Shepherd Haden might be the best known traditional singer from Bampton (see last week’s entry), but both Cecil Sharp and Alfred Williams, who noted down songs from Hayden, also collected songs from his younger neighbour, and Bampton morris man, Charlie Tanner.
You will find biographical details on Charles Tanner (1845-1922), drawn from census and other records, on the Wiltshire Community History website (it was from here that I learned that in 1891 Tanner was living next door to Shadrach Haden / Hayden / Haydon).
On the same site, you’ll find a list of 23 songs collected from Mr Tanner by the Swindon railwayman poet, Alfred Williams. Williams, of course, lacked the skills to notate his singers’ tunes, and unfortunately Sharp only took down the tunes for eight of these songs (see the Full English).
Sharp noted ‘Chain of Gold’ on 7th September 1909. Williams visited Tanner in the following decade, and the words of this song appeared in the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard on 11th March 1916.
Versions of this song – a classic example of a sad story set to a jolly tune – seems to have been popular in Oxfordshire: George Butterworth collected versions at Stanton St John, Charlton and Oakley in Oxfordshire, and at Brill just over the border in Buckinghamshire. The words I sing were collated from Tanner’s version, and others printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society Vol. 4 (1913).
Charlie Tanner – photo by Cecil Sharp, copyright EFDSS
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.
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
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
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.
Both ‘Locks and Bolts’ and ‘William Taylor’ were on the first Martin Carthy album I ever heard, Crown of Horn. But not very long after hearing that record, I got to hear both songs sung by Martin’s source, the wonderful George ‘Pops’ Maynard, via the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England. When I learned the songs, I learned them from Pops, but the way I sang them was very heavily influenced by Martin’s versions.
Only one person took me to task over this, and that was the mighty Graham Metcalfe. It must have been 1979 or 1980, at the Gypsy Davy Folk Club, held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, just inside the Oxford ring road. I had sung ‘The Rambling Irishman’ and ‘Locks and Bolts’. I’d sung the first trying to sound like Cathal McConnell, and the second trying to sound like Martin Carthy – and trying to sound like Carthy at a period when he was, by his own admission, at his most mannered. Graham said something like “You’re a good singer, but you need to sing in your own voice”. Fortunately I had enough nous to recognise that he was right, and started to make a conscious effort to pare away some of the folky mannerisms, and to stop trying to sound like someone else. Others will have to judge if I was successful or not, but I think I can safely say that these days – and in fact for a long time now – I sing pretty well everything in the same voice.
A check of the Roud Index shows that this song has been collected just a few times in England, but fairly frequently under various titles in Scotland and, especially, in North America. There’s a good round-up of collected versions, and the song’s history, at www.joe-offer.com/folkinfo/songs/4.html, The links on that page to the Max Hunter Song Collection are broken, but these Arkansas versions are well worth seeking out. The main page for that collection is at http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/ and you’ll find the various versions of ‘Locks and Bolts’ listed in these search results – give them a listen.
I see that the song has a pretty venerable pedigree:
There is a broadside by Martin Parker (1635) sharing a refrain with this song; the situation described is much the same, though the hero simply moans about it at some length and doesn’t actually do anything:
‘The lovers joy and grief, or, A young-mans relation, in a pittiful fashion’, printed between 1674 and 1679. From the Bodleian collection.
I’ll conclude on an irreverent note, When I sing the penultimate verse (“He took his true-love all by the hand / Took his sword all in the other / Says: If you have more right than I / Take one and fight the other”) I can’t help feeling that her uncle’s servant misses a trick. Surely, if he’d been on the ball, he’d have taken the sword and fought the young woman…
Banks of Sweet Dundee – broadside from the National Library of Scotland “Word on the Street” collection.
This post completes the second year of A Folk Song A Week. Never having counted how many songs I actually know, it’s hard to say how many more I have to post, but I reckon I can keep going for another year or so.
This one – a piece of “sublime doggerel” according to Frank Kidson – I learned very early in my career as a singer of folk songs, from Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl’s The Singing Island. The source of the song is given as “William Miller, Stirling” – MacColl’s father, I believe.
It was once a very popular song in England, Scotland and beyond – look at all the recorded versions in the Roud Index.
The bonny labouring boy, from the Bodleian Library collection; printed by J.F. Nugent, & Co. (Dublin) between 1850 and 1899.
I first heard this on an Irish compilation LP which I borrowed from my local record library in the late 1970s. I remember little about the album, except that it featured the Sands Family, and Planxty doing ‘Three Drunken Maidens’. But thanks to the wonders of the internet I can now reveal that it must have been The Best Of Irish Folk, and the band doing this song was Aileach (me neither).
I didn’t actually learn the song from the record, but it was probably having heard the recording which prompted me to learn the song when I found it in Peter Kennedy’s massive tome, Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland. It must have been around the same time as well that I saw the song being performed by Shirley and Dolly Collins, at a one-day festival at City University, featuring the entire roster of the Oglesby-Winder agency (i.e. pretty much all the top acts on the English folk scene). I’m slightly puzzled, when there is so much trivia, ephemera and nostalgia on the web, that I can’t seem to find any mention of this event. A post on Facebook this morning confirms that I didn’t dream the whole thing, and it turns out that a number of people with whom I am now friends were at the event. Initially noone seemed willing to commit to when it happened, but Chris Foster – who was on the bill – has just stated very confidently that it was in October 1978. He remembers it clearly because he’d just spent a week in the studio recording his second LP, All Things in Common.
Anyway, the version in Peter Kennedy’s book is from the great Harry Cox. You can hear him singing the song on the Topic double CD The Bonny Labouring Boy.
Another song learned from the Willett Family LP, The Roving Journeymen, where it is sung by Chris Willett. The song was also included on Farewell, My Own Dear Native Land, Volume 4 in Topic’s Voice of the People series.
I don’t exactly rush the song, but I’ve just listened to Chris Willett singing the song and was struck by how much slower he takes it – over six and a half minutes, compared with my insubstantial three minutes 54 seconds.
An inconsequential but charming piece of pastoral romance – in which the shepherd, as usual, gets his girl – from the repertoire of the Copper Family. Surprisingly, the Copper Family seem to be the only source for this song, apart from one other version, collected along the Sussex coast at Arundel in 1911 (from an apparently unnamed singer), by the archaeologist Cecil Curwen.