More love again this week for Steeleye Span’s 1971 LP Ten Man Mop or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again, which I consider to be the finest of all their albums. I like the album’s largely acoustic tracks – ‘Four Nights Drunk’, ‘Marrowbones’, ‘Wee Weaver’ and the jigs and reels sets – but good as those are, they only serve to highlight the brilliance of the electric numbers, in particular the magnificent ‘Captain Coulston’ and ‘When I was on horseback’. The brooding, atmospheric arrangement on the latter is quite timeless – not remotely dated – and serves the song really well. Respect to Steeleye also for not being tempted to add verses from other versions – they keep the song as a three-verse fragment (plus repeated first verse) which manages to convey a sense of impending doom, without actually revealing exactly what’s going on.
When I first heard the song I had no idea of the back story. Had the young soldier been ambushed as he entered Cork City? Had he been the casualty of a military engagement? Later, of course, I discovered that this was a member of the ‘Unfortunate Rake’ family of songs (number 2 in Mr Roud’s list), and “the young soldier who never did wrong” had not met his downfall in battle, but was dying of the pox.
Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle, working on behalf of the BBC, recorded the song at a travellers’ encampment in Belfast in 1952, from Mary Doran of Waterford. It was included (as ‘The Dying Soldier’) on A Soldier’s Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8) and presumably that’s where Steeleye found it. I heard that LP back in the late 1970s but I have no recollection of having heard Mary Doran’s version of this song until a couple of years ago. I must have had cloth-ears in the seventies: this time round I was completely blown away by Mary Doran’s performance. This volume of the Topic / Caedmon series doesn’t seem to be available to purchase as a CD, but if you hunt around on the web you should be able to find an MP3 version of ‘The Dying Soldier’ – it’s well worth hunting out.
A few days ago I was considering a temporary suspension of activity at A Folk Song A Week. I have a particularly busy month coming up, and no song recordings in my store (apart from the one I have saved for use as The Last Song On The Blog). But a recording window presented itself (i.e. the rest of the household were out for the day!) and I now have enough songs put by to last me into February. Moreover, prompted in part by a reminder from Jim Causley that there are twelve days of Christmas, and they’re a long way from being over, this song suggested itself as just right for New Year.
I knew it from a 1950s Peter Kennedy recording of Charlie Bate from Padstow, included on the Topic/Caedmon LP Songs of Ceremony (Volume 9 of the Folk Songs of Britain series). Some twenty years ago I suggested it as a possible Magpie Lane number, but at the time it met with little enthusiasm. Subsequently I’ve occasionally thought of trying it out as a solo piece, but never quite got round to it. On Monday, however, I found the tune going round my head so, in the evening, I listened to the Songs of Ceremony track to get the words down. What I had forgotten was that the LP only included a couple of verses before segueing into the Truro Wassail Bowl Singers singing the ‘Malpas Wassail’. A search of the web failed to turn up any further verses, although clearly Charlie Bate’s song is a version of this Cornish Wassail song (source not given) and this one from Ralph Dunstan’s Cornish Song Book (1929). I emailed a query to the TradSong list, and by 10 next morning had been sent a different Kennedy recording of Charlie Bate, made in 1956, and included on the Folktrax cassette West Country Wassailers.
This recording had six verses which I quickly transcribed and set about singing. As I had anticipated, the song sits beautifully in C on a C/G anglo, and by 11.30 that morning I had recorded the song for inclusion here.
Charlie Bate was an important figure in Padstow, and a man with a lovely, gentle singing style. You can hear a number of recordings of Charlie singing if you search the British Library Sounds website. I’m making no promises, but I’m greatly tempted to learn his I was the lover of Lady Chatterly!
Given the state of the world, it might be unduly optimistic to wish everyone peace, happiness and prosperity, but I hope at least that making and listening to music may bring you joy in 2016 – in fact, I can do no better than to repeat the traditional blessing
Joy, health, love and peace
Be all here in this place
Many people have felt unwilling to criticise Kennedy, or to expose his illegal Folktrax publications, on the (pragmatic) grounds that he has actually made the recordings available. They are no longer available from the EFDSS… and much of the BBC material has been lost… Like a black-marketeer in wartime, Kennedy has been tolerated because “Where else can you get a pair of nylons?”
I never owned more than a handful of Folktrax cassettes – I was put off by the shoddy packaging as much as anything. But I have to admit (as proof of Rod’s point) to being rather glad that I bought a copy of Folktrax cassette FTX-504 The Bitter Withy: Early Folk Carols, as it contains a number of songs which are not, as far as I’m aware, available elsewhere. The opening track is ‘All Hail and Praise’, sung by Ralph Thomas from the village of Ashton-under-Hill (now in Worcestershire, but part of Gloucestershire until the 1930s). It was recorded, not by Peter Kennedy but by Peter Duddridge, in May 1958.
