The first song in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, Vaughan Williams noted this on the 22nd December 1904, from Mr Ted Baines of Lower Beeding in Sussex. That’s just down the road from Monksgate, where RVW collected many fine songs from Peter and Harriet Verrall. He had only three songs from Mr Baines, but what a find this one was – like ‘Master Kilby’ and ‘The Brisk Young Widow’, it’s a song which has been collected only once from tradition.
Unlike those two songs, a broadside version has been identified – ‘I’ll mourn for my sailor; Or, The Compulsion’, printed in Hull, Manchester and London, but not yet (as far as I can ascertain) accessible on the web.
Vaughan Williams recorded that Ted Baines was an agricultural labourer, aged “about 70”. Malcolm Douglas, in his biographical notes in Classic English Folk Songs (the revised edition of the Penguin book) identifies an Edwin Baines in the 1881 census, aged 54, so quite likely our singer – except he doesn’t seem to be in the 1901 census.
‘All things are quite silent’ is one of those songs I’ve sort of known for years – since the late 1970s in fact, having first heard it on Steeleye Span’s LP Hark! The Village Wait. I’ve tried to sing the melody as collected – it’s a very simple AABA type tune, whereas most people, following Steeleye and Shirley Collins, sing an ABCA variation. The words, however, are a sometimes misremembered mixture of those found in the Penguin book, and some which have snuck in from other people’s versions.
All Things Are Quite Silent, as collected from Ted Baines, 22 Dec 1904. From the Full English archive.
When a singer knows upwards of 250 folk songs, you might reasonably expect his or her repertoire to include certain classic ballads – say, ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’, ‘Banks of Green Willow’, ‘The Unquiet Grave’ and ‘Georgie’. All widely sung on the folk scene, and widely encountered in British and American tradition. Well this time last year, I didn’t have any of those songs in my repertoire. With ‘Banks of Green Willow’ the problem has been – and continues to be – deciding exactly which of the many fine collected versions to learn. I do have a version of ‘The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies’ lined up to learn – indeed last January I was confidently saying that it would be the next song I learned. It wasn’t, and I’m wary of making any promises about quite when I might knuckle down and get it under my belt. But in the spring I did at least put together a version of ‘Georgie’ and have been singing it often enough since then to begin feeling at home with the song.
I found the melody some twenty years ago when scrolling through the copies of Vaughan Williams’ MSS held in the library named in his honour. In those days, these copies were available only on microfilm, whereas now, of course, you can get them all online. I was looking for songs RVW had collected in Kent – specifically those he noted from Mr and Mrs Truell of Gravesend. This song is the next one in the MS.
There’s a lack of clarity about its provenance. The page is headed “Kent Songs” but the source of the song is given as a Mr Jeffries, at Mitcham Fair (in Surrey). In the VWML index record the Place collected reads “England : Surrey : Mitcham CHECK” so clearly some doubt remains. I suppose Mr Jeffries may have been attending the annual fair, but have hailed from Kent. With no other information recorded about the singer, I guess we will never know.
Typically, Vaughan Williams noted just the tune and one verse – in this case verse 9 (verse 5 in my reconstruction)
He stole neither sheep nor cow
Nor oxen has he any
But he has stolen six of the king’s fat deer
He sold them to Lord Daney (Davey?)
Typically, also, I can’t quite decipher Rafe’s handwriting.
Geordie, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mr. Jeffries, 13 Aug 1907. From the Full English archive.
I have assembled a set of words from various oral and printed sources:
The first two verses – including the placing of the action on “a Whitsun Monday” and the “pretty little boy” line – come from a broadside printed by Armstrong in Liverpool in the 1820s.
Most of the other verses come from a Such ballad, from later in the nineteenth century, or the version collected by Henry Hammond from Sergeant Fudge, at East Combe Lydeard in Somerset.
The “lawyers, lawyers” verse meanwhile is based on an American version, collected by Vance Randolph from Georgia Dunaway, Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1942.
