Posts tagged ‘Roud 1083’

August 5, 2020

Week 293 – Brigg Fair

It was on the fifth of August, the weather hot and fair,
Unto Brigg Fair I did repair, for love I was inclined.

I got up with the lark in the morning with my heart full of glee,
Expecting there to meet my dear, long time I wished to see.

Well it’s one of the undisputed gems of English traditional song, so I suppose it was inevitable that I’d learn this eventually. And clearly there’s only one day in the year when I could post it up here…

I would have first heard ‘Brigg Fair’ sung by Martin Carthy on the LP Byker Hill. The sleevenotes to that album refer to Percy Grainger’s cylinder recordings of Joseph Taylor, and say what a fine singer he was. I’d have also heard Martin’s recording of another Joseph Taylor song, ‘Creeping Jane’, around the same time. So when I spotted a copy of Unto Brigg Fair in Blackwell’s Music shop circa 1980, I bought it without a moment’s hesitation (what else was a student grant for?). And it’s a purchase I have never regretted. Frankly, it’s quite a privilege to be able to hear any recordings of traditional singers from the first decade of the 20th century – in Joseph Taylor’s case, a singer born in 1833, almost 4 years before the accession of Queen Victoria. That Percy Grainger should have encountered and recorded such a wonderful singer as Taylor; that those recordings survive in a reasonably playable form – well, truly we are blessed.

Joseph Taylor sang only the two verses given at the top of the page. The only other version ever collected was noted by Grainger in Brigg from a Mr Deene – who sang the same two verses. When Grainger published his choral arrangement of the song, he lengthened it by adding verses from ‘Low down in the broom’ and ‘The Merry King’ (a version of ‘Some rival has stolen my true love away’ which Grainger had collected in Wimbledon in 1905). I was leafing through some old copies of English Dance & Song recently, and came across these words in Vol XXII No 3, November/December 1957, with the following note:

The tune of this song is known the world over through Delius’ Rhapsody “Brigg Fair.” It was first collected in 1905 and recorded a year later by Percy Grainger when he went “collecting with the phonograph” in Lincolnshire. Joseph Taylor of Saxby-All-Saints, who sang it to him, had a very fine flexible voice and, as Grainger said, relied “more on purely vocal effects than almost any folk-singer I have come across.” Although he could remember only two verses, his son John who was recorded by the B.B.C. in 1944, remembered all six. John and his father are both dead, but their son and grandson, Joseph Taylor of Saxby has kindly given us permission to print the words and tune of this lovely song.

Actually, I don’t think John Taylor remembered the long-lost verses – I think he had, pragmatically, learned the verses assembled by Grainger (but where’s that 1944 BBC recording? I really want to hear his singing). Joseph Taylor’s grand-daughter, Marion Hudson, from whom Francis Collinson noted the song in 1944 (he subsequently published a vocal and piano arrangement) sang pretty much the same words, but omitted the “I catched hold of her lily-white hand” verse.

Anyway, I decided it was high time I learned this beautiful song, and I’ve really been enjoying singing it these last few weeks. I’ve also enjoyed digging around on the internet for information about the song. For instance, I found an article in the Spring 2001 issue of The Delius Society Journal which focuses on Grainger and Delius, but gives a lot of useful background on Brigg, the annual Brigg Fair (established in a charter granted by King John in 1236) and how this song came to be collected. As well as some pretty spurious stuff about traditional song melodies and lyrics.

My best find though – transcribed, edited and put online by someone who I’ve actually known since about 1976, but who I had totally forgotten was a descendent of Joseph Taylor – was this: Brigg Fair: A memoir of Joseph Taylor by his grand-daughter E Marion Hudson. It’s a charming piece of writing, providing a very warm and affectionate of her grandfather, and giving us a fuller view of Joseph Taylor as more than just a traditional singer. But there is a lot about singing and music in the memoir. Joseph Taylor himself had a great love for music, and the whole family was musical. For instance

Uncle John who had inherited Grandpa’s voice. He was invited to become a member of a Cathedral Choir but preferred his farm. He sang at many concerts and won every Festival for which he entered. He was asked to sing ‘Brigg Fair’ at one of the Anniversaries of the Festival and made a record for the B.B.C. Many people cannot distinguish between his and Grandpa’s voice. He died as he lived – singing.

Now I really want to hear that BBC record!

And here’s Mrs Hudson’s account of how Joseph Taylor learned “that song”

The manner in which Grandpa learnt the song is a fascinating story. One evening when he returned from work, his mother told him that the gipsies had arrived, as they did each year at that time. The same thing would be happening to other tribes around North Lincolnshire as Brigg was annual meeting point where they gathered to exchange news and have jollifications – they still do.