Gwilym Davies told me that there had once been a flourishing carol-singing tradition in and you can read more about this on his excellent Gloucestershire Christmas site:
The Ashton carols were sung by the bell ringers when they came round the village on Boxing Day, but were not sung in the church and the custom died out just after World War II. The carollers were Ken Pratt, Ken Pratt’s father, Albert Langley, Charlie Moore and Frank Whittle (who lost a leg at Mons and who had a lovely voice). They sometimes sang in parts (although it is not clear to what extent Mrs Roberson wrote the published parts). Between the Wars Ralph Cotton used to accompany the carollers on violin. The carollers went round late at night with a lantern on a bean pole. The very last time they sang was in the 1960s when Fred invited them in to sing in the Tudor room at Stanley Farm. One of the carols ‘All Hail and Praise the Sacred Morn’ used to be sung at in the nearby Worcestershire village of Elmley Castle at midnight on New Year’s Eve, after which the singers would go to the church gates and sing it there. That was last done in the 1970’s when Reg Berry was one of the carollers.
Naturally Gwilym’s site also includes a page on ‘All Hail and Praise’, where you can hear a recording of the carol being sung by Ralph Thomas.
We sang this for a couple of years with Magpie Lane but, even at the time, I’m not sure I ever got a firm grip on the words. For this recording I had them in large print right in front of me. I’ve never come across this set of words anywhere else, and they just don’t seem very memorable somehow. Maybe, having over the years sung ‘Arise and Hail the Joyful Day’, ‘Arise and Hail the Sacred Day’, ‘Arise and Hail the Glorious Star’, ‘Awake Arise Good Christians’, and any number beginning ‘Hark! Hark!’ or ‘Hail! Hail! Hail!’, I’ve simply reached saturation point with carols. Still, if you go wrong, it should be fairly easy to improvise, as long as you can string together a bunch of lines rhyming born/morn, star/far, bring/sing/king, earth/birth/mirth and – if you’re from the West of England – join/divine.
Incidentally, keen Roud number-spotters will be getting really excited about this one. It didn’t seem to be in Mr Roud’s index, so I got in touch with Steve, and he’s had a rummage around in his bottom drawer, and found a spare one for this carol – it’s now Roud 25791.
When I was 16 or 17 I signed up to the record-lending section of my local public library. The first two discs I borrowed were an early music recording of songs from the Carmina Burana, and the Topic/Caedmon LP Songs of Seduction. Now the Folk Songs of Britain series, of which this was part, has been heavily criticised for the way its editors, Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy, chopped out verses from songs, or had bits of one song sung by several different singers. (The CD reissue of Songs of Seduction did restore most of the originally-deleted verses, but some reviewers still found plenty to complain about – complaints which could be summed up as objecting to Kennedy’s rather high-handed and proprietorial attitude towards the songs and their singers). But back in 1961 when the LP was first released, I guess the editors had limited time available on each disc, and they wanted to present, to those unused to listening to British traditional singers, as wide a range of songs and as wide a range of singers as possible. In that they succeeded. Some 15 years later, I was just the kind of listener the records had been aimed at: I had developed (via Steeleye, the Watersons, the Chieftains etc.) a great love of folk music, but so far the only traditional singers I had heard were the Copper Family. Suddenly, I was presented with some of the greats of traditional song – Harry Cox, Thomas Moran, Jeannie Robertson, Davie Stewart, George Spicer… And (I was a teenage boy, remember) they were all singing about sex. What’s not to like?
One of the songs included on the LP – in a reasonably complete form, as I recall – was Harry Cox’s ‘Maid of Australia’. So I was familiar with the song from the LP, then learned the words from Peter Kennedy’s book Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland, also borrowed from the public library. (Incidentally, after years of borrowing that book from various libraries, I finally bought a copy the other week – one of a number of books Steve Roud was selling off at the EFDSS Folk Song Conference, in a desperate effort to reduce the size of his personal library before moving house).
It’s one of those songs which, for no apparent reason, seems to have been a favourite in East Anglia, and hardly ever encountered elsewhere in Britain – besides Harry Cox, it has been recorded from Walter Pardon and Sam Larner, while Vaughan Williams took down a version from Mr Crist in King’s Lynn, and John Howson recorded a version in 1993 from Tom Smith at Thorpe Merieux in Suffolk. Just to prove it’s not a solely East Anglian preserve, however, here’s the version Sabine Baring-Gould noted from George Doidge at Chillaton in Devon: http://www.vwml.org/record/SBG/1/3/228.