You’ll find historical background to the ballad on Mudcat and the Mainly Norfolk site. Basically, there are two similar but distinct ballads: the Scottish ‘Geordie’, where the hero’s wife successfully saves him from the gallows, and the English ‘Georgie’ (or ‘Geordie’), where her efforts are in vain. The songs may or may not have been based on actual historical incidents. But, as with Shakespeare, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, the love and grief felt by the female protagonist are real enough.
Death of Georgy, printed by Armstrong of Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. From Broadside Ballads Online.
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.
Well, this post completes the fourth year of this blog. And I’m glad to say there will be another one along next week (and for some little time to come).
I used to sing this song with Chris Wood back in the 1980s, and it now forms part of Magpie Lane’s repertoire – yet another song in the band’s setlist to be gleaned from Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was collected on 22nd April 1904 from a Mr Broomfield, a woodcutter, at East Horndon in Essex – here it is reproduced from Vaughan Williams’ MS on the Full English site.
New Garden Fields, as sung by Mr Broomfield of Essex. From the Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.
Funnily enough, the very next day he collected another version, from a Mr J. Punt, also in East Horndon. Both versions were included in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol 2 No 8 (1906). RVW noted that he had completed the words from a Such ballad sheet – presumably one of these two.
If you look this song up on the Full English archive you’ll find it on several ballad sheets, from the collections of Vaughan Williams, Lucy Broadwood and Frank Kidson. I always liked the fact that this song is set on the 17th August, my dad’s birthday. But that seems to have been peculiar to Mr Broomfield – all the other versions have it as 18th August.
The New Garden Fields – Catnach broadside from the Frank Kidson Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.
At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender… but the legend lived on, of course, and his years of exile on the lonely Isle of St Helena provided further material for those who sought to romanticise the man in verse or song. I think this is a rather fine – if typically confused – example of such pieces. I first heard it in the late 1970s, on a Strawhead LP lent to me by my friend Simon Oliver. A few years later, on a visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I looked the song up, and copied it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 2 (1906). Vaughan Williams had collected the song in 1904, from Henry Burstow (born 1826) of Horsham in Sussex,. There are several examples of nineteenth century broadside printings to be found at Ballads Online and the Full English but apart from Henry Burstow’s version (one of quite a number of Napoleonic songs in his repertoire) the song was only found twice by the early English collectors in oral tradition – once by Baring-Gould in Devon, and by Vaughan Williams, again, in Norfolk. In more recent times, versions have been recorded in Ireland from Elizabeth Cronin of Cork in the 1950s, and from Tom Costello of Connemara in 1972 (the latter can be heard on Volume 8 of The Voice of the People). Gordon Hall (who of course had a strong connection with, and interest in, Henry Burstow) sang the song on the Veteran CD When The May Is All In Bloom. In the sleevenotes to that CD John Howson notes
As the broadside versions mention Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, this ballad must date from sometime after 1821. Both Harkness of Preston and Such of London published the song in about 1840 but it was probably based on an earlier broadside ballad called The Grand Conversation under the Rose. Perhaps due to the popularity of the Napoleon ballad, they both, some time later published The Grand Conversation on Nelson.
The Grand Conversation on Napoleon Arose – broadside from Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection, via the Full English.
Well there we are then: two hundred consecutive weeks of songs on this blog. When I started I guessed that I knew about 150 songs. A little while ago I revised my estimate up to 200, and now I’m thinking the total might be nearer 250. In fact the number keeps increasing: next week’s song (yet more Napoleon) is a song I’ve only learned in the last few weeks. To those of you who have followed this blog over the years, and made supportive or constructive comments, many many thanks – it has meant a lot to me.
We are fast approaching the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The final defeat of Napoleon was a defining moment in European history, bringing to an end, as it did, two decades of conflict. And although, as a recent Guardian article pointed out, the majority of the allied forces commanded by Wellington on the 18th June were actually German or from the Low Countries, we’ve always regarded it, of course, as a great British victory. At the time, news of the victory was welcomed in Britain with the ringing of church bells and much rejoicing. In view of which, and their usual keenness to make a few pounds out of any event of local or national significance, it is rather surprising that the broadside press did not issue a great many more ballads and broadsheets celebrating the victory (I am indebted to Pete Wood for pointing this out, first at the 2015 Traditional Song Forum / EFDSS Broadside Day, and now in an article on the ballads of Waterloo in the current issue of English Dance & Song). But having said that, there were quite a few songs where the battle provided either the subject, or the backdrop, and which entered the tradition.
