I learned it from the Silly Sisters LP, which I must have got not long after it came out. Actually I say I learned it – it’s one of those songs where at any given time in the last 40 years I could probably have sung about 95% of the song, but never properly nailed it until now. And I have to say it was worth making the effort to learn it properly – it’s a really good song.
On this recording, the accompaniment is provided (unwittingly) by Ian Kearey playing an epinette de Vosges with two pencils (HB, as I recall). I sampled this from an old Oyster Band LP, looped it, pitch-shifted it slightly, and played around with it a bit more in Audacity, Nero Wave Editor and Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. And hey presto! here it is.
A saucy song, and no mistake, which I learned from the Topic LP Round Rye Bay for More: Traditional Songs from the Sussex Coast, featuring Mike Yates’ 1976 recordings of the irrepressible Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty. Or, possibly, learned from my friend Adrian Russell, who had learned it from a Johnny Doughty recording.
I listened to Johnny singing this recently, and found that he only had a few verses. I then looked online for fuller versions, and couldn’t really find any. So I have made use of my knowledge of the female anatomy, imperfect though I’m sure this is, to expand the song.
I’m not entirely sure where or when I learned this song. Almost certainly not from Cyril Tawney himself, although I did see him two or three times in the early eighties. I think I must have picked the song up from a floorsinger at the Faversham Folk Club. These days you can find the words to pretty much any song with a quick web search, but in those pre-Internet days I just sang the words as I remembered them.
Checking now what the composer himself sang, I see I’ve introduced some minor variations, but nothing to alter the spirit of the song. And in fact I think Cyril Tawney approved of variation, as part of the song’s absorption into the collective consciousness (or folk tradition, if you prefer). You can read about the background to the song here.
As Cyril noted, the song is lyrically, though not melodically, structured like a blues. And possibly this is the closest thing I’ll be posting here to a twelve-bar blues, as I don’t think I have any examples of the real thing in my repertoire.
I learned this from the singing of Fi and Jo Fraser on the Old Swan Band’s second LP, Old Swan Brand. Although the release date given on the sleeve of that record is 1978, my recollection is that it didn’t actually come out until much later, around 1980 or 1981. I bought my copy at the Bracknell Folk Festival in, I’m fairly sure, 1982. It was a secondhand copy. A signed, secondhand copy. Which always rather amused me: presumably someone saw the band, and enjoyed their music so much that they not only bought a copy of the record, but got the band to sign it; only to find, when they got it home, that it really wasn’t what they were expecting. Actually, that’s quite feasible, as the signatures on the cover are those of the Swan Band circa 1981 (including Richard Valentine, and “the invisible Paul Burgess”), and the band had a rather different sound by then – much fuller with the addition of the piano and. dare I say it, rather more polished. Also, it’s possible that the purchaser liked the tunes, but couldn’t stand all that singing…
Anyway, I was pleased to give the record a home, and I was particularly taken with this song. I imagine that the record originally had, or was intended to have, a booklet or insert giving details of the provenance of all the songs and tunes. My secondhand copy had none, and neither did the second copy which I inherited from my Mum last year. So maybe this was cut as a result of Free Reed’s financial problems at the time. Whatever the reason, the lack of an insert meant I had no information about where Jo and Fi got this song from (and I’ve never got round to asking either of them).
This was one of the songs I used to sing with Chris Wood in the 1980s, and I remember Chris saying that he thought they’d probably learned it from Mick Hanly’s A Kiss In The Morning Early. That’s one of those classic 1970s LPs which, for some reason, I’m pretty sure I never heard. Poking around on Mudcat and elsewhere, it seems that most of the songs on that album came from Colm O Lochlainn’s book More Irish Street Ballads. But Hanly seems to have used a different tune to the one found in O Lochlainn, and indeed O Lochlainn’s verses may well have been collated from various sources, such as printed broadsides.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter – it’s just a great song. So thanks Jo and Fi.