And, needless to say, the song appeared on at least one broadside ballad sheet.
The maids of Australia, printed between 1863 and 1885 by H. Such. From the Bodleian collection.
The song itself is, of course, the most fantastic male sexual fantasy. The narrator is out for a walk by the Hawkesborough River. He sits down to rest for a bit, when who should he spy but a young native woman – a young woman intent on having a dip in the river, it would seem as, without further ado, she takes off all her clothes. Realising that she is being watched, she blushes, but her embarrassment is shortlived: she quickly recovers her composure and makes it clear that she feels no reason to be ashamed of her naked body.
For the young man on the bank, things just seem to get better and better.
Well she dived in the water without fear or dread
And her beautiful limbs she exceedingly spread
– well, there’s a sight for a young man
Her hair hung in ringlets, the colour it was black
Sir, said she, you will see how I float on my back…
Oh my – I think I might need to go and have a lie-down.
Well she can’t swim for ever, of course. After a while she begins to get tired. Ever the gentleman, he helps her out. But – accidentally, of course – his foot slips, and down they fall together. And, in possibly the finest pun in English traditional song, “then I entered the bush of Australia”.
They frolic together for a while – “in the highest of glee”, naturally. But all men are bastards, so he ups and leaves her, and nine months later (all folk song characters being unfeasibly fecund) she finds herself a single mother.
I did for a while sing a rewrite of the last verse, in which I attempted to draw attention to the colonialist, patriarchal attitudes implicit in the song. But it was just as clumsy as that makes it sound, so I reverted to Harry Cox’s original. At least that way the audience can join in with the last line.
Another song from the great Pop Maynard. I first heard this on the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England but learned it with help from the transcription in Ken Stubbs’ excellent little booklet The Life and Songs of George Maynard (an EFDSS reprint from the 1963 Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, December 1963). The recording on Ye Subjects of England was made by Peter Kennedy. More recently, different recordings made by Reg Hall and Mervyn Plunkett, and Ken Stubbs, have appeared on the Who’s That at My Bed Window?(Volume 10 of The Voice of the People series), and the Musical Traditions compilation Just Another Saturday Night. In the notes to the latter collection, Rod Stradling notes that a significant number of the versions collected by Cecil Sharp were from singers who don’t appear to have sung him anything else:
Maybe this is an easy song to learn and remember, so that someone who didn’t know anything else could trot it out for the roving collector … or maybe it was one of the titles Mr Sharp listed when he asked the singer “D’you know any of those old folk songs? You know, songs like Rolling in the Dew?” I offer this suggestion purely on the evidence that he collected 31 of these examples!
An interesting conjecture.
The song is clearly of considerable age – the printed ballad sheet shown below dates back to 1688 or 1689.
A merry new dialogue between a courteous young knight, and a gallant milk-maid. Printed for W. Thackeray at the Sugar loaf in Duck lane, between 1688 and 1689. From the Bodleian collection.
It occurs to me that the song can be viewed in two ways. It could be seen as typical male fantasy: he makes all kinds of suggestions why the milkmaid might not want to have sex with him, and (wanton, depraved female that she is) she just brushes them all aside. But I prefer to see her as a sexually-liberated, independently-minded woman who knows what she wants, and intends to get it on her own terms.
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 memory is a bit fuzzy at the edges, but I have a very clear recollection of the first time I heard ‘The Nutting Girl’. The occasion was the annual House Music competition at my school, and I reckon it would have been in the Spring of 1975. I was in Burra House, and no doubt would have played some part in the competition. Maybe this was the year I played ‘Stranger on the Shore’ on the trumpet. Whatever I did, I’m sure it was instantly forgettable – unless, of course, it was so bad that the audience found they couldn’t forget it, no matter how hard they tried.
Barrett were commonly reckoned the House to beat in the three cultural competitions: Drama, Debating and Music. They had at least three really good piano players: Dave Finch, who was in my year, and Terry Creissen and Barnaby Vafidis, who were a year or two older. On this occasion, Terry Creissen came on stage with Tim Bull (later a dancer with Mr Jorrocks Morris, and melodeon-player with the dance band Florida) and, if memory serves, Terry’s older brother Gary, and Matthew Vafidis, older brother of the aforementioned Barnaby. They had with them a big book of songs by Beethoven, but what they sang – unaccompanied – was ‘The Nutting Girl’.
Now I can’t claim that I had some sort of Damascene conversion (that came, if my chronology is right, some 8 or 9 months later, after seeing Steeleye Span on Top of the Pops). But the memory of having heard this song sung on the school stage has stayed with me.