‘Lovely Elwina’ was collected by Vaughan Williams, some 89 years after the battle, from Mr Leary, a native of Hampshire, but then living in Almshouses in Salisbury. Vaughan Williams recorded it as either ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ or ‘Leaving Waterloo’ (I think – I really struggle with his handwriting). I learned the song from Roy Palmer’s book Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, where it is given as ‘Elwina of Waterloo’ – this is the title given to the song in its frequent appearances on broadsides. Roy writes that Mr Leary’s version seems to be unique but in fact now, with the benefit of a further thirty years’ research, not to mention the internet, we can point to one other collected version, from Joseph Alcock of Sibford Gower in Oxfordshire.
The beginning of the song is set in Brussels, on the eve of battle. I always picture a scene from Vanity Fair, although I’m ashamed to say my images come from an old BBC television adaptation, rather than from the book itself, which I’ve never read. The opening lines of broadside versions run
The Trumpet had sounded the signal for battle,
To the fair ones of Brussels we all bade adieu
But Mr Leary had changed Brussels to Bristol, and I’ve always followed his example.
The ferocious battle itself (total casualties and losses 55 000 according to Wikipedia) features only in the background: our hero is wounded, but it’s not, it would seem, anything too serious, and the song focuses on the young lady he meets, and who by the end of the song is set to become his bride.
I used to sing this song with Chris Wood in the 1980s, and it’s now set to become part of the Magpie Lane repertoire – although typically for Magpie Lane, not in time for the Waterloo bicentennial!
Elwina of Waterloo – ballad sheet from the Bodleian collection. Printed and Sold by J. Pitts, 14, Great St. Andrew Street, 7 Dials.
The Battle of Waterloo was not only celebrated in song – a number of dance tunes have “Waterloo” in the title. In this arrangement I celebrate the impending nuptials by concluding with a tune from the Welch Family of Bosham (MS dated 1800, but clearly added to in the following years), which I learned from A Sussex Tune Book.
In recent years an incredible number of 18th and 19th century musicians’ tunebooks have become available, either in printed form or on the internet. This is excellent news, of course. But, faced with yet another collection, containing dozens or even hundreds of tunes, and clearly not having the time (or patience) to play through them all, spotting tunes which are worth playing can be a bit of a hit and miss affair. So, more often than not, my initial trawl through a new physical or virtual tunebook will involve looking for tunes with interesting or unusual titles: ‘Pup in the Parachute’, ‘Love laughs at Locksmiths’, ‘Pass around the Jorum’, ‘Peas on a Trencher’, ‘The Fly-Flappers’. Frankly, it’s probably as good an approach as any other.
The same applies, to a lesser extent, with song collections, and I’m quite sure that it was the unusual title which first drew my eye to ‘Hurricane Wind’, when browsing through Roy Palmer’s excellent book Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I think I expected it to be a song about a shipwreck, or some other misadventure at sea. But actually it’s the tale of a lover spurned, and the title comes from a memorable phrase used by the female protagonist (the one doing the spurning):
As she was a walking down the street
Her young sea captain she chanced to meet
She looks at him with a scornful frown
Says ‘What hurricane wind blowed you to town?’
Hurricane Wind. From Ralph Vaughan Williams’ notebook, via the Full English.
Vaughan Williams collected the song in 1907 from Mr Penfold, landlord of the Plough Inn at Rusper in Sussex (who, incidentally, was also the source of the rather lovely ‘Turtle Dove’ which Sophie sings with Magpie Lane). Mr Penfold’s text was fairly complete – Roy Palmer added just one couplet from a Scottish chapbook, ‘The Perjured Maid’. However – unusually, as Roy always presented singable versions in his song books – I felt that the song didn’t quite tell the whole story. So, on a trip to VWML, I looked for alternative versions. There weren’t many to be found – at least not in those pre-computerised days – but I located some usable verses collected in 1939 by Alan Lomax and Helen Hartness Flanders from Josiah S. Kennison of Townshend, Virginia, and printed in The New Green Mountain Songster. Hopefully you won’t spot the join.
