Posts tagged ‘Roy Palmer’

November 29, 2015

Week 223 – The Mail Coach Guard

I’ve had a cold this week, so have not been able to record a new song for the blog (and, unusually, I’d used up all the recordings in my store). So here’s one I prepared earlier – 15 years ago, to be exact.

It’s a track from our CD A Taste of Ale, recorded to accompany Roy Palmer’s book of the same name. As far as I can see, all Roy’s book has to say about the song is that the words are anonymous, nineteenth century. Presumably his source was this ballad from the Bodleian collection, printed in Manchester in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The mail coach guard, from Broadside Ballads Online.

The mail coach guard, from Broadside Ballads Online.

The tune was composed by Roy’s wife, Pat. Although it’s an inconsequential little song, I have to say I rather like our arrangement, and was very pleased with the tune I came up with for the instrumental breaks.

Last week I referred to Pentangle’s ‘Lord Franklin’ possibly being the only known instance of Bert Jansch playing concertina. Well this is almost certainly the only recording in existence of me playing the autoharp.

Incidentally, I’m linking to a YouTube video below. It’s one of those videos where there’s nothing to watch, just a still image accompanying the audio stream. I noticed just recently that all of the Magpie Lane albums for Beautiful Jo have been uploaded to YouTube by “The Orchard Enterprises”. According to Wikipedia they are  “a music, film, and video distribution, marketing, and sales company and top-ranked Multi-Channel Network that works with independent artists, labels, and other content providers to distribute content to hundreds of digital and mobile outlets around the world, as well as physical retailers in North America and Europe”.

Now I’m not sure how I feel about this. Our albums have been on Spotify for some while now – I think this coincided with, or was a consequence of, Beautiful Jo’s catalogue being put on digital platforms such as iTunes, eMusic and Amazon. Record companies and artists get an infinitesimal payment for each Spotify play. But at least there is some payment. Having the albums free on YouTube really does seem to be just giving it away.

I’m not averse to making my music freely available, if I choose to do so myself (this blog being an obvious example!). You can listen to my album Love Death and the Cossack for nothing over on Bandcamp. And the same goes for the three Geckoes albums. But we chose to put them online. And you have the option of paying me / us if you want  to download the albums as high-quality audio files.

Some years ago, I was contacted by a bloke who had put half a dozen of our songs on YouTube, with accompanying montages of images. He was looking for our retrospective blessing. Clearly he was a fan, and he had the best of motives, but I’m afraid I couldn’t bring myself to send him any kind of a reply. As someone whose day job involves a certain amount of work around avoiding copyright infringements, I was flabbergasted by the number of separate copyrights these video and audio mash-ups must have violated. But no point complaining, I thought, it’s just the way the world is going. Little did I know just how right that would turn out to be.

Still, if you would like a physical copy of A Taste of Ale, or indeed any of our albums, do come and see us at one of our gigs this Christmas, and buy a copy!


The Mail Coach Guard

Magpie Lane, from the album A Taste of Ale (BEJOCD-32, Beautiful Jo, 1999)

Andy Turner – vocal, autoharp
Di Whitehead – cello
Benji Kirkpatrick – guitar
Mat Green – fiddle

(apologies to Tom Bower who I thought played flute on this track – lost in the mix, perhaps?)

July 9, 2015

Week 203 – The Oyster Girl

‘The Oyster Girl’ is a widely-collected song. Given my interest in songs with a Kentish connection, you might expect me to sing George Spicer’s version, or the version which Francis Collinson collected from Mrs Frances Baker in Maidstone, or maybe one of these. But in fact I learned this from Roy Palmer’s Book Songs of the Midlands. Roy himself collected the song from the Black Country singer George Dunn of Quarry Bank in Staffordshire.

When I paid tribute to Roy Palmer a few weeks ago, I neglected to mention his collecting activities. In fact Roy recorded a number of singers, primarily in Gloucestershire and the West Midlands, including major figures such as George Dunn and Cecilia Costello. You can listen to his recordings on the British Library Sound Archive website, at Here’s George Dunn singing ‘The Oyster Girl’, recorded in 1971, when the singer was 84 years old.