I subsequently discovered that the boys were dancing with Headcorn Morris. And I think it’s a fair bet that they had learned this song from the performance by John Kirkpatrick on Morris On. It would be another 2 or 3 years before I heard that album, by which time I had already heard a field recording of ‘The Nutting Girl’ being sung by Cyril Poacher in the famous Blaxhall Ship. This was in a recording made by Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax in 1954, and included on the LP Songs of Seduction, which was the first record I borrowed on joining my local public library’s record department. It’s very much a live recording, with plenty of audience participation and, naturally, calls from the “Chairman” Wicketts Richardson for “order please”.
I’ve heard it said that Cyril had another pint before each new take of this song, which is why there is, as it were, a certain lack of continuity between the takes. In fact, in the notes to the Musical Traditions CD Plenty of Thyme Rod Stradling puts the number of takes as nineteen – in which case, it’s not surprising if Cyril seems slightly the worse for wear by the end; in fact it’s a wonder he was still standing at all!
Those notes also tell us that Cyril learned the song from his maternal grandfather, William ‘Cronie’ Ling:
My grandfather Cronie Ling would put me on his knee and sing The Nutting Girl – that was the first song I heard, and he used to let me smoke his pipe too.
From the photo below it would appear that not only the song, but also the pipe-smoking habit stayed with him.
Cyril Poacher – photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust website
“The nut girl” broadside ballad from the Bodleian Library collection. Printed by J. Pitts, Seven Dials, London between 1819 and 1844.
‘John Barleycorn’ was one of the first traditional songs I ever heard. That was the Steeleye version, which I soon discovered was pretty much the same as that printed in Fred Hamer’s Garners Gay. Like pretty much everything on Below the Salt, I learned that version at the time; and I’m pretty sure it was for a while in the repertoire of a group I sang with at University, The Paralytics aka Three Agnostics and a Christian.
In more recent times, I have recorded two different versions with Magpie Lane. First, on The Oxford Ramble Ian Giles and I sang the classic Shepherd Haden version. Then on A Taste of Ale I sang a version collected by Gwilym Davies in the 1970s. The Oxfordshire version should appear on this blog at some point, since it is, notionally at least, still in my repertoire. But the Devon version, like much of the material on A Taste of Ale, was worked up for the CD, then forgotten about (I can’t actually recall the tune right now).
If I was starting from scratch, and looking for a ‘John Barleycorn’ version to sing, I might well be tempted by the rather nice minor key version (another from Bampton-in-the-Bush) printed in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. But here’s a version which I recorded on a demo tape with Chris Wood, circa 1985. This came from Peter Kennedy’s Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland. Kennedy collected the song from Bert Edwards of Little Stretton, Shropshire, and it’s similar to the way another Shropshire singer, Fred Jordan, used to sing the song.
The notes to this song in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs 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.
If we stick to what we do know…
Well if you want to know what we do know, you’ll have to buy the book. Even if you never learn any of the songs, it’s worth every penny for Steve Roud’s excellent well-informed and thoroughly commonsensical introduction.
Blow the candle out, early 19th century, from the Bodleian Library collection
I first heard this about 35 years ago, on the LP Songs of Seduction in the Topic / Caedmon series The Folk Songs of Britain, where it is sung in a beautifully easy, lyrical style by Belfast tinker Jimmy Gilhaney (although the song was in fact recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1955, not in Belfast but in the Orkney Isles). When I bought the expanded CD reissue of Songs of Seduction, I was really struck by Gilhaney’s performance of this song, and wondered why I hadn’t ever thought of learning it. That omission was soon rectified.
Initially I planned to incorporate additional verses, either from a broadside or from the somewhat fuller version collected in Suffolk from Jumbo Brightwell. But I soon decided that Jimmy Gilhaney’s five verses stood perfectly well on their own.
It occurs to me that now Topic own the rights to the Kennedy archive, they have the makings of a really good addition to the Voice of the People series, in the shape of Kennedy’s recordings of Irish travellers – Jimmy Gilhaney, Mary Doran, Lal Smith, Thomas Moran et al.
This version was recorded in the 1950s from Albert Beale of Kenardington in Kent, by Peter Kennedy and Maud Karpeles. I learned it many years ago from the BBC 78 rpm recording held at Cecil Sharp House; it was also included on the Folktrax cassette The Bitter Withy. Slightly different versions were taken down by Cecil Sharp from Albert’s married sister Alice Harden in 1911, and from his father James Beale in 1908; the latter is printed in the EFDSS collection Still Growing.