The sailor’s adieu. Broadside printed by J Pitts of Seven Dials, between 1819 and 1844. From Broadside Ballads Online.
One of the good things about maintaining this blog is that it’s made me remember songs which I used to sing thirty or even forty years ago, and which I have neglected – often unfairly – for twenty or thirty years, or maybe even longer.
This is one such. I first heard it in the late 1970s on the 1967 LP Byker Hill by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick. Martin’s sleevenotes to the LP say
It is, incidentally, the only song I have ever learned on one hearing only (without the aid of tape-recorder or pencil and paper).
He doesn’t say who he got it from, but I should think there’s a strong likelihood that it was Bert Lloyd.
I can’t claim to have learned the song at one hearing, but I think I did just absorb the words back in the seventies, rather than having to write them down and learn them. I sang it around the house at the time, then forgot about it until a few weeks ago – at which point, again, I was able to recall the words without recourse to printed (or online) versions. Having revived the song, I’m now planning not to forget about it again.
I always think of this as a Kentish song. I learned it from George Spicer, who was born at Little Chart near Ashford, and learned most of his songs as a young man in Kent. In the 1940s Francis Collinson noted it from William Crampon from Smarden. And in the 1980s, when I met Charlie Bridger, I found that he also knew the song – at least, he knew the first verse and chorus, and I was able to provide him with the rest of the words.
But of course the song was known throughout Britain, and further afield. In his notes to the Musical Traditions CD Plenty of Thyme by Suffolk singer Cyril Poacher, Rod Stradling writes
The Faithful Sailor Boy was written by George W. Persley towards the end of the 19th century. Few songs have achieved such widespread popularity among country singers and their audiences. It turns up again and again in tap-room sing-songs throughout Britain, even through into the 1980s. Gavin Greig described it as being “Very popular in Aberdeenshire in the early years of this century” (and, sure enough, Daisy Chapman had it in her repertoire), and we have heard it in both Donegal and Cork in the last few years. Two versions have been found in the North Carolina mountains (there’s a ’20s hillbilly recording by Flora Noles, Sailor Boy’s Farewell—Okeh 45037), while other other sets have been reported from as far away as Australia and Tristan da Cunha.
Actually, the authorship of the piece is unclear: the song’s entry in the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs states
The song appeared on one or two late nineteenth-century broadsides, and was probably written about 1880. Several sources claim that it was composed by the well-known songwriters Thomas Payne Westendorf (1848-1923) and G. W. Persley (1837-94), but we have not been able to confirm this, nor have we found any original sheet music.
Although I learned this from the Topic LP Blackberry FoldI think the first time I ever heard it was at a meeting of the shortlived folk club which Alan Castle (subsequently the organiser of the long-running Tenterden Folk Festival) ran at the Victoria in Ashford, circa 1979. On that occasion it was sung by Adrian Russell, at least one of the Creissen brothers (Terry and/or Gary) and probably Tim Bull. Adrian or Gary may remember – so if you’re remotely interested (and I can’t think why you would be, to be honest), keep an eye on the Comments below this blog post.
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.
‘They forged the last links with their lives’: Sir John Franklin’s men dying by their boat during the North-West Passage expedition. 1895 painting by William Thomas Smith. Copyright National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Another song introduced to the folk revival by A.L.Lloyd. Lloyd claimed to have learned the song in November 1937 on his famous whaling trip (although, like much else about his early life, the exact circumstances surrounding that trip – such as what his role was on board – seem to be a little vague). Dave Arthur, in his excellent biography, Bert, writes on page 89
Another song he submitted to Sing (August/September 1957) was a version of ‘Lord Franklin’ collected, so he said, from Edward Harper, a whale-factory blacksmith from Port Stanley in the Falklands.
Later, on page 192, he comments on songs such as ‘Lord Franklin’ and ‘Farewell to Tarwathie’, which Lloyd claimed to have collected in 1937, but which he kept to himself until twenty years later. Why, Dave Arthur asks, was there no mention of them in The Singing Englishman (1944) where he specifically says says that the whaling ship workers didn’t have their own repertoire, but sang the same songs as in factories ashore?