The recording is also included on the excellent Musical Traditions CD Chainmaker.  I’d been singing the song for many years before I heard the original recording. When I did, I was pleased to find that George Dunn also appeared to enjoy delivering the line “So it’s ‘ook it with your basket of oysters” – that’s always been the high point of the song for me.

The notes to Chainmaker  say of this song that “The song’s earliest appearance in print seems to be as The Eating of Oysters in a garland of eight texts issued under the title of A New Patriotic Song by M Randall of Stirling (c.1794-1812)”. Here’s a printed copy from the mid-nineteenth century where, somewhat bizarrely, in the last verse the narrator is identified as a Frenchman (so, clearly, thoroughly deserving of being tricked by the oyster seller).

The Oyster Girl - nineteenth century broadside from Broadside Ballads Online.

The Oyster Girl – nineteenth century broadside from Broadside Ballads Online.

The Oyster Girl

March 23, 2014

Week 135 – The Maid and the Miller

I learned this from Roy Palmer’s book,  Songs of the Midlands where the notes say

Sung by Mr. George Dunn, Quarry Bank, Staffs.; collected by Charles Parker, 24th March, 1971. This song is better known in Scots versions, though Hammond collected an English version. It is now extremely rare.

A search of the Full English archive shows that it was actually Gardiner, rather than Hammond, who collected a version in Hampshire, while Cecil Sharp also had a couple of versions in Somerset, but let’s not nitpick…

Roy Palmer’s own recording of George Dunn singing The Miller’s Song is the first track on the Musical Traditions CD Chainmaker, and there are in fact three separate recordings of the song from the Roy Palmer collection (two made by Roy, and one by Charles Parker) available for all to listen to on the British Library website.

The notes to the Musical Traditions CD say that George Dunn “greatly relished singing this marvellously life-affirming piece” and so do I: it’s a real joy to sing. The last verse in particular is a wonderful example of how sometimes in a song the melody, the rhythm, the words and the meaning behind the words can all just.. er.. come together.

George Dunn. Photo from the Musical Traditions website.

George Dunn. Photo from the Musical Traditions website.

The Maid and the Miller

January 14, 2013

Week 73 – Poor Frozen-out Gardeners

A late change of plan, in response to this morning’s snow.

I learned this about 30 years ago from Roy Palmer’s A Touch on the Times. The words are from a   broadside printed by Sharp of London (from Nottingham University’s collection – I haven’t been able to find a copy on the web). Roy set it to a version of the well-known ‘Dives and Lazarus’ tune, which is the tune given in William Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time.

For reasons best known to myself (and long-forgotten) I decided to sing it to a version of the ‘Whitstable May Song’ tune – but changed from a jolly 6/8 major key, into a suitably miserable minor key and, for the first few verses at least, in 4/4.

I didn’t notice this until many years later, but had I wanted to, I could have provided a justification for this choice of tune. The ‘Whitstable May Song’ is very similar to the tune  of the ‘Seven Joys of Mary’ (see this YouTube video  of Oyster Morris processing to the tune at  the annual Whitstable May Day celebrations). And in the Oxford Book of Carols there is a note that the ‘Seven Joys’ tune was used by unemployed London labourers in times of hardship. The note is taken from Carols Their Origin, Music And Connection With Mystery Plays by William J. Phillips.

The writer well remembers, when we had a particularly hard winter nearly forty years ago [i.e. circa 1850], having heard this same carol tune sung round the streets of London by labouring men out of work, who tramped the streets through the snow, with shovels over their shoulders, singing the following doggerel verse, in hope of receiving pence from the charitably disposed:-

We’ve got no work to do, we’ve got no work to do
We’ve got no work to do, we’ve got no work to do
We’re all turned out, poor labouring men, we’ve got no work to do

The editors of the Oxford Book of Carols add

We can corroborate this for a later period, c.1890. only they sang, ‘We’re all froze out’

It’s worth noting that this is probably about as much as the labourers themselves did sing, and not anything like the eight verses printed on the broadside, and which I sing here.

