Posts tagged ‘Pete Coe’

April 26, 2014

Week 140 – Down By The Shannon Side

I learned this song from the Cornish traveller Charlotte Renals, who is featured along with her sisters Betsy Renals and Sophie Legg on the Veteran cassette Catch me if you Can (now available in expanded form as VT119CD). Her version has several two and three line verses. I’ve filled in the gaps, and put the verses in a more logical order, with the help of a very complete set of words collected by Cecil Sharp in August 1905 from Captain Robert Lewis of Minehead in Somerset.

In Charlotte Renals’ version the male protagonist is Captain Walters. A perfectly respectable name. But in Captain Lewis’ version the bounder’s name is Captain Thunderbold:

My name is Captain Thunderbold
It’s a name I will ne’er deny

Well why would you deny a name like that? And how could I resist including it in the song?

Looking at the numerous broadside versions available via Broadside Ballads Online  the name seems to be universally given as ‘Captain Thunderbolt’ and this is the title Phoebe Smith has for her version of the song.

The Shannon Side – broadside from the Bodleian collection, printed by H. Such, between 1863 and 1885.

The Shannon Side – broadside from the Bodleian collection, printed by H. Such, between 1863 and 1885.

I had let this song lapse for several years, but recently relearned it, and I must say it’s good to have the song back in my repertoire.

Down By The Shannon Side


March 3, 2013

Week 80 – The Farmer in Leicester

A song which seems to have been widespread in the English tradition, under a variety of titles. The farmer can hail from Leicester, Chester, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Sheffield, Devonshire… although why the song is named after the farmer at all is a mystery, when it’s daughter who does all the work.

Betsy Renals, from the Veteran website; photo courtesy of Vic Legg.

Betsy Renals, from the Veteran website; photo courtesy of Vic Legg.

I learned this version from a recording of Vic Legg’s auntie, Betsy Renals, made by Pete Coe in 1978. Pete’s recordings of Betsy and her two sisters – all good singers – are  available on Catch me if you can on the Veteran label. I have the original cassette album, but actually there’s now an expanded CD release. The Veteran website has a good summary which I shan’t try to improve on:

Betsy Renals, Charlotte Renals and Sophie Legg were born into one of the best-known West Country travelling families, the Orchards. They were 78, 77 and 60 years old respectively in 1978 when these recordings were made.

Their early life was spent travelling the lanes of North Cornwall hawking haberdashery from their horse drawn wagon Their songs were passed down through their family or learnt at way-side meetings with other travelling families around the camp fire, which could also be the occasion for a step dance often just to mouth music, called ‘tuning’.

This fine collection includes well known folk songs, sentimental and comic songs as well as some rarely recorded narrative ballads.

I’ve not heard the CD, but three quarters of the tracks were on the original cassette, and both the songs and the singing are a treat.

Mike Yates’ notes say that this song dates back to the eighteenth century; and also include this interesting comment:

According to the folklorist Sam Richards, Betsy’s song was used by Gypsy singers to establish boundaries when they came into contact with non-Gypsies; the Travellers feeling that, like the heroine of the song, they too were equal to any potential threat that might develop.

This is one of very few traditional songs where I’ve felt the need to compose an extra verse. Somehow “She’s counted the money twice over / There were three thousand pounds if not more” didn’t seem a satisfactory ending, so I’ve added another, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, verse at the end.

The Farmer in Leicester