Posts tagged ‘Ramblers and wanderers’

March 1, 2014

Week 132 – The Lish Young Buy-a-Broom

The first folk record of any description that I heard was Below the Salt by Steeleye Span. The next were probably All Around My Hat and Ten Man Mop by  Steeleye Span, and Folk Songs of Olde England Volume 1 by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, who were of course members of – yes you’ve guessed it – Steeleye Span. I did then start to branch out a little, with LPs by the Watersons, Planxty, the Chieftains, and even, within twelve months of my conversion to full-blown folkiness, the Copper Family. But it would be hard to deny that Steeleye, and Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, had a massive influence on my developing musical tastes. As a seventeen year old I suspect my singing voice was a rather curious and unlovely amalgam of Mike Waterson (inimitable, and therefore definitely not someone a Kentish schoolboy should have tried to imitate), Tim Hart (who I later discovered had adopted a fake yokel singing style because he thought his own voice was too posh for folk songs) and Martin Carthy at his most mannered. I have, I hope, moved on.

This song is the first track on the aforementioned Folk Songs of Olde England Volume 1. There are several songs from that record which have entered my repertoire over the years – ‘A Wager’, ‘Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy’, ‘Babes in the Wood’ – but funnily enough I don’t think I ever learned any of them directly from the LP. According to Reinhard Zierke’s Mainly Norfolk site the sleeve notes say

This Cumberland sung is an amalgamation of three versions collected by Geoff Woods of Leeds between 1945-1967. It is believed to have been written by Willian Graham, “the Cumberland poacher”. The word “lish” is Cumberland dialect for active or brisk, and “buy-a-broom” is a tinker.

Clearly Reinhard has a different version of the record to me – my 1976 Mooncreast reissue has no notes about the songs at all.

I wrote out the words on an early visit to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. I wasn’t very scrupulous about noting my sources in those days, and looking at the Roud Index I can’t say for sure where I got the words from. The only likely contender there is Frank Warriner’s Cumberland collection, but in my memory it was from a more modern printed source. I guess Steve Roud hasn’t had time to index every book in the VWML…

I was pleased to find that there was an extra verse – the one which ends “She said: My gay young fellow you shall play my little drum”, which is the kind of line you wouldn’t want to leave out.

Lish Young Buy-a-Broom - mid-nineteenth century broadside printed by Harkness of Preston, from the National Library of Scotland website.

Lish Young Buy-a-Broom – mid-nineteenth century broadside printed by Harkness of Preston, from the National Library of Scotland website.

The Lish Young Buy-a-Broom

November 16, 2013

Week 117 – The American Stranger

Two weeks ago I posted a song learned from gipsy singer Tom Willett. At the time I noted that I was looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the newly-released Musical Traditions 2 CD set,  Adieu to Old England. Well it’s a crazy world – you wait fifty years for a new album of Willett Family recordings, and then two come along at once: as Reinhard Zierke commented a fortnight ago, Rod Stradling of Musical Traditions was not the only one to have put out a 2 CD set of the Willetts; a few weeks earlier Paul Marsh had put out a very similar collection on his Forest Tracks label. I now have in my possession a copy of both Adieu to Old England (Musical Traditions) and A-Swinging Down The Lane (Forest Tracks) and I can heartily recommend that, if you enjoy traditional singing, you get hold of either, or both.

It turns out that Rod and Paul had been working on these releases without being aware of what the other was up to. Both releases have two discs, housed in a DVD case, with an A5 booklet giving biographical details of the singers, plus transcriptions of and notes on the songs. And both draw either exclusively (Forest Tracks) or largely (MT) on the same, previously unissued recordings, made in the early 1960s by Ken Stubbs. In fact this is where the Forest Tracks set is particularly interesting, in that it is the first release in a planned programme to make available, either on CD, or as MP3 files, everything recorded by Kenb Stubbs – see for details of this project. I’ve heard Ken Stubbs’ recordings of Southern English singers and musicians such as Pop Maynard and Scan Tester, but I’m intrigued to find out what else may be in store from this source.

This particular song is included, sung by Tom Willett, on both of the new releases – in fact you can hear a snippett of Tom singing it at I learned it, however, from his son Chris, via the Topic LP Travellers. That track, recorded by Mike Yates, has subsequently appeared on a few CDs, including the new MT Willett Family set.

I have filled out the words a bit with help from Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs of the Midlands. Actually, looking at the notes in that book, I see that Roy’s words were in fact taken from a broadside version – not the one shown here, but not too far removed (although without the rather incongruous “God save the Queen” message in the last verse!).

The American Stranger, from the Lucy Broadwood Broadside Collection, via the Full English archive.

The American Stranger, from the Lucy Broadwood Broadside Collection, via the Full English archive.