The practice itself seems to have been quite common in the nineteenth century, and there are numerous reports, both sympathetic and hostile.

William Hone’s Every-day book and Table book, Volume 2 (1830) includes this for January 22nd

The market gardeners also felt the severity of the weather – it stopped their labours, and some of the men, attended by their wives, went about in parties, and with frosted greens fixed at the tops of rakes and hoes, uttered the ancient cry of “Pray remember the gardeners! Remembers the poor frozen out gardeners!”

Henry Mayhew, in his London Labour and the London Poor  p446-7 has this account




are seen during a frost in gangs of from six to twenty. Two gangs generally “work” together, that is while one gang begs at one end of a street, a second gang begs at the other. Their mode of procedure their “programme” is very simple. Upon the spades which they carry is chalked “frozen-out!” or “starving!” and they enhance the effect of this “slum or fake-ment” by shouting out sturdily “frozen out”, “We’re all frozen-out! The gardeners differ from the agriculturalists or “navvies! In their costume. They affect aprons and old starw hats, their manner is less demonstrative, and their tones less rusty and unmelodious. The “navvies” roar; the gardeners squeak. The navvies’ petition is made loud and lustily, as by men used to work in clay and rock; the gardeners’ voice is meek and mild, as of a gentle nature trained to tend on fruits and flowers. The young bulky, sinewy beggar plays navvy;  the shrivelled, gravelly, pottering, elderly cadger performs gardener.

Mayhew, though fully supportive of the honest working-man who seeks charity to feed his starving family, is quick to point out there were many imposters amongst the supposed frozen-out gardeners. And it is this side of the story which is presented in The Florist And Garden Miscellany  for 1849-1850, published by Chapman And Hall (from which the illustration below is also taken)

For the tailpiece to our present Volume, we present our younger readers with a sketch illustrating a custom now extinct, at least in our neighbourhood. Some years back, as soon as inclement weather rendered it impossible for the men and women employed in the market-gardens to pursue their daily labours, they formed themselves into bands, and bearing bunches of vegetables upon poles, solicited donations from the charitably disposed, appealing to them with the cry of ” Pray remember the poor frozen-out gardeners !” As it was generally the most idle and profligate that composed these parties, and the proceeds were almost invariably expended in dissipation, it was considered an abuse, and was suppressed by the magistrates and police. Our cut gives an excellent representation of one of these parties.

Frozen-out gardeners, from the The Florist And Garden Miscellany 1849-50

Frozen-out gardeners, from the The Florist And Garden Miscellany 1849-50

This recording is another track from the Chris Wood and Andy Turner demo tape, circa 1985. If you’re familiar with the Magpie Lane recording of this song, you’ll recognise that our version was based very closely on Chris’s arrangement, especially that riff between the verses.

Poor Frozen-out Gardeners

Andy Turner: vocal

Chris Wood: guitar

December 27, 2011

Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire

Thanks to the Tradsong mailing list and a discussion on Mudcat I’ve been alerted to a pre-Christmas interview in which Roy Palmer discusses Ella Leather’s carol-collecting activities in Herefordshire before the First World War.

The interview was on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on 23rd December, and is available in near-perpetuity on the iPlayer (it comes about 10 minutes from the end of the programme).

Roy has recently edited a new edition of E. M. Leather and R. Vaughan Williams’ Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire for Stainer & Bell. I’ve not yet seen the book, but given Roy’s involvement, I’ve no reason to doubt that it’s an excellent production.

A Mudcat contributor points out that a facsimile of the original 1920 publication is available online.

It contains, for instance, the version of ‘Saviour’s Love’ which was the source of my words, though not my tune  (see Week 16 ‘Have you not heard’).