If Bert did indeed collect them he was remarkably fortuitous. If not, he was remarkably talented. Either way they are fine songs and deserve their popularity.
Lady Franklin’s lament for her husband, from Broadside Ballads Online.
I first heard this song on the Pentangle LP Cruel Sister, where the arrangement featured a rather tasteful electric guitar solo from John Renbourn, and Bert Jansch playing chords on the concertina (was this the only sighting of Jansch playing the instrument, I wonder?). At the time I had never heard of Lord John Franklin or his ill-fated Arctic expedition of 1845, but this song captured my imagination, as it has many others’. In the 1980s I read Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, in which they suggest that lead poisoning, from the lead used to seal tinned foods in those days, was a significant contributory factor to the deaths of all of Franklin’s crew members (although, obviously, getting stuck in the ice in the first place was the greatest contributory factor!). That argument is supported by an article in the journal Arctic in 1997, The final days of the Franklin expedition : new skeletal evidence. However I seem to remember that in a question on QI a few years back, about the eccentric behaviour of members of the Franklin expedition in their final days, “lead poisoning” was the wrong answer, and in fact it was an opportunity for panel-members to play their “Nobody Knows” cards. I wasn’t sure if I’d made this up, but this Guardian article from 2014 reports that “New research suggests that ice, not contaminated food, killed Sir John Franklin and his crew in 1845”. I love the fact that “the fate of Franklin and his gallant crew” is still exercising scientists as well as folk singers.
The mummified remains of John Hartnell, a 25-year-old member of the Franklin Expedition who died on January 4, 1846 and was buried at Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic. Image copyright University of Alberta.
About four or five years ago I went to see Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick at the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot. This was one of the songs they played and, chatting to Martin in the interval, I must have mentioned it for some reason. “You should sing that”, said Martin, “it would suit your voice”. Well, if Martin Carthy MBE recommends that you sing a particular song, it strikes me that the only possible course of action is to follow his advice.
In fact I had known it vaguely, many years ago, as a result of buying a copy of the LP No Relation by Heather Wood and Royston Wood. I’d largely forgotten about it though, so set about learning it anew. I sought it out from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society No. 11 – completely forgetting that in fact it’s in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.
The version in the Penguin Book was taken down by Henry Hammond from Joseph Taunton, at Corscombe in Devon in 1907, and published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society the same year. Hammond’s notes say that “Taunton learnt this from a soldier when he was 17 years old” (in the Journal the song’s provenance is given as “Mr. Taunton learnt the song 50 years ago from a man-of-war’s man” i.e. he learned it circa 1857).
The Bold Benjamin, collected by H.E.D.Hammond from Joseph Taunton, 1907. From the Full English archive.
Hammond also noted a version in Dorset, from Marina Russell. The opening line of Mrs.Russell’s version ran “French Admiral he is gone to sea”. Although the collector added that
Mrs Russell said “I don’t know whether ’tis “”Finch” or “French Admiral”
This must have been one of the first Copper Family songs I ever learned – although if my chronology is right, I think by the time I heard A Song for Every Season in the autumn of 1976 I was already familiar with the two-part harmony version on Tim Hart and Maddy Prior’s LP Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1.
Back then, I used to sing it with my friend Mike Eaton (he was Ron to my Bob). I doubt I’ve sung it in public for many years, but it’s one of those songs which frequently gets an outing in the car, or when I’m just singing around the house. It might be a bit of a hoary old chestnut, but it’s a classic – is there anyone on the English folk scene who doesn’t know this song? (apart, it would seem, from the person who chose to sing this at the Bob Copper Centenary event back in January).
I’ve only recently worked out the concertina accompaniment, having borrowed a Bb/F anglo from Rob Fidler, the Fool with Bampton Morris. Previously I could never decide on a suitable key to play it in, but Eb (the People’s Key!) is just right – so many thanks, Rob.