Back in 2005 I was honoured to be asked to perform at the opening of an exhibition, Destiny Manifest – Eden’s End, by my artist friends Cathy Ward and Eric Wright. The centrepiece of the show was an extraordinary painting, which took up one entire wall of the gallery. This portrayed the route of the Donner Party, a wagon train which set off for California in 1846, and which ended in disaster for many of the travellers. ‘The American Stranger’ was one of the songs I sang at the event, not just because of the obvious American connection, but particularly because of the song’s final verse

Now we’re all bound for America, and our ship will soon sail
And may heaven protect us with a prosperous gale
And when we are landed, we’ll dance and we’ll sing
In a land of all plenty where no danger can bring.

There’s an irony in that last line, when one considers the members of the Donner Party – America may well have been / be a land of plenty, but certainly not a country which was / is free from danger.

Finally, a note for anglo anoraks. For reasons which are a little perverse, but do make sense, I play this in C on a G/D anglo. A few years ago I sang the song at the Saturday night concert at Concertinas at Witney. Brian Peters, one of the other tutors that year, was stood right at the back of the hall. So I was very impressed when he said, as I came off stage, “were you playing that in C on a G/D?”. Guitar tuning geeks will probably recognise this sort of interest.

The American Stranger

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

June 5, 2012

Week 41 – The Wild Rover

The version of this song popularised by The Dubliners, with it’s “Nay Nay Never” (clap – clap – clap) chorus, is probably the most widely known British folk song.  Which was always reason enough for me not to feel any inclination to learn it. I was aware that there were other versions out there – Dave Townsend has a nice Hampshire version, while the Scottish singer Sylvia Barnes recorded a wonderful version with the band Kentigern (well it’s certainly wonderful when she sings it).

Sam Larner

Sam Larner (image from

But I was only inspired to learn the song when I heard it sung by Norfolk fisherman Sam Larner, on the Topic CD reissue of the 1961 LP Now Is The Time For Fishing.

Sam’s tune is very closely related to that commonly used for ‘The Blackbird’ and it seemed to me quite different from the usual version. However Brian Peters, on the TradSong forum, has presented a very credible argument that in fact, just as The Dubliners got ‘Black Velvet Band’ from Norfolk singer Harry Cox (via Ewan MacColl) Sam Larner’s version may well have been  the source of  their ‘Wild Rover’. The Dubliners are thought to have learned it from Louis Killen, and it seems likely that he got it from Ewan MacColl, who had recorded the song from Larner in the late 1950s. Brian writes

The MacColl / Dubliners melody sounds to me precisely the kind of thing you’d expect, if the Larner melody had been tweaked to turn it into something subtly different – I’ve done that kind of thing myself and know the tricks, and I understand that MaColl had form on that score. The changes (a slight narrowing of range, a more frequent resolution on the tonic, for instance) serve to make the tune simultaneously less interesting musically, and more accessible.

Whatever the truth, The Dubliners produced a popular classic, and I prefer the way Sam Larner sang it!

The Wild Rover

January 28, 2012

Week 23 – The Roving Journeyman

The title track from the 1963 Topic LP The Roving Journeymen featuring members of the Willett family. On the LP it is sung in slightly different versions by both 84 year old Tom, and his son Chris. Tom’s version was included on volume 20 of The Voice of the People where it is titled ‘The Roaming Journeyman’ – quite rightly, since that’s what both father and son actually sang. What I sing is a bit of an amalgam of the two versions – influenced very largely, I suspect, by the words printed in Peter Kennedy’s Folksongs of Britain & Ireland.

I’m always surprised that the Willetts’ songs are not more widely sung on the folk scene. But John Kirkpatrick has recorded this song, and ‘Riding Down to Portsmouth’; while there’s a striking arrangement of ‘The Roving Journeyman’ on the recent CD by the Woodbine & Ivy Band – sung with great gusto by James Raynard (at the time of writing, if you follow that last link, you can in fact listen to the track).

The Roving Journeyman 

November 4, 2011

Week 11 – Spencer the Rover

When my friend Mike and I started plundering A Song for Every Season “Spencer the Rover” grabbed our attention very early, and remained a firm favourite. It never occurred to me that I might want to learn another version; to be honest, it never really occurred to me that there might be any other versions. But then I came across this gloriously crooked tune, collected by Vaughan Williams in Kent. I knew (from Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Vaughan Williams) that the composer had noted at least one song from a Mr and Mrs Truell of Gravesend in December 1904. And on a visit to the library at Cecil Sharp House I looked through Vaughan Williams’ manuscripts (then, as now, held on gloriously user-unfriendly microfilm) to see if the couple had given him any other songs. Indeed they had and with some interesting tunes among them. But none so interesting as this one. At first I think I viewed it as a curiosity which I was unlikely to want to sing. But then I tried it on the concertina, and found that it cried out for some pretty interesting chords – which actually seemed to make the song more singable.

All too often, Vaughan Williams wrote down the words of a single verse, or even no words at all. For once, with this song, that suited me – it meant I didn’t have to try to learn a new set of words, but could stick with the Copper Family verses we all know and love.

This recording was made in 2005 for possible inclusion on the Anglo International CD set, but not used; with November 5th approaching, it seemed a shame to waste it.

Spencer the Rover

Andy Turner: vocal, C/G anglo-concertina

recorded by Dave Eynstone at The Den, Abingdon, 2005