as I know, that recording has never been made publicly available – it’s not on Unto Brigg Fair nor on any of the volumes of The Voice of the People. Maybe the surviving copies of the recording are simply no longer playable.

Once I courted a damsel, phonograph transcription by Percy Grainger

Once I courted a damsel, phonograph transcription by Percy Grainger

I learned the words from Yellowbelly Ballads Part Two edited by the poet Patrick O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy had previously included Joseph Taylor’s fragment, with additional verses composed by himself, in Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk Songs, but had subsequently realised to which family of songs the fragment belonged, and in Yellowbelly Ballads the additional words are adapted from the version collected by Henry Hammond in the Alms Houses at Taunton, from a Mr Poole.

The beauty bright - broadside printed for W. Armstrong, Banastre-street, Liverpool, between 1820 and 1824. From the Bodleian collection.

The beauty bright – broadside printed for W. Armstrong, Banastre-street, Liverpool, between 1820 and 1824. From the Bodleian collection.

Once I Courted a Damsel

Andy Turner – vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

June 14, 2014

Week 147 – The Sheffield Apprentice

A bit of a classic this: really good story line (young man puts love before riches, is falsely accused, and faces a sticky end) and a fine modal tune. What’s not to like?

I had the tune from Joseph Leaning, via a 1908 cylinder recording made by Percy Grainger at Brigg in Lincolnshire, via the iconic 1970s Leader LP, Unto Brigg Fair.

It is not unusual for songs from the oral tradition to have incomplete or confused sets of words, and to then resort to printed sources to fill in the gaps. But the exact opposite was true in this case – Mr Leaning’s version seemed to me to be just too wordy (maybe he learned the song from a printed broadside, which have a tendency to be prolix). So I’ve used a more concise set of words from Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl’s Singing Island. Those words are credited to William Miller of Stirling, who I think I’m right in saying was Ewan MacColl’s Dad.


Sheffield 'prentice - broadside ballad printed by Harkness of Preston, from the Bodleian collection.

Sheffield ‘prentice – broadside ballad printed by Harkness of Preston, from the Bodleian collection.


An earlier recording of me singing this song can be found on my 1990 cassette Love, Death and the Cossack.

The Sheffield Apprentice

November 23, 2013

Week 118 – The White Hare

Another song learned from the fabulous Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All Saints, Lincolnshire. I think the first recording of the song I heard was on the Watersons’ eponymous red LP. Their version was based on that communicated to Frank Kidson by his tireless informant Mr Charles Lolley of Leeds. Publishing the song in his Traditional Tunes Kidson – always a man to favour tunes over lyrics – commented

Musicians will, I think, congratulate Mr. Lolley upon obtaining such a fine and sterling old air. I wish I could say as much for the words.

Which is a bit harsh.

It can’t have been too long after hearing The Watersons that I came across the recording by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick on their album But Two Came By. Martin’s version is that sung by Joseph Taylor, which I first heard in my student days. Finding the classic Leader LP Unto Brigg Fair in Blackwell’s Music Shop in Oxford, I immediately coughed up the £4.50, or whatever records cost back in those days. Whatever it cost, it was money well spent. These days, you can find a recording of Joseph Taylor singing the song on The Voice of the People Volume 18.

There’s a lot of interesting information about the origin of this song on the Yorkshire Garland website, and some nineteenth century examples of broadside printings of the song on the Bodleian’s Ballads Online website. The copy shown was paired with a comic ditty entitled ‘Who’s your hatter’. Not sure it’s quite my style, but someone out there must surely fancy learning a song which includes such great lines as

Come pull up your trousers and go along slap
And purchase a Flipiday Flobbody hat.

The White Hare, broadside ballad from the Bodleian Collection.

The White Hare, broadside ballad from the Bodleian Collection.

The White Hare

October 7, 2013

Week 111 – Worcester City

I learned this from the wonderful Joseph Taylor of Saxby All Saints, Lincolnshire, via the LP Unto Brigg Fair. Percy Grainger’s 1908 recording can be heard these days on The Voice of the People Vol. 3, O’er His Grave the Grass Grew Green.

The song is, as it were, of no fixed abode. Set here in Worcester City, the version which has been a staple of Magpie Lane’s repertoire for the last twenty years has the action taking place in Oxford City, It is also known as ‘Jealousy’ and (spoiler alert) ‘Poison in a glass of wine’.

Worcester City

September 16, 2013

Week 108 – Horkstow Grange

Recorded onto a phonograph cylinder by Australian musician, composer and (briefly) folk song collector Percy Grainger in 1908, this fragment of a song has continued to fascinate singers, arrangers and composers alike. It was first sung to Grainger by George Gouldthorpe at Brigg in July 1906 – see his transcription below from the EFDSS’s magnificent Full English archive. I learned the song from the (also magnificent) Leader LP Unto Brigg Fair: Joseph Taylor and Other Traditional Lincolnshire Singers Recorded in 1908 by Percy Grainger.

Mr Gouldthorpe was born around 1840 – he told Grainger he had “a vast of years” – and had lived most of his life in the place of his birth, Barrow-upon-Humber. He had worked as a lime-burner and, by 1908, after a spell in Brigg workhouse, had moved in with his sister at Goxhill. Regarding this move, Mr Gouldthorpe said “I was easier in my mind”. Which, as Bob Thomson comments in his notes to Unto Brigg Fair, “one suspects is a grim understatement of the circumstances”.

You can read about the background to the song itself on Reinhard Zierke’s Mainly Norfolk site and on this page on the Lincolnshire County Council website, part of  a series of articles headed Legacy of Lincolnshire Songs. In short, nothing is known of the old miser “Steeleye” Span, or his foreman John Bowling, still less of this exchange of fisticuffs between them. Although the song has all the hallmarks of a local composition, it would seem that George Gouldthorpe may have got the names confused. With the expansion of local newspapers, court reports and other archival material on the web, it’s entirely possible that details will eventually emerge. Part of me hopes that they do. But another part of me feels that, maybe, it’s best if some mysteries just remain as mysteries,

'Horkstow Grange', from Percy Grainger's MSS, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

‘Horkstow Grange’, from Percy Grainger’s MSS, via the EFDSS Full English archive.

Horkstow Grange

October 28, 2012

Week 62 – Creeping Jane

I first heard this sung by Martin Carthy on the LP But Two Came By. It’s a fine version, but I’m sure Martin would be the first to agree that the definitive recording of the song is that made of a seventy five year old Lincolnshire farm bailiff in 1908.

Joseph Taylor - photo from Musical Traditions

Joseph Taylor – photo from Musical Traditions

That singer of course was Joseph Taylor of Saxby All Saints, from whom the Australian composer Percy Grainger recorded a number of fine, beautifully-sung pieces on an Edison cylinder machine – although in this case the recording was made at a specially-arranged London session for the Gramophone Company.

Grainger’s recordings were made available in the 1970s on Unto Brigg Fair, a lavishly-produced Leader LP. Long unavailable of course, but several recordings of Joseph Taylor were included on Topic’s Voice of the People series. ‘Creeping Jane’ can be found on Volume 8 A Story I’m Just About to Tell, and if you’ve never heard Joseph Taylor’s singing, I really can’t recommend it too highly.

Rod Stradling, in reviewing that particular CD, wrote

Beyond the technological miracle which allows us to hear Joseph Taylor with such clarity some ninety years after he was recorded, is the joy of being able to hear such a consummate performer at all.  He’s just breathtaking

Creeping Jane