He had been awaiting their arrival with impatience, since he loved their singing. So as soon as possible he dashed off to the “pit” where he knew they would make camp. Straight up the steep main road to his stand-point, a gate on the right-hand side. This led to a rough cart track on the edge of the field leading to the pit. The next night he went again, but being braver, this time he went along the track to the second gate which was the entrance to the pit. Now he could see the camp and its occupants. The following night he perched there again, little thinking what the consequences would be, not only to him but to all lovers of Folk Music. As soon as he was settled on top of the gate, he saw the leader of the group coming towards him. At first he thought he was going to be sent away, but no! the man was smiling and obviously not hostile. When he reached the gate he said “Young man, you like our singing.” It was a statement not a question. The gipsies had obviously been aware of him the previous evenings. He had been on trial and passed the test. Music is a wonderful leveller and in no condescending manner but with dignity, the lad was invited to join the revels. He was led into the camp by the “King” and received as an honoured guest. He was seated beside the King, in the circle around the camp fire, on which the evening meal was cooking. Song followed song and in later years he sang them to his grandchildren.

The song, Brigg Fair, was sung by one of the young gipsies and obviously came from the heart.

She also writes about the performance of Delius’ orchestral arrangement of ‘Brigg Fair’ at which Joseph Taylor was guest of honour, but doesn’t mention the often-repeated story that Taylor couldn’t help singing along. In fact, Patrick O’Shaughnessy, in his Twenty One Lincolnshire Folk Songs says

Mrs Hudson, however, challenges this, allowing only that he might have “hummed a wee bit”.

 

Market place in Brigg, Lincolnshire, ca. 1905. Image copyright the British Library.

Market place in Brigg, Lincolnshire, ca. 1905. Image copyright the British Library.

You can hear Grainger’s 1908 recording of ‘Brigg Fair’ on the British Library website.

And you can hear several other recordings of both Joseph Taylor and his daughter Mary singing ‘Brigg Fair’ on the British Library Sounds website – but not if you use Chrome or MS Edge! Unfortunately none of the recordings on the site seems to be playable using those browsers at the moment, but they do play in Firefox (although even with that browser I found that longer recordings just stopped before they reached the end). Hopefully the BL technical elves will sort this problem out eventually. I was very interested to hear Peter Kennedy’s recording of Mary Taylor, made at Saxby All Saints in 1953 when she was 82. Kennedy’s notes on the tape give an idea of what the recording itself contains

PK when you were young, you remember him singing. Used to sit round winters evenings. Church choir. Brother John was beautiful singer. Everyone of us used to sing – choral society at Saxby. Used to go into each others houses and harmonium. My father also used to play the violin, always singing to violin then piano. PK J.T. didn’t sing with harmonium? The fiddle and unaccompanied. PK in what sort of way? Sit back in chair and put up his head. Sang because he loved to sing and liked us all to sing. Very proud. PK Style? The turns and twiddles that you don’t hear nowadays.

She also talks about the famous singing competition in Brigg where Joseph Taylor won first prize; she says that the family “think” that he learned ‘Brigg Fair’ from gipsies; and confirms that Mr Taylor just hummed along – rather than sang out loud – when he first heard Delius’ Rhapsody based on the song.

Finally, let’s reproduce this from Marion Hudson’s memoir.

Percy Grainger’s Estimate of MR. JOSEPH TAYLOR OF SAXBY-ALL-.SAINTS – LINCOLNSHIRE.

Is bailiff on a big estate, having formerly been estate woodman and carpenter.

Though his age is seventy-five his looks are those of middle age, while his flowing, ringing tenor voice is well nigh as fresh as that of his son, who has repeatedly won the first prize for tenor solo at the North Lincolnshire musical competitions. He has sung in the choir of Saxby-all-Saints Church for forty-five years. He is a courteous, genial, typical English countryman, and a perfect artist in the purest possible style of folk-song singing. Though his memory for words is not uncommonly good, his mind is a seemingly unlimited storehouse of melodies, which he swiftly recalls at the merest mention of their titles; and his versions are generally distinguished by the beauty of their melodic curves and symmetry of their construction.

He relies more on purely vocal effects than almost any folk singer I have come across. His dialect and treatment of narrative points are not so exceptional but his effortless high notes, sturdy rhythms, clean, unmistakable intervals, and his twiddles and “bleating” ornaments (invariably executed with unfailing grace and neatness) are irresistable.

He most intelligently realizes just what sort of songs collectors are after [an interesting comment on the collector-source singer relationship! AT], distinguishes surprisingly between genuine traditional tunes and other ditties, and is, in every way, a marvel of helpfulness and kindliness. Nothing could be more refreshing than his hale countrified looks and the happy lilt of his cheery voice.

Facsimile of the insert from the 1908 HMV release 'Percy Grainger's Collection of English Folk-Songs sung by Genuine Peasant Performers'

Facsimile of the insert from the 1908 HMV release ‘Percy Grainger’s Collection of English Folk-Songs sung by Genuine Peasant Performers’ – from Wikipedia

Label from Library of Congress disc copy made in 1940 from Grainger's original wax cylinder recordings. From the British Library Sounds website.

Label from Library of Congress disc copy made in 1940 from Grainger’s original wax cylinder recordings. From the British Library Sounds website.

 

Brigg Fair