While the Roud Index lists only one English and one Scottish version, this song has in fact turned up a number of times in the United States. I particularly like the way the original “Nobleman near Exeter” has become “The Rich Man Extra Tire” in this version collected from Miss Laura Harmon, Cade’s Cove, Blount County, Tennessee, in 1928.
‘Two Old Songs- The Perjured Maid, The Waukrife Mammy’ – chapbook printed in Falkirk, c1840. From the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana and Scottish Literature, University of South Carolina.
Posting the song here gives me the opportunity, belatedly, to pay tribute to Roy Palmer, who died in February of this year. It would be hard to overestimate the influence Roy’s work had, over the last 45 years, on the repertoire of British folk singers. Certainly my repertoire, and that of Magpie Lane, would be considerably poorer without books such as A Touch on the Times, Songs of the Midlands, The Rambling Soldier and, of course, his RVW collection. We were honoured and thrilled when Magpie Lane were asked in 2000 to record a CD as a companion to Roy’s book A Taste of Ale. I don’t know if Roy later embraced the digital age, but at that time, when he sent me a draft copy of the book for us to start work on, all the musical transcriptions were done by hand, and the text was all typewritten, on a proper old-fashioned typewriter.
In the tributes which poured out following Roy’s death, common themes were praise for his scholarship, for his ability to present folk music and folklore in an accessible way, and that he was a lovely human being and a real gentleman. I only met Roy on a few occasions, but that was certainly my impression. He will be greatly missed.
Last Christmas I was taken to task for failing to mention, when I wrote about ‘This is the truth sent from above’, the version collected, and subsequently arranged for choir, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. That version, noted from a Mr Jenkins at King’s Pyon in Herefordshire, has, I have to admit, a rather wonderful melody. But actually variants of the same melody seem to have been used elsewhere in the Welsh border counties for other carol texts. I have a four-part arrangement which I hope to post some time of a version of ‘On Christmas Night All Christians Sing’, collected in Shropshire by Cecil Sharp, and which is clearly a variant of Mr Jenkins’ tune. And here’s another variant, once again from Herefordshire, recorded in 1909 by Vaughan Williams and E.M. Leather from Mr W. Hancock (or Hancocks) at Weobley.
The tune and first verse of the carol were printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol 4 No 14 (1910), alongside numerous other really fine carols collected by Vaughan Williams. The notes for this piece say “Noted by R. Vaughan Williams, from a Phonograph Record”. I have completed the words with a further five verses (out of an available twelve) from A Good Christmas Box, a collection printed at Dudley in the West Midlands in 1847. It would seem that the song was not infrequently classed as a Christmas carol, as can be seen from these examples from the Bodleian and Full English collections, but it’s clearly a Passiontide piece. Referring back to the Journal article, I was glad to see that Ella Leather concurs: she notes
It is a great favourite with Herefordshire singers, and was formerly sung at Christmas, although the subject is clearly the Crucifixion and not the Nativity.
The Fountain Of Christ’s Blood, from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection, via the Full English archive.
Having learned and recorded ‘Jack Williams’ a couple of months ago, this was to have been my second new song of 2014. So far, however, all attempts to din the words into my head have proved fruitless. I have occasionally, when recording songs for this blog, had the words in front of me as a safety net; this is the first time they’ve been an essential prop. I wanted to put the song online now though, as it’s appropriate for Easter, and I’m not sure that I have enough songs to keep this blog going till Easter next year!
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, verse 5, collected by Vaughan Williams from Mr and Mrs Verrall. Image copyright EFDSS.
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.
The two faithful lovers. Broadside printed in London, between 1663 and 1674, from the Douce Ballads. Image copyright the Bodleian Library.